About The Burrito Incident With Buddy Ebsen At The Vine Street Big Lots!

And so it was that a crew of five of us set out with about 40 fresh and piping hot burritos on last night’s revitalization of the dormant Hollywood Burrito Project ride and we learned that no good deed goes unpunished. We headed up Western Avenue where first I flatted my rear tire after nailing the sharp lip of a deep pothole between Melrose and Santa Monica. After innertubes were swapped and the new one inflated we found our next obstacle in the form of haggard, wild-eyed antagonistic Buddy Ebsen-looking transient bastard who arrived from across the street as we were passing out food to the six or seven homeless encamped at the Big Lots! store on Vine Street a couple blocks south of Sunset.

“What are you doing?” he demanded to know. “Are you bothering these people?” As if he was their guardian or some such shit.

“No,” I told him, “we’re just giving them something to eat.”

“Something to eat?” He inquired sarcastically.

“Yeah, burritos.” I held one out to him. “Would you like one?” He took it from me, but instead of it having any sort of calming effect on him, instead it set him off.

“A burrito?” he said it like I’d just handed him a used tissue. “Is that it?” Taken aback that someone would be so willing to bite the hand that literally feeds them, none of us said anything.

“Really? A burrito? That’s all you’ve got?” He looked at the people laying on the cement against the storefront bundled as best they could against the chill of the night — all of whom were appreciative of what we offered them. “These people probably eat better than all of you and all you give them is a burrito?”

Let me preface the short remainder of the post with the point that it was obvious to me that there would be no winning the argument this idiot was making — and a hypocritical idiot at that given that he accepted the burrito I gave him and when I indignantly asked for it back from the ingrate he refused to give it. Instead with an abject lack of regard of the good — however little — we were doing and the efforts we were making, he insisted that we “sell our bikes” and give the money to the poor.

At some point I finally ramped my own sarcasm and stepped up to thank him for the insulting buzzkill he was providing, and immediately after came a chorus of voices from the people prone before us who clearly did not share his warped point of view and instead thanked and blessed us profusely for our kindness.

Heading away from the jerk I pointed out that we’d be back next Wednesday if he wanted another burrito and to bitch at us some more, then I suggested to the crew that it might be high time to introduce the Knuckle Sandwich Project to the area.

Fauxtograph: The Dude A-Strides

Sitting in the parking lot next to Tacos Delta this afternoon, I spied the iconic Silver Lake Walking Dude across the street on Sunset. Whenever I see him he’s either reading a newspaper or talking on his cellphone.

Instead of the straight pixels I snapped I decided to put the digitally zoomed image through a random series of Photoshop filtrations and here’s the end result (click to triplify):


Hollywood Burrito Project – 02.13.08

On Gower under the Hollywood Freeway this was one of our last stops and certainly the location of the highest concentration of homeless. Overall we gave away 40 burritos last night. Here we fed seven  people as indicated by the notes in the snap at right posted to Flickr plus one more not pictured on the sidewalk behind me(click image to check it out).

It can be argued that feeding the homeless with no greater purpose leaves them dependent and does nothing to enable their escape from the streets. While that may be true, what is truer for me is that moment of transition when the food goes from my hands to theirs with no agenda and no judgment. In that brief interval of giving and receiving I stand apart from a society that shuns and instead acknowledges them as humans who matter, who count, who deserve. For that short span we are brothers and sisters helping each other.

King Of Spain

Wow. That was weird. I’m out $15 and a couple hours sleep because of it.

The doorbell rings. Ranger barks. I’m awake. The clock reads 3:51 a.m. On the one previous occasion where we’ve been awakened by visitors at such an unsociable hour it’s been the cops and they did a whole lot of pounding and yelling incorrectly thinking I was the owner of a car whose alarm had been going off for hours.

I think: what now?

I pull on shorts and a shirt and approach the foyer. Susan follows me and watches from the livingroom. Through the glass in the door I see a solitary figure standing there, head bowed. The black jacket makes me first think police, but the heavy white sweater and the scarf the man wears beneath the jacket knock that down.

