It was a hot and sunny day, in what would be a glorious day at the beach if not for the sinister component that we were all there fighting against. The Boardwalk was packed with supporters, from the front doors of the Freak Show all the way to the sand. One side was the Freak Show happenings with a bumping D.J. Him, while the other had booths organized around protesting the awful yellow ghost of Snapchat.
Venice Dogs (locals outraged about the community turning into a corporate campus) manned bullhorns ("Evil Spiegel wants everyone to know that Snapchat is just for rich, white people!" - he really said that.) and held signs all day ("Make your kids delete Snapchat. It's the #1 site for child pornography!"), letting all the tourists know that if they dig Venice in any way, they should really be deleting that immature, ridiculous app that contributes nothing to society in any way but wasting time. I honestly think less of people that use it ... like they just don't care about what this lame company is doing to a historic town.
I also place rightful blame on the people that are selling to them. Like, really? You can't see the bigger picture? That soon there will be no reason for people to come to Venice, when it's just as homogenized and douchey as every other "White male imperialist" town, as one bullhorn speaker said. We cannot allow this to stand. There is nowhere in the world more suited to hosting the Venice Freak Show than than the Venice Boardwalk. Period. And now it's gone, to make way for even more Snapchat offices. Because you know tourists love to come and stare at office buildings. Idiots.
Todd Ray is the Ringmaster of the Venice Freak Show, and even if you'd never stepped foot inside (which I'm now finding many locals had not - "I'd always meant to, I just assumed it would always be there!" - and are now painfully regretting), you will miss his voice impelling you to stop and see the two-headed turtle, or to come inside (the best $5 you'd ever spend on the Boardwalk) and see all the other animals, oddities, and performers like Larry the Wolf Boy, Morgue who feels no pain, Richie the Barber, whose face is permanently tattooed like a clown, or Jessa the Bearded Lady, or any of the fantastic characters/Family seen on their AMC show's two seasons. I wrote about them shortly after they opened, and it was the first article featuring the new Freak Show on the Boardwalk. I even got them all a gig opening for Jane's Addiction at The Roxy a few years back, which was excellent. We became friends for life on that interview day, and I've carried wisdom that Todd and his wonderful wife, Danielle, shared with me ever since. Like, deep, spiritual, meaningful wisdom. It seemed like they'd always been there from the moment they opened, and people were right - it did seem like they'd always be there. Until Snaphat began their takeover, that is.
This is a family's lifelong effort and dream come true. Todd Ray knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to have a Freak Show one day, after attending a show featuring Otis Jordan, the Human Cigarette Factory. He could roll a cigarette with no arms and no legs, and told a young Todd that if he could do that with no limbs, Todd could do anything. That set his future in stone, and he's spent a lifetime accumulating incredible oddities for his future Freak Show vision ... that are now all in storage, waiting to see what happens. If the Rays can find a new space for their cavalcade of curiosities - though there is no place better than the Boardwalk, with all its foot traffic passing by.
And that foot traffic yesterday got an earful. It seems that many people who use Snapchat had no idea of the complete destruction this nightmarish corporation has been raining down on Venice, so we told them - and urged them to delete that app right there in front of us. The Freak Show went on all day, this time with a free show outside on the steps. Ray told the assembled "We lost our space to corporate greed and development in Venice", which drew loud boos. They passed around buckets for donations (and a donation site will be put up online asap), because this rug was pulled out from under the Rays with no real time to act. It costs a whole bunch of money to reconstruct a new Freak Show somewhere else - plus they were threatened with a huge lawsuit if they didn't vacate the premises by today. How kind. Snapchat really doesn't see to get how badly their actions reflect on them. There's this thing called karma though - they will.
There was one last day on the beach to see Asia Ray (Todd and Danielle's daughter) perform her sword swallowing act. We saw Morgue put a meat hook through his face. We saw Bob the Bubble Boy rip his shirt off in triumph over his skin disease, to uproarious applause. We saw Señor Stretchy Skin put clothespins all over his face, including his eyelids. We saw the beauty behind it all, as each of us are unique and one of a kind, none more so than these brave in every way people. The Freak Show has always celebrated that above all else. What a beautiful lesson every day they were there.
We also saw the wedding of Jessa the Bearded Lady to her new husband Craig, there on the steps of the Freak Show. Thousands of well-wishers were in attendance, guaranteeing them a happy life together, for sure. Jessa's voice broke when she said her vows, and I broke then too. It's all so very sad, watching our Venice being demolished by greed, and the emotion of a wedding got to me. Tears ran down my face, and then laughter came when Todd asked if she would take Craig to be her husband, and she said, "Damn Skippy, I do!" To which Craig, replied, "Hell yes, I do!" It was great.
