Photo by Jon Alloway
In December 1994, the Cacophony Society — a coalition of artists and techies with a yen for alcohol and public pranks — decided to celebrate the season by getting sauced and marauding around nighttime San Francisco in Santa costumes. The idea has since gone national, with Cacophony chapters from Portland to New York City staging their own Santa Rampages, Santa Cruizes, Santasms, even, in Portland, a Santafada.
L.A.’s third annual SantaCon ’99 began in earnest last Saturday morning, when an estimated 150 participants rendezvoused at Los Feliz’s venerable House of Pies. All manner of Santas were in attendance: Boy Santas, Girl Santas, Santas wearing gas masks, sexy miniskirted Santas and bare-chested Scottish Santas in white-fringed kilts. There were also a few elves, and, inexplicably, a guy in a bear suit. When the assembled finally embarked for the subway station at Sunset and Vermont, bristling with carefully concealed intoxicants and repeatedly chanting the single word “HO!” with loud and almost frightening intensity, the red-suited army stretched the length of a city block.
Reverend Al, L.A. Cacophony’s self-described “Grand Instigator,” insisted there’s a deeper meaning to all this. “As recently as the 1800s, Christmas was celebrated with the same sort of carousing as New Year’s,” he said. “People would go ‘wassailing’ from house to house, singing for free drinks, and if they didn’t get any, they’d take out a window or something. It was about going wild in the middle of winter.”
“We’ve endured pious holiday entertainment for too long,” agreed Santa Ho, organizer of this year’s Con. “It’s time to desanitize Christmas.”
Most participants were less ontological about SantaCon. The point for them: Any environment, when filled with Santas, becomes inherently hilarious. SantaCon ’99, then, was essentially a series of variations on a single non sequitur joke. Hundreds of drunken Santas in the subway! Hundreds of drunken Santas at the Biltmore Hotel! Hundreds of drunken Santas ice skating! Hundreds of drunken Santas dancing with toothless junkies in a slum bar!
What was surprising is how funny that one joke could be, and for how long. And situations that come up along the way sometimes provided for unplanned moments of true satire. While plastering the trees outside City Hall with wrapping paper, garlands and ornaments (“Deck the Hall!” the Santas screamed), several enterprising Cacophonists lavished the same attention on the shopping carts of the homeless.
For their part, the homeless — and most “civilians” lucky enough to be conducting their daily business along the SantaCon route — seemed to enjoy the spectacle. Kids, especially, screamed with delight at the sight of so many potential gift-bearers, and the Santas rewarded them with candy canes, small bottles of ketchup or slices of processed cheese. The almost universal good will showed SantaConventioners continued into the Biltmore’s Grand Avenue Sports Bar, even when the ladies bathroom became ground zero for dozens of pot-smoking Santas of both sexes, and a few naughty Kringles started looting crystal bowls and cases of microbrew from the kitchen.
By the end of the day, Reverend Al seemed satisfied. “No arrests,” he observed, his dirty gray Santa beard sagging down beneath his chin. “And so far, no injuries. I call that a successful year.”
For more information on the Cacophony Society, see its Web site at la.cacophony.org.
POWER TO THE SECRETARIES
The workers who run California’s universities are about to pay their dues. At the turn of the year, the new “fair share” state bill, sponsored by state Senator John Burton, requires all UC workers, including those not in unions, to pay for collective bargaining. They don’t have to pay for union organizing drives or political action. The change ends 17 years of “open shop” unionism, which had shrunk membership to an anemic 20 percent of the workforce, 6 percent in some bargaining units. A recent UC Irvine management memo baldly described the unions as “weak and ineffective.”
Elinor Levine, the unpaid president of the Coalition of University Employees, says the dues will shift the balance of power as her clerical workers negotiate their first contract. CUE broke away in 1997 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), charging that the group wouldn’t organize secretaries. Until now, AFSCME, with 14,500 UC members, had only four business agents to cover nine campuses. AFSCME promises new activism. But first, labor faces a legal challenge from the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is demanding proof that the new dues will not go to political activities or organizing.
JESUS CHRIST PHILOSTAR
The political world is still buzzing about George W. Bush’s latest debate performance — notably, his answer, “Christ,” to the question of which political philosopher has most influenced him. The reply plopped Young W into a cauldron of controversy as pundits speculated that the candidate was pandering to the Christian Right, or couldn’t think of another philosopher — or was just not listening when the question was asked.
All of which strikes us as the wrong tack. As far as we’re concerned, it’s as a political philosopher that Jesus really shined. And the only follow-up we’d ask Young W — the most deep-pocketed presidential candidate in the history of the republic — is, “Was Christ right that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” And if so, why not try that line at your next fund-raiser?
First, Los Angeles city schools stop buying textbooks for their students. Now, Santa Monica City College is throwing books away. Architecture instructors at the college-by-the-sea are up in arms over the decision to dismantle the Richard Creadick library, 600 architecture books and publications named after the late SMCC teacher whose wife donated the bulk of the collection.
“Those books were precious. A lot of those books you can’t get any longer,” part-time instructor Eugene Flores said. “The students were very much in an uproar at the time.”
Katharine Muller, dean of external programs, said many of the books were outdated and had to go; others are in storage pending possible addition to the main college library next year. Underlying the book controversy is a battle over the future of the college’s architecture program. Authorities plan to shift the curriculum from a two-year vocational emphasis to a university-transfer mode, stressing preparation for Cal Poly and Berkeley. “The enrollment in the architecture program has been dropping for years,” Muller said. “I expect the curriculum shift to strengthen the ability of students who are transferring to perform well in university.”
Part-time instructors, many of whom have battled administration for years over cutbacks, will be ousted in the process. Next semester, the instructors are being required to reapply for positions they have held for more than 20 years.
“They will lose a lot of teachers who are qualified practitioners in the field,” said instructor Debbie Tataranowicz. Tataranowicz said the curriculum shift is not for the students but for the egos of the empire builders who are increasingly taking over the city college.
“It is becoming Santa Monica Corporation. Everything is about money and numbers, and education is not what they are about anymore,” she fumed. “Santa Monica College has become a slave ship for some administrators and faculty, particularly the part-timers, to the detriment of the students.”
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