Friday, June 29, 2012

Beach Alien Seen In Venice!

Today was the first day of what my friend Jenny and I call our "Mermaid Triathalon". We bike, walk, and swim out to the flag by the end of the Venice Pier. On the walk part of the deal, we came upon this freaky creature, that when we bent down to check it out, was very much alive.

 I've never seen anything like it and have no idea what it is. I have alerted the Venice Beach Freak Show that this guy was cruising Venice today. Oh yeah, and we still went on the swim part, because we are brave.

*Brave up-close photo by Jennifer Everhart

Houseless in Venice - The Gonzalez Family

The Gonzalez family had lived at 1033 Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice since 1953, when it was still called West Washington Boulevard. Mr. Gonzalez worked hard as a gardener at the Fox Hills Golf Course. He saved up, bought his home in Venice, and owned it outright, free and clear. He and his wife raised 10 kids in that house, which was built in 1904, a year before Abbot Kinney even officially proclaimed the land "Venice".

The kids all went to Venice schools, worked and played in Venice, at a time when no one locked their doors, you talked to your neighbors on the streets, and the whole town would turn up for concerts or Thanksgiving dinners at the Venice Pavilion. They were happy times, and four generations of the Gonzalez family lived in their home. Then Mr. Gonzalez died. Then Mrs. Gonzalez died. Then it all fell apart.

I'd seen the family out in their front yard for years, saying hello as we'd pass by on our way to Lilly's restaurant next door. The house was starting to show the wear and tear of passing years, but I always liked that there was a regular old house on Abbot Kinney, full of lawn art and wind chimes, in stark defiance to all the change and gentrification stuff going on up and down the street. They weren't going anywhere. Then one day the family was camping out in their car. Then under a tarp on the side of the house. Then one day the entire house was gone, razed to the ground, and the people had set up camp on the sidewalk in front of the house. They STILL weren't going anywhere. After seeing this go on for about 6 months or so, I was going by on my way to Joe's (for the excellent Artist & Architect show curated by Tibby Rothman - great!) a few weeks ago, and decided just to ask the woman sitting there what was going on.

Adele Gonzalez lived in her family home on Abbot Kinney since her father moved the family in when she was 8 years old. Now 64, Adele told me her rough story as we sat on the curb in front of her now vacant lot of family memories, where she has slept since the whole nightmare began.

I wanted this to be a story about how The Man came in and forced out a poor family, something I could rage against, and shine light upon another shady housing scandal. This is not that story. Adele has a wayward brother, who after learning some swindling techniques during a prison stay, screwed the rest of his family out of both their family home and any proceeds from it (which online public records show sold for 1.3 million in 2010 to an unknown buyer). As we all well know, there's not a lot you can do to sort out other peoples' family dramas, but what we can do is clear up the hurtful rumors and check ourselves a bit as neighbors and members of the Venice community.

Adele would laugh at me using the word that I so often do regarding Venice - "Community". She doesn't think it exists in Venice any longer, but I think it's more a case of her not BELONGING to the community. Folks waving to each other from table to table at Gjelina, or in line for coffee at Abbot's Habit would certainly argue for the existence of community among Venetians. Dog park people and Kid park people and yoga class goers and the surf line-up and the Skatepark and the Boardwalk, all of us have a sense of place and belonging here after a while. But to hear Adele talk about her family situation, all sense of community for them dried up the minute they were booted from their home.

And booted they were. They were given about 20 minutes to gather their things and get out. A sister had missed a couple of loan payments she had taken out for home repairs (wasted money and effort as the house was bulldozed shortly thereafter), and that created the opening the brother needed to swoop in and sell the thing. It's kind of a murky tale how it all came down, but that's not really the important part of the story. It's how they've been treated after the fact.

Adele is not a fan of Bill Rosendahl or his homeless programs. She is not a fan of Officer Skinner and her colleagues, who they feel harassed by (they were given two tickets in one week for having their things in found grocery carts - considered stolen. How are they supposed to pay these tickets when they're just trying to get money for food?!). She is not a fan of the Baptist minister next door, who told them they couldn't keep their things on the side of the church, as it "might attract more homeless people." Adele doesn't take kindly to being called "homeless" as she sits outside of what was her family's home for over half a century, and added, "God never turns anyone away." Yeah.

