Venice Festival at
Fox Venice Theater
Spirit of Truth (fiction)
A Venice Wedding
30 Years Ago
The File Cabinet:
Visions of Venice
To See Venice
Is To Live
Venice's True Sister City
a Venice California Life
This book is about Oakwood. Not the Venice of the boardwalk,
visited by 150,000 tourists each weekend, Oakwood is the other Venice,
a community within a community, separate from yet an integral part of
Venice. The Oakwood of 1978 through 1984 is a fascinating and frightening
place. (Film director Barbet Schroeder, who lived there during the same
time period, told an interviewer it was "the best year of my life
so far." Writer Ruth Francisco calls it "a nasty hive of evil
surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in California.")
Said to have the second highest crime rate in LA and
perceived by outsiders as a Black-Hispanic battleground, Oakwood is actually
packed with ethnic variety. It presents a challenge to the liberal Sixties
belief, nourished by such as Saul Alinsky, that shared neighborhoods would
end racial disharmony. Other sociologists have theorized that Los Angeles
is such a violent place because of the wide gap between rich and poor
neighborhoods. Match up Brentwood against Compton, sure, the difference
is huge. But Oakwood has both rich and poor - and plenty of violence.
Crime isn't only high-speed chases and mega-tonnage cocaine
busts. Most of it is just the plain old banality of evil. It's dull, it's
repetitive, and there are things to be observed and known and said about
it that aren't evident in TV dramas.
Mike Davis says Abbot Kinney "crusaded for...AngloSaxon
racial purity through eugenics." Yet the quaint seaside town he created
evolved into one of the most racially mixed environments in the land.
Venice has experienced many different eras - the wholesome playground
days; the mobsters and molls period; the years of ruin and abandonment;
the beat era; the Sixties; the art mecca epoch. In each of these incarnations
it was essentially a different place. In the period discussed here, Venice
attracts people so wrapped up in causes, artistic obsessions, spiritual
quests, etc., that race is automatically at the bottom of their priority
list. Still there are widespread minor racial tensions and frequent major
There is a book genre described by Russ Rymer as "inspecting
America's racial trauma through the lens of private experience, as it
plays out in the daily difficulties of particular persons in one or another
microcosmic place." Ghost Town belongs to this genre. The
particular persons are a white single mother and her half-black daughter,
along with a stellar cast of roommates, boyfriends, and neighbors. When
we moved to Oakwood, Carla was eleven and I was thirty.
In certain moods I see my life as a social sciences laboratory.
The experiment: place a well-educated Anglo woman with Sixties sensibilities,
and a mixed-race girl child well on her way to adulthood, into the seething
cauldron of diversity and danger called by its own inhabitants Ghost Town,
and note the results.
It's a psychological adventure story. Oakwood is the
kind of place where many people would never consider trying to live. Much
has been said and written about racial dynamics by people who, however
well-informed and well-intentioned, may talk the talk but haven't walked
the walk. Whether by lack of inclination or of opportunity, many experts
on race relations have never actually lived in a racially mixed neighborhood,
let alone in one where their own group is a minority. This wasn't any
short-term dip of the toe, either, but six years of total immersion. In
an environment that forces you to think about race issues every single
day, it's a different world.
Unfortunately the subject of race will probably continue
to be relevant through this millennium and beyond, provided that the human
race as a whole is still around that long. How are attitudes about race
formed? Why is it that even the most willing participants of the melting
pot sometimes can't take the heat? These and a thousand other questions
are precisely as relevant now as they were at the time. If universal brotherhood
can't work in Venice it doesn't have a chance anywhere else. So why doesn't
What our household had to contend with was not only the
straightforward hostility directed against us, but the anxiety of being
caught in the crossfire between Black and Chicano neighbors.
Along with everything else, another layer of complication
was added when I became the de facto manager of two rental units.
The owner of the property wasn't a true absentee landlord but aspired
to that status, preferring to stay down in Orange County.
In Oakwood a lot of my mental furniture got rearranged.
My time there was a political coming-of-age story. On arrival I was your
basic bleeding-heart knee-jerk liberal. I turned into some species of
libertarian, a progression I consider sane and evolutionary.
One person said, "Why would anyone care to read
your autobiography?" Good point, up to a point. If I were a journalist
assigned to write about landlord-tenant problems in Venice, I'd round
up a typical Venice tenant and interview her. Well, I cut out the middlewoman
and interviewed my damn self. Likewise, I didn't need to cultivate contacts
who would introduce me to a typical mugging victim. I just went out and
Venice is about people and there are hundreds of them
in this account. I considered including an index of characters, to indicate
which ones recur, so nobody would waste their brain juice keeping track
of names that aren't going to show up again.
There's a lot of other stuff too. Like the diary of Samuel
Pepys in London, like Alexander King's memoirs of Greenwich Village, Ghost
Town is a record of a unique urban environment through the eyes of
an articulate and meticulous observer. No one can know what will be of
interest to scholars in the future. Two hundred years ago some little
girl might have noted in her diary every sighting of a bird from her window.
Ho hum. Yet a present-day ecologist would find it fascinating. God is
in the details.
BUY IT from
Trade paperback $25
CD in PDF format $10
305 W. Magnolia
Fort Collins CO 80521
Read an excerpt from
on Ghost Town
Actually this isn't true. eBay
store is closed. Email