Early one morning, I was driving north on Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena when I saw a white bunny scamper out from under a lone parked car, face oncoming traffic and scamper back. This was a very small bunny. Its future did not look rosy. I pulled over and got out of my car. The bunny was pressed up against the curb beside the parked car. As I approached, it retreated farther beneath the car. I was afraid to reach out because I didn’t want to scare it into the street.
I sat on the curb. The bunny gazed at me steadily and sweetly. On closer inspection, it had mottled peach-and-black fur on its ears, peach on its haunches, a black dot on its nose and what looked like a thick line of mascara atop one eye. The little paws were catlike, the tail a tiny puff, the ears long and slim. Darn cute.
A man walking down the street looked at me, then saw the bunny under the car. “Trying to catch your bunny?” he asked.
“It’s not my bunny, but it’s somebody’s pet,” I said. “If you could walk around the other side of the car and scare it this way . . .”
The man did as I asked, and the bunny ran right to me. I swept it up, and it snuggled against me. So soft! So sweet! Love at first nuzzle.
I knocked on the doors of apartment houses in front of, then north and south of where I found the bunny. But it was early in the morning, and nobody answered. So I got back into the car with the bunny peacefully curled up in my lap. It was about as big as an average guinea pig, not even a pound. In the sunlight, its ears were so transparent you could see the little red veins branching in them like rivers on a map. The bunny clearly had been much handled and well loved. It was more than tame; it was affectionate.
Driving home, I remembered hearing about the conservative rabbi who protested the big gay-pride parade in Jerusalem this year by declaring that homosexuals would “in their next reincarnation come back as rabbits and bunnies.” I couldn’t help but think about my gay friends who had died, and how much I missed them. And how unbelievably wonderful it would be if one of them were indeed in the car with me.
I brought the bunny into the house and showed it to my boyfriend, who took it, nuzzled it and kissed its little head. I went out to get the parrot’s extra cage, picked a big fat carrot from the garden, and put it in the cage along with a bowl
of water and a little box for the bunny to hide in. When I brought the cage inside, Jim gave me a stern lecture. “I really don’t see how you can take on another pet. You spend enough time doing pet management as it is.”
“I’m not keeping it. I’m going to put up a flier and find its owners.”
“Good,” said Jim.
“Yes, but admit it,” I said. “You love it too.”
“I don’t love it.”
“You kissed it,” I said. “I saw you.”
I took pictures of the bunny with my digital camera and made a flier on the computer. In the middle of this, my oldest childhood friend, Yolanda García, came over. She helped me write out some fliers in Spanish.
Found: Pet Bunny.
Meanwhile, the bunny did a thorough exploration of the cage, ate the entire carrot and most of its green tops. It drank water, peed and pooped. Jim said, “Such is life with a bunny. Pellets in, pellets out.”
Yolanda and I tacked up signs all around where I had found the bunny. We talked to a man fixing his car and to a group of people standing around in their garden. Nobody knew where the bunny lived.
About an hour later, when we were fixing lunch, the phone rang and a man started speaking to me in Spanish. I gave the phone to Yolanda, who took down his address. He said the bunny had escaped from his yard. We promised to bring the bunny home as soon as we finished eating.
We were just putting dishes in the sink when the phone rang again. The caller ID said somebody was calling from “Universal Studi.” “I saw your bunny poster,” a woman said. “It’s not my bunny. But I raise rabbits, and I thought if you needed anything to help care for it, I could lend you a cage or whatever.”
Bunnies, clearly, bring out the good
I drove the bunny to a big old Craftsman-style house on Los Robles, just south of where I’d found him. The house had been divided up into many different apartments. The bunny’s home was around back on the ground floor, and a parakeet was chirping in a cage hung from the eaves by the door. Ah, I thought, another multiple pet owner. The young father who answered the door was not wearing a shirt.
“Aquí está su conejito,” I said.
He took the bunny from me and briefly held it against his cheek. “I am very sorry,” he said in English, with obvious agitation. “I don’t have any money to pay you . . .”
“Oh, no, no. That’s okay.” I assured him that I only wanted to see the bunny safe
“We were cleaning the house,” the man said. “We put him outside in a box, and when we looked again, he was gone. The children were very unhappy.”
“I could tell he was a pet,” I said. “He’s
I was sad to have to go. But then the bunny snuggled against his father’s naked chest, his long sleek ears flat across his back, eyes blissfully closed. Home.
The Adman Cometh
If you watch television, you know sometimes it’s the ads, not the shows, that provide the entertainment. No surprise, then, that a thick crowd milled through the second-floor aisles of Borders in Westwood last week, eyeing Kevin Roberts, the British head of global advertising house Saatchi & Saatchi. Roberts, who’d flown in only hours earlier from Tokyo, where he’d been conferring with Toyota, seemed to understand the yearnings of his audience. They were hoping that the cocksure pitchman might reveal, with the aid of three oversize flat-screen TVs, the cryptic code of advertising.