I open the door and immediately the guy in thickly accented English tells me his name is Juan Carlos and launches into a convulted story involving a truck with a broken transmission, something about his wife being away with the baby and his credit cards, and he only has $75 and the tow truck guy needs another $25 before he’ll do anything.

And I’m all huh?

He goes on to tell me that he’s a neighbor having just bought the “big place on the corner.”

“The red house?” I ask.

“No, the big place.”

I figure out he’s talking about the recording studio that once was a Pacific Red Car maintenance facility. Sure, it received a paint job a few months back but I hadn’t even seen so much as a For Sale shingle for that multi-million-dollar property.

Inside I’m skeptical, but outside I’m unable to just say no and slam the door. Instead I ask him why us and he says something about his next door neighbors not being home. I tell him that I don’t have $25 cash, I have $10, maybe $15. He counters that obstacle by saying that’s fine, whatever you have… anything.

I’m not stupid. Half asleep maybe but not a total idiot. Warning bells are ringing inside my head: the convenient story of woe; the “neighbor in distress” angle made more implausible by unlikely and apparently recent home purchase; the needing $25 but being willing to accept a lower amount. It’s all adding up to appear like a strange new waaaay-too-early residential version of those tweakers who’ll hit you up in supermarket parking lots needing gas money to get them and their children back to El Segundo.

Even so, color me the sucker: I still retreated to my wallet and returned with $15 that I handed over to him. Why? Maybe because it was easier way to get the guy gone than just saying no. Maybe there was a part of me that admired the balls it took to walk all the way up the stairs to wake a stranger up and ask for money. Maybe a veeeeeeeery small percentage of me believed he was telling the truth.

Whatever my reason, he was grateful and shook my hand, telling me “My home is your home” and promising to have the cash back to me under the front door mat later on in the morning.

Since I’m doubtful that’ll ever happen I should’ve told him to keep it and apply it to a AAA membership.

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Loss Angeles: El Circo Loco & The LBC

I got confirmation today that one of my neighborhood’s fixtures, a colorful character who could regularly be found parading up and down Sunset Boulevard known as “El Circo Loco,” passed away last Friday evening. I first heard about it Saturday night when word circulated that he had been found dead on the street, but no matter the dormancy of the journalist in me I just don’t give much credibility to an initial report until it can be corroborated with something official, say from a safety or law enforcement agency. And until confirmation arrived I didn’t have to believe it was true… though I must mention that I had noted El Circo Loco’s absence since the middle of last week.


[Photos of the shrine erected where he passed away
can be viewed here]

So in that strange limboland between hearsay and fact, I sent an email yesterday to the LA County Coroner’s public information office:

I apologize in advance for the lack of facts at my disposal, but I’m trying to confirm reports I’ve that a fixture in my Silver Lake neighborhood, a person who went by the name of “El Circo Loco” and could often be seen dancing and parading up and down Sunset Boulevard, may have been found dead Friday evening.

I do not know his name or any permanent address. All I know is what I’ve read: that he died in his sleep and his body was discovered Friday evening, presumably somewhere on Sunset Boulevard (or an adjacent side street) in the 10 blocks or so west of the 2800 block.

I’m hoping he wasn’t and that reports of his death are untrue, but if indeed he is deceased I’m interested to know if there was a call dispatching LA Coroner’s officials to this vicinity and if that record might include any details about the deceased that would allow me to find the truth to this as yet unsubstantiated claim.

It was answered this morning:

Dear Mr. Campbell,

After some screening, I believe I found the case you are inquiring about. The Coroner case number is as noted above. The decedent’s name is Antonio Ruiz, age 44. We list no permanent address for him. He did have family in the local area. He was found dead on the sidewalk in the 2600 block of N. Golden Gate Avenue in Los Angeles on 04/22/2006 @ 0930 hours. He was examined on 04/24/2006 and his cause of death has been deferred pending the receipt of additional test results that have been ordered by the Deputy Medical Examiner. His family selected [a mortuary] in East Los Angeles to handle his remains. It is not known what services they will be arranging, if any.

