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Court is in a Real Pickle

Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

"If there’s anything you can do to help us . . ." Supervising Judge Harold Shabo sent out this plaintive SOS last week from the aging, decrepit mental-health court, a former mustard-and-pickle factory known as "The Pickle." And pickled Shabo and his staff most assuredly were. Air conditioning at the courthouse on San Fernando Road, northwest of downtown, had been down for the entire week, and iffy for most of the summer; part of the building was unbearably hot, the other part arctic. The hot and cold spots shifted daily, so you never knew where you would be. Discomfort aside, the big problem was that many of the court’s clientele — mentally disordered sex offenders, conservatees, electroshock candidates, involuntary commitments — were on psychotropic drugs with pronounced side effects in heat. Possible consequences include death by stroke or heart attack, Shabo said. "It’s the neuroleptic drugs, Haldol, I believe," Shabo told OffBeat. "Six years ago, there were several deaths in a state hospital of people in restraints, and they died because of the heat." At the very least, the situation sounded volatile; OffBeat thought about how cranky we are in the heat, and shuddered at the thought of being mentally disoriented or disabled, hauled into court and left to fry.

Shabo said the underlying problem, a Freon leak, had been discovered six months ago, but the county waited until the middle of summer to fix it. When the repair crew finally arrived, it declared that the air-conditioning console was riddled with asbestos, despite the fact that Shabo had been assured repeatedly that his courthouse was asbestos-free. The men refused to work until the asbestos was removed. Shabo finally had to close his courthouse and decamp downtown to get some action. "Just ridiculous," he pronounced.

By week’s end, the A/C was back on. Wow, we thought, a Kafkaesque delay, to be sure, but an oversight, right?

Well . . . no. When asked how long the air conditioning had been acting up, Shabo answered, "It’s been a problem for the nine years I’ve been there . . . This is all part of the county directing resources away from mental health. The air conditioning is just the icing on the cake. The court administrator is giving it priority now only because I asked whether the courthouse shouldn’t be shut down."

County officials acknowledged that budget problems have forced local courts onto a deferred maintenance schedule, but denied that mental health was being ignored. "Nobody sits around and says, ‘Let’s fix Beverly Hills and not the mental-health court,’" said Julie Wheeler, program specialist at the county’s Chief Administrative Office. "We fix whatever needs to be fixed whenever it needs fixing."

The same day that the Pickle’s A/C went on the blink, however, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy announced that $450,000 in air-conditioning and lighting improvements had been completed — at the Beverly Hills Municipal Court.

TOO GAY FOR ELMER?

 

TV restaurant critic Elmer Dills was looking for a room with a view for a Valentine’s Day feature, when a cameraman suggested 360° restaurant and lounge, a penthouse dining room with a panoramic vista of Hollywood. Charmed by owner Rusty Updegraff’s bid to bring glamour back to the storied corner of Sunset and Vine, Dills slapped the restaurant on the air. So it was only natural that Updegraff would have his publicist follow up by asking Dills for a review. But it was not to be.

"Dills told her, ‘I sent some friends there, and they told me it was very gay,’" Updegraff recalls. "She paused and said, ‘Is that a problem?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, I just thought it was strange it was all gay.’ He never came in, and that was a year ago."

For the record, 360 hosts a gay-oriented Tuesday dinner-dance called Beige (after a club event the same night in Manhattan), but on other nights draws a heavily heterosexual crowd, including couples out for a romantic evening and raucous birthday celebrations. ("I joke it’s the adult Chuck E. Cheese," Updegraff says.) He insists that Madonna and Brooke Shields have been by. A floor-to-ceiling window in the ladies’ loo has inspired its own mile-high club; the pair that christened it was straight, Updegraff says.

The restaurant’s new American cuisine — seafood, vegetarian dishes and "comfort food" — is that gay? The cherrywood walls and maple floors — gay or straight? Some restaurants in West Hollywood and Silver Lake market themselves as gay, but 360 isn’t one of them. "I joke I got the gays — the gays I don’t need. I’d rather market to everybody," Updegraff says. "Occasionally people ask if it’s a gay restaurant, and I say no, but we get gays; we also get blacks, Jews and Mexicans. I don’t know who you don’t like."

