Jesus of Hollywood

Kevin Short, aka West Hollywood Jesus died December 13, 2017, at age 57. Kevin was a mainstay up and down Hollywood Boulevard, and famously posed for pics with countless tourists over the years. He had a positive effect on anyone who came in contact with him. Rest In Peace Kevin.

Life in the City of Angels: Jesus of Hollywood originally posted October, 2009. 

It is the Mecca of their religion with 10 million followers annually making the pilgrimage to this sacred site. This is the biggest religion in America. No spiritual following receives more airtime and print space. It is Celebritism. And the holy of holies even has an address: 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California.There you will find an archeological site full of artifacts – a temple, footprints, hand impressions and a sequence of letters, words and symbols etched in concrete. Beyond the grid of this archeological site is a walk-way that the locals refer to as the “Walk of Fame.”  It is a three-and-a-half-mile (5.6 km) round-trip journey much akin to  the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem.

Blind-FaithAbove the strata is rock art embedded with more than 2,000 stars featuring the names of not only human celebrities but also fictional characters  and even animals. Each emblem is a pink terrazzo five-pointed star rimmed with bronze and inlaid into a charcoal square. Inside it you’ll find a revered name inlaid in bronze, below which is a round emblem indicating the category for which the honoree received the star. Even those of blind faith cherish these artifacts.  Touching-the-Star-WebThe first sacrament dates back to 1960. Who was that lucky first beneficiary?  Paul Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward. (I don’t care if it rains or blows hard – as long as I’ve seen the star of Joanne Woodward). It was on the Walk of Fame that I found Jesus. He was sitting in Baja Fresh, a popular Mexican fast food chain, deep in conversation with a fellow patron.

Jesus-in-Baja-FreshJesus was listening intently while nursing a Starbuck’s Espresso Frapuccino Grande. After finishing his taco – I could only speculate it wasn’t pork – he stepped onto the Walk and I began to follow Him.

Immediately, pilgrims of all nationalities and tongues followed Him with their eyes but none were so bold as to either approach him or engage him, so I decided to take the plunge.“Jesus, are you homeless and forced to work as an historical character here in Hollywood to survive ?” He responded by reaching into his plain linen robe and pulling out a set of keys, “No man” he said, “ I drive a Mercedes and I have an apartment.” Many of the pilgrims would smile at Him and point but it seemed as if only the elderly were captivated by the Son of God and would seek his attention. And, as expected, He would listen patiently.

Jesus-Listening-to-Elder-WebThere were impassioned voices calling from passing cars, “Jesus, Jesus”. But interestingly enough I didn’t hear a peep calling for the attention of the other faux celebrities that congregated at the Temple. Waiting-for-Tourist-WebAs far as historians can tell, Jesus first appeared on celluloid in 1903, just a few years after the birth of moving pictures.  French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere produced “La Vie et la Passion du Jesus Christ,” a 44-minute silent film which was one of the earliest feature-length movie and every frame was painstakingly hand painted for color. Riding high on respectability for over one hundred years the subject of Jesus came crashing down in 2001 with the release of “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” – a second coming musical complete with kung-fu action. Need I say more?

Located east of the main temple is a second, smaller shrine on the Walk of Fame. This location is for the most devout believers where for $12.95 you can dwell for hours in worship, adoration and photo opportunities. Eerie wax figures of living and dead celebrity  are dressed up in costumes so that followers can relive their favorite moments of their deity. In April of 2009, Hollywood auction house Profiles in History sold off  “retiring figures.” More than 200 figures were sold online, including the Last Supper and the Beatles. Jesus and His 12 Disciples brought in more than $15,000. The Beatles brought in a mere $13,000. Sorry John, but Jesus is more popular than the Beatles.

Some people call it Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. I call it the “Jimmy Legs” which seems to take the psychiatric bite out of my condition. For me, sitting is nearly impossible for any length of time and wandering, exploring or just doing something is a great organic treatment. The only drug that seems to help me is called “a camera” (which, by the way I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies would disapprove of). Along with the Jimmy Legs, Road Fever pops up and off I go, wandering the streets, seeking the perfect shot and engaging people for their backstory. 

My Jimmy Legs and Road Fever have served me well shooting documentaries around the world. At home in southern California, I fancy myself an amateur anthropologist or a social detective discovering subcultures, from gutter punks to surf Nazis, faux celebrities, old adventurers and even Charreadas. If you don’t know, a Charreada is part rodeo, part fiesta, and one of Mexico’s most revered sporting events on both sides of the border, dating back to the 17th century. With nearly 40% of the population in southern California, the Mexican sport of Charreada is thriving though it is hidden from disapproving eyes. For instance, the competitors are strictly amateurs with occasional members of the cartel competing in the events – they’re the ones in Armani silk shirts. 

To help understand the Mexican culture of Charreada I was able to make contact with a gentleman who provides livestock for the Charreadas.  He gave me sketchy directions to his next Charreadas event, which was in the town of Mira Loma (English translation; Look at the Hills). Surrounded by three freeways and north of Norco Hill and south of Fontana (aka, Fontalajara), Mira Loma has a dark history. In 1931, the town voluntarily changed its name from Wineville to Mira Loma. The name change came about as a result of the “Wineville Chicken Coop Murders”. One leading citizen of Wineville was quoted as saying in a local paper: “Wineville was such a nice town until them boys got killed… Let’s rename the town Mira Loma so we can all forget about It”.

