Photo by Jim WashburnThey say sweating is good for you, in which case I'm now the best person on Earth. I started last week by accompanying my country-singer pal Patty Booker (buy her bitchen album at patty booker.com, why don't you?) to the Yoga College of India in Costa Mesa, where they heat the room to something like 100 degrees and put you through an intense, 90-minute, military-grade yoga workout ("You willrelax!!"). I recommend it, particularly if you're curious to see how much of your body is made up of water.
I gather their theory is that yoga should be done in an atmosphere as hot as it is in India. But India, being a largish nation, has a bit more airflow. This room was crazy hot, and my clothing, my big plush terry towel and I were monsooned by the time I was done. Remember the Wham-O Water Wiggle? That was me.
How better to follow that up than by taking the Blue Line from Long Beach to sweltering downtown LA on Aug. 16 to catch some of the Democratic Convention peripherals? It was my old high school teacher Mike Mang's idea. He's always concerned with the big issues, so little things, like which stop we should exit at, don't interest him much. Hence, we wound up walking a couple of miles and learning just why it's called sweltering downtown LA.
At the venerable Patriotic Hall, several blocks from the Democratic confab at Staples Center, Arianna Huffington was convening the Shadow Convention. I dig the heck out of Huffington. Was she just misunderstood back when we all thought her the shrill Svengalette behind hubbie Michael? I ask because she has since emerged as the nation's premier conservative iconoclast, which is another way of saying that unlike so many conservatives, she's not full of crap.
Rather, the convention she helped organize addressed three issues that have been skirted by the two parties, though they are eating away at our democracy: campaign financing, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the failed drug war. Speakers ranged from Ram Dass to Crosby, Stills and Nash's David Crosby (who aging activist Granny D kept charmingly calling Bob Crosby, who was a '30s crooner) to Gore Vidal to former presidential candidate John Anderson. They also had air conditioning.
On the day we showed up, the topic was how democracy has been subverted by campaign financing. A few of the more salient facts: $86 million in corporate "soft money" was spent to influence the 1992 elections, and $500 million is being spent this election cycle; some $3.5 billion is being spent overall to influence our votes this year; and $63 million has been given to candidates by business interests to stall any action on global warming. As Representative Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts) told the conventioneers, money "is the megaphone by which the voice of the powerful is drowning out the voice of the people."
Mike and I hit the street again, looking for "the people." We found them, and you know what? They're all cops! As we headed past the fenced-in Staples Center, where democracy was encaged like a death-match wrestling event, all we saw were cops, more cops than you can shake a stick at—hey! Don't provoke 'em—all doing their black-uniformed best to stay shaded and hydrated.
At the vaunted protest zone, where police and protesters had clashed after the Rage Against the Machine gig two nights previous, there were exactly three people in front of the stage listening to five pocket-protector people protest in favor of manned space flights to Mars. Out on the corner, some of the Reverend Fred Phelps' "God Hates Fags" wackos stood, as impervious to the heat as ants, as one of their lot harangued pretty much nobody through a bullhorn. I suspect these folks are the most misunderstood performance artists of all time.
We hiked on to Pershing Square, the other hotbed of protest, where six winos lay in a beveraged lie-out—perhaps protesting consciousness—under the vigilant gaze of dozens more helmeted, uniformed cops. We were starting to feel decidedly underdressed and headed home, where I turned on my TV to find that we'd entirely missed a huge march of folks protesting police violence, who, by news time, were filling the Staples' protest zone.
LA's city fathers had said they were counting on a billion dollars' worth of free tourism publicity from the city's hosting the convention, but you really can't put a dollar figure on the image shown around the world of an LA cop felling a female CNN stringer with a curt baton jab to her rib cage. Hop on a plane, folks; we've got great weather, too!
If that's not enough cops for you, the LA Times reported that an unspecified number of police "scouts" had infiltrated the ranks of the protesters. Some had even been arrested or peppered with "nonlethal" weapons fire from their uniformed brethren. If the police, as their spokesfolks said, were only targeting the troublemakers, does that mean their plainclothes guys were acting as provocateurs? Maybe allthe protesters were cops, even those five "Men to Mars" guys.
I watched Big Joe Lieberman make his acceptance speech on the tube, which was mostly nice-nice except for the part about making sure our military remains "the most powerful fighting force in the world." Who are we going to fight—the Cherokee Nation?
Speaking of the military, did you see the ultracreepy commercial that was airing on CNN throughout the convention? You see a flag draped over a soldier's casket as a voice-over cites the sacrifices of Americans in uniform on a series of battlefields, up to the Mekong Delta. "And we were there with them," the voice continues, as the visual cuts to the logos of U.S. gun manufacturers. Then we're told how the current administration, "big city mayors" (hmmm, a code word for "Negroes"?) and their greedy lawyers are trying to subvert free enterprise and destroy the gun industry that has always stood by us. Meanwhile, the commercial is showing our flag being brutally rent asunder (I guess flag desecration is okay when gun manufacturers do it). And here some of us thought it was the soldiers (many from "big cities") who were dying while the gunmakers were home racking up obscene profits. Ask the grunt in the paddy with the notoriously balky M-16 whether he felt the manufacturer was "there with him." Ick.
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Post-Lieberman, I careened down to the Amphitheatre Formerly Known as Irvine Meadows to see the Who, who just rocked like hell for a couple of hours in easily the best show I've seen them do in a quarter-century. Pete Townshend, who eschewed playing electric guitar for years because of his ear problems, has evidently decided that if it's going to drive him deaf, he's going to enjoy every damn second of it. What a miraculous mess of feedback and windmilled power chords!
Was I indignant at having to pay $8 to park a half-mile away from the stage, or at the $38.50 I paid for a lawn seat ($31.50 face value, plus $7 because-we-can-screw-you surcharges)? Nah, just sweaty. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," Townshend wrote, in one of the most sadly cogent lyrics in rock.
The next night, new-boss-in-the-offing Al Gore acquitted himself pretty well in his speech before the Democratic Convention, coming on like Huey Long (okay, maybe Huey Lewis) in his promises to protect the people from the powerful. He had a good line about folks' important medical decisions being made by HMO bean-counters who "don't have a license to practice medicine and don't have a right to play god." I am such a sucker that my eyes actually tear up during these speeches. I do so want to believe.
Remember Poe's "The Telltale Heart," in which no matter how a guy tries to dispose of an incriminating heart, he still hears it beating? Bill Clinton must feel that way about his once-throbbing dick. The slurp heard 'round the world just won't go away. Mere hours before Gore's speech, word was leaked that another grand jury has been convened in the Lewinsky matter, making Clinton the first president to have bimillennial blowjob blowback. Sheesh, this couldn't have been more inconvenient if the Republicans had planned it! Thank goodness we're not frittering away our limited legal resources on keeping innocent people from being executed or anything. Another round of Monicamania? Can we do OJ again, too? Man, I'm getting sweaty just thinking about it.