By Anne Alexander
Where else could a stroll along the beach bring you face-to-face with Arnold Schwarznegger, Vietnam war novelist Ron Kovic, the author of a massive volume on Teeth, or Cher’s mom? Where else could one loiter outside the offices of Tony Bill, Carl Borack, and Richard Dreyfuss? Or make a pilgrim’s obeisance at the lone column that is the last earthly remains of a renowned Beat hangout, the Gashouse? Or sit at the feet of Swami X, the only authentic guru in Los Angeles?
What other environment could be so suitable for the Hare Krishna devotees’ Parade of the Chariots, or so perfect for enjoying the matchless tones of Francisco’s Cosmic Beam Experience? Or could have nurtured such musicians as the Doors, Rickie Lee Jones, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo?
Where else could Upton Sinclair have established his gubernatorial campaign headquarters? In what other setting could Dori Shaffer have lived the tragic days leading to suicide, or a murder victim known as Bingo become a local patron saint? In what other place would a gang of burglers take pennies and safety pins and ignore a $200 guitar?
In what other community could one claim such neighbors as satirical artist Richard Stine, writer Gloria Nagy, ex-Monkee Peter Tork, superstar among sex surrogates Justine, rock archivist Michael Ochs, magician Ricky Jay, the women’s world Frisbee champion, and the Western regional director of Actors Equity?
The answer to all the above questions is, of course, nowhere but Venice Beach. There’s something about this zone of sand and cement, greenery, architecture and humanity, that electrifies the imagination: every stroll along the boardwalk is Peak Experience time. Venice Beach is what results when the very rich and the very poor, who both have a lot of leisure time on their hands, choose to spend that time in much the same way: a scene with more facets than a chandelier.
There is more to Venice than the trendy oceanfront strip. We are also primarily a community – a hotbed of radical thought, brilliant talent, poverty, poetry, and sometimes explosive racial admixture. The very existence of such a community poses a clear threat to the affluent clone-hives on either side, and we are being pre-empted with astonishing speed and agility by the forces of Them. But it’s not over yet: funky Venice is still alive and kicking.
Can you find amusement in the sight of homes with decorative Christmas lights left strung up all year? Or patience to deal with the beer bottles shattered on your street with depressing frequency? Can you view sinister-looking graffiti with composure? Do you see a distinct advantage in being able to run over to the neighbor’s next door and borrow some rolling papers, or a little stash till Friday?
Can you relate to waiting your turn at the Tenant Action Center for advice on repelling your landlord’s latest aggressions? Or being serenaded by an ice-cream truck playing Brahms’ lullaby, top volume, at 1 AM? Or to 3,613 stray dogs whose sole purpose in life is knocking over your garbage cans?
Can you dig two rock groups holding practice on your block at the same time? Can you trip out on the sight of children of five or six different ethnic origins playing together in your front yard?
If your answer to all these questions is an unqualified Yes, then congratulations: no matter where you reside, in your soul you are a citizen of Venice.