Masquerades: WeHo Family Values
AT LAST YEAR'S WEST HOLLYWOOD HALLOWEEN COSTUME Carnaval, I dressed up as a samurai; the year before, as a boy scout. Once, I went as a bloodied surgeon, complete with a cleaver and a vital organ of indeterminate nature. This year, dressed down in tan carpenter pants and a green thermal, I'm embarrassed to say that I went as a lookie-loo. I've always sneered at the people who showed up for one of the country's largest Halloween celebrations without a costume. But this time I just flaked. I suppose if I'd thrown a chambray shirt over my arm, I could have told people I was a Gap trainee, but that would have been trying too hard to not try too hard.
To make matters worse, I showed up around 9 p.m., just as Pink (whose hair was vampire-bat black) began performing on the stage in front of WeHo's version of a high school cafeteria, Koo Koo Roo. Trying to get a good view of the stage, I pushed through the crowd with two other friends, but drunk undergrads in angel wings and way too many guys in Justin Guarini Afros packed the narrow space between the sidewalk and the stage. (Word to next year's planners: If you get a big-name singer like Pink, put the main stages in the middle of one of the larger intersections.)
"I should yell I have a bomb," a man with a crew cut and tie-dyed shirt said as he crushed against me from behind.
"Dude, that's not cool," his equally tie-dyed friend warned.
Grasping one another's hands like Everest climbers, my friends and I eventually broke through the main-stage throngs. We were able to move freely once Pink began her cover of 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up."
Then, just as Pink sang the line "I scream from the top of my lungs/What's goin' on?," a friend walked up with bloody, brain tissueladen bullet holes across his forehead. "I just got back from Virginia," he explained.
I watched a group of middle-aged couples wait their turn to pose with two satyrs sporting very low-hung haunches and overly developed abs when one friend spotted a klatch of figures in pink sheets.
"Gay ghosts?" he asked.
"I think they're Mary Kay Kay Kay," I replied.
We spotted the retinue of local TV reporters covering the event, each practicing their bemused "Can you believe this?" look for the anchors back in their newsrooms. The L.A. Times, predictably, ran a picture in the next day's paper of a tired-looking Dorothy Gale enveloped in a cotton-ball Emerald City. And the mainstream media once again lived up to the familiar charge that they cover only two gay events, the Halloween Carnaval and the Pride Parade, unless there's a fag-bashing vigil or a really violent AIDS-funding protest.
"I thought I'd see more Anna Nicoles," I said.
"There sure are a lot of pimps and their ho's, though," my friend Rob said.
"And priests with their boys," another friend added.
"It's all sort of the same theme," I said.
There were also plenty of Sponge Bobs and one amazingly detailed, life-size version of the kid's game Operation. The ubiquitous firemen and Statues of Liberty, so popular last year, were in check, but a few good timely and political costumes stuck out. It was eerie how just four people with brown cardboard boxes on their heads became the perfect facsimile of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. A triptych of Winona, Martha and Lizzie (Grubman) behind bars got plenty of laughs, and the decked-out airport security team rolling around a metal detector and taking federal license to grab well-built spectators for strip searches was also very popular.
At one point, a Latino family with kids dressed as Jasmine and Aladdin were whooping it up at the sight of my friend Guy undressing on orders of the faux airport security. It always surprises me how many people in L.A. come to fairly risqué, overcrowded evening events with their kids. More and more, nice gay couples arrive toting their adopted or egg-donor babies dolled up as Piglet or Winnie the Pooh, but who knew straight couples would need pictures of their offspring with drag queens?
What was once largely the purview of gay men who raided Paramount's costume department to pull off a serviceable Mildred Pierce has become the family event of the 21st century. Less than a decade ago, any soccer mom who bragged about taking her daughter to West Hollywood dressed as Mia Hamm would lose her car-pool privileges. But in a world where sending your kids around the neighborhood to gather uninspected candy is an increasingly scary prospect, a street fair full of nuns with dildos strapped to their habits is almost charming.
