Modern Times

I’d planned to write about something else, but my thoughts keep returning to those awful machines that were invented for the express purpose of destroying life. Guns. Everywhere in the news, people keep using them to murder each other. You see them now not just in movies and videos, but billboard ads, jewelry, and clothing designs. Not too long ago, I watched a hyperactive 10-year-old girl at the Y pantomime shooting various kinds of guns to the song “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. Let’s not even question the teacher’s judgment in playing that song for a class of 6-10-year-old tap dancers. How in the hell did this girl know how to realistically mimic shooting a pistol, a rifle, and a semi-automatic weapon?  A friend’s first grader was recently threatened by a note, given to her by a classmate, which included her name next to a picture of a gun. Aren’t first graders supposed to be drawing houses and people and flowers and puppies and stuff like that? It’s disturbing! I just read in today’s paper that a mother got the death penalty for shooting and killing her four children. Some guy shot a bunch of his coworkers in an office building. And then there was the man who opened fire in the middle of the street two weeks ago, just a few blocks away from here, at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Just out of the blue, some dude flips out and starts shooting at random strangers in the street. What is wrong with this picture? Why did he have a gun in the first place?  Why does anyone have a gun? To protect themselves from people with guns! Or, to steal stuff from people without guns! That’s all.  ‘Cause there sure aren’t a lot of rhinos to hunt in Hollywood. Or anywhere else actually, since they’re now officially extinct, thanks to people with guns. Some folks actually think that it’s a human right to carry around a gun, just because a couple of hundred years ago some rich businessmen wrote out a document to protect their interests, which at the time included owning other people.  But really, a right?  Access to clean air, water, and food, a place to live, and being treated with dignity, those are rights. Which, I might add, are hardly being met for most of the world’s population, thanks mainly to the people who claim the right to wave guns at anyone who has something they want for themselves. I’ll say it again. Air. Water. Food. Shelter. Dignity. Those are rights. Anything else is a boon, a privilege, a blessing – call it what you will, but it’s extra.

Over and over again, human beings keep proving that they are not responsible enough to handle the weapons they have invented. In a time when fear is spreading, emotions are rising, tempers are flaring, and old hurts are being exposed and rubbed raw by new methods of mass communication, people are beginning to reach their limits. Everyone’s got a different breaking point. The guy at Hollywood and Vine freaked out after his girlfriend dumped him. Who knows what his life was like up until then, but that’s when he came uncorked. What would he have done if he hadn’t had a gun? Gone and got drunk and got in a fistfight, maybe. Instead, he goes and just starts shooting randomly at everyone he sees, because he’s so full of hate he can’t see straight, and anyway killing is just a thing that people do in video games and movies, right? It’s not real. Then of course, because it’s Hollywood, he actually kills someone famous, and so now his name goes down in infamy. If he hadn’t been shot and killed himself, he would’ve probably been offered a movie deal.

On the day it happened, I was over in West LA, hosting the opening of the art sale with my friends from Pottery 90210. Someone mentioned there had been a shooting, but as we were busy all day I didn’t hear anything else, and forgot about it. On the way home, I discovered that traffic was snarled in a knot, with all the main thoroughfares jammed like a parking lot, but zipping smugly through my secret network of side streets, I didn’t give much thought to possible reasons for the gridlock. Only when I got back and Mr. Koz filled me in on the news did the realization hit home. Just a few weeks ago, Kozlet’s teacher started a class project researching all the famous landmarks in our city. The children pulled their subjects out of a hat, and Kozlet’s came up the Broadway Hollywood building at Hollywood and Vine, which was featured in Charlie Chaplin’s famous 1936 movie, Modern Times. When we were looking it up online, Kozlet immediately recognized the sign in the photograph and exclaimed, “That building’s famous? But I see it all the time!” In fact, we were just down there, at a nearby bank, only a day or two before a wacked out guy from Pennsylvania came down from his overpriced apartment to take out his disappointment on the world in a cinematic flourish custom made for, and by, the city of broken dreams.

Earlier, while helping Kozlet look for information about the historic building for his report, I had been disappointed to find that the only articles available were controlled by the real estate company that recently turned the old department store into luxury dwellings for the Nouveau LA loft-dwelling hipsters, and consisted mostly of advertising, with very little history. Only one site hinted at any of the tantalizing tidbits that make Hollywood history interesting, in this case a secret passage kept by Howard Hughes between his apartment in the building and his office at the Pantages Theater.  The only other article I found was a Times spotlight on three of the renovated units, one of which belongs to Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction. The article wasn’t actually that interesting, though. Yeah, the guy’s a rock star, so he paid a lot of money to get someone else to design his Hollywood pad to reflect his personal style right down to the last cliché. The most interesting space covered by the article belonged to a couple who are actually designers, so they didn’t have to hire anyone to decorate their apartment, and they made some of the stuff themselves. But nothing about their style felt compelling to me either. I think I might actually live on a different planet from the people who can afford to live in that place, even though they are practically my neighbors. Hi Dave! Nice to see you. Ooh, nice chandeliers, they really set off the naked lady wallpaper. Hey, good thing you didn’t get shot walking out your front door last week!

I didn’t tell Kozlet about the shooting. Before it happened, I had promised to take him down to “his” building to look at it and take some pictures, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to go there since, even though it’s practically just down the street. He keeps bugging me about it, but I’m not ready.  I know it’s not likely to happen again soon, not right there anyway, but it isn’t easy reasoning with a PTSD-addled psyche, even my own. I’ll do it. But it won’t be the same. Just like walking down the hall to my apartment hasn’t been the same ever since a year and a half ago, when a disgruntled man broke in to shoot one of my neighbors, his ex-wife.

Yes, it happened here, but these things don’t always happen “only in Hollywood.” People who defend their right to own guns and enjoy violent entertainment get extremely angry at opinions like mine. But what good comes from teaching people to glorify killing, or watching people being killed? Death is inevitable and war may be part of our nature, but it is our ability to consciously evolve  that makes us human.

As 2011 draws to a close, and we prepare to symbolically enter a new era of human consciousness, I truly hope it is one in which compassion paves the way for evolution, and not merely our own extinction.