So they sit there and refuse to leave. Adele sits there and hears people go by talking about them as if they're not there. They've been laughed at and called awful names, heard stories about how there were crazy hoarders living there, someone got killed in there, they had to condemn it, on and on, and not true and extremely painful to hear when you know, more than almost anybody, every bit of history - HISTORY - of this place we ALL want to live in and love. It's awfully hard to swallow, one can imagine. For all of these nasty comments and slights, there are the occasional folk who come by and offer help or a bottle of water or five bucks to get a sandwich, and of them, Adele says, "They helped me, and God is going to help them. Think about it, one day you might be where I am, so don't judge me or my family. Only God judges."

There's something to be said for yanking up your bootstraps, and making things happen for yourself, even when you've been screwed over, because that can and will happen to everyone. I'm not sure what went wrong with the Gonzalez family internally to get them to where they are - Adele, her two grown sons, and two sisters are all camped together on the sidewalk, even right now as you read.  I'm also very well aware of the attitude some have towards "the homeless" based on well-founded fear from bad experiences with some of the Mad Max style, tough customer homeless roaming the beach area, or just small-minded fear based on personal property value stuff. Adele's father taught her to never lie or steal, and as she sees it, her only crime is being poor. Believe me, from sitting and talking with Adele and her family, they do not WANT to be on the street. They do not want to be in the way of your fancy stroller coming down the sidewalk. They do not want to be starving on the sidewalk just down from some of the posher restaurants in town. They need help. They just don't know how to ask for it after living right there in their house for so long.

Shelters take women with young children first. There's a waiting list that older women with grown and troubled sons idle at the bottom of. Adele is tired, and cold every night. Her sons need work, which could vastly help the situation, but it's hard to secure work without an address and not much else but the clothes on your back. Adele has her birth certificate, and the original deed to the house. She doesn't know hardly anything about the laws or real estate issues, but an "Advocate" from the city is "supposed to" come and see Adele to try and help them. She doesn't plan on going anywhere until some of this is straightened out, if it even still can be. They need to be more pro-active, but that's easier said than done when you've slept outside all night, are sore, tired, hungry and have no means to get anywhere.

Adele cried when she watched her childhood home bulldozed in front of her face on Easter weekend, as she watched from the cracked concrete where she now sleeps. She stays put out of defiance, to make a point, to HANG IN THERE. But she can't keep this up. It's cold, uncomfortable, unhealthy, ugly living. I find it admirable, in a FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME! kind of way, but I also find it heartbreakingly sad. That people would hurt each other so, even from within family. That people would react to them so heartlessly in the aftermath. And also, that they would settle for this kind of life for themselves. They're willing and able to accept help, if anyone in housing or law or that kind of thing can give it. There has to be a solution, and a willingness, from both the family and the community, to DO SOMETHING. I believe that's what we're all here for after all, EACH OTHER.

I'm reminded of a quote from Billie Holiday, that just lays it all out bare ... "You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave."


*House photos from 2005/6 (with SPONTO!) by Jennifer Everhart

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Greetings from Venice!

I love this.

Speedway and Westminster mural. It's a BEAUTIFUL day in the neighborhood.

LOVE from Venice!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Art is Everywhere!

It's true that you can make something beautiful out of almost anything ... and then it becomes a tourist attraction.

The liquor store on Abbot Kinney is undergoing a "renovation" - we'll see what that means - and lots of concrete is being loaded into a dumpster outside. Someone with some time and creativity on their hands went and piled up all the rocks like the memorials you see along the side of Hawai'ian highways. Now people all over the world will have piled up rocks in a dumpster in their vacation memories, judging from the constant flow of camera toting visitors stopping to photograph it. Hilarious. As it is outside of Nice Cream, maybe we should call it "Cone-Henge".

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What is Art?

Saw this on the wall of Campos Tacos this morning at Pacific and Windward. It's not cool to deface someone else's property, but they do make a good point. Ponder.

Happy First Day of Summer!

*Photo by Jennifer Everhart

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I saw the charming and lovely Moonrise Kingdom last night.

