The L.A. Weekly was founded in 1978, which makes
this our twentieth anniversary year. In celebration, we will
be looking back at the paper’s history in occasional articles. This is the first.
None of this is my fault. At least not all my fault. There are plenty of others to blame. For instance, there’s the Bhagwan . . .
I start out 1985 at the Bodhi Tree, a multispiritual bookstore on Melrose with incense and herbal tea. I am looking for nothing in particular, which is when you stumble upon the most surprising things.
I am skimming from section to section, belief system to belief system, from Asimov to Zoroaster, when there in front of me is an entire wall of books by someone I’ve never heard of. His name is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and he is not famous yet. He has not yet moved to Oregon, started an ashram, collected Rolls-Royces and gotten thrown out of the country. But he will be equally responsible for the Biggest April Fools’ Joke Ever.
If I had not opened a random book by Rajneesh, turned to the first page and read the first paragraph, none of this would have happened. Here is what that first page said:
Beyond the boundary of this room is the unbound, open sky. You have never seen it. I can talk with you about the sky, about the freshness, about the sea, about all that is beyond this room, but you have not seen it. You do not know about it. You just laugh; you think I am making it up. You say, “It is all fantastic. You are a dreamer.” I cannot convince you to go outside because everything that I can talk about is meaningless to you.
Then I say, “The house is on fire!” This is meaningful to you; this is something that you can understand. Now I do not have to give you any explanations. I just run; you follow me. The house is not on fire, but the moment you are outside you don’t have to ask me why I lied. The meaning is there; the sky is there. Now you thank me. Any lie will do. The lie was just a device; it was just a device to bring you outside. It did not cause the outside to be there. Every religion is based on a lie device.
I immediately dig the guy. Here he is, right off the bat, admitting that he’s lying to me. I buy the book and never finish it, but I do end up carrying a phrase around in my head for days, like a hit song with a killer hook. “Lies to get you out of the house.” I write it down at the top of a piece of paper, sure that something will come.
It does. I conceive of it as an article for the L.A. Weekly, where I am regularly getting printed. I stare at the sheet of paper underneath the title. I start filling in the blanks.
“You missed Filmex,” I type, “didn’t see Company and discovered too late that Julian Lennon was sold out. Instead, you stayed home again last weekend, despite the dozens of glorious and exciting things the L.A. Weekly told you there were to do. Well, I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for such laziness this first week of April . . .”
I follow this short intro with a list of totally fantastic things, such as a “Free Nude Ballet” in Echo Park or Spago selling pizza at $2 a slice — things that can’t possibly be true. Blatant lies. It is an ultimate piece of absurdist wish fulfillment with the sole purpose of getting couch potatoes off their couches. Also, it is precisely my sense of humor, and I think it might amuse my editor, the founder of the L.A. Weekly, Jay Levin.
The next idea is his, I swear to God. All I do is show him the piece. He laughs, looks at the calendar and says, “Let’s run it on April Fools’ Day.” See? Not my idea, though at the time I wished I had thought of it.
Jay runs the article full-page, with illustrations. But it isn’t titled “Lies To Get You Out of the House,” it’s titled “A Weekend To Remember.” There is no hint that the items are lies unless you read the bold reversed subhead, “A guide to special events in L.A. on or about April 1.”
A lot of people don’t read the bold reversed subhead. A lot of people skip right to the item that interests them, without bothering to read anything else. A lot of people go out to do things that aren’t really happening. Things that will make them sound nuts if they ask about them.
“Excuse me, could you direct me to the free nude ballet starring all the women from Fantasy Island?”
“Uh . . . sure, Bud. It’s right this way.”
Who would believe such nonsense? Readers, that’s who. Lots of them. Like the dozens who arrive for the “Car Swap.” “Tired of your old beater? Just bring it to the parking lot at the Farmers Market this weekend and swap it for a shiny new 1985 American model of your choice,” the article says, and that they do. Who doesn’t want a new car?