RELATIONSHIPS: Neighborly Hate
IT'S 6 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING and I'm suddenly awake. The party I shut my windows on at 2 a.m. is still going next door. The same trendy rave music, hell, I think it's the same song. The same party chatter and giggles -- hasn't anyone found someone to go home with yet? I stomp to the bathroom, waking up my boyfriend in the process, and come back ranting to him about the audacity of our new neighbors carrying on at such hours. He nods and grunts and tries to sleep as I get more and more agitated.
"I'm going to open the window and tell those fuckers to shut up," I say. He mumbles something like, "Yeah, that's probably a good idea," then sinks his head into the pillow trying to get back to sleep.
I thrust the window open, practically dislocating my arm, then stick my face out into the darkness where I know I can't be seen but pretty damn sure I can be heard.
"WHAT KINDA FUCKING DRUGS ARE YOU DOING THAT YOU'RE STILL UP AT 6 O'CLOCK IN THE FUCKING MORNING?!"
"HEY! FUCK YOU!"
"NO! FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! IT'S 6 O'CLOCK IN THE FUCKING MORNING! DO YOU KNOW WHAT FUCKING TIME IT IS?"
"UH NO, WE DON'T HAVE A WATCH."
"OH, THAT'S REAL FUCKING CUTE. WHY DON'T YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP AND TAKE IT INSIDE AND CLOSE THE FUCKING WINDOWS?"
"HEY YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP. I LISTEN TO YOUR DRUNK ASS ALL WEEK. WE'LL KEEP PARTYING AS LONG AS WE WANT." Cheers emerge from the background after this exchange, followed by the comment, "She could have asked nicely," then a chorus of "Yeah, yeah."
"WELL FUCK YOU, I DON'T FUCKING CARE. IT'S 6 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING AND I'LL CALL THE FUCKING POLICE IF YOU DON'T SHUT THE FUCK UP."
"GO AHEAD. CALL THE FUCKING POLICE."
"OKAY MOTHERFUCKERS. FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING INCONSIDERATE FUCKING ASSHOLES."
I slam the window shut and realize that I've never used the word fuck so many times in one exchange. My boyfriend is aghast but silent. I can see his expression in the dark. He had no idea my request for quiet would end up like that. Neither did I. I'm shaking -- I've never done anything like this before in my life.
I sleep off and on for the next few hours, try to read the Sunday paper and keep asking my boyfriend if what I did was okay. He says he overheard our neighbors talking about my outburst -- saying "Shut the fuck up" in a mock Southern accent. He suggests maybe I shouldn't have used all that profanity right away, that maybe I could have handled it better.
I know he's right, but at breakfast that morning I recount the event to my boyfriend's 15-year-old son and a friend, playing the neighbors as first-rate assholes from the beginning. Son voted I was in the wrong. The friend agreed that maybe I reacted too hastily and should have more politely mentioned my dism.ay earlier in the morning when I'd first shut the windows. My boyfriend just wants to stay out of this now.
Meanwhile, I'm miserable with my new role as the neighborhood cop. I'm not against people having a good time. The truth is, I'm somewhat of a lush myself. Although I've slowed down a bit, seeing the sun rise at parties is not a strange event for me. I've had windows slammed on me and neighbors at my door ever since I can remember. Once I had to throw the cops out of my house because they ended up staying and picking up on the dames.
What bothers me most, I think, is the whole idea of a scene moving into my neighborhood. My new neighbors represent the recent influx of young people ä to Echo Park from all over, especially S.F. and N.Y., seeking out cheap rent. I moved to Echo Park in part for the cheap rent too, but mainly because this is a neighborhood I've always liked. It's a centralized, Latino community that's easy to hide in. I'm used to mariachi music till all hours of the morning, the local Latino radio station blaring out of windows all weekend long, and fireworks starting as early as May and going nonstop until well after July 4. None of that has ever bothered me. Now I see all these artsy young white people moving in, along with art galleries, coffee shops, bookstores, rave clubs, film co-ops, poetry readings -- it's a scene. Next, Sunset Boulevard's funky fashion boutiques and botanicas will be replaced with The Gap and Starbucks. I've lived here some time now, and all of the sudden it happens to be one of the coolest places to live. It feels like I'm in a tourist trap. Go to Hollywood and mingle with the moguls, I want to scream. There's still plenty of loft space downtown, go there. Party on at the Standard.
