Part 13: The Very Special Rebecca Schoenkopf Interview
Photo by Jack Gould[Vaseline-smeared lens shows slow-motion clips from past specials: pretty Gwen Stefani wipes away a tear as Rebecca Schoenkopf holds a baby before her, just out of reach; District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Rebecca share a laugh while passing a spliff; disgraced (and imprisoned) Santa Ana Councilman Ted Moreno sobs while Rebecca does an interpretive dance chronicling his bribe taking and influence peddling.]
[Music swells, and the camera zooms in on Rebecca Schoenkopf in a studio brimming with overblown roses, her hands gracefully steepled under her tilted chin.]
REBECCA: Thank you all for joining us tonight on this very special episode of The Very Special Rebecca Schoenkopf Interview. Tonight, we have as our very special guests three of Orange County's most prominent and respected citizens: Billy Zoom, Sandow Birk and Shirley Grindel.
Our first guest is painter and critical favorite Sandow Birk. Sandow, welcome. [Sandow Birk is tied to his chair, having already tried to jump out the window at the awards ceremony. Two burly men stand behind him.]
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SANDOW BIRK: Hello.
REBECCA: I guess the first thing our viewers want to know is, with all the press you've been getting, from the cover story in the LA New Times to the story in the London Guardian, do you think you're all cool now?
BIRK: No. What kind of question is that?
REBECCA: Question two: Do you think it's appropriate to ask someone if she or he has AIDS and/or herpes on the first date?
BIRK: I don't think on the first date, unless there's oral action or a visible cold sore.
REBECCA: How come your hair is yellow like that?
BIRK: Someone asked me to baby-sit their dog, and an hour later, I was a blond.
REBECCA [to her friend LYDIA, who has just materialized on the love seat next to her]: What did that have to do with his hair?
LYDIA: Nothing. It didn't have anything to do with it.
REBECCA [leaning forward in her chair]: When's the last time you cried?
BIRK: I can't recall. Why are you sitting so close like that?
REBECCA: I want to see if you cry. Are you lying?
BIRK: No, I just can't recall. The Galaxy lost yesterday, and I was sad, but I didn't cry.
REBECCA: This is going nowhere. He's not cooperating.
LYDIA: Have you produced a piece that you thought was an excellent idea, but it didn't turn out as you'd expected?
BIRK: I did a show that was a flop—a show about Brazil. I thought it was a good show.
REBECCA: That was the first work of yours I saw. I thought it was good, too.
BIRK: Can I plug a show? Is that okay? "Prisonation" opens at Koplin Gallery in LA on Oct. 28 (as many of the series as I get done), and "Made in California" opens at the LA County Museum of Art on Nov. 8—I have one painting representing art of the '90s.)
[REBECCA reads a magazine.]
LYDIA: Tell us about "Prisonation."
BIRK: Well, they're based on California landscape paintings of the 1850s. It's about the image of California, the romance of the West, and the reality of what the West has become. We're the most incarcerated society on the planet.
REBECCA: They're good, solid works, but they won't generate the kind of reaction you got from "War of the Californias" because they're subtle.
BIRK: I know they're subtle. I'm aware they're subtle.
[REBECCA makes a call on her cell phone. Blows a bubble while waiting.]
LYDIA: Have you met with any prisoners?
BIRK: It's less about individual prisoners than about prisons in general. We live in these dense urban areas, and then there are towns with populations of 200. It's big and beautiful and expansive and everything it used to be.
REBECCA: A friend of mine pointed out at one of my cocktail parties that we wouldn't have such a rosy unemployment rate if we let everybody who's in on drug possession charges out. We have this false sense of economic well-being.
BIRK: I don't really have a stance on things like that.
REBECCA: But there are 2 million people in prison, 80 percent of them on drug charges.
BIRK: I haven't come to any conclusions I'd like to set down in the press.
REBECCA: I see.
[She goes out to smoke a cigarette.]
LYDIA: Have you ever been in prison?
BIRK: For one day. I got pulled over, and they did a warrant check, and I had a warrant out for a $10 ticket I'd gotten for skateboarding against a yellow light. When I got home, I found my receipt that I'd paid it.
LYDIA: Did you have prison sex?
BIRK: Oh, immediately! Within the first 10 minutes!
REBECCA: Did someone say prison sex?
[Cut to REBECCA at another location.]
REBECCA Schoenkopf: Welcome back to this very special episode of the Very Special REBECCA Schoenkopf Interviews. With me now is the guitarist for the seminal punk band X. Following worldwide acclaim, Billy Zoom found Jesus and started an amp-repair shop in the city of Orange. Billy, thank you for coming.
Billy Zoom: Hello.
REBECCA: I see you are drinking a Safeway Select Diet Cola. You know, it's all full of chemicals. That can't be very good for you.
ZOOM: I'd prefer cyclamates, but you can't get them anymore.
