Down and out in Santa Monica

I’m tied up on personal matters in Venice Beach and Santa Monica through this weekend. The scene has deteriorated considerably since I was here in 2011, when I filed this report:

We spent the weekend at a family wedding in Santa Monica, California. Just after I started in the private practice of law in 1981, I was assigned to work on a major project that took me out to the area for two or three months. I had been drafted to assist my law firm colleague Robert L. Collins on the project. Bob and I ended up renting a suite at the Marina Pacific Hotel in Venice Beach, just down the road from Santa Monica, while we worked on the project in Gardena. So far as I could tell, Bob and I were the only two people in Venice who were working for a living.

I didn’t know Bob when we started on the project, but before long we became fast friends. I came to think of him as my best friend, but just about everybody who knew Bob considered him his best friend. He was a gifted lawyer and a remarkable man.

Returning to the area this weekend brought back a lot of memories. Bob and I enjoyed Santa Monica greatly while we were working on the project together, and it hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years. The beach views are among the most beautiful I have ever seen anywhere.

This time around, however, I found that bums were liberally populating the public property fronting the beautiful beach. The scene put me in mind of Paul Mazursky’s update on Boudu Saved From Drowning, the quirky ’80’s comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills, but the scene is obviously unfunny. There were bums galore, enough of them that I thought if only they could get their stuff together, they would make up an impressive Occupy Santa Monica encampment. It might even get them off the beachfront — a win-win for all involved.

Incidentally, I learned from observing the bums of Santa Monica that wheeled luggage is the bums’ state of the art gear. A bum plying his trade with a shopping cart in Beverly Hills inspired Mazursky’s idea for the film, he recalled in Show Me the Magic, but the shopping cart seems to be passé.

Walking down the Promenade, Santa Monica’s pedestrian shopping mall, we found more bums as well as a few street performers. One performer was banging on a full drum kit right in the middle of the Promenade. He would have fit right in with my imaginary Occupy Santa Monica encampment. I believe he even had a permit for the gig, as did a fellow performing on electric guitar down the block. There wasn’t much interest in their work, but it didn’t inhibit them in the least.

Looking around the corner on one of the Promenade’s cross streets, I found a ventriloquist working without an audience. “Shalom aleichem,” his wooden sidekick Max shouted out to me. “C’mon over,” he said with a British accent. The ventriloquist’s name is Scarlet Ray Watt; his Facebook page is here.

Mr. Watt engaged us in a conversation about his eight-year education in the ventriloquist’s art. He name checked a few of his local show biz admirers (Ray Liotta and Anjelica Huston). He said he’s working on a pilot for HBO and he had us laughing pretty much nonstop.

I’m taking the liberty of adding my 2011 video of Scarlet Ray Watt in action below. Note that Max’s lips are moving but that Mr. Watt keeps the microphone to himself.