Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Venice Beach

My trip to LA wasn’t all glamour and gloss as I took a trip to Venice Beach down on the coast. If you took the gritty maverick side of London’s Soho, a smidgeon of Amsterdam’s coffee houses and soupcon of Camden Market, whisked them altogether with some high jinkery, medicinal marijuana and full on sunshine, then Venice Beach is what would emerge from that hotpot and I loved it.

There is a sub-culture in Venice Beach. It’s a bit like a layer cake, the top is all decorative, expensively hand finished, funky and eye catching and at the very bottom of that sweet alcohol soaked sponge, are the homeless, the mentally affected and the Californian beach burn outs.
There are ‘grab’ tables which are usually full of hand made trinkets and various knick-knacks for sale. After a while the tables all kind of blend into one, but the sellers are full of character and worth having a natter with. Surrounding the grab tables you will see various local ‘dudes’ some famous, some trying to get famous and some plain crazy. There is a lovely black bloke on roller blades with a big white scarf around his head, there is the oily muscle guy who wears the teeniest stars and stripes g-string and entertains by rolling a metal ball all over his tanned muscles and there is the Chief who looks like an Indian chief and has the brownest, crinkliest skin texture that advertises why sunscreen is absolutely imperative. On spotting him I sprayed factor 50 on my face again. He is amazingly lovely though and can dance like the wind.

The Chief is usually in the middle of the big drum circle and their beating serves as a constant thudding backdrop to the ocean vista. People come from miles carrying drums, trash cans, plastic bins and anything that can be banged to make a noise and they play for hours. Apparently the police tried to disperse the drum circle but the Chief won that fight and the locals were split in their opinion about it. I stood at the circle as the sun was slowly dipping, the noise is amazing and you cannot help but dance, it really does entrance you. There are hordes of people playing, all classes, all colours, all ages, just beating and banging away, it is worth seeing if you ever go there.

The Police and local homeowners are desperate to dispose of the pill popping, hashish smoking, beer drinking bongo dancers, but it is those very people who make Venice so bohemian and hedonistic. Without them, it’s just a bunch of rich queens, spoiled dogs and a few long haired rich folk who recalled The Eagles before they were famous. Venice thrives on it’s patchwork of cultures.

I made friends with Talon and Puck, two homeless beach dudes. Puck honed wooden varnished walking sticks from driftwood and Talon made toy cars and the sold them on the concrete beach front.

Talon is the typical tanned long haired, broad smiling beach boy; he had been in Venice for 15 years now. He is so congenial, chatty and very welcoming, but around 6pm as the sun sets and the beer and dope kick in, he gets rather agitated, screaming and basically abusive to the polystyrene head that displays hair wraps at the next table to his. That white blank face gets some verbal shit, but it sits stoically on a spike with coloured plaits streaming over its eye-less face as Talon points and screams about its lack of understanding of his issues. Apparently that body-less head just won’t let Talon drink more Joose.
Puck was 42 years old, sober and had been homeless since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so he made his way to Venice. He smokes some grass but avoids booze. As we chatted on the grass a big topless bloated man in his early 30s, with blood splattered trousers and bare feet came towards us. He was glazed looking and had a haunted face that slightly scared me. He asked for a ciggie then ran off.

“He is Vinny, he picks his hands till they bleed, and he wanders around begging in his bare feet, he will get bullied by the other guys because he has too many mental problems and can’t negotiate or make friends. He is one of the invisible people Janey, if that bloodied half naked man was in Downtown LA, an ambulance would be called, people would scream at the sight of him, but down here he is just psychiatric wallpaper, it’s horrifying and I worry that I might end up like him. The Christians will get him later, they will wash him up, give him shoes, try to force God on him and then kick him back out onto the beach and that will happen till he dies here” Puck explained.

There was a whole parade of drugged, drunk and deranged came past me that day.

Two lessons were quickly learned by this naïve Glasgow lass.
One- You can buy any drug from a man dressed as the Matrix on a bike but don’t ever smoke a cigarette on the grass at the boardwalk, as that can get you a $170 fine from a cop.
Two- Learn quickly that when someone shouts the words FIVE-O, you can guess that’s the police coming.

FIVE-O was shouted about three times and all the sunburnt guys sidled onto the pavement giving me sympathetic looks as an LA cop caught me and screamed at me for smoking on the grass.

“Look mate, people are smoking crack over there, men are buying dope, two people are practically having full on sex, a transvestite is hustling a woman in a wheelchair, but if I smoke a ciggie on the grass suddenly I am offensive?” He let me off after I apologised.