Roberts didn’t disappoint — mostly because he knows the enemy. Whether he has read it or not, he has absorbed the insights of the opening chapter of Das Kapital, the dense formulations of that 19th-century political economist, and mooch, Karl Marx. “We are consumers by nature,” Roberts said. “For virtually all the world’s citizens, our possessions add meaning to our lives. That’s why we buy, exchange, give, treasure and possess them.” Marx famously derided this as “the fetishism of commodities.” As if to mock the crusty German materialist, Roberts’ assistants busily distributed, and those in attendance promptly donned, small acrylic heart-shaped lockets that pulsed with red light and illuminated the ad guru’s latest coinage, Lovemarks, always written with a lower-case cursive “l”.
The title of Roberts’ book, which he was there to sign, is Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. “We are at the end of a great journey,” he said, “from products to trademarks, from trademarks to brands. Brands have stalled. It’s brands blah, blah, blah. They’re lost in the clutter of the attention economy.”
How, then, to hook consumers? With “lovemarks,” said the black-clad, 54-year-old, tri-continental salesman(he has homes in Auckland, Tribeca and St.-Tropez). “Lovemarks are super-evolved brands that make deep emotional connections with consumers. It’s about loyalty beyond reason. If you take a brand away, people switch to another. If you take a lovemark away, they go mad.” With images of two motorcycles as his backdrop, the bald, slightly paunchy CEO proclaimed, “Suzuki, just a goddamn motor bike. Harley, lovemark.”
At this point in his well-rehearsed talk, Roberts reminded his listeners that he was about to give away a Prius — “the car that owns Hollywood” — to the winner of an essay contest whose task it had been to describe a product he loves. The crowd, focused on the adman, was unmoved by the chance at $20,000. They wanted an ad, and they got one: Battling rugby players, grunting and chanting in what sounded like Maori, duked it out like Greco-Roman wrestlers unhinged, exerting themselves with a pure lust to win. An unmistakable message, punctuated by one word: Adidas. Applause as the screen went black. The assembly understood and admired the implication, that the signature white shoes with the serrated black stripes contain the passion of those men on that playing field — a mystique Marx perceived 150 years prior to its packaging.
The Adidas ad, and a pair of comedic ones for Brahma, the Brazilian beer, were the buildup to Roberts’ sign-off. “People don’t park their emotions outside the marketplace,” he said. “Who cares what the reality is? What matters is the dream.” The screens flickered back to life. Snapshots of a father and son growing older together from birth to death, with Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son” (“I was once like you are now, and I know that’s not easy”) dilating the emotions. Then the logo for New Zealand Telecom. A real tearjerker, at the end of which Roberts proudly said, “Don’t forget to phone your father.”
Before the 125 or so people exited into Borders’ airless subterranean parking lot, they were permitted to put a few questions to the Saatchi exec. Like a politician, Roberts took the opportunity to recite yet another chapter of his philosophy. Three kids, as he tells it, came to his agency looking for jobs. They were handed cameras and told to come back the next day with three photographs that would, Roberts recounted, “change the world. Apart from the Australian, who took the camera and didn’t return — Australians do that — guess what one kid came back with?” Not missing a beat, someone called out, “Pictures of himself,” the perfectly obvious answer. Roberts said, “We hired him.”
Roberts and his audience were on the same wavelength. The image, not the product, was their mutual obsession. Poor Marx: He thought you needed an actual object to swoon over.
A gleaming silver Porsche Cayenne sends up a smokescreen as it skids out from a dirt driveway in a hidden Los Angeles canyon and nearly sideswipes my beater ’93 Jeep Cherokee. A visibly enraged, bottle-blond, trophy-pussy, soccer mom smiles apologetically in a sort of pinched, angry-Buddha grin before kicking the pedal to the metal and careening down the twisting road.
Nowadays, these remote canyons are all about high-end, late-model SUVs and astronomically priced real estate. The occasional ghost of a VW Microbus might be spotted in flashback right around sunset, if you squint. But the Microbus is as high on the canyons’ endangered-species list as the hairy arm-pitted, guru-groupie chicks who take names like Shiva, dance Dunham and talk endlessly about their trips to the subcontinent.
I’m straight out of Silver Lake and far out of my element acting as a sort of Truman Capote “walker” — the type of fag who rich heterosexual friends trust to hang out with their foxy wives, because we won’t try to “hit it.” They cover all expenses, naturally. So here I am with my friend’s wife on a mission to see a bona fide healer. Having spent most of my time on the planet in Lower Manhattan, I am naturally aghast at the prospect of involving myself in just this kind of West Coast New Age nonsense.
As we pull up the narrow driveway, we nearly spill into a 10-by-10-foot hole next to a pile of dirt. The terrain is treacherous up here, and you really gotta keep your eyes open. We park just as Ubab, a slender aboriginal-featured, man/woman wearing a sort of East Indian outfit over a “Travis” T-shirt emerges from a shack to greet us.
I soon find myself in an ancient-looking, tent-like structure where I’m instructed to disrobe from the waist up, get horizontal on a padded, turquoise massage table (unnervingly covered with a faded Little Mermaid sheet) and put on headphones blowing Punjabi remix jams. For some reason, I mindlessly comply with these instructions. Then Ubab (not his real name) lunges deep into my tissue employing a very painful Rolfing-style massage technique.
