“There are too many white people here.” Mark and I leaned against the wall under an awning, cowering from the midday broil at Sunset Junction. Mark himself is a white dude, and my Anglo skin is so fair that it borders on albinism; watching the parade of increasingly sun-seared Caucasians shuffling past us, I couldn’t deny the observation. He clicked his tongue and noted, “There aren’t as many leather daddies either.” He was right. We listlessly leaned for another five minutes before a grown man in a chest harness was led past.
Yes, something was amiss this year. The admission hike from a “suggested donation” to a mandatory $12 ($15 after 4 p.m.) had me staging a sour-faced protest, and on Saturday, despite the solid lineup of local acts, I opted to stay in to scrub my kitchen floor. But by Sunday morning I felt like a lonely cheapskate, so I begrudgingly smeared SPF 45 on every exposed inch of flesh and headed over to brave the 92-degree temperatures and the hopeless parking prospects. Hoofing toward the chainlink gates and interrupting two flirting staffers to get a wristband, I entered into what appeared to be East Los Angeles after an apocalypse, only with hot-dog vendors. The streets, empty of cars, were bordered with pop-up tents offering hemp necklaces and STD tests, but attendance appeared shockingly sparse, and morale undeniably low.
Sulking past carnival rides, dormant for lack of passengers, I caught the rewarding glimpse of a two-piece band called Restaurant sweating through their noon set in front of a few dozen heat-exhausted gawkers. The front man plucked insistently on a banjo, while his partner bashed at a drum kit composed of battered license plates and a suitcase for a bass drum. Foot shuffling occurred, and some dancing. But this brief buzz was killed as the percussionist’s broom-handle drumstick splintered into shards, and he kicked over his homemade kit in frustration. Wandering away, I found it impossible to ignore the pandemic bummer and sad stench of disappointment caused by this year’s fee hike and subsequent community boycott. I bought a snow cone to cheer myself up, and kept roaming aimlessly.
Drawn by the lilt of a sitar, I joined several dozen onlookers as an eager, jiggly belly dancer performed an awkward striptease on a side stage, and a small troupe of muscular, half-clad gay men passed by her like unhungry patrons at a buffet. A young goth with an Aqua Net–fortified nest of hair-care rebellion walked up next to me to catch a glimpse of the belly dance. Shielding her pale, powdered skin from the sun with a promotional Wienerschnitzel frisbee, she paused, rolled her eyes to a friend, and they continued on, no doubt to endure another six hours of sunlight until the Cramps took the stage at dusk.
Eavesdropping on two hipsters talking about their identical fedoras proved only momentarily entertaining. It was hot. Standing in a tiny patch of shade afforded by a parking sign, I sent a text message out to multiple comrades asking if anyone planned on coming. I got back a “no way,” a “Nope,” a “too fucking hot” and an “eh . . . no.” There were two choices: Stay and be forced to use a Porta Potti, or bail. I went home, and continued to clean my kitchen.