|Bob Baker and friends|
I grabbed the truck, which was lacking petrol, and headed downtown. I was on my way to Grand Park in the heart of the downtown area to sit and listen to a group of protesters planning and problem solving. In fact, the theme of my Black Friday seemed to be the letter P. So much so that I expected Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to pop out and say to me, "Today's letter of the day is the letter P."
Before I got out the door, some very sad news came screaming down the pike. Bob Baker, the brilliant puppeteer of Los Angeles, had died. Huge bummer.
I loved Bob and his work. His theater in EchoPark was a mainstay of the city, and over the years I had seen a number of productions there. Over the years I had seen his work, and in fact, I was fortunate enough to not only meet him, but to also watch him perform at the school I work at a few years ago.
He was the only puppeteer that I know of who had a licensing agreement outside the Disney Corporation who could make puppets of Walt's characters. In fact, I have one that I love very much.
He was an amazing puppeteer and a kind man. Apparently, I am not alone in this sentiment. Here is what the Los Angeles Times says (click here):
The Los Angeles City Council designated Baker's theater a historic-cultural landmark in 2009 after a parade of puppets marched across the council's ornate horseshoe-shaped desk and other Southern California puppeteers rallied to support the landmark nomination. Baker, ever the workhorse, missed watching the 14-0 vote because he was staging a previously scheduled series of shows in Paramount.
Tonight I was driving through Echo Park and I snapped off a picture of the theater. It is running the Nutcracker Suite. It's that time of year. I had almost forgotten. That show is a favorite that I had seen a couple of times. I wonder if this year's performance will be the last one.
I am sure going to miss you Bob Baker. Ninety years wasn't nearly enough to capture your talent.
I have one. I know I have one because I get to see a doctor once a year and he digs for it. I am about fifteen waves into this practice.
The unfortunate finger wave is now a yearly ritual for me as we track its growth, and while this is a rather innocuous unit - reachable by probing forefingers - it now controls my ever so spectacular silver years.
It's certainly not as spectacular as the colonoscopy - also known as the Grandaddy of All Finger Waves - but its an already annoying pastime that is overstaying its welcome.
I remember the first time I got lubed and tubed. During the initial consultation, the doctor explained to my new bride that she was welcome to watch the internal procedure on a tv screen through the endoscope. As if it wasn't humiliating enough that I had to discuss it with her in the room.
I suggested that she bring some popcorn.
Which brings us to the next subject.
I have to go. A whole lot. It's not a cause for alarm. It's been part of my life since I was a kid. If I drink, I have to pee five minutes later.
Of course, this makes traveling difficult. It means that I can't drink anything unless I want to force the car to pull over at every Flying J and Travel Center and truck stop on earth.
Even more difficult is the necessity to go when walking through any area that has gone undergone the gentrification process. The reason is because these areas are designed to get rid of noncommercial people whose only need is to go pee.
I have learned to find Quickie Pee Stops when I'm downtown. Union Station, Phillipe's, and the one across from Mr. Churro are all free. The one at Burger King costs a thin quarter.
The one at Union Station is particularly awful early in the morning. Just a heads up. Pardon the pun.
You are not generally welcome in the bathrooms of any businesses unless you plan to use the services provided while you are in a gentrified areas. That is because these areas are designed for the rich, and that excludes not only the homeless, but anyone who makes under a hundred thousand dollars a year.
That means me and probably you. And if you need to pee more than once every couple of hours, I have bad news for you.
You'd better start wearing a diaper.
Another great plus in the world of gentrification is the charge you will pay for parking your car. There are meters and parking lots that are designed to absorb your money for the use of the streets you already pay taxes to keep up. I call meters an exercise in double-dipping, but in our tax me, spank me country, that is all par for the course I guess.
Now, for all of you paranoid people who think the government is watching you and tracking you, I want to toss a little something out there to you.
If you are politically active, or if you participate in any sort of civil discourse that could be viewed as being problematic, I want to assure you that, yes, you are being watched and spied on.
And if you throw a credit card into a parking meter, you have just left a digital footprint.
After paying cash somewhere over in Chinatown, and going pee on Olvera Street, and then walking a few blocks to the civic center, I found there was plenty of free parking for the eight Department of Homeland Security vans, and the thirty police cars. They were parked on the street my tax dollars built.
They must have belonged to the many officers who were just standing around chatting, and getting paid overtime for doing absolutely nothing. I walked along with my tourist wife, and we marveled at all of the busy men standing around chatting on their cell phones.
If you decide to skip out on feeding the meters on these protest days, guess what? Officer Overtime probably won't even notice.
Protesters in the Past and Present
Protesting brings a plethora of digital footprints. You are being photographed and spied on. You are under surveillance.