I can't remember the last time I smiled for every frame of a film. I laughed out loud and had tears from doing so. It is great and I encourage everyone to get out to see it, and feel how much warmer your heart is after. Loved. Wes Anderson, Kudos, Sir!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jane's Addiction at 91X Fest

There are many musical acts in the world, sure, but how many of them put on a live show that makes people cry? Yep, a guy next to me in the pit last night at the 91X Fest in Chula Vista (down by San Diego) for Jane's Addiction had real tears in his eyes, and kept saying, "I'm a 37 year old man and I'm crying at a concert! I can't help it, Jane's has always been my favorite band and this is the first time I'm seeing them live!" And kept saying it. But you see, I do understand. I'll never forget my first time seeing Jane's. It was the first Lalapalooza, and I drank a lot to celebrate - much like this fellow last night. Too much it turned out ... but I somehow physically cured myself mentally because there was no way I was going to miss Jane's. That was a long time ago, and yet a Jane's live show just keeps getting better.

This was the last show of this leg of "The Great Escape Artist" tour for Juana's Addicion (we were very close to the Mexican border) and as it was a radio festival show, it had to be condensed down a bit for time, but the production was huge and epic and the crowd - where it appeared that many were seeing Jane's for the first time - was going OFF the entire set. As we drove down from Venice for the day and didn't start out in a hurry (and stopped off for Juanita's Carnitas in Encinitas!) I didn't see any of the other bands of the day, except for a couple of lackluster Garbage tunes. This was by design. We were there to see Jane's.

So were most of the people present, judging from the roars of excitement that went up from the pit to the highest part of the back when Perry and the boys strolled out to some Pink Floyd. The screams turned otherworldly when the band kicked it off with "Underground" from their new and awesome and you should get it right now if you don't already have it album, The Great Escape Artist. Yeah, I love it. So did everyone else there, especially when Etty Farrell and Stephanie Spanski, the Jane's dancers, were raised up on trapezes in giant white hoop skirts that trailed beneath them as they swung back and forth above the stage, and their male dancer, Bubba Carr, chased after them in a furry black monster costume. It all had the perfect underground feel, dark and ominous, but beautiful at the same time.

I was jumping around so much in there with the rest of the hyper-stoked people when the familiar opening to "Mountain Song" began, I can't read one word of my notes, but trust me that the kids in that place, young and old,  were screaming loving it. Movie screens played scenes of waves and people and other things but all eyes were on the band. Perry is one of music's all time best front men, and that has to be experienced live. His voice is so unique and inimitable, recorded or live, but to see him go off every second and never let up, and see how much he still clearly enjoys it, is what going to shows is all about. Dave Navarro's guitar shreds are dope on every track ever, but to see him rip them up all nonchalantly in person is straight rock and roll. Same for Stephen Perkins' drum beats tribally cutting through it all, and Chris Chaney holding it together with the tight bass lines, it's just heavy and moving and inspiring and ... Wow.

"I love Perry, Man", said the crying man nearby, needlessly as we already knew. Understood again, as when they tore through "Just Because" and "Been Caught Stealing" back to back, everyone in there loved Perry, even if they'd somehow never heard of him before (some teen girls I overheard and confirmed for my flabbergasted mind. Well, NOW they know!), as he was giving them the show of their just kicked off Summer.

"3 Days" slowed it down and heated it up. Etty and Stephanie came out in little black numbers with mouth gags on, and the guys smashed up against us were dying. It was hot, even when Bubba, now kind of a white mummy, came back to haunt the ladies. The spectacle is so big and cool, but it would just be set dressing without how seriously good the music behind it all is. "3 Days" goes through so many musical twists and turns and emotions and seductions that you feel spent afterwards, like you were actually in on this trippy threesome.

You can't be spent at all ever when you hear "Ocean Size" pound through your body. The screen had sweet waves rolling during this song that is sheer perfect for Southern California. It was huge, ocean size, really. Like when you feel the bass pounding in your heart and you just want more BIG. They powered right into "Stop" and the band showed how playing so many shows lately has made them air-tight. I want to go back and re-live the set because I'm getting all happy about it again typing about it.

The hyper teenagers around me were feeling that way too, and by now even the crying guy was grinning. Perry was jumping around like a hyper teenager himself, and that energy is incredibly infectious. That's the feeling you get at a live Jane's show, and you should never miss that chance if you care at all about rock music. Full STOP.

