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Pushing the Envelopes

Fall 2001 may go down as the season when the thoughts of college youth turned to football, anthrax and hate crimes. At least as far as USC is concerned, where last week someone had reportedly keyed the name “Osama” into an Arab student’s car and where a chemistry student discovered an ominous powdery substance in her purse. Meanwhile, on Sorority Row, a mysterious package left at Alpha Delta Pi rated a bomb-squad visit to 28th Street. (Both powder and package tested negative.)

Off-campus, however, L.A. is largely unmoved by the media panic over anthrax — Angelenos simply refuse to toss out their mail unopened unless, perhaps, the envelopes are bills or bear the return address “4th Grade” — or “Beth Garfield for City Council.” At the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s, the only health concern during the store’s recent make-over seemed to be the possible presence of old asbestos particles. (“Well,” said one shopper surveying a white dust cloud hanging above the doorway, “it’s probably imported asbestos.”) Nor were conversations at last Friday’s Beverly Hills press screening of the new Coen brothers film particularly skewed toward bioterror. Instead, the talk drifted from opinions of The Last Castle (long speeches, great Mark Ruffalo) and — improbably — to Darva Conger.

Postal workers are dropping from anthrax, of course, and there is a war playing out on TV in the sickly green X-Files glow of night-vision footage. But the Left Coast is far from Washington and Afghanistan, and the president may soon find much of the country’s sympathy immune to his weaponized rhetoric. (Bush’s description of Operation Enduring Freedom as a “crusade” doesn’t exactly resonate favorably in the Muslim world.) This is not good for the war party, which is facing the approach of both the Afghan winter and Ramadan. And, for a dessert topping, there was the high-level comment, reported in Monday’s Ha’aretz newspaper, that escalating tensions along Israel’s northern border could lead to “a full-scale war with Syria.” If this was what Bush meant by “getting back to business,” what is his idea of a crisis?

The Big Chill

Perhaps L.A.’s increasingly upbeat mood can be charted on the cutting-room floor — of its hair salons. Bobby Pompey, proprietor of Hollywood’s Las Palmas Barber Shop, claims that “for the first two weeks after September 11, no one came in here. Then things calmed down and people remembered they had to get their hair cut.”

Life hasn’t entirely returned to normal, though. Angelenos are watching their pennies more than before — a trend that has even affected tattoo parlors. “Business is slow,” says Robert Herman, who works at Hollywood’s California Tattoo. “Flag tattoos are up, though. One guy came in and got a ‘USMC’ with a bulldog and a flag. Another had the Twin Towers put on his arm with the flag behind them.”

At Beverly Hills’ Canon Theater, ticket sales for the celebrity-powered production of The Vagina Monologues have all but cratered since September 11.

“We were slightly down after the summer,” producer Jim Freydberg says, “but after ‘the mess’ we dropped another 62 percent. This week is the lowest advance we’ve ever had; normally we’d get $10,000 to $15,000 in advance sales per day — now it’s $2,500 to $6,000.”

Freydberg adds that on September 11 Naomi Campbell was on her way to co-star in the production, but her L.A.-bound plane from Paris was forced to land in Nebraska that Tuesday. “She rented a car and drove to L.A., but she just missed her Wednesday performance.” What Freydberg finds even more frustrating is that his show, whose profits benefit the V-Day Fund antiviolence charity, might well be closed by acts of violence.

Raising the Bar

Brad McAllen, Boardner’s venerable bartender, remembers business on September 11: “It was packed in here — no one wanted to be alone that day.” In the days that followed, customers flocked to watch developments on TV, although for McAllen the most touching scenes ä22 were taking place on the sidewalk outside.

“Two days after, a Mexican woman was walking by with her boy and girl. When they passed the flag above our door, she told the boy to take his baseball cap off to show respect. That’s what pisses me off — people saying immigrants don’t belong here. Every day Mexican and Oriental kids from the school down the street walk by with American flags sewn on their backpacks.”

Fright Night

Under the current circumstances, trick or treat remains in the eye of the beholder. Last year it was all Scream, Pokémon and the Powerpuff Girls; this year’s mood at costume stores and rental shops has become unambivalently ambiguous.

“Our most popular mask is Beelzebub — a red-devil head with a long tongue,” Party City’s Westside store manager Mark Montoya told the Weekly. “The second most popular would be Bush — then a vampire mask.” Bush’s visage, according to Montoya, is “still not as popular as Clinton’s was last year. Clinton was twice as popular as Bush is this year.”

Despite previous years’ popularity of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein for Halloween, Osama bin Laden faces are not on the mask racks. “We don’t carry Osama bin Laden,” Montoya says. “We do all our ordering eight to 10 months in advance — it wasn’t something we anticipated.”

Fair enough, although Steve Elowitz, store manager of Hollywood Toys & Costume, says, “It is not something we would feel good about carrying. We are more patriotic than that.” And, in fact, says Montoya, the demand is up for “anything red, white and blue, including hats, wigs and makeup.” Fireman outfits too: “So far we’ve sold around 100 fireman’s costumes. Police costumes are not popular though.”

Spookiest September 10 Headline

SKY’S LIMIT FOR WTC RETAILING

—N.Y. Daily News

Pardon My Apocalypse

Like all things American, September 11 has been spun into commercial pitches for everything from health spas (“An Antidote to Terror,” boasts the La Puente–based Urban Retreat chain) to the theater (“In the wake of the violent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” says one press release, “CAL REP’s production of Murder by Israeli playwright, Hanoch Levin, may seem eerily apropos, yet . . .”). So perhaps it was no surprise to find a flier for the Universal World Church announcing October 21’s sermon title: “God’s Terrorist Gang!” Tacky? Perhaps, but the UWC is the gold-painted temple of the two evangelical oddities known as Miss Velma and the Rev. O. Lee Jaggers, and so a visit to their Westlake sanctuary seemed, well, eerily apropos.

As far as ecclesiastical analysis is concerned, however, the good Reverend’s homily fell disappointingly short of the flier’s promised “MESSAGE THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD BEFORE!” After ruminating on the seven seals, seven trumpets and other septets for about 20 minutes, Dr. Jaggers allowed that the terrorist host presumably led by Osama bin Laden was in fact nothing less than the wrath of God now unleashed upon America for being “the most corrupt nation on Earth.” While at first claiming that our sins were too terrible for him to even enunciate to his congregation (he did relent a little by suggesting that some of them had to do with homosexuality and lesbianism), the Reverend promised to reveal them — next week. After this cliffhanger, his wife, Miss Velma, emerged from behind the church’s golden altar to anoint congregants — and to urge them to give more than ever in their tithes and offerings. The show continues this Sunday, 11 a.m., at 123 N. Lake St.

Additional research by Christine Pelisek


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