Savior of Echo Park

There’s a funny-sad moment in the second act of that seminal pre-hipster hipster film of the late 1990s, Rushmore, where eager Margaret Yang visits Max Fischer to bring him a small plant. Max is in a deep depression, having lost his two loves, Miss Cross and Rushmore Academy, which expelled him. Margaret is told Max isn’t available, but he’s in full view in the window, staring at her. Margaret raps on the glass, but Max, rather impolitely, draws the curtains in Margaret’s face.

Alexis Whittier Rivera, the Max Fischer of Echo Park, the kid who’s always hustling, always talking his way into places, always doing a few thousand things at once, is in one of those sad second-act moments right now.

When I contacted him for this profile, he suggested that he write it himself: “Former self-described ‘loner visionary,’ now just a hack with a broken heart and a dirty hybrid, receives great press for nothing and manages to screw everything up. Also, he once played horse with Desmond Tutu. And Neil Patrick Harris. But not at the same time.”

You can’t blame Alexis for indulging in a little despair.

The neighborhood is changing too fast, strange to see for someone who’s certifiably early-school Echo Park (by that, we mean he got there in 2001). The downtown club Little Pedro’s, where Alexis staged some of the weirdest and most memorable parties and shows of the past couple years, has changed hands. Plus, he’s mending a broken heart, and not afraid to spill his guts about it.

I met Alexis, now my neighbor, on Halloween 2004, a Sunday night. Some party had been canceled, so Alexis, as he often does, brought everyone over to his place, up far too many steps on a jagged hillside on the eastern shore of Echo Park Lake. His stoop is overwhelmed by obscenely large plants and throwaway vintage furniture, giving one the impression of entering an old neighborhood in Guanajuato, or maybe somewhere on Cyprus. A guest was dressed as a cloud — on LSD. Danish émigré Jeppe of Junior Senior was an early-’90s raver. There was an enormous slab of pork on the grill outside. Everyone had slices of it, with applesauce.

I had found Central L.A. “cool kid” heaven, and it was only the beginning. The merry and fashionable, the trannies and gutter punks, the people who walk through life sideways, cholos and gentrifiers — Alexis, a promoter in every sense of the word, has a knack for bringing them together.

In the film, thankfully, Max Fischer emerges from his November blues and eventually stages his most successful play yet, Heaven and Hell, with Margaret playing a critical role.

Will Alexis re-emerge, too? Signs point to yes. He so texts: “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”


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