The amazing thing about the homeless people is their dedication to keeping their environment clean. They throw every single piece of litter into the bins, they recycle cans and plastic and left over unwanted food doesn’t reach the litter bins, if the homeless spot you throwing food away they ask for it immediately. They scour the grass picking up things aimlessly and constantly chuck stuff in the trash cans. They shout at tourists who drop stuff, it amazed me, but then again, if the open ground is your home, then you treat it well.

The local shopkeepers sell a beer called Joose, which is neatly disguised in a big colourful can and looks like a fizzy drink, but it contains 10% alcohol and is only $3 a can, which keeps the boozers well oiled. The sun beat down on Venice but as it set a cloak of menace descended on the place and it did get rather seedy. Puck made me leave at 6pm making me promise never to return when it was dark. “It can get dangerous Janey, I am being serious, go now” he insisted.

Venice beach was a real eye opener to me, the guys were so welcoming and I will truly miss Talon and Puck, my tour guides for the weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I met Scientologists

Yes I did! Here’s what happened…I think I explained in my last blog that I went walking looking for a bus service that doesn’t actually exist.

Well anyway on Sunday after staggering about in the 86 degree heat on roads where the only other people I met were wandering homeless poor Mexican drunk men, I got a call from Andrea Abbate, and she is a fabulously funny comic from LA.
Andrea told me what road to get to and she came to pick me up. She had with her a lovely wee son called Andrew who was obsessed with Spiderman and he was cool.

Andrea took me back to her house and I can’t tell you how fabulous it was, though she did have two big dogs who likes to practise fucking each other in the back yard!
Andrea is a cracking hoot, and we had a great natter, she let me wash my hair and feet (yes, I was that manky, I had Amy Winehouse feet to be precise-I needed cleaned up after my marathon walk) and we chatted on her patio.

That was after we played 500 games of “pretend you never knew Spiderman was real, then I come in dressed as Spiderman” from 5 year old Andrew…he is adorable and loves that repetitive game. He was so cute I played along, even though Andrea and I were exhausted with the game, I LOVE kids and Andrew exploited me no end.

Then Andrea told me she and her husband were Scientologists. At this I was intrigued…I have never MET one and had 6 million questions and became as repetitive as Andrew with my “Pretend Scientology didn’t exist and then you come in as a Scientologist” game….God knows she played along (but then God doesn’t exist in her equation). I fully expected to leave that house with two tin cans strapped to my wrists and half my income gone…but NO….it was as easy as meeting a Catholic but not as easy as meeting a Jewish person who wanted to convince me they owned Israel.

So there you go…I am not converted nor freaked out…they were lovely people and I fully intend to cultivate my new friendship with the Scientologists and see how that works out for me.

Last night I ended up in bed at 8am with a horrible migraine that made me disabled.
Today I am going downtown for a meeting with a casting agent and I may even stay out late…who knows?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

LA is Amazing

Well the flight from UK was pretty wonderful. I got upgraded and managed to see John Cleese, Tom Wilkinson and the lovely comedy pal Steve Furst go past me into First class on the BA flight. My seats were not first class, but certainly good enough and I slept the whole journey!

Before I knew it, we had landed and I was first off! My only issue was that John Cleese was right behind me and I was marching onwards like I knew where I was going! Luckily, we were all heading in the right direction. John Cleese gave me a smile, chatted briefly about how he loved LA and I was out of that airport and into a cab heading to my pal’s house.

The cab stopped near Laurel Canyon as there was a road traffic accident; helicopters were everywhere buzzing overhead and the cars all came to stand still.
I didn’t get too stressed, as someone might have died up ahead but I really needed a pee, like you cannot believe and my bladder turned into a scatter cushion and almost exploded. The more the car sat stationery, the more I dreamt of peeing a stream. The lights of the helicopter shone down reminding me of peeing.

I almost cried, finally the cab moved and I got to Studio City where my mate lives. I staggered through the door, dropped cases, ignored welcome hugs, pushed small babies out of my way and ran to the loo, where I pissed like a racehorse for about an hour.

After a good nights sleep, I was up and out to The Grove in the morning. It’s a lovely smart shopping area with a farmers market, though I don’t think any of those people know what a farm actually is. I managed to get some nice tee shirts for Ashley and got my mobile phone topped up.

Today, we all bundled into the car and headed off to the Getty Museum which is awesome and the gardens are just spectacular. Then it was down to Malibu beach for some kite flying and sight seeing….the scene was awesome.

I did call my old comic mate Rick Shapiro and he invited me to a late night comedy gig at 1am on the Saturday morning, but I had been too knackered the Friday night to attend, so am hoping I catch up with him soon enough.

Sorry this blog is brief, but am knackered again!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Grumpy New Year

How daft was I to go up Byres Rd and get the banking done two days before the New Year? I also thought shopping for food was a good idea but then I am clearly fucked in the head, because the Byres Rd was full of hippy dippy students with posh voices hugging each other wearing fifteen layers of clothes and kooky hats and more importantly…getting in MY WAY.

