SCOTT KING, A 36-YEAR-OLD FILMMAKER FROM SILVER LAKE, RECENTLY shocked his many friends, admirers and hangers-on by announcing his intention to sell, dump or donate nearly everything he owns. This was no small proposition: King, the heir of a Bay Area banking fortune, has spent much of his adult life amassing and fetishizing huge collections of old weird stuff.
Rarely spotted out of a suit, fedora and stubby tie, his lapel dotted with a Nixon button or union pin, King, until recently, looked less like a trust-fund hipster than a thuggish homicide detective, circa 1946. But unlike the zoot-suited swingers who spawned the now quaint mid-'90s revival of all things '40s — “those people are so retarded they should wear helmets,” he spat at the time — King's rejection of most things new-fangled went far beyond clothes. He outfitted his house with a network of pneumatic tubes and coated the walls in paper decorated with the logo of the WPA. Last year he hired an artist friend to build a nine-hole miniature golf course on his property, each hole modeled after a period landmark (on hole No. 4, the ball takes a spin around the brim of the Brown Derby). Apart from an enthusiasm for big Hollywood blockbusters — he goes to the movies about 250 times a year and claims the Bruce Willis musical Hudson Hawk as one of his favorite films — King always found a way to spend his life far removed from the rest of the world.
So it was with some alarm that friends began noticing changes in King late last year. He was spotted, it was said, getting out of a late-model station wagon wearing a plain T-shirt and khakis. His hair had grown out. He mentioned something about selling the house and scouting real estate in Malibu. He was in therapy.
“Scott King's tired . . . That's right . . . Tired . . . of his empty materialism!” proclaimed the invitation to a July 4 sale King arranged at his home. “After a great mystical journey, he's realized how his possessions have served only to enslave him. And now they can enslave you . . . At low, low prices!”
Among the items going for next to nothing were 400 pieces of Franciscan pottery, an Addams Family pinball machine, a writing desk from the early 1900s and surprisingly substantial remnants of a brief but intense obsession with puppy-dog stickers. That was just downstairs. Up the creaky staircase, friends squeezed into a closet packed with suits and jewelry, inspected a selection of vintage guitars and pawed through boxes overflowing with props and memorabilia from King's first feature, Treasure Island, a black-and-white mystery he made three years ago about World War II intelligence officers remarkable mostly for its complete period accuracy.
Outside, a few steps from the grill where King spent most of the afternoon in a plume of pungent barbecue smoke, the hood of his 1939 BMW opened to reveal an immaculately restored engine, the whole gleaming headache available for $20,000, half of what King paid for it two years ago.
King hoped to end the day with little more than the clothes on his back and the tongs in his fist. He was thrilled, he insisted, to be rid of the rest of all of it, the accumulated evidence of a life he's determined to walk away from forever.
What brought King to this point? He talks about a postSeptember 11 fit of reflection. King is far from patriotic and didn't know anyone hurt or killed in the attacks, but coming at a time when he was already mulling over the meaning of his life, the events prompted a complete mental and physical overhaul.
“For the first few days afterward, everyone was going around saying, 'We now know what life is about — it's about your friends and your family and connecting and that's it. All that other stuff, politics and money and fashion and everything else, it's all bullshit, and we know it.' And then after three days, most people went right back to it. And I just don't want to go back.”
Satisfied that he now possesses nothing less than “the meaning of life” — “other people, and food, obviously,” he says simply — King suddenly can't see the need for all the clothes, the collections, the stuff. Things he once found fascinating now look like distractions or, worse, tools of intimidation. “I thought I was just being cool or challenging or intriguing,” he says. “But I was really just kind of scary.”
