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Bring on the Clowns

Venice Beach is an amiable blend of healers, hawkers, psychics, musicians, peace activists, environmentalists, hug therapists, artists, jugglers and cosmic mind-trippers who gather on weekends to shake a few bucks out of the tourists and compare astrological signs.

It’s a free-floating carnival without portfolio, but a low key one at that.

No one hustles too hard, beach-goers have some fun, entertainers make a little money, peace wins some adherents and the tourists go back to Allentown, Pa., feeling they’ve been part of the kooky Kalifornia scene they’ve read about in National Geographic.

Well if it’s that much fun and that peaceful and that happy why, I hear you ask, is Jerry Rubin weeping?

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Good question.

Jerry Rubin, who is L.A.'s numero uno weeper, is convinced that the amorphous group of downtown power brokers known as The City is going to sweep all those bouncy, happy healers and hug therapists and cosmic mind-trippers into the sea, and that makes him sad.

Actually, he calls himself the Other Jerry Rubin so as not to confuse him with the circa-'60s Yippie of the same name who dropped out of the peace scene some years ago and opened a disco in New York.

Our Jerry Rubin is with Alliance for Survival and is still out there hustling peace on weekends at Venice Beach practically shoulder to shoulder with a guy demanding justice for pit bulls.

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When I say he’s a good weeper, I mean it metaphorically. I’ve never seen him actually cry, but he can get pretty emotional over war, pollution, the plight of the homeless, the harmonic convergence and those gray whales that were trapped in the ice off Barrow, Alaska.

And now he’s getting quivery over Venice Beach.

“There’s a guy on the phone who sounds like he’s about to cry,” my son said when Our Jerry called the other night.

Rubin was in a state all right. He sounded like The City was about to arrest all the entertainers on Ocean Front Walk at any moment and then concrete Venice Beach from the boardwalk to the sea.

He was so convincing I thought I could hear a SWAT team locking and loading and dogs snarling and concrete trucks standing by to perform their abominable deed.

What makes Our Jerry tremble with emotion is a proposed city ordinance that, among other social calamities, would confine the entertainers and activists to specific areas of the boardwalk, out of which they would not be allowed to stray.

Rubin sees this kind of regimentation as a defilement of the very soul of Venice Beach.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose idea it was to regulate the carnival, insists the intent of the ordinance isn’t to suppress the Bohemian nature of the beach but to space out the performers in a manner that will unclog the boardwalk.

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Rubin says they’re going to do this by pouring color-coded slabs of concrete that will force his people to perform in tight little areas of duress.

Nonsense, says the Park Department’s Richard Ginevan. A small amount of concrete may be poured in narrow places where people walk from the beach to the boardwalk to save the grass but even that hasn’t been decided yet.

“We’re not trying to regulate. We’re trying to accommodate,” Ginevan said. “If these concrete areas are going to become an issue of defiance, we won’t bother.”

I talked with Rubin one foggy morning at a place on the boardwalk called Figtree’s Cafe.

Gil Borgos, the celebrated street artist of Venice, was setting up across the way. A flutist was filling the air with ribbons of music. A healer was rubbing a woman’s shoulders.

“If they regulate us, who will they regulate next?” Rubin demanded. “Frisbee throwers? Joggers? We don’t need their kinds of limits.”

He took a few bites of his French toast, talked about the happy ambiance of the beach and then said, “Entertainers don’t bring gangs, drugs, unruly crowds or litter.”

Another few bites: “Can you picture gang members coming down here to get their Tarot cards read?”

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Our Jerry is worried about what the ordinance portends, and he’s got a point.

L.A. isn’t famous for its sensitivity to street entertainers, sidewalk artists or even mobile hot dog vendors. One step toward limiting anything opens the door to a parade of restrictions.

You can’t be just a little bit pregnant.

A war on the gangs and drug-dealers of Venice is a necessity. A war on the dancing clowns and the misty mystics isn’t.

I go with the Weeping Rubin. It’s simple. Venice Beach ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.


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