When Todd asked Jessa how she felt after it was official, she replied, "Fucking awesome!" And I think we all did in that moment. It was beautiful, it was fun, and it was complete solidarity together as Venetians. A truly special, though terribly poignant and nostalgic, wonderful day.
There was a makeshift reception outside the Freak Show and I shared cake with Jessa and Craig while offering my congratulations. They were both beaming so hard, and so happy, you could absolutely feel that it was true love. I wish them so much happiness in their future, and with such a wonderful ceremony, cheered on by thousands of strangers, I think they're good. Real good.
So was this lady who nearly knocked me over to catch Jessa's bouquet ... that HAS to be good luck!
With all that's going on, Todd and Danielle still waded through the crowd, handing out sandwiches and chips and drinks to people standing around. They're still caring about the well-being of others while their whole life's work is being crushed. At one point, Todd thanked "The Dirty Kids on the Hill" and had the entire crowd turn around and applaud the travelers that hang out on the grass near the Freak Show. "They're the freest people you'll ever meet, and they've always supported the Freak Show." It was pretty touching, as I'm sure those kids have never been applauded, and they reveled in it. The Rays are wonderful people, and great friends of mine, who I love. I take this personally. More so because a day after Todd said to the crowd that this could happen to any one of you in Venice - it's happening to me. Yep. I got the letter today saying my lease wouldn't be renewed in July, I guess to make room for fancier people. I can't believe it. I can't accept it. I will fight it, though it's getting harder and harder every day. Please keep me in mind if you hear of any reasonable lodging around town. UGH.
We were down there all day, and it still wasn't long enough, but the time finally came at sunset to truly bid farewell to the Freak Show. A little tiny girl took the mic and said simply, "Thank you!" That's all you could really say. Todd gave a touching, heartfelt speech as the day's finale, and I'm pretty much still choked up as I re-live it. "Venice is magical and chaotic, with incredible people where everyone can be themselves. This will never be a Robotville Silicon Beach, because we're not going to quit. We do it for you. I've stood here for 12 hours a day talking on this microphone (and he did his whole mic schtick to everyone's cheers), and we do it to keep wonder alive. You're all wonderful and magic yourselves. Hold that in your heart. And when someone tries to put you in a box, tell them to kiss your ass! Normal is dead (they actually held a funeral procession for "Normal" last Summer), there is no such thing as normal. That is not a slogan, that's a way of life. Remember that, and you'll keep the Freak Show alive."
There were many tears (and shouts of righteous anger) and cheers for that, but more when Todd said, "This is our last moment here. We'll see you all at the new Freak Show!" We all cheered for each performer, the entire Ray family (including son Phoenix, who will one day take over the show), and also for ourselves. We are the real Venice community, who will keep both the Freak Show and Venice itself alive, through actions, words, and memories. For sure.
"In this business, we don't say Goodbye. We say we'll see you down the road. I love you, Folks!" That demanded a chant of "Freak Show, Freak Show!" and no one wanted to leave. No one wanted to admit that it was real, and this was truly the last day of this iconic Venice treasure on our Boardwalk. But it was. As I was saying goodbyes (or see you down the roads), I heard a man tell his friend, "All this fun? ... Gone."
Not all. Not yet. As yesterday showed yet again, the people that really, really care are still here, and we are standing up to it. But we can't do it alone. Others have to realize that money isn't everything, and that one of the last places on Earth to be free and different and special is in serious danger, and it's only about greed. Please stop and look at the bigger picture before you bend over and take the evil tech money. Think long and hard about JUST the fact that the Freak Show on the world famous Venice Boardwalk is now gone, only to be boring offices. Little kids don't want to see office buildings on their first trip to the Boardwalk in Venice ... they want to be amazed and dazzled and have lifelong memories like the Freak Show provided. I heard one little boy, shocked to hear it was the Freak Show's last day, say "Where can I make a sign?", wanting to join the protest himself, which he did. Even little kids get it, Snapchat fools. Why are you so slow?
It's truly shameful, and very clear to see whose hands are bloody in it. I'm so mad and sad and bothered and outraged and now nervous for my own future in Venice, that I don't even know how talk about it anymore today ... so I'll just be like that little girl for now, and say a profound THANK YOU - from the bottom of my heart, where I truly will keep the Freak Show alive for always.
Best of luck, any help I may offer, and eternal love to the Ray Family and their extended Freak Show family. You helped make Venice even more special, and you'll never be forgotten. See you down the road, Friends!
*Stay tuned for where the Freak Show will re-open!
** Happy May Day, Workers of the World!