Protest: Rat Trap

Photo by Wild Don Lewis

Last Saturday, as a curious and slightly bewildered crowd gathered outside the Pantages Theater for a performance of The Lion King, eight young men and women wielded provocative picket signs in front of the ornate theater entrance. One sign featured a rat with a foreboding expression under the phrase “Disney, the racist rodent.” A swastika replaced the s in “Disney.” Across the street, on Hollywood Boulevard’s south side, five more young protesters, some in wool caps, stood with similar signs at the edge of the sidewalk, straddling the curb in front of the Metro station, trying to get the attention of passing motorists.

It was the first night of a series of street protests by members of the Mexica Movement, which works to promote indigenous Mexican identity.

“Disney disrespects our Mexican heritage,” explained the group’s head, Olin Tezcatlipoca, whose sports cap couldn’t contain his graying ponytail. “We’re protesting Disney’s hiring practices.”

Casting Antonio Banderas (a Spaniard and a white person) to play Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata particularly irks the Mexica Movement, which takes the position that Mexicans should not be labeled Latino (“white people in Latin America,” Tezcatlipoca says) or Hispanic (“of Spanish origin: white people”).

A burly fellow wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Caveman XL Broadway” emerged from the theater and approached a sweet young woman holding a sign that read, “You will support racism by watching Disney films.”

“But this is a theater,” he blurted out, gazing up at the Lion King marquee. “Why don’t you go to where their films are being produced?” Truth be told, they’ve done that, as well as held weekly vigils at Disneyland — where they were pelted with sodas — for the better part of a year until they were mistaken for terrorist sympathizers after 9/11.

“This is not about The Lion King,” Tezcatlipoca said as a white stretch limo deposited a quintet of giggling schoolgirls onto the theater’s outer foyer. “It’s about the hiring practices of the Disney corporation and about Hollywood, which refuses to hire Mexicans in major Mexican roles.” Consider the leading players in La Bamba, Selena and Traffic, Tezcatlipoca said.

“. . . Because Banderas is not Mexican and Zapata was,” the female protester gently told a balding, well-dressed man who listened intently. “And to not hire a Mexican for that role is racist. It’s like hiring Brad Pitt to play Malcolm X.”

After a pause, the man volleyed with equal gentility: “And what are we going to do about space movies?”

A different, more hostile man then barked at her: “And are they hiring Americans in Mexico?”

“That’s not the point!” she countered ardently, her eyes welling with tears.

From the street, a man extended his torso out of the passenger side of an SUV and bellowed a commentary of pleasing simplicity: “Fuck Disney!”

The foyer was now packed, and the row of protesters turned their anti-Disney placards toward the patrons. Meanwhile, in the middle of the atrium, two Disney employees stood on platforms hawking Lion King souvenir programs. Into the midst of all this, three men in shiny suits escorted a large African-American woman attired in a regal, flowing gown and a massive headdress, all bright orange with gold trim. She gazed at both sides with equal disdain, before parading imperiously into the theater.

With curtain time approaching, a nervous theater manager tried to get the protesters to move — they were blocking a loading zone, he said. “Then call the police,” Tezcatlipoca taunted.

“Has anybody actually called the police on you?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “because the Bill of Rights still applies, at least this week. This is not about civil disobedience. This is about getting out the message.”

One message that apparently didn’t get out to the Mexica Movement is that Disney’s Zapata project isn’t happening. A Disney spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the reasons why the film isn’t moving forward.

“Why haven’t they done a press release? Why didn’t they let us know?” asked Tezcatlipoca when reached by phone a few days later. He pointed out that Disney repeatedly told them that they were proceeding with the project regardless of the group’s objections.

“Why didn’t they just make a phone call? There’s absolutely no respect for our community. That’s just the beginning of the problem with Disney. Assuming they have stopped progress on this film, that doesn’t mean we’re going to quit. We’re going to continue picketing Disney’s little empire until we get a formal apology.”

—Steven Leigh Morris

Losers: We Are the Champions

The long and the short of it is that Kenya’s Stephen Ndungu beat me in the 17th running of the Los Angeles Marathon, and that I am gracious in defeat.

Granted, Ndungu deserved the medal and the $25,000 prize money and the Honda Accord and the $5,000 bonus for breaking the 2:11 mark (by a mere 33 seconds). And for winning the thing two years in a row. Covering an average of one mile every five minutes, the guy ran a good race.

Me? It was my first-ever marathon, and though my pace felt brisk, 10 minutes per mile just wasn’t fast enough. I came in 3,723rd. There was no consolation prize for me or the race’s 22,000 other losers, only one hope: maybe next year . . .

Maybe next year for the middle-aged sad sack who ran with my training group on the Santa Monica waterfront every Saturday morning for the past six months. With his thick tortoiseshell glasses and boxy haircut, he looked like a chunkier version of D-FENS, the Michael Douglas character from Falling Down. At the start line on Sunday, the salty residue that takes most long-distance runners a dozen miles to accumulate had already begun to collect around the seat of his black spandex shorts. He taped a Breathe Right nasal strip across the bridge of his nose, wrapped black elastic bands above and below his kneecaps, and sheathed his lower legs with black elastic braces. His attempts at pressure relief were hypochondriac-worthy. Every precaution taken, every risk avoided, shin splints beware. The Falling Down comparison came to mind again as four LAPD ghetto birds did a last-minute flyby and the starting gun was fired.

