OFF-RAMP : Loser Lineup

After nearly 30 years in the car-repair business, Marty Klein knows losers. And not just bad wiring--Klein also serves as local cultural arbiter by announcing a Loser of the Week on a large sign outside his Westside shop, Delta Battery Co. "Heidi's Friends" got the nod in mid-August, while smokers were featured when L.A.'s anti-smoking ordinance was approved in June.

The tradition began when Klein opened in March, 1964, on a sign-cluttered stretch of Venice Boulevard. He hoped his salute to villains and victims would attract more attention from commuters than a special on alternators--and he was right. "If I don't change it every week," Klein says, "people say, 'Hey, when's the new loser going up?' "

Klein scans newspapers and listens to radio news to find those worthy of sympathy or derision. Though he tries not to get too political, sometimes he can't help himself. Then-First Son Neil Bush made the board during the Silverado S&L; scandal in 1989, and Gov. Pete Wilson got a raspberry when he vetoed a 1991 gay-rights bill. Sympathy went to the Supreme Court when Justice Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, and to the Kurds during the Gulf War.

Of course, not everyone agrees with his choices. "Sometimes people call me up to comment," Klein says, "and some are irate." When Klein listed Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, "a woman called to ask if I knew what was going to happen to me when I died."

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