He now hopes to find a tiny house on a big plot in Point Dume, where he'll work on his next movie — this one a thriller about the end of the world set in contemporary Russia — and live an uncluttered life with his two beloved dogs and a wardrobe of J.Crew basics. That may or may not be just another big affectation, but one can only root for the new King . . . and perhaps take advantage of a good sale. King's 1939 Seeberg jukebox stocked with vintage 78s may be a distraction and tool of intimidation, but for $400 I couldn't resist. I also came home with three double-breasted suits, a stack of pulp paperbacks (Flesh Therapist!, Dead Yellow Women!) and one happy discovery: One man's existential crisis is another's bargain bonanza.
DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA: Anarchists, Pompadours and the Birdcage Man
LONG BEACH CITY HALL IS AN AUStere, gray tower of the sort that might have looked optimistic in the '70s, but now looks like a tombstone. Downstairs, in the confines of the City Council chambers — think Greco-Roman amphitheater crossed with the bridge of the Starship Enterprise — local democracy is hard at work. The public, less than 20 strong tonight, sits in soft, cloth seats in descending arcs facing, at the base of the room, a curved dais for the nine council members, the mayor, the city manager, attorney and clerk. On the wall behind the dais is a long, white screen, which I expect at any moment to light up and display the gaps in the enemy's force field. It never does.
The item I'm here to see, the city prosecutor's report on its case against local anarchists, is 29th on the agenda. They're up to Number 18, and Councilman Jerry Shultz, a mustached man with a blond pompadour, is proposing a review of federal Section Eight housing vouchers. Shultz is concerned that Long Beach is growing so fast it will soon resemble “Tokyo, or one of the Asian cities.” Until a Section Eight complex moved onto his own block, Shultz says, it was “a beautiful place to walk your kids to the park.” Since then, though, he announces, “I've experienced a drive-by shooting, drugs, prostitution.” Before he can fully confess these experiences, I head out for a dinner break.
They're up to the public comment phase of Number 25 when I return, and Thomas Murphy, an elderly chap wearing sneakers and a baseball cap, is reading a prepared statement about the shortage of police officers. He will read from typewritten statements on all of the remaining issues, promising at one point to “do my best to attend City Council meetings whenever they are held.” Meanwhile, a red-faced man in jeans and a T-shirt depicting Christ on the cross leaps nervously from seat to seat. He whispers to the half-dozen young men and women sitting toward the back dressed in black, anarchists here to state their case. They shush him, and he leaves the room.
The council moves on, and Murphy shuffles back up to the podium to comment on Item 28, “regarding second amendment to Contract No. 26419,” he reads, “with California Western Abortionists, Inc., for trimming trees at various locations . . .”
Councilman Ray Grabinski interrupts: It's arborists, not abortionists. “I just want to make sure we're talking about trees,” he says.
The clarification is not appreciated. Old Man Murphy gives him a dressing down the likes of which Grabinski probably hasn't seen since sitting on his grandpap's knee. “That's very rude, interrupting people like that,” he scolds, and starts again from the beginning: ” . . . Contract No. 26419 with California Western Abortionists, Inc. . . .”
The red-faced man returns, now in a bald eagleemblazoned sweatshirt. He models it for the anarchists with a defiant thumbs up. Murphy prattles on about tree trimming. The council members talk among themselves.
Finally, city prosecutor Tom Reeves takes the microphone. He's a broad-shouldered man with a military flattop, here to report on the city's case against protesters arrested at a 2001 May Day rally, which police broke up with a more than liberal use of batons and rubber bullets.
“These people have been coming before you and complaining about how abused and mistreated they are,” Reeves says, gesturing vaguely to the anarchists in the back. “They were not abused and they were not mistreated . . . I'm here to tell you the police department did a magnificent job.” Of the 62 charged with misdemeanors, Reeves boasts, one case was dismissed, two were found not guilty at trial, one was convicted at trial, and 58 took plea bargains. “That's a 97 percent conviction ä rate!” After showing slides of arrested demonstrators looking pained, wearing newspaper “body armor” taped to their clothing to protect themselves from police blows, Reeves sneers, “Peaceful? Innocent? Rioters!”
