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   best of LA
Friday, July 21 2000

Dr. Susan Block had invited Kim and me to attend a regional fair called "Best of LA," which, this year at least, was actually taking place in the City of Santa Monica at the Civic Auditorium. That's a long way across town from the Dr. Suzy Block Studios, but it's just a hop skip & a jump from our place in West LA. To save ourselves the complication of driving, we took a taxi cab. Watching a city through the windows of a taxi, even such a familiar city as Santa Monica, always gives me the feeling that I'm on a vacation.
Kim didn't have any tickets or anything, yet somehow we thought we might be on some sort of guest list. But the entrance gate, with its gauntlet of underpaid ticket sellers, bouncers and other assorted agents of security, looked positively daunting. In New Orleans it is often possible for a cute (or, at least, beardless) girl to talk her way through such a checkpoint without it costing her anything. Santa Monica, however, doesn't feel like a particularly corruption-friendly town. Still, Kim was determined to get us in for free. She marched up to the girl holding the thick dog-eared guest list and offered that we were here as part of Dr. Susan's staff and that we expected to get in for free. The guest list girl dutifully looked over the list and of course we weren't on it anywhere. When Kim's attitude showed no sign of dissolving, the guest list girl made the snap decision that it would just be easier to let us through. Not wanting to alarm her supervisor, she did so with a very slight head nod. It was such a subtle movement that Kim had to ask her what it meant.
Then we were inside, in a dusty land of tents and giddy white people. Not yet having had dinner, we found ourselves drawn in by the carnival of activity in front of a sushi tent. While the back of this tent was filled with the lightning-fast decisiveness of Japanese chefs, the front was staffed by an assortment of extroverted, photogenic college kids. The latter were heckling passersby with barks of "Tuna roll!" and "Sushi!" in mock-Japanese accents. So Kim ordered us a couple dishes. The stuff wasn't cheap; eight dollars worth of sushi gave us a little over a mouthful each.
Next we bought some overpriced red wine and wandered over to the "Lifestyles" tent in the corner of the fairgrounds to listen to Arianna Huffington, the Republican-columnist-turned-radical-Libertarian, addressing a crowd of several dozen people. I've heard Arianna a few times on the radio and may have perhaps read her columns in Salon, so I knew a little about what to expect. In terms of appearance, she looks like a slightly more house-wifey version of Patsy Lee, CollegeClub's erstwhile VP of Something Important. "How many people are behind bars in this country?" she asked in her somewhat patronizing Dr. Ruth Westheimer accent. "2 million!" shouted an impatient Max (husband of Dr. Block). "That's right," she agreed, adding, "No wonder unemployment is down!" She then went on to list all the things wrong with the drug war and the American political system generally, concluding with the following anti-climactic message, "That's why, in the fall, I'm voting for 'none of the above'!" This message, delivered in such an important Democratic stronghold, suggested to Dr. Susan that Arianna Huffington is still working for the Republicans.
While Arianna was still going on about the failed drug war and voting 'none of the above,' Kim and I circulated through the crowd handing out little hand bills promoting Dr. Susan Block, who would be the next to take the Lifestyles Stage. Across the fairgrounds, Downtown Julie Brown was MCing a fashion show over loud dance music. Ms. Brown had arrived at Best of LA at about the same time as Kim and me, in a huge black limousine, and had evidently experienced no trouble getting through the gate.

When Arianna was done with her public speaking, someone (Theron, the Dr. Suzy Block technical whiz?) turned up the PA and Max grabbed the mike and started raising a crowd. The fun lasted for several minutes until the Best of LA authorities came and made him turn it down. It was old-school rabble-rousing as it's rarely witnessed here in this particular millennium. Suddenly Arianna's radical notion of voting for no one, if it hadn't seemed anything before, seemed, well, kind of dumb.
Dr. Suzy gave what must have been her general-audience speach, the core advice of which is to "act like a Bonobo, not a Baboon." Gradually an audience accumulated, including a contingent of young adolescent boys. The boys turned out to be genuine Dr. Suzy Block fans; one of them told Susan that he's been watching the show since he was six. Because it comes on after his bed time, his mother has been taping it for him. Now, as for me, I don't know what the prognosis for a young lad raised on so much sexual television could possibly be, but evidently his mother thinks it's as a good thing. In an ideal world, of course, Congress would be racing back to Washington to draft whatever legislation is necessary to toss that mother in federal prison.
The audience was shy at first, but eventually they started bombarding Susan with questions.

After the show, we (Curator Kim, Theron, Suzy, Max, Kim and I) all went back to our West LA condo in a big red SUV driven by Max. On the way we stopped at a SaveOn to pick up alcohol. Max and Suzy don't get out of the studio very often, and their reaction to the multi-colored capitalist splendor was not too different from that of five year old children set loose in an candy store after hours. Before long Suzy had found a unique cross-over toy: a Crayola-Crayon-shaped pillow toy that would not look out of place amidst the dildos of her stage-bed. Later I saw Max holding a little metal model of a vintage car.

Back at our place, we sat around passing a fat joint around and drinking beer. We had Kim's Burning Man coffee table book out and were talking a lot about it. Susan didn't see how it could possibly be worthwhile going, what with the expense and arduousness of it all. "But that's the Jewish shopkeeper in me talking," she admitted. Then she added, "But if you're going to go, you might as well get some good video." As she detailed the things necessary to record the essence of Burning Man, I noted, "That's the LA in you talking."

After everyone was gone, Kim and I took Sophie for a walk. On the walk, Kim did two things that impressed me. [REDACTED] The second occurred when we came upon the friendly fluffy cat who lives on the south side of Rochester between Amherst and Wellesley. Sophie was all excited and straining at her leash to get at the the little guy. But the cat was playing psychological games, rolling around on the street and turning away to lick himself. I've seen this cat playing the same tricks with dogs much larger than Sophie, so I know he must get some sort of serotonin rush from these interactions. After Sophie had settled down a bit and we started walking on, Kim said, "I wished we'd stayed longer to see more." Somehow I hadn't expected Kim to find such an interaction interesting enough to extend. Of course, for the sanity of the cat, it was important for us to have moved on when we did. Though the cat likes the game, it must be very stressful for him, and what he really wants after all is the rush of having survived the altercation, something he doesn't get until we're at least a half block away.

Back at the house I was telling Kim all about my Dad's incessant radio playing, and how this had exposed me to various things over time. In the 70s when there little or no public radio, I heard a lot of pop music coming out of my Dad's radio. He hated it, of course, but he played it anyway because eventually eventually the news would come on. My Dad is a news junkie. That's why I was so saturated with news throughout the 80s, after my Dad discovered public radio. I was also exposed to plenty of classical music and even bluegrass, the sort of music that WNRA, the Harrisonburg radio used to play when they weren't airing news shows. In the 90s, I turned my Dad on the Rush Limbaugh just as the Clarence Thomas hearings began winding down.
I happened to think of something as I was telling Kim this stuff. My Dad likes football. He even watches games occasionally. But, oddly enough, he never showed any interest in any sort of sports during the many long formative years of my life. Consequently, I never developed any sort of interest in athletic competition. It seems dishonest somehow, to have been raised this way by someone who used to be an usher at the University of Wisconsin. Oh well, not only does my lack of sports interest save me lots of time, but it keeps lots of bad metaphors out of my writing.

Best of LA, 2000, Santa Monica, CA.

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