Quite the vibe in Echo Park
Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t find a way to get porn and hunger into the same column. But when you fish for a living, you never know what you might catch.
The story begins with my neighbor Hilda working out one morning at Curves, where her buddy Gloria from Echo Park tells her about a mysterious problem she’s having with gay sex magazines. The two of them decide that Gloria should shoot me an e-mail, and here’s the story:
About a month ago, Gloria Sohacki goes out to roll her big blue recycling bin to the curb for pickup, but it’s so heavy she can barely budge it. Two neighborhood boys see her struggling and come by to help, and Sohacki says, “What is in here, a dead body?”
She pops the lid, peeks inside and finds hundreds of copies of a soft-core magazine called Cybersocket, a monthly promo for a triple-X Web magazine by the same name. On the cover is a shirtless, come-hither youth who is pulling his pants down. The headlines include, “THE FUTURE OF THE PORN INDUSTRY,” “THE BOYS OF BEL AMI,” and “WHY WE LOVE STR8 BOYS.”
Sohacki quickly shuts the lid and tells the boys thanks, but she’ll be fine without their help. “I didn’t want them to see that stuff,” she says, which is understandable. She works as an administrative assistant at a neighborhood youth center, where she doubles as the dispatcher for the anti-graffiti patrol. It might have been difficult to explain why she had a trash can full of bare butts and stories about gay sex.
Sohacki then manages to wrestle the bin down to the street for pickup, but when she returns home from work, the truck has come and gone and the magazines are still there. So she bulls the bin back onto the sidewalk until a week later, when she opens the lid and finds that the sex magazines have multiplied like rabbits.
Again, she pushes the bin to the curb.
Again, the truck blows right past it.
“I am not nuts, you can ask Hilda,” Sohacki said in her e-mail to me. “I secretly think someone is targeting me in the hopes I will answer the ads in the magazines -- after all, I am a gorgeous-looking 62-year-old redhead -- just kidding.”
Sohacki moonlights as a hostess at Taix restaurant, where she told her story to customer and friend Jesus Sanchez, who posted her predicament on his Eastsider blog.
“My problem,” she told the Eastsider, “is that if the delivery person makes another drop next week it will overflow onto the sidewalk . . . and then onto the street where the rain will probably cause it to float into the storm drain and go out to sea.”
Sohacki said she called the office of Councilman Ed Reyes and was told to transfer some of the magazines to other recycling bins so the trash truck could handle the load. But diving down through all those magazines did not appeal to her.
She guessed a distributor was dumping Cybersocket instead of delivering it to news racks, so she looked up the name of the owner in the index and fired off an e-mail.
“I apologize,” Cybersocket founder Morgan Sommer promptly responded. “We are on the issue today.”
But a week later, Sohacki’s bin was still filled to the brim. There might have been as many as 1,000 magazines in there.
On Friday morning, she scooped a copy of the latest issue out of the can.
“It says, ‘Virtual sex is now a reality,’ ” she told me.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Sohacki said, flipping through the magazine. “Looks to me like they’ve got more plugs than sockets in here.”
While we spoke, a small white dog was at Sohacki’s feet. It was a stray, she said, but with a cat named Flo, she wasn’t in the market for a canine.
Had someone dumped it there? And is there no end to the small mysteries on one city block overlooking Echo Park Lake? I always knew this was a funky little hamlet, but I might have underestimated the place.
Meanwhile, to add to the vibe, people gathered on the sidewalk across the street, standing in a line half a block long. Sohacki told me they were there for the weekly St. Paul Cathedral food handout.
“I never saw the line this long,” she said.
In the Depression-era scene, men, women and children were holding sacks that would soon be filled with potatoes, onions, cereal and beans. But the line was moving slowly, and I thought about going into the crowd to round up some help for Sohacki. If I and a dozen of others pitched in, we could empty her bin in no time, evenly distributing Cybersockets up and down the street.
Then again, this was an Episcopal church. The idea of parishioners tucking photos of Steve Cruz, the Naked Swordsman of 2009, under their arms seemed a tad inappropriate. Especially after I met Francisco Torrero, a volunteer who runs the food program and has never seen such demand.
“It used to be mostly homeless people, but now we get everyone,” he said. “Latino, Asian, whites -- people who are losing their homes.”
Only one hour into the giveaway, 250 people had shown up, and Torrero expected that number to double over the next 90 minutes. I went into the line and asked a couple of people if they’d seen any illegal dumping across the street, but no one had any leads.
Back at my office, I called Cybersocket. Morgan Sommer told me his company hires independent distributors to place magazines on racks all over L.A. County, and every once in a while someone simply dumps the stash and drives back to headquarters for a day’s pay. Sommer said the driver for the Echo Park area had denied any such thing.
But Sommer didn’t believe it.
“We’re firing him,” he told me.
It’d be ironic if the fired worker ends up back on the same street, praying forgiveness as he stands in the St. Paul food line. But you have to love a quirky narrative like that, and there are a million of them in the naked city. Some of them even have happy endings.
Friday afternoon, I heard back from Gloria Sohacki.
“Cybersocket is sending someone over to get the magazines,” she said.
And people say there’s no good news in the paper.