For me, this is nothing new. I came from punk rock in the late seventies and early eighties. In those days my face was in the files of both with LAPD and the FBI, along with Huntington Beach and Newport Beach PDs. They didn't quite understand what we were up to, so they watched us, measured us, and documented us.
They would also raid our clubs and kick our asses.
Nowadays there are surveillance devices that film you in high definition and can track and record conversations that are 100 feet away. A man with a camera and two titanium hip replacements explained this to me as I puff-puff-puffed up Cardiac Hill Street Blues praying for a toilet. And oxygen.
I think I can, I think I can.
I asked him if you can get the footage through the Freedom of Information Act requests. He told me that, yes, it is possible, but I would need to figure out which agency was actually doing the filming. He shared that they still have the discretion to deny the footage, or to edit it, or to leave it tied up for years in legal wrangling.
I was listening to a police officer explain to passersby that the police totally support peaceful protests as long as the protesters follow directions. Of course what he failed to point out is that they give conflicting directions to protesters so that they can step in and arrest them. I have seen this happen many times.
Anyway, while the officer explained this I stopped to listen and was being filmed. Not that I care. I have been filmed my entire life. However, there is something you should know.
Your picture, plus the images of your children from those school picture days, all go into data banks. That way they can figure out who you are by using face recognition software.
And they do.
Say cheese again.
Park Meetings and People Talking
We met our friend G-Man at Grand Park. There was a meeting going on by concerned protesters. Many were frustrated by the lack of cohesion and organization in the protests that week.
I understood their concern. I have been to a lot of protests over the years and these things are usually pretty spontaneous and loose. However, this week I had seen the 110 Freeway shut down, and I had seen a number of people arrested. I had also been surrounded by six cops in riot gear who firmly told me I needed to leave when they spotted me filming another group of cops.
See, the government is allowed to film and spy on you. They get pissed off when you do it back.
Anyway, I sat on the grass and listened as a number of people voiced their concerns about the lack of direction, incomprehensible objectives, and general wandering about that had been the rule with the week's protests.
They had asked beforehand for a loose, discussion-style meeting. No filming. No streaming. Everyone I saw there seemed to be following those requests. Of course, I can't speak for the police - who were standing around in two friendly groups of about five each - amicable, informative, and approachable.
After the second to last speaker was a young black woman who asserted that this demonstration wasn't about our own personal agendas. She then went on to state it should really focus on what she felt it should be about.
In other words, it was about her agenda.
"This is about young black men," she said, "can it be about them, and not about blond hair, and blue eyes?"
I sat there and thought about what she said. I was sitting in this park out of respect for Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill man who happened to be white, and for Darrien Hunt, a young black man who was killed while cosplaying.
And I rubbed my blue eyes, scratched my once blond hair - which is now graying. I thought about how many times I was beaten up on my way home from school because of my skin shell casing and color. I thought about growing up poor and on welfare.
I stood up amid the cheers to the moderator's call to action, "Are you ready to march?!"
Then I turned around and left.
I walked over to my Sicilian-Italian American spouse. Her family could not buy property in Arcadia because they were wops and guineas that weren't allowed to be shown properties by the Realtor associations. They were allowed to buy properties only in Temple City, El Monte or San Gabriel.
And I simply said, "I will follow, silently support, and watch this group. I will not march with them. They do not value my opinions. They do not respect what I am."
MJ and I stayed well behind, and then tapered off. The G-Man decided to march.
I found her a bench and told her to wait for me. Then I walked twenty blocks back to grab my truck. I returned to pick her up.
And I thought about the meeting that I had just wasted my afternoon on. And that there was every indication that those people were about to get arrested.
And I came to a bitter conclusion.
I will not need a finger wave this year because I believe I have just received one.
The phrase Po-Po is a slang for police.
Urban legend attributes this slang to California surf culture. The police on patrol used beach cruisers and traveled in pairs. On their vests were the letters P and O. When traveling or walking together the letters spelled PO-PO.
Before leaving today my spouse asked a lawyer friend if there were any precautions we should take when protesting. The advise was simple and direct:
1. Keep moving. Keep an eye out for any attempt to box in or get out flanked.
2. Listen very closely for orders to disperse re: unlawful assembly.
3. Figure out a way for everyone to have cameras that upload in real time to cloud based storage.
4. Never, ever, ever argue or preach to the cops. Accept any arrest. Assert fifth amendment rights and hope that the videos show innocence.
On my way to the truck I heard sirens from three locations, and then the inevitable news vans. Then helicopters. A group of kids were grinding their boards and doing street tricks. I snapped a picture right before they jumped off their boards and got ready to run. I started to chuckle. It's weird, I actually enjoy life and laugh sometimes.
"You don't need to hide tonight guys. Just stay away from the protests. Tonight the police don't care about you skateboarding. They will probably leave you alone all week. Have fun. Be safe. "
I went to get my truck. I watched bucket loads of cops heading up 1st Street. And I then realized that after all of their posturing, they walked right into a trap and got themselves kettled in.
