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Battle of the Bads

A wall plaque inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena captures a youngish-looking (was he ever really young?) Dick Nixon, who "as vice president dedicated this Memorial Sports Arena July 4, 1959." The patron saint of bad losers might serve as a mascot for the L.A. Clippers, a team that lost its first 17 games and, at 8-and-43, was the proud holder as of Saturday of the second-worst record in the NBA. When OffBeat learned that the Clippers would face the only team worse than they — the Vancouver Grizzlies — we knew we had to be there. Three of Vancouver’s eight (out of 36) wins were over the Clippers. Revenge, if it could be had, would be sweet.

The Clippers came out stumbling, throwing passes over teammates’ heads and shots that clanged off the rim. The team was down by 10 points when coach Chris Ford called a time-out. "Nobody’s sitting here?" said a man, pointing to two seats beside OffBeat. Pedro was soon talking up a storm, pointing at his 10-year-old son, who had won their two free tickets — not particularly good ones — in a parks department–sponsored Two-Ball tournament.

By halftime, the Clippers were still down by four. "This is my show!" Pedro hooted as 12 scantily clad young women rushed onto the hardwood to begin their choreographed aerobics. The dancers stopped for an overweight guy in lime-green shorts to be escorted to half-court, where he heaved a basketball at the rim, in the hope of winning a new SUV. The crowd groaned as the ball fell five feet short of the hoop. At the concessions stand, Bradford Sayer of Valencia was dour. "The Clippers shouldn’t move to the Staples Center," he said. (The new downtown stadium opens next October for the Lakers, Clippers and Kings.) "The Clippers don’t deserve the Staples."

Still, basketball’s version of Henny Youngman began the third quarter as if it were playoffs time. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, as Maurice Taylor of the Clippers shook the rim with a monster slam, the home team was leading, the crowd was standing, and Grizzlies coach Brian Hill called for a time-out. No question about it, thought OffBeat, the Battle of the Bads can be more fun than watching a team of superstars, like the Lakers, play uninspired basketball for 48 minutes. Final score: Clippers, 105-96. "This is the first time I’ve seen them win. Oh yeah, it’s gonna turn around," a middle-aged man near us told his wife. "They get Dennis Rodman, it’s gonna turn around."

—Ronnie Cohen

VELVET HANDSHAKE

 

The hottest young curator in Southern California is apparently too hot for the museum that launched his soaring career. Tyler Stallings, who most recently mounted the nationally acclaimed Edgar Leeteg black-velvet painting show, is being yanked from his post at the Huntington Beach Art Center by city tastemakers, who want the space turned over to more "traditional" work that will "appeal to the donor base."

The Leeteg exhibition won high praise in Southern California publications, as well as coverage in The Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Enquirer and on National Public Radio. Additional shows brought in by the bespectacled, boyish 34-year-old Stallings include an installation on lesbian families, racism and homelessness, and others on skateboard culture, UFOs and the Grateful Dead. Last year, the museum hosted acclaimed performance artist Tim Miller, who stripped and discussed his homosexuality. Upcoming shows featuring the work of Elizabeth Olbert and Margaret Keane have been canceled, as has a survey of small-scale art that was to have included pieces by Chris Burden, Yoko Ono, Joel Shapiro, Richard Tuttle and Jeffrey Vallance.

Stallings calls the city’s change of heart "tragic," adding that "it reifies stereotypes of unintellectualism and provincialism in Orange County." As a show of solidarity, the museum’s entire staff of seven is quitting (director Naida Osline has been "promoted" to the position of special-events coordinator for the city). In addition to griping about the content of the shows, city folk had complained about the city-funded museum’s $300,000-plus deficit, even though most of that debt comes from building renovation, which had nothing to do with Stallings or programming at the museum. Bolton Colburn, director of the Laguna Art Museum, dismisses claims of financial mishandling at the Art Center as bullshit" and has only the highest praise for Stallings, whom he hopes to hire as exhibitions curator at his museum by early summer. "Tyler is not your typical hotshot curator," Colburn says. "He has a really astute vision, but he’s not doctrinaire. He breaks the mold."

—Sara Catania

MILLION M.J. MARCH

 

Back in October, Somayah Kambui, known in local circles as Sister Somayah, greeted a pair of LAPD officers who asked to search her South-Central Los Angeles home. They claimed to have information about PCP and crack cocaine on the premises, but the medical-marijuana sign in Kambui’s window suggested the cops’ real motive. A committed hemp activist who uses pot to treat her own and others’ sickle cell anemia, Kambui had 35 marijuana plants blooming in her back yard. It wasn’t long before the LAPD narco squad confiscated her "Nigretian Keif" — a sticky green African strain of pot — and threw her in the clink. "Why," she recalled asking herself as she languished in L.A. County’s Twin Towers jail, "are we going to jail for personal medicine?"