The amphitheater was packed, and it sounded like everyone in there was going hoarse yelling as the guys came back out to play the classic, "Jane Says", stripped down and acoustic, with steel drums.  Dave, Chris and Stephen lined the front of the stage, and Perry just left it, going straight into the pit crowd to sing along with all the fans that knew every single word. The people held Perry up as he swigged from a wine bottle and smiled.  As I think about it now, it was really more like everyone was holding each other up, sharing those rare and perfect rock show moments where everything is perfect (and under an almost full moon!), everyone is having a great time, drawing positive energy from each other, and no one wants it to end.

End it must, and did. The trick is to keep that feeling going inside yourself.

(Especially on the long, well worth it, late-night drive back to Venice. Rock!)

Catch Jane's Addiction on the next leg of this seriously spectacular tour!

*Photos by Stephanie Hobgood - in the pit!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Aloha To One Of The World's Greatest - Darren Sakai

There is a Memorial service today on the Big Island of Hawai'i for one of my life's greatest friends and inspirations, Darren Sakai. He died from awful cancer last week, and the world will never be the same. I can't be there today, so I'll look out across the Pacific from Venice and wish I were there to paddle out in his honor. I imagine all his loved ones getting up to speak about this joy of a human being, and this is what I would say if I could be there...

Darren Sakai taught me so much about life, while he was living it large, and while slowly leaving it. We were roommates in Hilo in the 90's, and every moment spent in his company was full of lessons, love and laughter. I stuck out like a sore thumb in Hilo, with my hair turned white from the sunshine. I had never had the experience before of someone not liking you for what you couldn't help ... your skin color. I was a dime a dozen in Minnesota, being Scandinavian, and when a big old Samoan girl once wanted to beat me down just for being haole. We worked it out, but it was the first time in my life I remotely experienced anything close to racism directed at me. It sucked, but what a valuable lesson to have in the back pocket of your life. Darren was one of the first people in town to befriend me. I'll never forget being on UH-Hilo campus with my one friend in town so far, Matt (also from Minnesota). This Asian guy with hair down to his ankles came walking up, saying, "Howzit?" and elaborately hand-shaking Matt, who introduced us. We were rock solid down from the very start.

I'd see him around town, driving his white pick-up truck, with the back usually full of plants or surfboards. When the big Northridge earthquake happened in California, there were fears of a tsunami hitting Hilo (twice before wiped out by tsunamis in its past), and choppers were flying overheard announcing "MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND!" I was on crutches from a hiking stumble, and began crutching up the mountain, as I had no wheels. Darren soon drove by, scooped me into the back of his truck, and we drove up into the hills and chilled until the all-clear. Darren to the rescue! Soon thereafter, everyone I knew had gone their various places for the Christmas holiday, and I was extra lonely. One evening there was a knock on the door and Darren and some pals were there to see how I was doing and if I wanted to hang out. So sweet, so thoughtful. We spent that New Year's Eve eating sushi and drinking sake in someone's kitchen, talking about all our lofty goals.

Soon after that, my living situation (in my boss's home - never do that) turned out to be too much to handle, and D Funk and I found a place on Hale Street with another friend, Chris. Darren moved me out of my pad in the dark of night in a hurry, and we moved into our fun house. There was no power for the first few days before it got hooked up, and we'd sit and talk and laugh and learn in the candlelight. Darren would sit and share his knowledge on just about everything, as he put tea tree oil through his long hair. Darren knew everything about plants. He was the first person I ever smoked what he called "the healing of the nations" with (late bloomer), as we listened to every single reggae song ever recorded in his room. I treasure the many mix tapes he made me, and hope there will always be some way to play those things. He instilled in me the deepest love for reggae, that still makes me think of him every time I hear that beat.

He was the healthiest person I ever knew. A Spirulina smoothie for breakfast type of guy, he was also a great cook (one Easter dinner we made of crab and purple yams remains one of my all-time favorite meals) who loved fresh food and gave great thanks for every morsel he ate. He trained all the time in martial arts, both mentally and physically. I still pull out the spin kick sometimes that he used to make me do all time, just for fun. He would quote Dragon - The Bruce Lee Story constantly, telling me, "Do not look at the finger pointing at the moon, or you will miss all the Heavenly glory." Deep - and understood.

