Mood Swings : A Day at Venice Beach

Times Columnist

As dawn comes to Venice Beach, the gulls forage among the clumps of kelp that washed ashore during the night. Soon, the people will descend--100,000, if this is a typical Saturday. Gang violence the week before has a few edgy. But still they come: The psychics, the cyclists, the skaters, the sun worshipers. Times Columnist Beverly Beyette recorded the changes in the human landscape, hour by hour, in her Venice Beach Diary.

Saturday, May 22, 5:30 a.m.--There is only one person on the beach. Dan Davis, 71, known in these parts as “Diver Dan,” is taking his customary “little dip” in the shelter of the breakwater. He’s here every morning. Dan is a prospector of sorts. “Since 1970, I’ve found $8,000 right out here. That’s the good news. The bad news is I’ve spent 8,000 hours looking for it.”

But the money is just an excuse: “If you tell people you came down here to meditate, they think you’re some sort of a kook.” He’ll do his usual 100 pushups in the sand before heading home.


6 a.m.--The shapeless bundles in what once was a beach pavilion begin to take form in the shadows. The homeless, swaddled in blankets, will be moving out soon.

6:30 a.m.--A lone Rollerblader and a few cyclists speed along the concrete bike path at the foot of Windward Avenue. In a couple of hours, they will have to compete for space with the hot-doggers.

The sun breaks through and reflects off a lone pleasure boat offshore. Just past the breakwater, a school of dolphins frolics.

6:45 a.m.--Jay Christus is heading out for the day. Wearing three or four hats, several layers of pants of assorted lengths, fingerless ski gloves and carrying three broomsticks tied together with a piece of TV cable, he resembles a Tyrolean ragamuffin. His muff-like ear phones are just for effect; they are broken. Christus explains that he is a “plainclothes guy” working for the cops. He asks for change for a cup of coffee.

7:15 a.m.--At the water’s edge, Joe Sciolari, a carpenter who lives a block away, searches the sand for soft-shelled crabs. He’s fishing for corvina and, he says, “they have no teeth, so they have to gum it.” He tosses a crab into the surf.

7:30 a.m.--Pablo Ruiz drives his John Deere across the beach, pulling a giant comb to rake the sand smooth. He’s been working local beaches for the county for 10 years. Here at Venice, he says, “I’ve found three dead bodies” over the years.


8 a.m.--They roll up the awnings at The Sidewalk Cafe on the boardwalk. Soon, the front tables will fill up. From there, the best show in town is served up with the waffles and bagels. But at this hour, ringsiders aren’t fair game for the panhandlers. Inside, in the dimness of the bar, the regulars are hunkering down with a little waker-upper.

Larry Correnty stakes out a spot among the psychics’ tables to sell incense, opium oil and assorted unguents. He won’t be opening up shop for a couple of hours, but he has to come early to get one of the good spots. “It’s dangerous out here,” he cautions. “People will bang you over the head to get 30 cents for your sneakers.” A recovering addict, Correnty does this to repay his debt to a San Diego-based rehab program.

“Saj,” a Tarot card reader, points out the locals passing by. Baby Doll, Jo-Jo. They don’t scare her. Neither do the local gangs, the Venice 13 and the Shoreline Crips. It’s the gangs from outside that have been causing all the trouble, she says.

8:30 a.m.--The movies love Venice. They don’t have to make it up, just embellish it a bit. This morning, guard Ken Taylor from C.A.S.T. Security is standing watch over a block-long stretch at the foot of Westchester Street. “Nothing here is real,” Taylor says, not the Sunset Club, not the Same Day Tux, not the huge painting of the Mona Lisa. Fake fronts. Just a set for “Clean Slate,” an MGM film with Dana Carvey.

8:45 a.m.--From a bench, Kenneth Morris, an electrician who’s been a Venice Beach weekend denizen for 15 years, is watching the day’s unfolding show. “You have a lot of lonely people out here,” he says, just walking back and forth, back and forth.

A man holding up a toy boat lurches unsteadily by, saying to no one in particular, “I don’t trust anybody who don’t drink.”


9 a.m.--The shopkeepers drift in. Ah, the merchants of Venice. You can get your tush tattooed and your nose pierced. Buy a leather motorcycle jacket adorned with an airbrushed Harley. Wiggle into a pair of hand-painted Levi’s.

In an hour, the boardwalk will be a beach bazaar. Want your picture snapped with a famous movie star (well, a cutout of a famous movie star)? Gold chains by the yard?

10 a.m.--On the grass near the boardwalk, psychic Jerry Mills spins around, waving bundles of burning sage to dispel “the bad energies” before his day starts. “There’s so much negativity down here.” He’s angry. “There’s got to be a law to keep the gang members off the beach or this place is going to be history. . . . It doesn’t take a psychic to figure that out.”

Up on the concrete, a shirtless Patrick Doles, 31, is turning pink in the hot sun. An electrician, he’s been here since 6, sweeping the boardwalk, working off a DUI conviction. Now it’s time for fun. On his Rollerblades, he leaps over a trio of trash barrels, making a faultless landing. He mentions that he was at his parents’ wedding on this beach in 1969.

