By Carol Fondiller
People gathered on the rocks at Brooks Avenue Beach to remember a very important person.
The people who are moving in and building Valley-sized houses on Venice lots, whimpering that less than 2,000 square feet for a family is a slum, wouldn’t think “Bingo” Bingham important at all. In their eyes she was a failure — Why? Because she did not have a Cuisanart? The city agencies and the Coastal Commission look upon people like Bingo as “unfeasible”. And certainly low income housing is “unfeasible” because the property values have been artificially driven up by paper swapping speculators who drive up the value without one cent of real money changing hands — “All done with mirrors, folks.” But you have to be a success and success means money. Go to jail for a few months for selling out the country, write your memoirs, make a mint — you’re a success. Turn people onto LSD, snitch on your friends, jump bail, write a book — you’re a success. You can live in Venice. No others need apply.
But Venice is still an economically stable community, all economic classes still intermix. Which means it’s a Home Town — a Home Town by choice. You watch kids grow up and people grow up. We see one another getting older. The people who you left behind when you went on your search for whatever Holy Grail you had in mind will still be there when you come back. Venice is a home for the rootless. They’ll find someone they know.
A Home Town is where people come back to partake in ceremonies that mark rites of passages. Births, christenings, brisses, weddings, all remind us of the fragility of human beings.
A Home Town is where people remember you after you die, even if you didn’t write the Great American Novel, shoot the President or give Johnny Carson the finger.
A Home Town is where you are immortal. Venice is a Home Town. The usual pace of change and attrition of people moving out, moving in and dying has been escalated by the City Planning Department and speculators. But there were rocks at Brooks Beach to say good-bye to Benita “Bingo” Bingham, flower child, doer, dreamer, the bane of bureaucracy, Animal Regulation in particular. Bingo was thirty years old when she was murdered.
Bingo striding down the front, swathed in scarves, taking a swig from a proffered short day, moving on and traveling light. Bingo returning from the Valley, the desert Maine, running up to people, her arms outspread, shouting affectionate obscenities to her friends in a husky humorous voice.
Bingo describing another hair-raising close call with authorities or some crazy dude who picked her up hitchhiking, so that while the blood ran cold, the stomach ached from laughing.
Bingo, alley cat thin arms trashing in the garbage cans and wearing discards with the elegance of a queen. Bingo, her soft short hair curling around her small face, her eyes large and dark with fear as she was going to court to testify against the men who raped and beat her, uncomfortable in dealing with the police who had arrested her for vagrancy, now being helped by them to protect other women from similar, violent humiliation.
Bingo. A Person of the streets.
Bingo, whose veins had collapsed long ago from the needles she’d stuck in them.
Bingo was fresh and young when she came to Venice. Her skin was resillent and firm. She was pretty. She got involved with drugs. High on drugs and riding with a drugged up dope, she got into an accident. Her face was scarred, her teeth were knocked out. But heading down the Ocean Front Walk on a bike she’d borrowed from a friend with or without their knowledge, she was beautiful.
Bingo had a Samoan disregard for personal property. If she needed it, she’d take it. She didn’t steal it. Sometimes she’d lose what she’d borrowed, or it would be stolen from her. She’d try and replace it with something of equal value. Sometimes she borrowed that, and things would become quite complicated. It was sort of like the operations of Bert Lance. Bingo was alive,. Intense. Vulnerable. She understood other peoples grief and had a humorous objectivity about herself. Periodically she would lose her false teeth in the surf, and she’d walk around with her mouth covered until Medi-Cal would come up with another pair.
Bingo would try, off and on, to keep a pad. But she couldn’t stay in four walls very long. On cold winter nights with the rain coming down in knife-sharp drops, Bingo would be seen wrapped up in blankets, her dog Beamer in her arms, fording, the ankle-deep debris-filled river that was Speed-way, looking for a warm hallway or alcove.
Bingo traveled light. She didn’t take up much room.
After Bingo was raped and she’d testified in court, she moved to Ocean Park. She wanted to clean up her act. She rented an apartment. She was finally, people said, getting it together.
Bingo told the truth when she talked to people about herself. But she didn’t tell the whole truth to any one person. She had different people she told different things to.
She wrote, people said. She wrote well. Bingo went to poetry readings, jazz concerts, and art openings. She knew dealers, procurers, poets, dancers, singers, and combinations of any and all of the above.
Sometimes she was less than kind to her lovers or would be lovers, people said.
People said she was abused and battered from the day she was born. Wild Thing. Our Lady of the Wild Things. Gypsy. Urchin, Harridan, Bitch, Crane, Mean, Clown, Sturdy, Human.
She was beaten and stabbed to death in that apartment where she was getting her act together. People say. Some people say that they loved each other. He’d come back from a stay in jail. People say, some people say they were drunk and arguing. People say. Some people say her husband did it. People say. Some people say he is in custody. People say. Some people say he isn’t.
Willy Loman’s sister cries out at Willy’s funeral in Death of a salesman, “Attention must be paid.” John Donne wrote ”No man is an island. Each man’s death diminishes me.”
Friends and enemies met at the Brooks Beach rocks. We sat and stood in the warm mid-October sun. A man was crying. “I love this family.” Junkies, Poets, Philosophers, Children, all with their different conceptions of what happens after the heart and brain goes out and the body decays gave testimony for Bingo.
Bob Alexander from the temple of Man read poems by Stuart Perkoff and Marcella. Frank Rios standing tall in winged sleeves read a poem and burnt it. Flowers were strewn on the waves forming a blanket for half of Bingo’s ashes. The family has the other half.
“Just like Bingo,” someone smiled, k”she was always scattered.” Flowers. Incense. Babies. The Sun. Pelicans flew in strict formation, dipping gently over the flower-covered water.