REBECCA: Cancer in lab rats?
ZOOM: Actually, aspartame is the worst of the lot. There were studies showing ill effects from cyclamates, but they were discounted. Every couple of years, they redo the study and disavow the whole cancer scare. The only one they agree is bad for you is the one they use right now. I think it's the cheapest to produce.
REBECCA: What would make you cry?
ZOOM: My guitar getting stolen. That would make me extremely upset.
REBECCA: Have you ever had your guitar stolen?
ZOOM: Oh, yeah. I've had everything stolen. I don't think I cried, though. The last one stolen was the original silver sparkle Gretsch Silver Jet. It was stolen in '79. I got it back eight months later.
REBECCA: I'd like you to relive that moment, Billy. What happened?
ZOOM: We were playing Madame Wong's, and Madame Wong made the bouncer go yell at her people for dancing instead of watching the dressing room. She didn't like her people dancing. The bouncer left the door open and everything.
REBECCA: So it was stolen. And . . .
ZOOM: Someone showed up at a show at Club 88 eight months later and asked if I would be willing to take it back, no questions asked, and I said, "Yes." We went out to the guy's trunk, and there it was.
REBECCA: But that's a happy story!
ZOOM: Not when it was stolen.
REBECCA: If you were a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be?
ZOOM: Are you serious?
ZOOM: I don't have a clever answer to that.
REBECCA: I would be a cow-tongue sandwich with horseradish.
REBECCA: Because that would be really disgusting.
ZOOM: I would be a peanut butter and banana sandwich because that was Elvis' favorite.
REBECCA: Didn't he fry them?
ZOOM: I believe so, yeah.
REBECCA: . . .
ZOOM: . . .
REBECCA: . . .
ZOOM: . . .
REBECCA: You know, you stare through people a lot.
ZOOM: I do?
ZOOM: . . .
REBECCA: . . .
ZOOM: Could I plug some stuff?
REBECCA: Sure. Plug away.
ZOOM: Well, I'm putting the finishing touches on my new recording studio right now; I'm looking to produce indie projects and bands and stuff like that there. I hope to have projects in there by Christmas.
REBECCA: Do you want to be inundated with really bad demo tapes?
ZOOM: Well, I guess not. I guess I'm really looking to produce bands from indie labels.
REBECCA: Be careful what you ask for. Okay. Dead pets?
ZOOM: I had some rats that died. Rats die the most because they only live about a year and a half.
REBECCA: Are you crying?
REBECCA: Do you still have no use for your band mates in X, as you said in that interview with the Weekly's own Buddy Seigal?
ZOOM: I think I said I like DJ [Bonebreak, drummer], didn't I? That came out ruder than I'd intended. I don't dislike my band mates. We just travel in different circles; we don't really hang out together a lot.
REBECCA: Let's go back to the rats. Were you sad when they died?
ZOOM: Mmm-hmmm. Rats are really sweet pets.
REBECCA: I think we're done. I don't really have any more questions.
ZOOM: That's it?
REBECCA: Why? Is there something else I should ask you?
ZOOM: I had a girl interview me yesterday; she asked me lots of questions about music.
REBECCA: Ha ha ha hahahahahaha! I'm so sure! Like, "Who are your influences?" Ha ha ha ha ahahaha!
ZOOM: She asked me lots of questions like "Who's your favorite musician?" I couldn't answer her questions at all. There have been an awful lot of musicians!
REBECCA: But I don't care who your favorite musician is! We should go have some drinks.
ZOOM: I only drink at home alone.
REBECCA: Do you cry when you drink at home alone?
REBECCA: I do.
ZOOM: About what?
REBECCA: Nothing. I was just lying so you'd feel more comfortable about disclosing the fact—if in fact you do cry while drinking at home alone.
ZOOM: I only have one light beer. A Coors Light, because it has the fewest carbs. It has 5 grams of carbs. I'm on the Atkins Diet.
REBECCA: Were you fat before?
ZOOM: No, I used to starve myself. With Atkins, I eat more than I've ever eaten in my life. I eat sausage.
REBECCA: Billy, don't starve yourself anymore!
[REBECCA begins to cry. Zoom, bored, begins poking around in her purse.]
ZOOM: What's that?
REBECCA: That's my cell phone. It causes memory loss. This is where I keep my cards. These are my mints. Would you like one?
Zoom [examining box of mints]: Phenalalanine. That's Nutrasweet.
REBECCA: Fucking great. Now I don't want them anymore.
[Cut to Rebecca at another location.]
REBECCA SCHOENKOPF: Welcome back to this very special episode of the Very Special Rebecca Schoenkopf Interviews. With me is a county government watchdog some have likened to Cujo. Shirley Grindel, winner of Orange County's Best Citizen Award, thank you for coming.
Shirley GRINDEL: Yes.
REBECCA: Shirley, what has been the biggest county boondoggle on your watch?
