Today is International Women’s Day. Here in my tiny hamlet of Hollywood there exists a strange old world of real life. It begins where the red carpet ends. A world hidden in plain sight. A world recently rocked by two women. Women you didn’t see on the red carpet. They may not be a Gary from Chicago. Or a Jimmy with a podcast (not drunk Jimmy with the ratings). Or Brian and Martha of PwC. But you should know their names. And their stories. And not just because it is International Women’s Day. But because the fate of a certain Hollywood, the one Beyond the Red Carpets, depends on it.
Monica Acuna was a burlesque performer and busker. (For those baffled by the word “busker”, update your brain app here.) Some knew her as “Lucha”. I knew her as “Clownalyn Monroe”. Yes, a clown. A female clown. She even made balloon animals for children. With her playful spirit, sly antics and generous heart she was a cherished part of the Hollywood Boulevard, Venice Beach and even Beverly Hills scenes. This 2 minute video helping kids confront bullying captures a bit of her accessible sparkle. I fear many of us who knew her took her presence in our lives for granted. Last week she slipped in the shower and hit her head. Many encouraged her to seek medical attention for her concussion. She didn’t. Chalk it up to the smoldering stubbornness that was a vital part of her spirit so many adored. However, as a working artist and busker in Hollywood myself, I can too easily imagine the many obstacles that may have prevented her from seeking professional medical help. (And I’m a white man. Not a Latina single mom.) Monica passed away over the weekend. By the sounds of it, from a stroke. Like Bill Paxton.
Hollywood Boulevard is a small community. The loss of Monica hit us all quite hard. A GoFundMe for her funeral and family has raised $3,560. I hear donations are being taken as well at the hotel in Hollywood where Monica was staying. Artists who worked with Monica are raising funds for the family with their art. I’m aware of at least one major bar and restaurant in the area that wishes to help facilitate donations for Monica’s 14 year old daughter, who is now with extended family. Monica certainly had her demons. I don’t know a clown, musician, comedian or many actors who don’t. Or didn’t. A Robert Downey, Jr. survives to become Iron Man. But many have not, as listeners of Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast know all too well. Losing Monica has awakened many to the fragile condition of the busker in Hollywood. After all, buskers in Los Angeles relate well to immigrants in Trump’s “Great” America. We are the disposable untouchables of Tinsel Town. I’m a former mortgage broker (before The Big Short: Real Life Edition) who once sat on a Chamber of Commerce Civic Affairs Committee. I can’t escape the overwhelming contrast in how the average person treated me as a white collar professional. Versus a non “name” SAG-AFTRA actor. Versus a busker in costume on Hollywood Boulevard. Especially a dude in women’s short shorts and rainbow tactical leg warmers.
Monica didn’t fleece customers like Wells Fargo. Or launder drug cartel money like HSBC. She didn’t engineer bombers for Boeing. She wasn’t Mayor of new luxury towers gated against new homeless tent cities. Monica created joy and laughter. Like many buskers, that was her job. Perhaps the many tears for a Singular Clown Lost will motivate the City of Angels to reconsider how we perceive the street performers of Hollywood.
Jessica Salans was a Bernie Sanders volunteer during the recent presidential campaign. Fortunate for us, Jessica is still with us. Let’s not take her for granted. Bernie challenged his supporters to get involved in local politics. Jessica listened. And she took action. She ran for city council in Los Angeles district 13. She rose above single issues and the Stop Sign Mentality of Measure S (which oddly echoed National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr.’s mantra of “standing athwart history yelling STOP!”). Jessica actually has a comprehensive platform – JUSTICE: social, racial, economic and environmental. She sat down with me in my neighborhood, at the Coffee Bean on Hollywood and Orange. She listened to my concerns. As a busker on Hollywood Boulevard. As a resident of Hollywood. As a working artist in Los Angeles. For over an hour. Unlike ANY elected official in Los Angeles. To date.
The incumbent she challenged has never even met me. I’ve reached out, but Mitch O’Farrell’s office staff have hung up on me. He eagerly attends all the red carpets on a Hollywood Boulevard where a Bernie Sanders flanked by Secret Service shook my Vegas 90210 character’s hand (ask the LA Times for the photos). Yet Mitch manages to avoid me. Unlike The Hollywood Reporter and Thomas Lennon and Nick Swardson and the LAPD and the Naked Cowboy and ABC Bakersfield and Thomas Lennon. Mitch is not one of the 60+ Verifieds from Amnesty International to the LA Times to President Obama to Tom Cruise who choose to follow me on my tiny Twitter. I get it. I’m Waldo. But then consider Jessica’s top campaign discovery in district 13 per the LA Times: the constituents of Mitch O’Farrell find he “can’t be reached“. City hall has abandoned the Hollywood outside the red carpets to the criminals. Civic “leaders” like Mitch survey the chaos from downtown, claim the ACLU prevents them from prosecuting those who steal and assault, and then inevitably make buskers the convenient scapegoat for all that is wrong on Hollywood Boulevard.
Contrast that negligence with the wonderful, proactive ideas of Jessica Salans. She sees beyond the red carpets. She finds unacceptable: the patient dumping, the crime, the health crisis, the housing crisis, the inadequate police protection, the failure of the city to prosecute repeat offenders who prey on residents and tourists with impunity. Jessica wants to bring residents, tourists, businesses, and buskers as well as police, emergency responders and social services together to make Hollywood Boulevard a safer and better world-class destination for everyone. She asked me provocative questions. Why are there only two LAPD officers assigned to the Hollywood Entertainment Zone beat? (Off-duty LAPD officers highly visible at red carpets work to protect the red carpet event and personnel, not the tourists and residents on the outside looking in.) Why is there not an LAPD Community Center and Busker Green Room in the Hollywood and Highland Mall? If the City can’t afford to fund enough police officers on the ground, why not have an LAPD merch kiosk at Hollywood and Highland? As buskers are a tourist attraction, why doesn’t the city pay buskers to perform instead of treating them like criminals? (I don’t necessarily advocate the city pay performers, but it is a refreshing perspective from a political leader in Los Angeles.)
Without the name recognition of incumbent Mitch O’Farrell, Jessica last night lost a nevertheless impressive campaign in a somewhat crowded race. Her 13.2% of the vote was 128 votes shy of the second place showing of Sylvie Shain, a more recognized name in the district who entered the race late on her issue of tenant’s rights. Jessica may have lost the race, but she realizes the problems remain. And the elected men clearly are not up to the task. Of the 15 city council seats, only one is held by a woman: Nury Martinez of District 6. The only woman to win more votes for City Council last night was Monica Rodriguez, but her 27.7% falls short of the 50%+1 required to avoid a run-off election, as I understand it. The City of Angels resident majority is female (50.15%). On this International Women’s Day 2017, landslide re-elected Mayor Eric Garcetti’s City Council is 86.6-93.3% male dominated. Wow. Jessica Salans has a lot of work to do with her post-election grassroots activism. She is just getting started. She needs our ongoing help.
There exists a barely investigated Hollywood beyond the red carpets. On this International Women’s Day, please join me in remembering a clown named Monica. And supporting a fresh new leader named Jessica. The tourists, residents, buskers and businesses who enjoy a Hollywood abandoned by city hall depend on YOU.