When he mercifully finishes, I stumble back to the car and chain-smoke Camel non-filters in an attempt to normalize. I pretend not to hear my friend’s wife howling in pain nearby. She finally emerges an hour later looking like a crime-scene photo. We speed down the canyon in an irrepressible laugh riot mixed with fits of weeping and choking. Something happened back there, but I’m not sure exactly what.
Ubab’s super-secret California squat is a haven for a small fold devoted to a Westernized version of the ancient practice of entheogenic healing. Entheogenics are said to let one enter a “God-like space” without the ego, as opposed to hallucinogenics that simply distort what’s already in the mind. According to the practice, it is possible to time travel backward and forward seven lifetimes in this “God space” and thereby expose the core-clearing karma while discarding emotional armor and freeing trauma that is trapped in the flesh and bone. Once that trauma has been released into the vapor state, Ubab tells us, it can then be processed on a feeling level. Who knew?
A few days later, Ubab calls and tells us to return on Saturday at 8 a.m. In the driveway, I wedge my Jeep between a Hummer and a BMW and proceed back to the tent. Seven attractive people have gathered by the time Ubab floats in with a tray of teacups. I throw back the bland liquid without a second thought.
As the tea settles in my stomach, I put on the Sharper Image blindfold and headphones and lie in the dark. Just as the Enigma CD starts really annoying me, the portal between consciousness and unconsciousness is blasted open with the force of a small hurricane. I instantly lose sense of up, down, if I have a body . . . or, if, in fact, a body is even a thing I ever had.
My next memory comes hours later when I discover myself as a fetus in the birth canal, petrified in a claustrophobic panic, trapped in a black cave between contractions before being belched out in a convulsive fit. Then I’m sliding on my belly across a jungle floor as something I can’t quite figure out ’til it hits me all at once: I’m a snake! After a spell as a cartoonish, Mayan sex slave (by far the best part of the day), I regress further to some pre-human or animal condition before completely transcending form altogether. Archetypal imagery is still coming at light speed when the music stops. I remove the blindfold and everyone is smiling except my friend’s wife, whose hair looks like she stuck her finger in a light socket.
The drive back down the canyon is a slow roll, and we’re halfway to Hollywood before I’m completely back in my body. My friend’s wife and I try to piece the day together, pausing intermittently while she pukes out the window. I’m not sure exactly what has changed, but I sense in a general way that nothing is really going to be the same again. The therapy was traumatic, to say the least.
Before I had left, Ubab instructed me not to make any major decisions for the next 30 days. I imagine that means things like getting married, filing for bankruptcy or euthanizing my aging Dalmatian. I assume, also, it means waiting to decide if I will return to that treacherous canyon and this strange healing.
The marquee at Fairfax’s Silent Movie Theater provided the first hint of conflict Monday night: “Tonight’s Show Cancelled.” The second, more obvious clue to trouble was the protesters. Fifty or so members of the International Action Center and the Progressive Labor Party had taken the sidewalk to revive Hollywood’s longest-running fracas: the 9-decade-old boycott of Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 ode to the Klu Klux Klan.
With its glorification of the KKK and vilification of Southern blacks, the film has long been used as a white-supremacist recruiting tool. But Monday’s fracas was fought along decidedly stranger lines. On one side were the protesters, most of whom had heard about the demonstration from KPFK and KGLA. (SMASH KKK MOVIE, read one protester’s hastily scrawled sign.) On the other, just as militant, were the cinephiles.
“Before Birth of a Nation, they never sold tickets, or scheduled screening times, or darkened the theater all the way,” said Zach Zoschke, a young silent-film buff angry about the cancellation. “It’s a really, really important movie.”
“It’s not the Jerry Springer kind of person coming here, anyway,” added Julie Dunlap.
“I wouldn’t expect skinheads here, I’d expect intellectuals,” agreed David Daniel, who, wearing a sport coat and long hair, definitely looked more like the latter. But across the picket line, protester Dedon Kamathi disagreed — not about the historical significance of the movie, but how it should be seen.
“There should be professors to arm you ideologically about what you are going to see,” said Kamathi. “We’re not saying people shouldn’t see the movie. But there should be dialogue. People should see it on DVD.”
“You’ve got a lot of Jim Crow movies, like Barbershop 1 or 2,” agreed Karim Mohammed, an herbologist whose shop was destroyed in the L.A. riots.
“Are you a protester?” I asked Mohammed’s friend, a black man in a wheelchair. He held a sign that clearly marked him as a protester, but refused to give his name.
“I’m a human being,” he replied, refusing to make eye contact.
“What group are you with?” I asked.
“I’m not with any group,” he said testily. “I’m a human being.”
At one point, some of the protesters and cinephiles seemed on the verge of a fistfight. Eventually, however, the crowd dispersed, and among those who stayed behind, anger gave way to nostalgia.
“They had to work a lot harder for laughs back then,” conceded protester Stuart Chandler, a Kerry-Edwards button pinned to his shirt. “There’s nothing like those old movies.”
“Got that right,” said Zoschke. “Fucking mall on the corner. Now that is intolerance.”