Venice is Burning

Yesterday, as I was sitting on Venice Beach too far from any blog writing implements to adhere to my daily quota, I noticed a bizarre phenomenon: there were more lobster-hued beachcombers than I’d ever witnessed in one vicinity and, for once, I wasn’t one of them. In fact, the sea of red working to overwhelm the aquamarine ocean parallel to it made Lilo and Stitch‘s interpretation of tourism look like a scientific compendium.

Usually, Venice’s sideshow is reserved for the esplanade, and on my first non-gondola jaunt back in the seventh grade, I witnessed this exhibition firsthand. Packed in with the assemblage of typical street performers, activists, squealing zip-liners above, and market stalls pushing everything from hemp attire to photo shoots with men in plastic Halo armor, there are an array of locals who’ve inadvertently secured Venice’s fame. Among these eccentric personalities are scores of vagabonds bearing signs that compete for the surging passerby’s attention, and as Venice’s tourist industry has proliferated, these drifters have had to amplify their creativity and don the advertising gusto of agency copywriters. Thus, signs have evolved from, “I will work 4 marijuana,” to “Parents devoured by velociraptors: need money for vendetta ammunition.” One can hope that this imaginative approach has resulted in a lucrative endeavor, but with penniless thirteen-year-olds prowling the promenade for free souvenir photos, these entrepreneurs have their work cut out for them.

Marijuana Man

On an entirely different end of the eccentric spectrum, there are the Muscle Beach patrons. Even if you aren’t standing directly outside their fenced-in compound of lifting equipment, gawking with the rest of the average Joe’s, you’ll see these enormous masses of flesh stretched over bouldery muscles and nonexistent necks effortlessly strutting their way through the parting crowds down any stretch of the Venice boardwalk. Sporting short-shorts as tight as their triceps, these mobile brick walls glisten with oiled tans even when they haven’t been working out, and make Venice a veritable nirvana for beef enthusiasts.

A final seafront patron of note, and my personal favorite, are the retired Muscle Beach habitués who’ve since adopted an entirely new, groovy hobby. If you see these men coming (and yes, they’re almost always fifty-year-old men), they won’t notice your gaping jaw because they’re too busy enjoying the greatest hits of the 80s on their antiquated Walkmans. You best move out of their absentminded way though because they’re on a mission to dance a path down the esplanade and back in four-wheeled rollerskates. While wearing leopard-print Speedos. For me, these characters comprise the heart and soul of Venice as they boogie circles around tourists without missing a mobile beat.

In order to witness these wonders, you have to forgo the beach and peruse the boardwalk, and you have to go in the summer when the esplanade is far from desolate and $20 parking has an hourly limit. However, should you decide to venture past the graffitied skatepark and the platform where they erect elephantine shrines for the Hare Krishna Festival of the Chariots in August, you may find yourself privy to the startling scene I beheld yesterday: a red beach out of the Coppertone girl’s nightmares or an Aloe Vera executive’s burning jackpot, and whole hell of a lot of people who probably kicked themselves when they made their limping, pained way to a mirror last night.

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