“Miranda, Chloe, how are you, is your horse still the best thing ever? Is Fin and Malcolm still flying in from Bermuda?” on skinny lanky girl squealed right in my ear as she greeted other skinny girl’s in the bank queue. Their Home Counties accent made me want to batter them to death with an Irn Bru bottle. The West End of Glasgow is awash with rich students who are pacing their time getting an education before they buy a small castle in Sussex and get to grips with an Aga.

Ok, I know that’s a sweeping generalisation and my own child attended a fee paying snooty school off the Byres Rd, but for fucksake they really irritate me and my daughter is funny and swears better than me, she hates ponies and has a healthy dislike of posh girls who live of ‘Daddies Money’ and who fuck rugby boys called Degs and Dosh who ‘are actually gay but practise anal on the girls first’. (Those were my daughter’s words not mine, and that’s why I love my child, she has a healthy sarcastic attitude in her life).

I recently did a charity comedy night at Glasgow Uni for a bunch of such like students, some were really cool but there were a dose of Chloe’s and Deg’s scattered around. After the gig a foppish looking fellow who was actually wearing a Sherlock Holmes type hat said to me outside the gig “For a woman you were quite good you know”. I almost stabbed his eye with my hot ciggie, but then thought better of it as that was what his nanny probably raised him on…pain and fellatio, so I didn’t say anything. God intervened and a stray wandering dog attacked his shins and bit into his tweed trousers leaving foam and blood behind before it ran off in a squinty demeanour, probably rabid and feral, but somehow I loved that tufty mad dog.

So back to my shopping expedition in the West End, I managed to get into Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food branch, which is tiny. There were at least four couples with those tripod looking baby buggies cramming up every wee aisle as they chatted and compared babies, wee Osh Kosh Begosh clad Fraser’s and Antonia’s all bundled up as mummies and daddies nattered away. “Excuse me please” I begged every three seconds I tried to reach for some steaks whilst clambering over three baby buggies and reaching round big men and women. One posh woman sneered and said “You know, you can leave your trolley at the end of the aisle, we can’t leave our babies”

“Or, one of you can stand near the door with the pram and one of you can do the shopping? Or are you not allowed to pick food without your husband’s say-so? Or, you can take your conversation and prams somewhere else that doesn’t block up a passageway?” I snapped back.

I am of the era where you left your baby at the front of a shop in a pram and watched it with one eye, if it got stolen; you simply went home and made another baby.
Ok that was facetious and I am joking, but if my husband was with me one of us watched the pram whilst the other did the shopping, we didn’t stroll round a tiny shop nattering and blocking up the fucking shop, coz we are working class and know how to mind our manners!

I expected to be greeted by screams of horror from onlookers but a bunch of other people who were equally pissed off gathered round and one snooty old lady shouted “Yes, for goodness sake, can you move the baby buggies and let us shop; you really don’t need to gather here and chat, now do you?”

Just then an assistant came over and asked politely if the six parents and three prams could move out of the way and let customers do their shopping. The Boden Gang were horrified and snorted and clicked their hooves a bit (by this point I imagined them to be haughty ponies) and they finally shifted the expensive prams into gear and trundled them out of the shop. Fathers were left with babies and suddenly they all looked scared, some of them didn’t even know how to put the brake on the pram. The women harrumphed about a bit and sniffed at the staff, every now and then rushing out to check on their children as it was clear the daddies were incapable of caring for their precious babies on their own.

I wanted to smack those women, but then I realised I was over reacting and should happily just shop and shut up.

I recall my own mammy leaving me and my brother and sister at the shop front of Curley’s the Grocers shop. It was the 60s, the shop sold ‘provisions’ and we were told not to move, talk or touch anything as she waited the queue to be served for butter, cheese, bread, cold meat and tin goods.
It was freezing on that cold main road, but we never moved. Every now and then mammy would crane her neck, make eye contact and shake her fist at us, just to remind us that death would follow if we deviated from her rules. There were prams and other kids gathered outside, babies howled and sniffled, but they too had to wait as mammies in a food shopping queue were relentless in their mission. My big brother would push me about and get me into trouble “Mammy Janey moved and kicked a puddle at me” he would shout into the shop front.

Women would tut-tut and my mammy would scream over the huddle of head scarves and grey rollers “Janey, wait till I fucking get out there, what were you told!” other kids would giggle and start annoying their own siblings.

Before long women would emerge with big brown shopping bags and slap the legs of kids who squealed and jumped about to avoid the death lash of cold hands of freezing skin.

Ah….those were the days!

So it is now 2009 and I am excited about the coming year….lets hope it’s a good one!