Maybe next year for the girl with the garland of red tinfoil stars in her hair, who I fixated on as sad sack got ready. Note to singles: All correspondence can be sent to me care of the L.A. Weekly, 6715 Sunset â Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. (Please include photograph and telephone number.) And maybe next year for the dozens of men who actually drank the Sparkletts, the official water of the L.A. Marathon, at the starting line. As the race rounded the first corner, everyone’s heads shifted to the left, our eyes drawn to the wall that spans the length of Temple Street and to the men leaving behind waist-level waterfalls.

Maybe next year for the three Elvis impersonators with the pushcart boom box. I lapped their ass around mile 18, on the hairpin turn from San Vicente Boulevard onto Wilshire. “Elvis is dead,” I whispered under my breath as I approached. “That doesn’t mean he should become the rubber chicken of the dead-rock-star world,” I said as I passed.

Maybe next year for the guy without shoes. With his 6-inch beard, his bald head and his sun-drenched, beneficent face, you couldn’t help but take him for a stereotypical Northern Californian. He had that circa-1970 yogic look. He would have been indistinguishable from the members of the Baha’i temple who cheered us up Robertson, were it not for the fact that he wore butt-hugging rainbow-swirl spandex instead of white robes and a turban.

We shadowed each other for about half the race, trading off the lead a dozen times between Crenshaw and Sixth Street, encountering each other a final time at mile 20, a.k.a. “The Wall.” He sidled up beside me. I chomped on a Dixie Cup of jellybeans a bystander had handed me.

“You can’t beat me,” he said, smirking. “I just passed you a minute ago.”

“It’s no fun running near you either,” I said. “I’m getting tired of people yelling ‘Go, shoeless guy!’ and ‘Hey, check out the crazy guy with no shoes!’ It’s like hearing people yell ‘Freebird’ at a rock concert.”

I think he said, “Doesn’t bother me,” but I’m not exactly sure what happened next, because at that point I was delirious, and I began to lower my expectations. No longer was I competing or running for time. Rather, I ran in search of the next water station I could raid for Sparkletts to cool my thighs — inadvertently washing off the official topical analgesic of the L.A. Marathon, which volunteers had doused my legs with at mile 19, a.k.a. the Salonpas Pain Relief Zone.

Finally, maybe next year for the wrinkled man seated on the steps of the Museum of Contemporary Art a good hour before the race began. An aide applied a thick coat of slick stuff to the twisted rope-thick veins bulging from his calves like worms beneath the skin. I saw the old man again at the finish line, semiconfident that he’d finished 3,724th at best.

Or maybe next year isn’t the point. To be honest, the marathon, like life, is a long, boring race you just hope you can finish. You run and you run and you run, and at the end they wrap you in a silver shroud, at which point they ignore you and wait for the next person to finish.

Actually, that’s not it. In real life, no one claps for you on the sidelines, and not everyone gets a medal.

—Alec Hanley Bemis

Auto Erotica: Road Jerks

I’m at a red. It’s 1 in the morning and Melrose Avenue is nearly deserted. A lone Honda Civic driver pulls up to my left and I involuntarily cringe. The light changes and I casually let my Jeep Cherokee lag a bit behind. Then I gingerly crane my neck to cop a semi-aerial shot. Cool, his left hand is steering. But which stick is he clutching with his right?

It’s come to the point where I automatically assume the guy’s jerking off. I mean, it’s happened 11 times. Wouldn’t you scope out crotches too if that many male masturbating motorists had stroked your life? And before you even go there — I’ve never been the one to inspire this miscreant behavior. Their hands had gone cruising several streetlights before I’d ever come onto the scene.

As you can imagine, the first handful of random occurrences were highly disturbing. And then somewhere around jerk-off number nine, my paranoia climaxed into morbid fascination. What compelled a man to whip it out on Ventura and Vineland at 9:30 during Tuesday-morning traffic? And moreover, why was I crossing all these mobile monkey spankers? Was I the journalist destined to spread the news about this underground movement of onanism?

To fully come to grips with the phenomenon, I posted a message on an Internet bulletin board, inviting men to divulge their own dashboard tales. As it was, many of the e-mails came from women either applauding the subject matter or sharing similar stories. Accounts came from San Francisco all the way to Seville, Spain, proving that male masturbating motorists were indeed an international bunch. My first e-mail from a male — “wankboy,” I kid you not — arrived a week later. “I used to masturbate on the bus, does that count? I also did it during classes in school when I was younger, and in front of a window, once.”

Fortunately, I did get better confessions. And slowly I began noticing that there are several variations of jerk-offs. First there is the maniacal lot, guys who are just as content doing it in a phone booth as they are in a Porsche. Then there are the hazardous ones who actually get off by startling random women — by the time they get to you or me, they’ve flashed their mischievous smiles to a dozen other women. Finally, there are faux exhibitionists, who don’t really thrive on getting caught. Take the marketing executive from Jersey, who readily admits to keeping a towel in his back seat for convenience and cleanliness. Being found out is irrelevant to him. The thought that he is surrounded by thousands of unsuspecting commuters is enough.

John, a Texan with a self-awarded “honorary doctorate in masturbation . . . if it were an academic field of study,” argues that whoever catches him stroking and steering is asking for it. “Everyone in their car expects a reasonable amount of privacy. People eat, put on makeup, get dressed in their vehicles. What I do there is my business. Whether or not you choose to look is yours.”

—Maryam Henein

The New York Times Guide to Los Angeles

“In Los Angeles, no one leaves the garage without a Thomas Guide in the glove compartment.”

—Philip Nobel, The New York Times, February 7, 2002

“On March 24, the Academy Awards will be handed out in a new venue, the Kodak Theater in Beverly Hills . . .”

—A.O. Scott, The New York Times, February 7, 2002


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