The mayor, Beverly O'Neil, wearing an American-flag silk scarf, thanks Reeves for his hard work. The public comment period begins, and a man in a blue shirt limps forward. “I am not allowed in Judge Dee Andrews' court!” he declares, and launches into a tirade about the corruption of Judge Dee Andrews and how no one should be arrested just for being drunk. O'Neil cuts him off and asks him to address the issue at hand, which he does, with startling clarity. “You got one guilty by trial and two not guilty. The rest were plea bargains. You didn't win, you got a bunch of scared kids to take pleas.”
He's followed by a few anarchists and activists who more or less say the same thing: “There was a riot — it was a police riot.” A young woman who identifies herself only as Katie reads a statement about anarchism. “Anarchists believe in the creation of a society in which no human being oppresses another,” she reads. The council members look bored.
The red-faced man rises and introduces himself as Carl Miller. “It's real simple, the way I see it,” he says, searching the faces behind him to be sure everyone understands. “If you pose a threat, the police have to respond to that threat or the supposed threat or that threat that was not a threat, and pretty soon the police don't know if there's a threat, or there is no threat.” He goes on, but I soon lose track. At the end of his three minutes, he seems satisfied that he's got his point across, so there's nothing to be sad about.
Would it be too much to submit that the Thomas Murphys and Carl Millers of the world, the tortured, restless spirits who haunt city council meetings the whole country over with their mad insistence on participation, are the very soul of citizenship, the tragic superheroes of democracy? Hats off to the ranters. Give them TV time, I say.
When the anarchists leave the chambers, Miller isn't far behind. Once outside, he yells, “You guys are going to your nice comfy homes. You know where I'm going? I'm going where I always go — to my car with my two birds, to battle the drugs, the crime, the lies and the hate!”
In the parking lot, I spot a battered Jetta, birdcages in its front and back seats. He wasn't kidding. So I'm not surprised when over the next two weeks I see it all, everything he prophesied: drugs, crime, lies, even hate.
PURSUITS OF HAPPINESS: Blue Sky Dreams
SOMETIMES IT'S HARD TO GET A KID'S attention — especially if the kid's nearly 60 years old and he's watching other kids in their 30s and 40s fly model airplanes. A few weekends back at Encino's Apollo 11 airfield, everyone seemed to be reliving their childhood. And no one wanted to break the spell by talking to some stranger about what they love about this place.
Finally, after repeated inquiries, one guy offered that he's been coming here for the “last 40 or 50 years either flying or watching.” That was all he was willing to say aside from “That fellah over there in the yellow shirt has a helicopter — go talk to him.” Then he looked up to the sky, and his eyes turned blue.
A lady watching from the bleachers simply said: “I don't speak English. My husband does the flying — go talk to him.”
Ironically, there was no problem getting the guys doing the flying to talk. Let's see, according to flight-training coordinator Tom Peniston, the airfield has been here since scale-airplane modeling began in the '20s and '30s. A great part of the Sepulveda flood basin was devoted to modeling before Woodley Avenue and the golf course existed. The San Fernando Valley Radio Control Flyers have been mini-aviating since the 1960s. The prices of the models are anywhere from $300 for a trainer model to $15,000 for a jet with a real turbojet engine that can reach speeds up to 250 mph. Another pilot, Ofer, was also very informative: “I fly a P-51 War Bird. Size 120 four-stroke OS with retractable flaps. It flies like a scale.”
Right . . . Back to the bleachers, where I belong.
No other spectators would open up, so I'll just tell ya: It feels like a different era at this field. Being here makes me want to get a crew cut and listen to Kingston Trio records. I find myself saying “That's so cool” every 34.3 seconds. I start longing for the time of TV test patterns and Coco Puffs coated with so much sugar you could break a window with one; I begin fantasizing about a quick game of Twister before The Wonderful World of Disney, once my most pressing engagement. This is the most un-L.A. place in L.A. When all the road rage, rudeness and general chaos involved in living in Los Angeles really get to me, I like to come here. I pack a little lunch, light up a smoke, and then I look up to the sky and let my eyes turn blue.