Photo by Robert Yager
“Ernie! Ernie!” “Mr. Bernardi! Mr. Bernardi — sit with us!”
The old folks at the Ernani Bernardi Multipurpose Senior Center were calling out to their center’s namesake, the former city councilman, who, at nearly 90, responded to their greetings with a practiced campaigner’s wave and chitchat. It was the first week of May, that time in Los Angeles’ political season when high-flying runoff candidates begin migrating toward the center and lame-duck mayors head south of the border while their henchmen lobby to have libraries renamed after them. This afternoon, the Van Nuys seniors were gathered for their daily round of bingo games but quickly found themselves spectators to mayoral politics, as Bernardi introduced candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.
The scene was part of the great vaudeville of American democracy, one of dozens of performances by both Villaraigosa and his opponent, Jim Hahn, that will be staged over the next month at multipurpose centers, day-care complexes and Little League games, as the candidates strive to show they are multipurpose men capable of being all things to all people. Angelenos are a tolerant bunch during campaign season and view these minor disruptions to their daily routines, like movie shoots, as necessary inconveniences.
There are, of course, unspoken ground rules to such goodwill visits: no policy bombshells, and the selected audience is expected to behave itself. When OffBeat asked Mr. Bernardi if he planned to vote for Villaraigosa, he showed that time had not dimmed his diplomatic skills: “This is a nonpolitical facility,” he said, as Villaraigosa’s operatives and reporters swarmed around the bingo tables. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble!”
Still, when the games had been held up for 15 minutes, the seniors had had enough.
“Let’s play bingo!” one man shouted. “I’m with you, Ray!” a woman hollered back. Ever attuned to the popular will, Villaraigosa announced, to much applause, “I’m not going to make a big long political speech!” Moments later, surrounded by a small media detachment, he joined a group of seniors for a couple of rounds, both of which were won by people sitting at his table.
“Thank you for playing with us,” one of his tablemates said. “You brought us luck!”
With this aura of victory clinging to him, the candidate waved to the assembled and withdrew to the center’s front portico, where he swore no one was tougher on crime than he, denounced Hahn’s TV ads and said that if elected he would build more places like — well, like this one. As the press began dispersing and his own people prepared his departure, Villaraigosa momentarily found himself alone — or as alone as a candidate for chief of the nation’s second largest city can ever be. Pumped by the campaign and the reporters’ interrogations, he couldn’t quite downshift from the overdrive he’d been in and began shaking hands with the media who lingered in the hot sun. “Hello,” he said, crushing their hands in greeting, “I’m Antonio Villaraigosa!” Finally he relaxed, stepped into a midnight-blue Ford Expedition and was whisked to a Westside engagement. Inside the senior center the games continued as they had before his visit, and as they will no doubt after the June election.
Playing by the rules of political etiquette may be considered “cricket” in England, but here “bingo” better describes the status quo, by-the-numbers campaign strategies of candidates and their handlers. If so, Villaraigosa, 48, and Hahn, 50, may do well to heed a placard with the players’ philosophy in the Bernardi Center’s lobby: “Old Age and Treachery Will Overcome Youth & Skill!”
Local fringe culturist David Woodard has tried to insert himself into a number of high-profile deaths and calamities, from the accidental killing of a tourist on Angels Flight to a threatened hunger strike by assisted-suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian. Now, it looks like Woodard will be a part of the circus surrounding Timothy McVeigh’s execution — with a personal invitation from McVeigh, no less.
Los Angeles–based Woodard managed to get a couple of newspaper articles published about his quest to get inside the Terre Haute, Indiana, Federal Prison yard May 16, the date of the execution, to play McVeigh a musical “prequiem” he composed. (“A prequiem is a memoriam for ‘the nearly dead,’” Woodard says.)
Prison authorities turned Woodard down. But the composer’s published statements caught McVeigh’s eye — particularly Woodard’s praise for McVeigh’s oft-quoted statement that the 19 children killed in his 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City were “collateral damage.”
“The media underestimates and insults the intelligence of the public by denying or turning attention from McVeigh’s brilliant, sturdy sense of humor,” Woodard had told a Kansas City weekly. “His ‘collateral damage’ line . . . is pure Mark Twain, not an example of blundering inhumanity. McVeigh is an intuitively skilled, savvy media figure.”