Craig R. Harvey, F-ABMDI
Chief Coroner Investigator &
Chief of Operations
Department of Coroner
County of Los Angeles

Later on I heard from Senior Lead Officer Polehonky from the LAPD Northeast Division who seconded what Investigator Harvey had told me. “The puppetmaster is indeed dead,” he said, explaining he had a history of dealing with Ruiz going back some six years. When I asked about the cause of his death, Polehonky speculated that with Ruiz’s long history of narcotics abuse it could have been either an overdose or just his body finally giving out. There were no signs of foul play.
So there it is.

I contacted the mortuary and was told that his family is not going to hold any sort of service. Instead they’re going to be transporting his body out of the country. I didn’t ask where, but I did ask if it would be possible to pass my name and number onto his next of kin in hopes that they might contact me so I could express my condolences, perhaps even found out a bit more about El Circo’s — I mean Antonio’s life. Doubt it I’ll hear from them, but it’s the least I can do.

Sometimes it’s those on the farthest edges of your perimeter with the most tenuous of connections that can tug the hardest when they leave you and Antonio’s certainly proof of that. It’s not that I knew him. But when you start walking around your neighborhood as I’ve been these last few months, the “regulars” can’t help but stand out either with their presence or their absence.

I last saw Antonio last Thursday. He was sitting where he could often be found, on the southwest corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. In full El Circo Loco regalia he was fussing with some final touch of his costume — getting ready to get his party started. His small boombox was beside him on the sidewalk blaring his trademark brassy music, and the high-pitched whistle he always blew was between his closed lips and he was tooting it in rhythm with the beat. As I passed him, I caught his eye and I patted my closed fist over my heart and pointed at him and he met the gesture with a semi-acknowledging squinty half-smile as I passed him.

A day later he died and I’m pretty broken up by it. I try my best not to think about this man, whether it was having shot up too much or his body finally putting a stop to the abuse, dying alone on a cold stretch of sidewalk. Instead I try to recall the whimsical nature his weird antics added to the section of Sunset Boulevard he marched up and down.

I’m not quite ready to relegate the neighborhood cat Susan and I nicknamed LBC (for Little Black Cat) to memory, even though it’s been far longer than usual since he last graced our front porch ready for a snack… something he’s been doing pretty regularly for the better part of a year.


When he began to come around LBC was all scraggly street cat with ragged eartips and a tremendous disinterest in having anything to do with any of us… although he seemed to have some sort of stand-offish acquaintance with our Pumpkin, who Susan had brought in from a cold hard life on the wild side. Maybe they knew each other from back in the day.

Despite the dismissal and scorn he gave us, we commenced putting out food for him and he didn’t refuse it. Over the months he became habituated enough to me that I could sit right next to him while he ate. During the bleakest part of this past winter when he developed a runny nose and sneeze, I even took to supplying him with cans of Fancy Feast augmented with drops of leftover antibiotics from past trips with the cats to the vet’s. He’d let me slide the bowls right up under his chin and he’d gobble it down. Cleared his bug right up.

LBC had a pretty wide territory — we saw him everywhere — and it wasn’t uncommon for him to leave us alone for a few days at a time, perhaps for other cat-friendly houses. But it was never so long before I’d find him curled up in the dawn’s early light on the porch, awaiting his breakfast.

The last time I saw him was one of those mornings a couple weeks ago. The medicine and wet catfood had given him an almost healthy look with a sheen to his coat and clear eyes. I’d always held back the urge to touch him, but this time while he ate contentedly and not uncomfortably at my proximity to him I moved my open hand beside him and ever so gently rested my palm against his right flank. He stopped eating briefly to examine what I had done, but rather than run away as I’d expected, he considered the space invasion and then went back to finishing his meal with my hand resting lightly there against his side. A few bites later and he licked his chops before scampering down the steps and onto whatever the day had in store.