 

Two weeks ago, Kambui turned the tables, filing a claim with the city of Los Angeles seeking unspecified damages for false arrest, illegal seizure, malicious prosecution and damaged property. After hearing testimony by such experts as Scott Imler of the Cannabis Buyers Club, a judge had decided in November that Kambui’s activities were authorized by the medical-marijuana initiative (Proposition 215) and ordered her plants returned. But what the LAPD finally gave her in December was moldy and unusable. "It took me a year to cultivate that Keif," she said solemnly. "I gave them a Lamborghini and they returned a Pinto."

Since her release from jail, Kambui, a Black Panther in the 1960s, has continued her hemp activism through a Web site (www.hempishep.org). She also makes marijuana tinctures, butter and cookies to relieve the pain and nausea of three dozen sufferers of sickle cell anemia — an excruciating bone and blood disease affecting mostly African-Americans. Unlike many of her hemp compadres, Kambui is not shy about her support of decriminalization. "Hemp is one plant," explained Sister Somayah. "We are not playing the skin game with the cannabis plant and hemp fiber and seeds and oils." Kambui also is the lead organizer of Saturday’s Million Marijuana March, a May Day hemp rally at Earvin "Magic" Johnson Park at El Segundo and Avalon. The rally is part of a 25-city effort from London to Auckland.

—David Cogan

COLUMBINE CRUSH

 

Two hours after the shooting stopped at Columbine High School, an assignment editor in one Western network news bureau was overheard saying, "The story’s over, now we’re the nightmare." By the end of the first day, his news organization had booked airline reservations, hotel rooms, rental cars and charter Lear jets for 125 into tragedy-struck Littleton, Colorado, sources said.

Other networks followed suit, emptying their Los Angeles bureaus. Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, with their king’s-court entourages, arrived on Day 2 for live shots in front of familiar tableaux of yellow police tape and flower-stacked memorials. Promptly after the broadcasts, Jennings and Brokaw were back in their respective towers in New York; Rather stayed another day. And while the networks sent the most representatives, they were the tip of the iceberg. Cable news channels such as MSNBC, hoping to boost flaccid post-Monica ratings, swarmed the scene.

Every major U.S. local television affiliate laid claim to a parcel of land outside the school, and journalists flew in from as far away as Germany and Tokyo. Even a few J-school wannabes bivouacked in. By the end of the week, a milelong cortege of media-related vehicles stretched from the campus, and frigid, muddy reporters were bumping into each other at every corner, sources on the scene said. Estimated media presence in Littleton, population 39,504: 1,000. "This is like media Woodstock," one network sound technician was heard to say.

Of course, the entertainment wasn’t music but the unexpected death of 13 people. One media rep in Littleton told OffBeat that a network booker — someone who travels around the country competing for the big "get" interviews — spent all day Wednesday on the phone with the family members of a victim, who finally agreed to a meeting. When the booker and the crew showed up at the family’s house a short time later, a sign was posted on the front lawn: "20/20 go away!"

"It becomes a feeding frenzy, and it’s not driven by the editorial weight of the story," said one network news producer of press blitzes like the one in Columbine. "It’s driven by the fact that your competitor may get to the story before you . . . If he’s the first one on the air with information . . . you got beat, and when you get beat, your ass gets fired."

Things got so hectic that a crew from one network magazine was in the home of a Columbine survivor who had just been released from the hospital, when another crew from the same magazine telephoned. "Truthfully, we’re going to milk this thing for all it’s worth," a network producer from New York told OffBeat. "At some point, the people start shutting down emotionally, but reporters, we don’t know when to go."

 

Scott Johnson, the father of one of the boys who went on a school shooting spree in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 13 months ago, writes about relentless media coverage in the current issue of Newsweek. "I worry about the way the media cover tragedies like these," he says. "I can’t help but wonder if the nonstop pictures and commentary and endless scrutiny somehow give desperate kids in need of attention a way to get it. The kids turn themselves into martyrs hoping to get on the evening news."

Live coverage of the Columbine memorial service on Sunday included a tear-jerker performance by Amy Grant and a stone-carving speech by Al Gore. Over refrains of born-again Christian music, NBC’s Stone Phillips lowered his head and searched deeply for the exact word to sum it all up. Finally, it came to him. "Truly . . . awesome."

—Greg Brouwer


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