Of course if Alice hadn’t met Pete, she never would have stolen that convertible. He told her he was a dealer, and that’s why he had all those keys from hundreds of late-model cars, just like a hotel owner has master keys to the hotel’s rooms. She believed the lie about the car swap, so why wouldn’t she believe him? It makes perfect sense that she would take the new Mustang he just happened to have the keys to in trade for her decrepit Beetle.
That’s why this story isn’t about me, it’s about them. Perhaps you. The hundreds who trust, who believe, who don’t know it’s April Fools’.
“Paint the Beverly Center!”
“Sure, where are my spray cans?”
There are two things Hermes can do faster than anyone else, run and paint. It is a perfect combo for a graffiti artist. His Holy Grail is the Beverly Center, which he considers to be a blight upon the basin. He misses the pony rides. But what a canvas. He reads that “the entire building is being given over to the artistic community to do with it what they will. Paint provided . . .” He
drives past the building on Friday night and dreams. Who can blame him for making his dream come true the next day? Who can blame them for arresting him, then letting him go, then arresting him again?
The “Gourmet Food Fair” down the median strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills is such a good idea that it actually happens years later. But it doesn’t happen on April Fools’ Day of 1985, when Irate Reader drives all the way in from the Valley to sample his first Spago’s goat-cheese-and-alligator-sausage pizza for only $2 a slice. TheWeekly runs his subsequent letter to the editor, with apologies.
As for those jerks who showed up at the L.A. County Museum of Art, it serves them right. Why would anyone show up to see a special newly restored version of A Star Is Born, in which the director, Frank Pierson, has removed all the closeups of Barbra Streisand? The new director’s cut of the film “runs only 23 minutes.” But still they come. Is this not clearly a joke? Do they simply fail to believe that anyone is crass enough to make a joke at Barbra Streisand’s expense?
I admit I’m startled that someone believes me when I say it’s “Punch Out a Head of State” day at Disneyland. Do I mention that the “Meet Mr. Lincoln” exhibit will feature the addition of Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Botha et al., and that “everyone in the audience will be allowed to wallop the national leader of his or her choice”? You bet I do.
So it’s not surprising that Disney security throws Tito out of the park for knocking the animatronic Ronald Reagan’s head off. He does discover a secret ride, one reserved for those getting thrown out. Mickey’s personal escort service takes you directly to your car. Tito enjoys his prolonged tour of the parking lot.
When I say there is going to be “Free Health Care” at Cedars-Sinai hospital, it is just a lie to get you out of the house. When I say, “There’s no charge for anything from minor injuries to major surgery,” it is clearly a promise that can’t be fulfilled. It’s supposed to be funny. But you don’t laugh, you believe me. You show up, like the legions to Lourdes, the poor, the destitute, desperate souls with no damned hope in the world of getting free health care at the biggest, most expensive hospital in the city.
I know I disappoint all you Tom Selleck fans when I say he is going to be “performing at Chippendales.” You must not have read the part that said it was “a special benefit for dull, nonpersonable cops.”
They do give you your money back. They do invite you back two weeks later when Tom Selleck actually appears. One of you does marry him.
And I get my favorite phone call of all time. I’m in the front office of the Weekly when the receptionist says, “It’s for you,” and asks me to pick up the phone.
“Hello, is this Michael Dare?”
“This is the LAPD. Why are we getting all these phone calls asking for free Italian shoes?”
Did I forget to mention that one of the items stated that the LAPD had discovered an unclaimed cache of thousands of pairs of Italian shoes and would be giving them away? I had forgotten all about it.
And so I take a deep breath and say the one thing I haven’t said all day, especially to a cop. I say, “April Fool.”
That weekend, I get one personal dream fulfilled in exchange for this notoriety. I get to lie on my back in the sun at the “Love-In in Griffith Park” that does occur, and will keep occurring year after year. I get to pretend it is the ’60s. Love beads and tie-dyes. Clouds that look like things. Not a care in the world, awake to all options, alive to the momentary depth of change that is always possible with just a little bit of trust.
Excerpt from Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy, Chapter 1. ©Copyright Osho International Foundation and used with kind permission.