It is a cruel fate that someone as truly healthy and proud of it as Darren was would be cut down by disease. Darren Sakai has colon cancer?!?! It simply made no sense - and neither does life, often. It kind of makes you feel like you should do whatever you want, because there's no rhyme or reason to it all anyway. I think Darren would respond to that idea that it still makes you feel better while you're alive to treat your body and mind well, so that's the reason. He was always so wise - beyond his years - earning him the"D Funk Monk" title.
Man, when I think of all the treasures of times sitting looking at a perfect sunset, or swimming Kona side, or checking the surf at Honoli'i, or cruising the Farmer's Market and Abundant Life, going nuts laughing sometimes and sitting in quiet contemplation at others ... I just can't believe that there will never be another one. I hadn't seen Darren in person in years, but we talked and texted all the time. When he was dealing (for 5 years!) with the medieval treatments that I cannot BELIEVE are still the same as what my Dad (the anniversary of Dad's death from cancer was yesterday) had to endure over three decades ago, he somehow was able to retain his positivity all throughout. I would follow the day to day stuff on Facebook, and was so moved by how many people - perfect strangers even - he was touching through his courage in the battle that even this brave, strong and noble Sensai was ultimately felled by.

He once took me to Green Lake on a little adventure. I had slept weird and had that neck thing were you have to turn your whole body to look at something, so I wasn't going to go along on the day trip. Darren insisted that I had to see this place, and that it would heal me. We went, stiff neck and all, and hiked across the fields to the lake that even Jacques Cousteau's team never found the bottom of, as it's really a dormant lava tube. There was a raft moored to a tree for men to swim out to chill on, since it was said that Madame Pele - the Goddess of the Volcano - would suck men down into the never-ending depths if they put their heads under water. All the volcanic minerals made Green Lake a healing place as well, Darren said, and sure enough and no lie, I dove in the water and emerged to find my neck perfectly fine. Better than fine, GREAT! It was a magical day all around, and one of my fondest memories that I took with me when I moved back to the Mainland.

When Darren got sicker and it seemed that options were running out, it immediately occurred to me that Darren should try swimming in Green Lake. He told me that it was now on private property, and no one could go there anymore. That was when I started to formulate my plan to fly over there, get bolt cutters, and spirit him away to try it, no matter what the penalty. I was telling my friend, Matt Jennings, this story and he said, "I think that's your first song." Matt is a wonderful musician and had been encouraging me to turn my stories into song lyrics for some time, but I always balked. I've always felt more prose than poem. Once he said this about Darren and Green Lake though, it sparked in my head that I could do it because it would stoke Darren that he had inspired me to branch out creatively, which he too had always encouraged. I wrote the words, thinking about my Brother D Funk the whole time. A week or so later, Matt sent me the song with music. My first song! I cried, as I do, emotional that something lovely had been created out of our heads, but also because of how it had come to be, that it was for my dear friend, who was now slowly and painfully dying. I sent it to Darren, who replied, "AWESOME!" and now Matt and I have a whole bunch of songs, that came about only because of the first one. Only because of Darren.

We never got him to Green Lake, so we'll never know how that would have gone. We do know that anyone in this world who was touched by the grace of Darren Sakai is better and happier for it. My heart aches for his wife, Lora, who I've never yet met but who I know is fantastic and Darren loved her deeply. I'm so sad for his parents and all his extended family and friends, as there will never be another one like him. I wish I were there on the Big Island today to hug each and every one, and celebrate the life of such a rare and wonderful human being. I take comfort in the many happy, unforgettable times I was lucky enough to share with D Funk (He would call and leave a message, always singing, "Make my funk the G Funk!" at the end), and will carry him along with me in my heart and soul for the rest of my days.

Aloha, my friend!!! And MAHALO, for bringing your joy into the world for every moment we were lucky enough to have you here, and for showing us how to live while you can. I'm not looking at the finger pointing at the moon ... I'm imagining all the Heavenly glory, made even more glorious by your shining arrival.

In loving memory of Darren Sakai ... Always.

* Pictures taken from Darren's Facebook page as all of mine are old school hard copies I have yet to scan.

** I probably would have been more brief in person. Probably. Blessings and ALOHA!!! to all of you there in A Bay today!