GRINDEL: The El Toro Airport. It occurred when George Argyros bypassed county government by placing his dictate for a county airport before the voters. He created a civil war between North County and South County.
REBECCA: But wasn't the Board of Supervisors complicit in that?
GRINDEL [cranky]: Don't say the board is for it! Two of the supervisors are obviously against it. So you can't say the board is for it! And the people are against it.
REBECCA: Okay. What has been the board's most egregious abdication of their responsibility to the people of Orange County?
GRINDEL: Their failure to prevent the 1994 county bankruptcy. If they hadn't been so concerned with their political careers, they would have seen what was coming. They closed their eyes to the activities of Bob Citron, who was the treasurer, because it was politically expedient. They never questioned how he could be making so much money. They didn't keep up with the due diligence that was their job.
REBECCA: Who is the best local official?
GRINDEL: I would have to say the one with the most integrity and balancing of issues would be Dan Slater of the city of Orange. He's on the City Council, and he's running for mayor.
REBECCA: And at the county level?
GRINDEL: It's not one of the elected officials. It's Vicki Wilson, manager of the Public Facilities and Resources Department. She's one of the best county officials I've seen since 1970.
REBECCA: Is that when you began watchdogging?
GRINDEL: I got involved in politics in 1969, and I've been watchdogging campaigns since 1978.
REBECCA: Who's the worst?
GRINDEL: Our district attorney, Tony Rackauckas. I have to be careful here because I don't want either of us to get sued. . . .
REBECCA: Oh, don't worry about that! As a public official, he has to show that we got something wrong and did it with intentional malice. You're allowed fair comment.
GRINDEL: Well, I don't know how far I can go with this. I know he does not have a high standard of ethics. He's not pursuing corruption cases because he's part of it. Let me give you an example. When he ran for office—and what I tell you, I can prove—he was getting a lot of donations from attorneys in the district attorney's office. There's a state law: you're not supposed to solicit people in the agency you're seeking to run for because it puts unfair pressure on them. He admitted it to me. I asked him, "Did you intend to solicit the people in your office?" And he said, "Oh, yes. I wanted to make sure everyone in the office had the opportunity to contribute." Well, he was investigated by the attorney general's office—the Justice Department. He told them, "Those names just happened to be on a larger list." He lied to the attorney general's office in order to not get in trouble. He had already told me exactly what he'd done. Before he even came to the office, he demoted a whole bunch of people. And guess what? Everyone who got demoted? Not a single one of them had made a contribution. And everyone who got promoted? Had made a contribution. The county will rue the day Mr. Rackauckas was elected to be the district attorney! I don't like him. He's a likable guy, but he's not what he appears. He is definitely not a Mike Capizzi, who, in my opinion, was squeaky-clean.
REBECCA: Let's talk about environmental-impact reports and the Irvine Co.
GRINDEL: I'm not taking on the Irvine Co. I think because they're so big, they're a target and they get a bad rap.
REBECCA: But don't they bend county rules?
GRINDEL: In my experience, most developers are greedy bastards, and I'm sure the Irvine Co. has a share of that. But it's been a pleasure working with them. For one, they have enough land that they can make good trade-offs. They've given a lot of land for county parks over the years, and I think there's more coming. Thank God we've got an outfit here that has enough land that it doesn't need to develop the sensitive areas.
REBECCA: Who's the worst developer?
GRINDEL: SunCal. They're responsible for a massive destruction of the hills in east Orange, north of Santiago Creek. They're putting 1,200 homes in there, with no school being provided! And they're impacting Santiago Oaks Regional Park with grading and runoff!
REBECCA: Who's your favorite supervisor?
GRINDEL: I'd have to say for political purposes, Todd Spitzer—I live in his district. But I have a good relationship with all of them.
REBECCA: So you won't tell me who the worst is?
GRINDEL: No. I'm not going to do that.
REBECCA: What makes you cry?
GRINDEL: The continued development of open space. I can get real sad about it.
REBECCA: Have a Kleenex!
GRINDEL: Out here, it's the last battle. It's really going to depend on the generosity of the Irvine Co. to keep it open. We've got enough people here. I'm not of the belief that we have to provide housing for everyone who wants to come here. If you don't build the houses, they won't come. If you drive out on Chapman Avenue, there are rolling hills, canyons, beautiful scenery! There's actual countryside. And that's what's left to develop. It's about 10 miles, between Cook's Corner and Irvine Park. Do you know Cook's Corner?
REBECCA: Do I ever! It's the trashiest dive bar ever! I go there with my sister sometimes. Do you ever go there?
GRINDEL: All the time! I have a patty melt and play video games. Not the dirty ones, though.
REBECCA: What do you drink when you're there?
GRINDEL: A Diet Coke.
REBECCA: So you don't get drunk and cry in your beer for the last of the rolling hills?
GRINDEL: Oh, no! I'm not a drinker.
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