11 a.m.--Randy Raye looks toward the sea and wonders aloud, “Can you swim to Hawaii . . .?” Raye, who lives from “motel to motel,” is warming up on his guitar. He hopes today will be better than yesterday, when he picked up only $2.75 in four hours. He shrugs. “Guitar players are two dozen for a dime. Sometimes you play your heart out and you don’t get nothin.’ ”

Venice Beach is awash in talent. A quarter will get you a clarinet solo. Or a ragtime number on the piano. Others, who are missing arms and legs, rely solely on the kindness of strangers.

11:30 a.m.--The music blaring across the boardwalk is “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Meanwhile, at The Incredible Wigglin’ Hand booth, Gertrude Perry is flogging a battery-operated life-like hand: “Stick it in a salad at a party and make the lettuce wiggle. Stick it in the truck of a car, in your mailbox.” A dog in sunglasses stops to sniff around a wiggling hand on the walk. At $15 per hand (batteries included), Perry is seeking her first sale of the day. She gets it. Barbara Atkins of San Diego buys one for her brother in New Jersey. “This is disgusting,” she says, delighted.


At the bikini stall (tops and bottoms, $14 each) business is “awful,” says the proprietor, who doesn’t wish to give her name. She says she doesn’t figure to stick out the summer. Too much violence. And when bad things happen, she reasons, people want to be ready to run. Who wants to be caught in a bikini shop where “you have to take your clothes off”?

Noon--For Kevin Davis, 19, it’s time to work the lunch bunch. A bouquet of burritos, burgers and fries perfumes the salt air. Smack in front of The Sidewalk Cafe, where it’s SRO, Kevin turns up his stereo, executes a few flips and spins and then somersaults neatly over a stack of boxes. Then he passes the box. He’s looking for loose change--and a commercial.

12:30 p.m.--At Clubhouse Avenue and the boardwalk, another rising star, Michael Colyars, is holding his audience with his mix of some serious words about safe sex and “equal opportunity” jokes, designed to offend everyone. Then, deftly wielding a toy claw, he works the crowd, snapping up dollar bills. No one has to pay, Colyars says, but think of it this way: “I could be in your homes right now. . . . “

1:30 p.m.--With a snap of his wrist, Kyle Shelley sends a yellow disc sailing toward the surf. He’s here from Oklahoma City to get some attention for his brand-new M-7000 disc launcher, a triangular plastic device that can send a Frisbee on a 150-yard journey. It was designed by an engineer, Shelley explains, for launching plastic explosives at close range but “the military didn’t want it.”

2 p.m.--A sunbather casually removes her bikini top. This might create a stir in Santa Monica, but at Venice Beach nobody seems particularly surprised. Out here, what people are wearing is almost as interesting as what they aren’t.

2:15 p.m.--With chopsticks as markers and an old sugar scoop for a tool, nuclear engineer Terry Hershey, 58, of Valencia is building The Great Pyramid on the sand. He’s been doing this every Saturday for 18 years, save for his five kids’ weddings.


2:30 p.m.--At water’s edge, far from the cacophony of the boardwalk, the only sounds are the surf, the laughter of children, the cries of the gulls. The frantic throng, the insistent beat of rap music are a world away. The gulls circle, as though biding their time until the boardwalk, with its cornucopia of food scraps, is theirs.

4:15 p.m.--Look, ma, no hands! Jesse Puente, 23, of Southgate and Richard Zabzydr, 21, of Poway, daredevils in baggy knee-length shorts, spin on their 20-inch bikes, riding every which way except on the seat. They’re free-stylers and, they claim, the best in the world. “I pay my rent doing this,” Puente says. He empties his drink cup and works the crowd.

5:10 p.m.--”Hemp, hemp, hooray!” shouts Michael Meyers, who is pushing the cannabis herb as a natural fiber, a biodegradable fuel, for medicinal purposes “and for fun.” For sale are “Thank You For Pot Smoking” buttons.

A quartet of Airedales leads their master down the boardwalk. This is dog country. Dogs with rhinestone chokers. Dogs with serious wardrobes and attitudes. Here, a whippet. There, a Borzoi.

6:15 p.m.--In the window of the Posh Pups Dog Hats establishment, a fat brown-and-white cat is washing its face.

7:15 p.m.--From a folding chair, Scott Dosch watches over his sand sculpture of a reclining nude. A woman stops, looks and asks Dosch, does he ever do people making love? (She phrases it a little differently.) He doesn’t. “I don’t think parents want to sit down right at that moment and explain what’s up.”


7:30 p.m.--The vendors are stripping the awnings, leaving only metal skeletons. Jay Christus has returned for his belongings. He’s been at the library, he says. Tonight, he’ll “camp inland,” where it’s warmer.

8:45 p.m.--As it grows dark, the lights twinkle in Santa Monica, around the bend. The homeless, the addicts, the mentally ill come to reclaim Venice Beach. Until tomorrow.