 

So is there a conspiracy to exclude "gay" restaurants, whatever they are, from mainstream food criticism? Dills could not be reached for comment. Of course, restaurant critics are dunned from every side by eager restaurateurs; few of their restaurants ever get reviewed. Updegraff says this is different: Once you get the gay handle, you won’t get reviewed, whether you’re the next Nancy Silverton or the next Ray Kroc. "It’s become an issue with gays who run restaurants," Updegraff says. Wayne Elias agrees; he can’t get his dinner house, Mark’s (on La Cienega’s restaurant row), into the Zagat Guide. "I think it’s because we’re not considered a mainstream restaurant, but we offer all the benefits of a first-class establishment," he says.

Updegraff is undeterred. "I don’t care if they don’t review us. I’m going to make my restaurant as popular as possible . . . People get off the elevator all the time and say, ‘This is so nice. I didn’t know this was here.’ That feels good."

LEFT MEETS RIGHT IN TARZANA

 

"We are leaderless," says "Anne," the leader of the Granada Forum, when I arrive at the group’s Thursday meeting. "We are like a big town meeting with no political affiliation."

Anne, like other members of the Forum, declined to give her full name. Formed in the dark days of 1992, when the Reagan/ Bush era gave way to the Clinton presidency, the Forum takes its name from its original location in Granada Hills. Today, it meets in a Tarzana church, and God is never far from thought. This evening, the group rises for the Pledge of Allegiance, then an unidentified woman prays that our savior Jesus Christ rescue America from "the Prince of Darkness" heading the government.

The unnamed woman goes on to speak about the unconstitutionality of birth certificates and ID numbers. "A birth certificate is a government certificate of human ownership," she charges, adding that the document is "valued at $630,000." At this point, I wonder where I stowed mine away.

Next, a gentleman named "Joe," wearing a white T-shirt printed with "New World Order" with a circle/slash through it, lets loose on government tyranny. "The police have become a revenue agency for the government instead of law enforcement," he roars. "Why are they ticketing citizens’ cars when they should be in South-Central going after gangbangers?"

Don Kreigel, head of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, rises to speak about the dangers of fluoride, and an upcoming protest march. "We expect a hundred people," he says. "It’ll be a huge demonstration." Kreigel also passes out copies of the Impeachment Roll Call and recounts his recent journey to Area 51 and a subsequent UFO sighting.

The main attraction, former LAPD Detective Mike Ruppert, takes the podium with a joke: "I’m wearing as many mikes as there are in my living room." Famous for grilling former CIA Director John Deutsch at a 1996 L.A. town-hall meeting on the CIA-crack connection, Ruppert brags that he cost the director an appointment to head the Defense Department. Bespectacled and genial, he speaks about the latest conspiracy theory lighting up the Internet: allegations of a 1985 DEA videotape of Jeb and George Jr. buying 2 kilos of cocaine during a sting operation in Miami, Florida. The story is wholly unsubstantiated, but Ruppert swears he will get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing he does. But that costs money, and if the good people of the Granada Forum would just purchase copies of his From the Wilderness newsletter . . . (He repeats the request half a dozen times during the talk.)

Ruppert calls for volunteers to play-act how the CIA and the bankers of the world launder drug money and corrupt our government. The gag sounds like it might be fun, so I step forward — zowie, for a minute I’m the CEO of General Electric! We switch roles, and Ruppert makes me the head of "Goldman Sachs." In this world, Wall Street is always represented by Goldman Sachs, Salomon Brothers or some other non-Gentile name. I refuse to play along. "Merrill Lynch, Michael, I’m Merrill Lynch, okay?" Ruppert glowers but moves on.

Ruppert puts up a map of South-Central L.A. and explains that the CIA deliberately flooded African-American neighborhoods with cocaine, not only to raise money for the Nicaraguan contras, but to destroy land values. "These middle-class families saw their property values plummet — it was CIA gentrification!" he says. Wow — the Left and the Right colliding, right here in Tarzana! Ruppert concludes with another observation: "You can’t end all of the evil in the government by cutting off the head of one person — cutting Bill Clinton’s head off isn’t going to do it. Cutting George Bush’s head off isn’t going to do it." At that point, he’s lost the crowd, for whom the suggestion of decapitation of either Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno might have brought a standing ovation.

 

I tell Anne that the Forum, with its rounds of personal testimony followed by applause, reminds me of nothing so much as an AA meeting. "I don’t know about that!" she blushes.

—Johnny Angel

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