Remember Monica, Meet Jessica: Hollywood Beyond Red Carpets


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.

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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

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.

Oscars So Nice: Reflections of a Busker


 

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Oscar has left the building.  My neighborhood returns to relative Hollywood & Highland normal.  Before I head back out in the Vegas 90210 short shorts to protect Hollywood Boulevard from democracy and Jimmy Kimmel, I wanted to kinda sorta quickly share a few thoughts about last night’s notable Oscar’s ceremony.

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Keeping it real with LAPD brother law enforcers (one of whom appeared to be the last of the male Ghostbusters) at an undisclosed location in the vicinity of the Dolby Theater.

Bear in mind, I didn’t watch the whole ceremony in a pristine private screening room devoid of distraction.  I watched in a bar.  Because it was Sunday and that’s how Jesus would screen it.  As Chris Rock commenced the 88th Academy Awards, I manfully strode in my short shorts down a Hollywood Boulevard congested with star-struck tourists eager to catch a glimpse of what Joan Rivers is no longer here to assess.  (I took up some slack – “What Are Those” VIDEO).  Late I was, en route to my viewing party at Tinhorn Flats as Lt. Frank FFIREHS of Vegas 90210, taking photos with tourists from around the world delighted to behold the theatrical menagerie of nearly every iteration of law enforcement, from security guard to Secret Service … and yours truly in rainbow tactical leg warmers.  As frequently happens in my daily life, they wanted pictures with “Lt. Dangle”.  (Even though the real Lt. Dangle clearly distinguished me as … well, you’ll see shortly.)

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Mark Roman of Vegas 90210, snubbed by the Academy invite list, as seen in the The Hollywood Reporter Oscars Edition.

Because I’m that guy.  The one Thomas Lennon (aka “Lt. Dangle” of Reno 911!) calmly calls “bigger”.  The one with whom Nick Swardson (aka “Terry” of Reno 911!“) recently spread the news of sweat pants and Super Bowl Champion Minnesota Vikings glory.  The one Thomas Lennon (aka Felix #5 opposite the non-Academy Oscar of The Odd Couple on CBS) screams “MARK!!!” while doing a Wassup Drive-By on Hollywood Boulevard the other week.  As seen in The Hollywood Reporter.  That guy.  The smelly background actor busker guy who never had the decency to study at UCLA or USC film schools, frequent Julliard, or embellish the Bard with the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren or Tom Hardy at The Globe (as directed by Shakespeare understudy Ben Affleck).

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We’re not gay and we make absolutely no case for it.  With Greg Proops (the Buddy Holly impersonator from Whose Line Is It Anyways?), after his live recording of The Smartest Man In The World podcast at the Bar Lubitch in West Hollywood.

With all due respect to Greg Proops (whose sober assessment of the vital impact of awards shows led him to retreat to San Jose for a vodcast), here’s a few quick thoughts and reflections, inadequately informed and hastily assembled, but without the Brian Williams compensation.

CHRIS ROCK EFFORTLESSLY ROUNDS THE BASES

VIDEO. Nuanced jazz, Chris Rock fired word picture bullets I expect to ricochet across the fruited plain.  Whatever seemed to to others to fall flat actually revealed and highlighted the very points Chris was making about race in America and what’s left to do for Hollywood to get better.  Too funny.  He killed.  As only a master comedian at the top of his game can.  Something I’m clearly not, as my freshman forays into the realm of Periscope (Mark Roman, Vegas 90210 – my handle) reveal.

LADY GAGA TAMES THE NOT SO ESCHEWED BARBARIANS

VIDEO.  When one earns their living in short shorts and rainbow tactical leg warmers, it is a rare opportunity to experience a tiny taste of what women (and some men) struggle with daily: unwelcome advances, sexist taunts and hate speech … to outright criminal assault and rape.  I notice in my daily conversations with other men that most guys are criminally clueless as to what most women have to endure daily.  With “Til It Happens to You” Lady Gaga demonstrated beautifully how art can heal, inform and inspire.  We only hope more men begin to grasp the message.  Men like the several passing strangers (unfit to be labeled “gentlemen”) last night making rude remarks about what they’d like to do with body parts of the elegantly dressed ladies in my Oscars after parties group.  The struggle is pervasive, relentless and real.  Gentlemen, we need rise above our primal urges.  Or withdraw from civilization.

REAL VEEP BIDEN CALLS FOR ACTION

Speaking of which, none other than the Vice President clearly stated HOW.  Not fictional VP Selina Meyer played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (behind whom you might notice yours truly in an upcoming episode) on HBO’s Veep.  ACTUAL Vice President Joe Biden.  A pledge is one thing.  Taking decisive action when the occasion requires is what saves lives.  It is how we all can Heroteer.

THE BIG SHORT

VIDEO.  I’m in it.  In one of the Vegas conventions scenes I’m the featured suit on the down escalator.  Unlike Brad Pitt with all his Hamletesque dialogue, not letting Christian Bale, Steve Carrell or Ryan Gosling get a word in edgewise, I perform.  Without. Saying. A word.  Where’s my Oscar?  I’m also a recovering mortgage broker.  Unlike the dangerously accurate portrayal of mortgage broker douche bags in the film, I charged reasonable fees and become a mostly referral only business.  (I think there’s even a nice review somewhere on Yelp from a previous client.)  I didn’t make nearly as much money as some. But I made enough to be able to see and support my son on a regular basis (unlike the last several years).  And I was never really into it.  (Banking or sales or anything that makes the film Office Space so painfully funny.  And accurate.)  So when the events portrayed in the film unfolded (I remember vividly the day New Century expired), my new found poverty liberated me from sales and enabled me to pursue my passion.  Quite a full circle: to act in an Oscar-winning film that portrays the very industry I escaped … to become a performing artist.

CROWN PRINCE OF HOLLYWOOD:  LEONARDO DICAPRIO

VIDEO.  He’s earned the title.  Well played, sir.  Respect.

 

SPOTLIGHT AND A SPECTATOR

VIDEO.  Quite a compelling film.  It reminded me of All the President’s Men.  I’m a former student editor.  When I refused to stop publishing my independent newspaper I was expelled from college, defamed and put on the FBI’s Subversives List.  I’m also technically Catholic, practicing agnostic and recovering from the child abuse of religion (see “Son of Elmer Gantry’s Bitch“).  So this film resonated with me in ways several and powerful. And let’s not forget that Morgan Freeman not only announced the Best Picture winner, he offered this calm assessment of #OscarsSoWhite.

IN CONCLUSION

I’m so happy to be back in LA (since November), living in Hollywood, pursuing my craft.  The experiences my career continue to afford me only reaffirm that I’m in the right place doing the right things at the right time.  I may never be more famous than “limited-purpose public figure” per that federal judge in the Hillsdale College defamation suit debacle.  I may never be wealthy.  I may never again return to the income the State of Washington child support bureaucrats imagine I still have from a former industry of mine that no longer exists the way it did (as portrayed in a film that only just won an Oscar and was nominated for Best Picture).  I may not be able to do much for my son these days.  He may feel quite like the daughter of Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo in that clip during the Oscars.  And only for many good reasons.  But I can pursue my passion.  I CAN give my son that.  The example.