When it became clear his absence was unusual, I ran down the mental checklist of couldabeens: cars, dogs, coyotes, a nastier cat, animal control. Trying to envision a happier scenario, I hoped that maybe he found a mate and is a bit too occupied to be cruising. Or perhaps a kind-hearted soul caught him up and is trying to get him used to a life indoors. But it doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard out there for a cat, especially one who probably never felt a loving hand on its flank until mine brushed against it.

The thought crossed my mind of LBC alone in the cage at the animal shelter and that’s just about too much to consider. If I can screw up the courage I may bike over to the Lacy Street shelter to have a look around. Doubt if he’s there, but it’s the least I can do.

If I could, I’d save them all you know. If only my arms were long enough to enfold all the strays out there. Animals and people.

6,935 Days In The Valley

I spent 19 some-odd years living around the San Fernando Valley: Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Van Nuys again, Sherman Oaks again, Encino, then back to Sherman Oaks one more time before coming to Silver Lake in 2002.

The valley is what it is and I’m not inclined to bag on the place other than to say I’m much happier to be in a section of the city that is without a doubt more vibrant. Part of my trouble is that looking back over the generation I spent there, the years of my life just run together, broken up only by a handful of various incidents and mental snapshsots. As the relatively textureless canvas that stretch of my life was painted upon there’s just not a whole bunch of people or places that stand out high on the recollective.

But then from a link via LAObserved (who found it on Tabloid Baby) there comes the reminder that my valley was not entirely blandness and forgetability. Unfortunately it’s delivered via a touching remembrance from Jon at his Hollywood Thoughts blog for the recently deceased Sherman Oaks newsstand guy — at least that’s all I knew him as. Jon new him better:

I never knew Greg’s last name, but I considered him a friend. He passed-away very unexpectedly last Sunday night after working his shift at the Sherman Oaks Newsstand (the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura boulevards). You’ve probably seen him a million times as you passed the intersection: he was in his late fifties… always wore a ballcap… and, of course, sported his trademark ZZ Top beard.”

Jon is spot-on about having seen Greg a million times. With my mom’s house up the street from that intersection, I’m pretty sure I saw him a million-and-three times over the years, and certainly had occasions to buy various newspapers and magazines from him. But I never had the opportunity nor inclination to strike up a conversation or get to know him better.

The one time I had any contact with him other than transacting for a publication came in 1993 on my way to visit my mother one afternoon. Eastbound traffic was backed up a bit on Ventura because the southbound cross traffic at Van Nuys Boulevard traffic was blocking the intersection. On my motorcycle I was able to cut through the gridlock and when I turned the corner I found the source of the standstill was a stalled out Porsche 911 directly in front of the newsstand and inside it the frustrated driver was unable to get its engine to turn over. On several occasions during that period of my life I’d made like a good sammy and offered assistance to stranded motorists and this was just another opportunity to do so.

Dismounting my bike I approached the driver and asked him if he’d like a push to try to popstart it or at least get it out of traffic. He did, so I got behind the car, signaled for the driver to put it in neutral and get off the brake and I leaned in hard to get it rolling. About 40 feet later the driver threw it into first gear, let out the clutch and the Porsche spluttered and coughed but somehow managed to stay lit. Gunning the engine for a few seconds I gave the driver a thumbs-up and he waved his thanks and high-tailed it out of there, thus restoring order to that corner of the world.

Walking back to my bike, I caught newsstand guy — Greg — out of the corner of my eye. He was sitting on his barstool next to the register with his ever-present cap and wiry beard, watching me. He had a bemused smile on his face and when I turned my head to look at him directly he commenced a polite ovation in recognition of my good deed. I gave him a little bow and salute before climbing back in the saddle and moving on.

Rest in peace, Greg.

UPDATE (04/01): Dana Bartholomew of the L.A. Daily News interviewed me yesterday and today I found his nice piece on Greg at Dailynews.com.