And sure enough, we drove up 1st, over the bridge onto Beverly, and there they were. Locked up on a street, surrounded and enclosed by 100 LAPD in riot gear.
As I drove over the bridge I pointed out to Mary that there was no sidewalk on the bridge. Just traffic lanes.
"How much do you want to bet? They walked over the bridge, blocking traffic, and gave the police the only excuse they needed to shut this down."
The police, I was told later, had been extremely helpful, and true to my prediction, had baited the trap, instructed their movement, escorted them, and used the protesters trusting naivete to set them up and lock them in.
They gave the marchers conflicting directions. The marchers would follow the first set of directions, while another group followed the conflicting set of directions. The police then used this clusterfuck to say the protesters were not following directions. Then they escorted them over the bridge. And used that as a foundation for shutting it all down. The protesters had disrupted traffic.
Traffic was blocked both ways and there was no way we were going anywhere. There were literally a hundred cops on the scene. Rifles ready with rubber bullets. Fully clothed in riot gear.
We crawled, literally, to the intersection. It was clear that we'd need to make a left on Alvarado. There was no where else to go, and no where to park. So we sat. And we sat. And we sat. Then we sat some more. It was noisy with lots of helicopters and sirens going off, and the lights. Blue and red, lighting up the sky like a show at the Laserium.
We looked around for a couple of people to see if they wanted a ride out of the trap they had been led into. And we sat for some more. Then I looked at my gas gauge, and realized it was on empty. So I did what any other good consumer would do. I pulled into the Chevron gas station.
Never mind that it was filled with fifty cops in body armor and helmets.
"Oh my God, what are you doing?" Mary couldn't believe I had pulled in to the station.
"We need gas. If we run out on the street, we will only create another problem. So for the next twenty minutes, I'm a customer. I'm buying gasoline."
I was ashamed. I swore I wouldn't buy anything today.
So, with some back and forth maneuvering, I pulled up to a pump and started, I thought, laying in some gasoline. Then I stood on the back fender and looked around for the G-Man.
Mary started laughing and continued to laugh for the next twenty minutes. Apparently she has never seen me pump gas at the OK Corral.
A riot cop with a baton walked toward my truck and started yelling, "Who does this truck belong to?" I was standing on the fender. I guess he wasn't making assumptions. I put my arms up in the air and said, "It's mine."
"Well, you need to move it. We need to park vehicles here."
I put my arms down, and pointed to the pump, which was, I thought, putting gas into my truck. I answered, "I'm out of gas. I needed to buy some. I'm a customer of Chevron."
Then I smiled. He looked over and saw that, indeed, I was a customer of Chevron. "OK. Finish up and you need to move."
I assured him that I would. It turned out that it took another ten minutes because I forgot to put in my pin number. It was all a bit overstimulating. Once I was finished I got into the truck and I looked up, and miracle of miracles, there was the G-Man walking through the station parking lot trying to figure out how to get to the bus stop.
We gave him a ride. And then we went home.
Apparently my privilege, and not my aloof nature and wits, had gotten me out of a pickle once again.
Clearly, the organizers who set up this protest, and those who sat in the park wanting to show their support for the Ferguson protesters, were there to voice some shared outrage over the corruption of the Ferguson Police, the District Attorney, and the failure of the Grand Jury.
However, they lost focus, and momentum. This is not unique to Los Angeles. There is a similar splintering all over. As long as we assert our unique differences at the cost of our greater selves, we are lost as a species. Let alone the short term goal of social equity and justice.
It's not about skin shell covering. This runs way deeper. But if there is a single group in all of this, those who believe they should lead, I suggest they get over their youth privilege and find an experienced leader and speaker instead. You need to go covert in your planning. You need to stop trusting the word of the police. You need to change laws that protect the police, and dismantle the power of their union that excuses and enables their behavior. You need to push through bills to demilitarize them.
Oh. Oops. Sorry. That is my privilege speaking. Again.
The general assembly and call for a general strike did accomplish something. It was successful in making me feel like a stupid old white guy with blue eyes getting in the way of the directionless idealists. In the not so unique style of part time protesters and communist-lite socialists. In the way of potential leaders who would rather have a pissing contest than lead a movement against a power structure that hates all of its citizens.
And so, the Ferguson situation is not my battle.
Not in Los Angeles, anyway.
It's going to play out in Missouri for now. Yes, it is a concern for me. But it is also being made increasingly clear to me that this one is not mine to fight.
I know how, and when, to step back. And I know when a lack of direction, leadership, and focus is going to quickly funnel an important issue straight down the drain. There are way too many cooks in the kitchen.
I know when it's time to let someone else drive the bus.
Now, if you'll kindly excuse me, I need to pee again.