"We've got to get rid of these people," she said. "They scare away those who appreciate good art!" Not to mention the elite pool of patrons! And the Croatian Cultural Center on 7th sent a delegation to see what all the "crazy artists" were up to down the street, which made everyone feel like they were onto something. Even an art critic from the Lomita Shopper made an appearance to see Pablo's nude collages over at Dee's Diner.
First-Thursday wasn't very crowded since it was also the first day of the year. And many who were out and about the night before had glassy saucers for eyes. Rayman pulled an all-nighter himself and stayed up all day too, pumped up by the new year. He even did the skinny dip in the ocean thing (and for a few seconds he thought he'd met his maker!). So by mid day he had to make it to Joe's herbal clinic on 6th for a little midday therapy. And he ended up staring at his brushes most of the day in a catatonic stupor. But it paid off because he found some real cool patterns and started sketching a new work.
He needed a break from the intensity so he made it over to the Profane Grind for one of Dave's caffeine delights. There he ran into Diedre who was putting the finishing touches on some photos for her show over at the Bee Hive. He went to her studio and they lost themselves in the euphoria of the moment, watching the sun play hide-and-seek with the pigeons dive-bombing through the alley while snatching reruns of "Hawaii Five 0" to get shots of Maui. He'd become obsessed with escaping Harbor town to a place of true artistic inspiration.
Needless to say Rayman was ready to sack it in on Friday. So when he heard the voices below his window he jumped up ready for an argument. He peeked through the blinds but saw no one. It was like a ghost town below. He tried to recapture his dreams but the damage had been done. He stared at the ceiling for a few minutes and jumped back up resigned to embrace waking life as the voices below returned, this time much louder.
"What are you doing to that parking meter?" a young woman with purple and pink streaked hair shouted at a man about 100 feet up the street while a crowd started to gather. Everyone was fixated on what he had in his hand, a flat rectangle black box bulging at the top end. He was touching its keys like it was his blackberry.
Rayman was intrigued. He hadn't seen a street fracus since last summer when some woman from Wilmington pulled a blade on Beatrice for stealing her parking place. That must've been a foreboding.
He didn't recognize either the woman or the gentleman.
"Just doin my job maam ... have nothing to do with..."
"...but what are you doing?... why are you messin with these meters?"
"...ain't messin with nothin!!... these meters are due for an upgrade..."
"...upgrade!... upgrade!... what do you mean?!... we don't need any upgrade here!... who sent you?... what's your name?... you got some ID?"
"...what do you mean?!... you got no right to stop the city..."
"...but what right do you got to..."
Before he could manage a response, others started to chime in.
"Yeah, yeah ... this is gonna make it too expensive for people to come down here and shop ... they'll go to the malls ... and the economy's tankin anyway!!!... whose side you guys on?" a little old lady with a cane shouted at the man.
A discordant chorus of catcalls rises from the crowd with such force that the man takes one look around him and beelines it across the street to his vehicle and quickly locks himself inside, gawking at the encircling faces. As he starts the engine they back away from the car, which then jerks away from them up the street. He pulls over, parks and makes a call on his cell phone.
The crowd doesn't disperse. It lingers and grows even larger, forming a personality all its own, blocking the few cars attempting to pass through. Suddenly a bespectacled middle-aged man emerges from the crowd, brandishing a sledge hammer.
"We have to get rid of these things," he says. "There's no other way. As long as they're standing we haven't a chance. They'll make them rallying symbols to beat us into submission forever. This is just the beginning. Soon they'll start arresting us when we get three tickets!... no, no ... we need the ELF... think there's a guy who runs the local chapter out of Oblivion Earth Moving Equipment somewhere in town..."
"Yeah, yeah, that guy!... ask the Professor over on 10th, he'll know where to find him," someone in the crowd yells.
"...we can't wait for that... I'll get the chain in the back of my pickup and we can start pulling these things out!!!"
...no, no, no.... we have to be reasonable about this ... if we get too out of hand we'll lose ... we have to show we're better than the enemy or the people will abandon our cause!... member Martin Luther King?" a woman in her 50s with large brown eyes retorts. "We need to organize and march with peace and love on Beacon Street!!"
"Why are you all so upset about a little hike in rates!!!... none of you hardly ever use em anyway ... most of you don't even drive!," a fashionably-dressed young woman blurts out. "And besides, it isn't that big a hike anyway!"
"It isn't?" an elderly gentleman in a wheel chair says as he angles into the crowd at a pretty good clip. "400% isn't a big hike!?"
"But you don't get it!... you're out of touch with what's happening!... the higher rates will be more efficient, they'll keep the cars moving that are using up the space for no reason, and encourage the turnover of people who want to shop here... we need the business!!!... and the mayor's office said we'll get some of the increased rates back from the city," a man says as he runs out of his shop toward the crowd, waving a very large USC Trojan flag.
Rayman watches this drama unfold and can't believe what he's seeing! It's like a scene from some sci-fi flick. What's all this about parking meters, he thinks. While he's staring out the window the man in the vehicle returns, this time with two other cars. The drivers in each one exit and gather under the canopy of a nearby business. They talk among themselves for several minutes, gesturing with their arms and making calls on their cell phones. They walk toward the crowd, which begins to disperse, except for the man holding the sledge hammer.
"Don't be intimidated by these lackeys and bureaucrats!!!... we can hold em off..."
The man's appeals appear to work. The crowd stops dispersing. Rayman watches every detail from his window, fearing the worst. He decides to go down and join the crowd. He arrives as the man appears to have worked the crowd into a frenzy. He listens from the fringe for several minutes, feeling he has to do something.
"Now stop all of this!... what are all of you doin?... parking meters, you gotta be kiddin!... these guys are just doin what they're told by someone else, just like you and me ... if you start pullin out meters what do you think will happen?... it'll be worse!... the enemy is faceless and lost somewhere in a system that never really changes ... you can't buck City Hall ... let's face ourselves, take this as a chance to change, stop using meters ... who needs em!!!... get outta the metered world of normal time and start imagining a better one in free verse ... use the meters to make sculptures ... meter your lives with poetry ... let's stay cool and try to be good Fonzies ... go home and read the Bible ... we're all part of the godhead!"
The members of the crowd carefully eyeball each other while listening to Rayman, like charismatics sifting through a sermon with too much ecstasy. Rayman slips away from the scene. They're statues for several seconds until a free-lance process server on a bicycle flies by, coming to rest in front of a nearby building with a paper surprise. They scatter like ants when a monster truck with an ILWU sticker pulls up to the curb and its driver exits, depositing a mess of quarters in the meter. The meteraids emerge from their funk, like they've been rescued by divine intervention. They raise their black boxes in a victory salute and swagger down the street for a Point Fermin Ale...
The first flickers of morning light arrive through wind-blown clouds and paint the street in a surreal glow. We see the fuzzy outlines of Rayman's supersized black SUV parked along the curb with each tire booted. It could be our next outdoor sculpture in homage to Detroit's contribution to our import boom. Or perhaps the prototype for the next "Mad Max" vehicle should the energy crisis get really real and create cults of jihadic road warriors.
We zoom in and see a Bible fresh from the 49 Cents Store on the roof, open to Ezekiel 25:17: "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of good men without term limits. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepards the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers."
Photos by John O'Kane.