“Kerry for President” posters plastered the exterior of Hollywood’s FocusFish fitness studio at Sunday’s “Yoga for Kerry” daylong fund-raiser. But inside, the space was Kerry-free. This wasn’t an oversight. Rumbling like a mantra underneath the calm surface of the day of yoga classes, music and “healing sessions” was a difficult question: Do yoga and politics mix?
This was an event marked not only by the teachers who participated but by those who didn’t: no Bikram, no Anusara, no Power Yoga. None of the teachers whose classes I had taken before were anywhere to be seen. Curious, I asked Paul Beauvais, who owns FocusFish with his wife, Kristy, whether this was significant. “I don’t know,” he told me as he doled out bananas, watermelon and vegan soup. “Maybe they’re all Republicans.” Knowing Beauvais is a kidder, I pressed further. “There was some controversy about it, yes,” he admitted. “But I don’t understand it. Isn’t yoga about harmony and peace? So how can you be apolitical in times like these?”
That’s pretty much the way I saw it, too. The current administration has drifted so far beyond party lines into the realm of pure wrongness that my desire for regime change in the U.S. even seeps into my dreams. Still, I’m tired — tired of talking, listening, learning; tired of amassing evidence against men so unabashedly crooked I can barely retain all their deceptions in my head. So after paying $125 for an all-day pass, I planned to avoid all lectures and talks, and immerse myself in what I love, which is simply to move.
Rebekah Henty’s morning yoga session was accompanied by a live Indian raga ensemble and was happily free of overt political messages. Arthur Jeon of Yoga Works taught a sweaty, cheery flow, but it could have happened anywhere.
And then, a little after 1 in the afternoon, I walked into a kundalini class taught by Gurmukh of the Golden Bridge in FocusFish’s “Big Tank.” I had never done kundalini — in fact, I’d scoffed at what I perceived as repetitive flailing to a bhangra beat. But that changed almost immediately when Gurmukh strode into the class, 15 minutes late, beaming in her white Sikh turban and flowing white robes. “They told me to begin on time and, even worse, end on time,” she said. “That’s going to be difficult for me.” I liked her immediately.
It wasn’t just that Gurmukh commanded us to close our eyes and flail to Indian and Celtic soundtracks with a conviction that cannot be denied. It was that Gurmukh, in her wry and whimsical way, wove activism into yoga so intricately that it was hard to imagine dividing them again. She talked about involvement, tenacity and courage; about avoiding negativity “in this very dark time,” while she coached us to persist even when a posture was becoming unbearable. “Go! Go!” she ordered just when you thought your arms would fly out of their sockets. “Are you tired? Is it painful? Do you want to stop? That means you’re breaking through. Many things in life are hard. Don’t give up! You must participate!”
It seemed a metaphor for all that’s been ailing me in this dystopian climate of suspicious e-voting and predicted surprises, when some of my closest friends have admitted they think it’s futile to vote. (“These guys will never let go of power,” one said.) It was a strange, strange thing: By enduring this pain so acutely I was gritting my teeth until the pain turned into to something else — bliss, maybe? euphoria? — I think I might have found the will to persuade my friends that they’re wrong.
Jenn Joos — who produced the event with Michael Mollura and happens to be a kundalini teacher, too — told me the next day that 250 to 300 people attended and donated about $3,500 for Kerry.
“What mattered is not how much money we raised,” Joos said, “but that we had this jump-start in consciousness; that we said to the yoga community, ‘It’s okay to take a stand.’”
But does taking one stand as a community mean excluding people who take another? “Because the first of the five major principles of yoga is ahimsa,” Joos said, “it’s impossible to be a yogi and be warlike.”
When I reminded her that ahimsa is also translated as “non-harming” and that some yogis believe it means maintaining a strong national defense (I happen to know some Republican yogis), Joos did not retreat. “That’s fine,” she allowed. “Then Yoga for Bush can have a fund-raiser, too.”
Los Angeles, Bush Country?
“I was on the dark side until six years ago,” Austin Dragon pronounced gravely last Thursday night, introducing himself to fellow guests at a West L.A. house party. The sole African-American present, Dragon was confessing neither to past addictions nor the abuse of Jedi powers, but to his checkered political past. Though now president of the South Central Republican Club, Dragon had once been “a big Dem.” He attributed this mistake to inexperience, both his and that of his adopted party.
“A lot of people in South-Central have never seen a Republican before,” explained Dragon at the “Party for the President,” standing around a dining room laden with pizza, chips, salsa and an army of porcelain knickknacks. “I did a quiz in South-Central and asked who voted against slavery. Nobody knew it was the Republican Party. See, for whatever reason, the Republican Party always seems to struggle with PR.”
With the help of Dragon and other grassroots organizers, the GOP hopes to change that. Republicans across the country threw 6,925 potlucks Thursday. Some were better attended than others. A gathering in Richfield, Minnesota, drew 150 participants, and one attendee triumphantly blogged: “This is now officially ‘Bush Country.’” No one is yet saying that about West L.A., where just 10 attended the party hosted at the apartment of 19-year-old Santa Monica College student and City Council hopeful Benjamin Aronow.