On April 19, McVeigh wrote Woodard, inviting him to present his musical composition at a religious vigil outside the prison, and thanking him for his “insightful” comments. “With your recent interview . . . you became the first person I’ve heard of (or from) that has figured me out,” McVeigh wrote. “With your reflections on ‘collateral damage,’ I breathe a huge sigh of relief — maybe there is hope yet for this species! (I would suggest you apply the same ‘collateral damage’ insights to analysis of my motivations re: televised execution . . .)”
The response was undoubtedly manna for Woodard, who has struggled to get attention for previous memorials, including the Angels Flight ceremony, and whose main claim to fame is an essay on the properties of a feline spaying anesthetic that was included in Adam Parfrey’s latest book. (Feral House Publishing head Parfrey, another transgressophile and a pal of Woodard’s, made his reputation dabbling in the major strains of alt.culture, including serial-killer fandom and retard bashing.)
Woodard and 43 volunteer musicians from the University of Indiana will perform at an all-night vigil at St. Margaret Mary Church, three miles from the prison, according to McVeigh’s spiritual advisor, the Reverend Ron Ashmore. Woodard’s piece, Ave Atque Vale, was originally composed for Kevorkian, then renamed in McVeigh’s honor, Woodard said. The title usually translates as “Hail and Farewell,” but Woodard says it means “Onward Valiant Soldier.” McVeigh will listen over a University of Indiana radio station, Ashmore said.
“We will be in prayer about Tim, who is coming to his death at the government’s decision. But we will also commemorate the tragedy of 168 people being killed by a violent act,” Father Ashmore said in a phone interview.
“If he wants to do it, fine, but it’s certainly no comfort to anyone who was affected by the bombing,” Paul Heath, treasurer of the OK City Murrah Building Survivors Association, said of Woodard’s planned performance.
But Woodard said the execution and the performance will make a point.
“Obviously [McVeigh] wants to exaggerate the media coverage of the execution as a way of making it manifestly clear, after the fact, what a vile universal bloodthirst people have,” Woodard said.
Person for the Artistic
Treatment of Animals
Searching for that perfect taxidermed- antelope ice tray ($4,000), stuffed-sheep laundry basket ($6,000) or preserved chamois ($2,500) for Mom on Mother’s Day? Rest easy. Down in Chinatown, L.A. artist Carlee Fernandez has stocked the Acuña-Hansen Gallery with enough stuffed animal products to spin the heads of an entire PETA chapter. “I don’t do my own pets,” protests the 27-year-old artist, who recycles animals from local taxidermy shops.
At the packed opening of the Acuña-Hansen show, one woman expressed her disgust. “I’m giving them a second use,” Fernandez responded. But she also admits happily, “I’m not being P.C.”
Born in Santa Ana into a house filled with animals — “living and taxidermed” — the pixiesque Fernandez was raised by a father who loved horror films and a mother who loved pranks. “My mom took this pig’s head once and put it in a stroller and took it over to the neighbors,” she cheerily recalls.
As an art student at Cal State Fullerton, Fernandez discovered the local taxidermy shop, Bob’s Taxidermy. Graduate school in Claremont brought the launch of her seven-piece animal-head luggage line, Carnage, whose offerings included a buffalo-head suitcase ($9,000), rabbit-head waist pack ($2,000) and boar-head purse ($4,000). At the first Carnage show, a PETA raid was rumored but failed to materialize.
“I do have some of the vegetarian/vegans who are against it,” including her own sister Veronica, Fernandez says. “Every once in a while she says, ‘You could use fake fur.’ But, then I catch her trying the purses on.”
Fernandez lives and works in the downtown Brewery artist colony, where she coexists with her buffalo-head suitcase — sawed in half, lined and tagged. At the Acuña-Hansen, she is venturing into a new realm, household products. “We’re so removed from nature, this brings it back,” she explains. The line is called “Friends” because, Fernandez says, “I have all these different animals together that you would never see together out in nature.” The little antelope curled on the cement floor with a fur-covered ice tray mounted on its back is called Courtney Payne, after one of Fernandez’s real friends.
But could someone actually unplug a toilet with the miniature chamois? “No,” Fernandez says. “It’s fine art. It’s only supposed to suggest function.”
Functional or not, Fernandez’s art is hot. Her tongue-in-cheek video-sculpture Peter is on view as part of the Laguna Art Museum’s “Cyborg Manifesto” show. Peter features a jackrabbit’s head with a peephole in the forehead where viewers can watch a three-minute minivideo simulation of the animal’s life and chain-saw death. Art in America critic Michael Duncan dropped by the Acuña-Hansen. “I guess I’ll have to write about this,” he was overheard saying.