Which is why I'm all the more amazed when my neighbors come over later that day, apologizing profusely about the disturbance. I apologize too. Perhaps I did judge too hastily.
This week has been quiet. My drunk ass chilled, and the rave club must have moved to someone else's house. I hope they didn't encounter square neighbors.
STAR SEARCH: Washed Out in Echo Park
"HEY, YOU KNOW WHY I'M HERE?" asks Robb Fulcher, a would-be sitcom writer and standup comedian starring on the makeshift stage in front of the bathroom at Lucy's Laundrymart on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. "I'm practicing for tomorrow night's show -- I'll be standing on the freeway and screaming out punch lines into traffic."
If he were actually planning to accomplish that particularly ridiculous feat, he could not have chosen a better place to warm up. The Wednesday-night comedy showcase at various Lucy's Laundrymarts -- supposedly inspired by similar laughs-and-suds showcases at San Francisco's laundry/coffeehouse Brainwash -- might be the toughest gig in comicdom. It's the ideal place to try out new material away from the eyes of agents.
But what a scene it is, right out of Lenny Bruce's worst dope-kick nightmares -- with a bunch of lawn chairs facing the lavatory and a Subway sandwich shop next door. Not to mention the fact that, minus the comics and their immediate pals, there is nothing but a completely indifferent audience. They're either engrossed in the finer points of wash and fold, chasing their errant kids about, or watching the news on wall-mounted TV monitors -- in Spanish, no less. "I get them to turn off the TV sound and also the 'Hits of the '80s' radio while the comics are on," says MC and organizer Christy Murphy, herself a standup who's played all over Los Angeles. "But they do draw the lines at Lakers games, of course."
Murphy books 10 to 12 comics a night to do seven to 10 minutes of material from 8 to 9:30 p.m. "Generally, about seven show up, and then three others just come by and sign up," she says. Some decent-sized names have tried out new bits here, including the terrific Maria Banfield, who has done The Tonight Show four times and has starred in her own Comedy Channel special (and, according to Murphy, is still doing temp work -- standup isn't a lucrative career choice).
"The only rule is no swearing. This is a family place," Murphy says. Can anyone who wants get up and have a blow? "Sure, as long as they don't curse. Hell, this is L.A. -- the only requirement for standup here is a lack of shame."
To open the show, Murphy strides to the mic and tells a few failed-relationship jokes over the rumble of washers and dryers as a trio of little boys plays Pokémon right in front of her and a mother struggles to remove an infant from his stroller.
Jeremy Kramer, who used to work San Francisco joints with Robin Williams, takes the stage next. Attired head to toe in New York Yankee regalia, he seems spooked by the endless stream of bathroom users behind him and the Pokémon lads in front of him. He riffs on a gentleman folding his pants (who either pointedly refuses to be drawn into the gag or can't speak English) and then runs down a bit about the "women of Enron." But he gets nothing from this crowd. Nil, zip, zilch, nada.
Fulcher, who somewhat resembles Michael Gross' character in Family Ties and is a newspaper writer and beat reporter for the Hermosa Beach Easy Reader, does a lot better. His self-deprecating patter is funny and outright scabrous, touching on everything from America's Most Wanted host John Walsh to abortion clinics.
Rebecca Knight's bits include a look back at her days in a seminary, her size (she's 6 feet-plus and jokes that it's great she can be seen above the laundry carts) and a hilarious bit about a Hollywood diet that claims one can lose 10 pounds in a weekend. "What does that mean, that they cut off one of your legs?" she asks. "Great, now I can marry Paul McCartney!"
Meanwhile, during the balance of the routines, a panhandler, fresh off Sunset, works the meager audience to no avail. Disgusted and empty-handed, he shuffles off, muttering, "Starving comedians. Ahh, fuck 'em."
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