Aronow might have been the least politically experienced in the group — he couldn’t remember what the number of his district was — but when it came time to talk strategy, he and his guests were organized and confident. Dragon outlined a plan for volunteer recruitment, voter registration, and winning over the minority vote — a Republican priority in Los Angeles.
“All Bush has to get is 40 percent [of the L.A. County vote] to win California,” said Dragon, explaining the need for GOP outreach in South-Central. “That’s only an increase of 8 percent from 2000.”
“But one of the things I wonder is how you’re going to get in there,” said Shane Smith, himself a former Democrat.
“Churches,” said Dragon.
“You’ve got to get to those young blacks,” Smith agreed.
“Once the Dems lose the black and Latino vote, they will never win in L.A. County again,” Dragon predicted.
“God willing,” muttered goateed Ben Eisenberg, who projected a kind of angry surfer vibe. Asked later by James Glennon why so many American Jews are liberal, he replied, “Culture lag — they’re still stuck on FDR.”
NRA member Diane Henry showed up with a red-white-and-blue cake reading: “W in ’04.” Henry is a staunch Republican but said she attended this particular event only because her boyfriend, an FBI agent, was busy conducting a stakeout. “He’s standing me up for national security again,” she lamented. While Christopher Haas read aloud on one side of the table a generic letter from the president, Henry catalogued her gun collection on the other and mentioned her horses, Rummy and Cheney. A criminal defense lawyer recently bought Cheney, she said, and changed its name.
The conversation drifted, almost inexorably, to documentary director Michael Moore’s anti-Bush flick, Fahrenheit 9/11. “The other day the president of Czechoslovakia said we once saw films like this from Russia,” complained Glennon, director of photography for the HBO series Deadwood, evidently referring to Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus’ recent criticism of Moore’s film. “They’re just propaganda,” paraphrased Glennon. “That’s what Hollywood is producing.”
“That’s why the Dems are angry at Fox News and talk radio,” said Smith. “Because
they don’t have a monopoly on information any more.”
Aronow played a special videotaped message from the president, an unexpectedly subdued and slow-paced collage of Bush stumping in the heartland. The room was hushed until a debate broke out about whether the president had incorrectly said “me” instead of “I,” but ultimately it was decided he was correct. After three minutes, Bush delivered his final remarks to the estimated 100,000 supporters gathered across the nation’s living rooms that night: “May God bless you and may God continue to bless America.”
“Rock the vote, people,” said Henry, as everyone applauded and the tape shut off.
“Now turn on Fox,” said Haas, laughing.
Drinking the Scion Smoothie
In a darkened room in a warehouse deep in Culver City, at the outré photo studio Smashbox, we are indoctrinated into the cult of Scion. At the podium, the hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh, a.k.a. the human beatbox, sings the praises of the new 2005 tC coupe. “We want to make it relaxed,” he says. “Have fun, you know? Just . . . just feel it.” Photos of urban hipsters cavorting in the night flash across a projection screen, some with Scion tattoos on their foreheads. We are given Scion camouflage backpacks containing Scion T-shirts, Scion baseball caps, Scion key chains, Scion compilation CDs, post cards, flipbooks and fuzzy Scion wristbands. We are given juice. We drink it down.
If pressed to describe a car, any car, I might say “shiny” or “metal” or “big” or “small.” Pressed to describe the 2005 tC, Scion’s marketing specialist, Brian Bolain, a bespectacled Doctor X–ish white man, says, “It looks muscular up front with an intentionally distinctive look” and “character lines that provide a clean horizontal flow.” He talks about the specifics of Toyota’s guerrilla marketing strategy, the “philosophy of personalization” — the idea that you can customize the Scion. The car is popular in the tuner market, or street-racing subculture, because you can easily accessorize it with custom shift knobs, custom pedal kits, lowering springs, sport mufflers or 19-inch Toyota Racing Development racing wheels.
It’s all part of Scion’s plan to make the cars look cool in music, art, film and fashion. Be on Monster Garage and Pimp My Ride. Show up at events like Hot Import Nights, breakdance tours and urban artist exhibitions. Hand out music CDs — a new one every nine months — at over 50 nightclubs to keep the Scion in mind in “a non-automotive sense.” Commission artwork by talented new artists, auction finished work on eBay, then donate the proceeds to inner-city youth charities. Let consumers test-drive Scions in their own neighborhoods. “We want them to feel that they have found Scion,” says Bolain, “and not that Scion has found them.”
BMW may be the ultimate driving machine, but Scion is the ultimate lifestyle machine.
During a break from the sales pitch, we munch on caesar salad and prosciutto-and-cheese sandwiches while two graffiti artists paint on opposite sides of a black xA, Scion’s mini: a giant spider and a sea of faces. Meanwhile, a DJ spins records inside a modified orange xB, the car that looks like a breadbox. “This,” says the woman next to me, in between sips of mixed-berry smoothie, “is the future of marketing.”
Before the Scion, Bolain tells me, Toyota didn’t have a car that was iconic, like, say, Volkswagen’s Beetle. As Toyota’s baby-boomer generation grew up, the company needed something to introduce the youngest consumers into the Toyota family. And that’s the heart of the matter: Scions today, Camrys and minivans tomorrow.
We head out into the parking lot for our test drives. I am assigned to vehicle No. 8, a silver tC coupe. For one brief rebellious moment, I think about taking it for an unauthorized joy ride. (Vegas, baby, Vegas!) But I stick to one of the three mapped-out routes, from Stockard to Crenshaw to Rodeo. Driving up and down the streets of Baldwin Hills, the compilation CD bumping hip-hop bass on the stereo, I’m intoxicated by the new Scion smell. It does feel good to gun the 200-horsepower engine, and though I’ve been instructed not to exceed the speed limit, I do. The ride is low to the ground. It is smooth, but grippy. The steering — touch-sensitive. Like a baby race car just discovering the road. I fondle the aluminum knobs and futuristic flush-sealing vents in the “waterfull” center console: launch sequence commence in t-minus five . . . four . . . three . . . If I get a car, do I get a life? In the end, a vehicle by any other name would still smell as sweet.
By the time I get back to Smashbox, they’ve brought out the chocolate-covered strawberries.
Last Tango in Drag
He sat at home in a dimly lighted, wood-paneled den, an 80-year-old man with his memories, his cats and an oxygen tank. An 80-year-old man who, one Thursday a few weeks ago, was wearing a saucy blond wig, mascara, lipstick, a floor-length muumuu, elbow-length gloves, and delicate, furry booties on his feet — the same feet that once kick-started a Triumph Thunderbird 6T and the youthful-rebellion racket in The Wild One so many years ago.
Of course, the cross-dressing senior was the late Marlon Brando, known onscreen by many roles and many names: Stanley Kowalski, Sky Masterson, Don Corleone, Colonel Kurtz, Jor-El (father to Superman) and Last Tango in Paris’ distraught widower, Paul, to name a few. But it’s a long way from the buttery ersatz buggery of Maria Schneider’s virgin keister to the part of sweet, elderly Mrs. Sour in Big Bug Man, the upcoming animated feature that will forever go down in cinema history as the legendary Brando’s final role.
And this is why the actor, staunch method man that he was, donned the dainty garb for a voice-over session. It didn’t matter that no one would see him, it didn’t matter that he was doing the character in his own, very masculine voice; it was all about feeling it. Lending that crucial touch of realism to his work was always de rigueur for Brando. He checked himself into a VA hospital prior to his part as a wheelchair-ridden vet in 1950’s The Men, he allegedly showed up drunk on vodka for a scene in 1952’s Viva Zapata!, and he even had a previous drag outing in The Missouri Breaks in 1976.
Big Bug Man voice director Marice Tobias was one of two people — the other a recording engineer — at the last session, which the ailing Brando requested be an intimate affair.
“We get to the door and there’s this apparition waiting for us,” she recalls. “It’s one thing to imagine it, but there it is. Sitting on the sofa is Mrs. Sour. Marlon was in full drag, in full character; the only thing missing was the bow in her hair. I looked over at him and said, ‘Why, Mrs. Sour, how fetching,’ and he just preened.”
But it wasn’t all preening. Apparently the years hadn’t dampened the octogenarian father of nine’s appetite for the ladies.
“He was terribly flirtatious,” reveals Tobias. “He asked me how long it took me to decide what to wear. They say God is in the details; well, Marlon was in the details. He noticed everything. He loved my boots. I was sitting next to him, and I developed a cramp in my right leg. Next thing you know, he’s massaging my calf, and he’s got my leg over his lap, and he goes, ‘Is it cramping anywhere else?’ And he works his way up my leg and starts going up the inner thigh and says, ‘How about here?’ I said, ‘Do you realize, dressed the way you are right now, how confusing this is?’”
Despite the outfit, it still took some time for Brando to ramp up to the actual recording, says Tobias. “We talked about everything from Reagan’s funeral to world politics to his activism over the years, certain comments he had made. After an hour and a half, he was ready.”
In his autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando wrote, “In acting, everything comes out of what you are or some aspect of who you are. Everything is part of your experience.” Now that he belongs to the ages, we’ll never know what inner sensation the insightful actor drew upon to create Mrs. Sour, the widowed owner of a large candy concern, but the female attire was, perhaps, the handmaiden to his performance, part of a rich heritage Brando bequeathed to us all.
“It was remarkable,” says Tobias. “He didn’t camp it up, he wasn’t a queen, he wasn’t doing any of the cliché stuff. He became her.”
Mrs. Sour, we hardly knew you.