 With a faint smell of jet fuel and tucked away in a remote labyrinth of industrial parks, warehouses full of used furniture, and on a dirt road, I find the small arena. Charreadas always begins at noon, are entirely in Spanish and unadvertised to the general public for obvious reasons –  criticism from animal rights and anti-rodeo activists keeps the events off the public radar.

By the time I arrive, the Coleadero or steer tailing is about to begin. A mounted charro (cowboy) grasps the tail of a steer and brings the animal to the ground. A properly tailed steer should end up like this, with all four hooves in the air. Winning charros aren’t awarded any money but ribbons and bows are pinned to their sleeves as trophies to their skill and horsemanship. Many of the charros are middle-aged men who struggle to hitch a lavishly embroidered leather belt around their paunches, but this does not hinder or impede their skillful horsemanship or tailing the steer.

 Most Californians don’t know that California is the number two rodeo state in the nation, second only to Texas. California hosts about 60 professional rodeos annually. Of these, most are sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the largest such organization in the US. There are likely double that number of small rodeo events, plus scores of Charreadas. 

Despite being dirty, sweaty and dehydrated the experience of being in the arena with the charro’s was more than I expected. It was a good day for the Jimmy Legs. 

For more information regarding the traditions and sport of Charreada follow this link: http://charrosfederationusa.com/

 

 

 

I stopped recording when I reached the crux of the tight squeeze, my progress somewhat hampered by my bubble butt. Handing the camera to Jeremy, I pushed and pulled, finally letting out a loud ‘Aarrgghh!’ as I felt my ass pop like a cork from a champagne bottle when I passed the apex. Finally, I was clear of the aperture. Through into a relatively spacious area, I stood upright for the first time and stretched my back. I gave Dr. Ikram my spiel: ‘Okay, let’s start on this side of the aperture. I’ll start on you, as you explain who, what, where and how. I’ll then pan over to see Mo enter the aperture and follow him through. You continue to describe the tunnel as we make our way to the exit. I’ll continue to roll tape, so don’t stop. If you have to stop, just start from the top of your description, and in post-production we’ll edit snippets of you walking and talking and we can also add in the B-roll footage.’

Cue The Camels book available at:  www.oodlebooks.com  & www.cuethecamels.com

Phone Home-34Recalling an era not so long ago, the cha-ching of quarters feeding the public phone, the chirps and tones of buttons dispatching the number you want to call or the interactions with the operator when your minutes are up. As the old pay-phones fade away and disappear from our urban landscape, where in the world is the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent to dash to change into his Superman tights or where the bad boy can go to call home on Mother’s Day.
Today it is estimated that out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones leaving the outdated phone box to a bygone era. What’s interesting is that only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets. That right, more people have cell phones than toilets.
But wait, there’s still life for the old pay-phones. American Mark Thomas started the Payphone Project, by  amassing a database with thousands of public pay phone numbers around the world.  Mark, invites us to  use the old analog pay-phone for out amusement, “I invite people to pick up the phone and call to see who answered and maybe have a laugh.” These phone numbers can be found on his website at: www.payphone-project.com. So, in spite of the pay-phones reputation as a germ repository there are opportunities to “Reach out and touch someone” you maybe just surprised who answers. For those in Hollywood on last count there are 27 pay-phones located on Hollywood Boulevard.

Memories of events and misadventures are happening more frequently as I pour over thousands of slides from my analog era. I recently came across several plastic boxes of transparencies marked “Greece, Island of Patmos.” I had been hired to shoot a documentary on the Apostle John which took me on a large plane from L.A. to Athens, then a smaller plane to the city of Thessaloniki and finally a ten-hour hydrofoil to the tiny island of Patmos.

The backstory on the Apostle John is that he was one of the twelve disciples who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. In 95 A.D. John was banished by the Roman authorities to the island of Patmos, but not before being thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil where he miraculously survived. The story goes that after witnessing this mind-boggling event the entire Coliseum converted to Christianity immediately. Deep in a cavern on Patmos, John had a profound and disturbing vision. It was the vision of the world to come and wrote the 27th and final chapter of the Holy Bible known as the Book of Revelation.

The first time I realized the connections between the island of Patmos, the Apostle John and the Book of Revelations was in a Baptist church in Dothan, Alabama. How did I end up as the only white guy in an all black church on a Saturday night? I was invited as a result of a near collision with three well-dressed black men. Half naked and soaking wet, I darted from the motel pool to my room when the four of us meet head-on as I rounded a corner. Skidding to a stop, I quickly made an apology and wrapped the towel around my waist. Each of the gentlemen held tattered bibles with gold print on the leather covers. They were preachers in Dothan for a revival at a local Baptist church. I surprised myself by asking if I could attend the revival and to my good fortune they said yes.

For those who don’t know, “whooping” (pronounced hooping) is a celebratory style of preaching that pastors typically use to make sure the congregation can feel his sermon. In many ways, it is nothing short of a biblical opera performed by the man at the pulpit. His overture usually starts with a calm, reflective introduction to a topic such as temptation or adultery and magically transforms the characters from the bible into another misguided member of his personal flock. The tempo begins its steady rise as the pastor plays out the roles on stage. There is constant pacing back and forth from the podium as his voice slips into a falsetto that bellows out over the church’s speaker system. The pastor is accompanied with interludes from the organist and shouts of holy affirmations from those in the pews. Wiping his brow with his white handkerchief, then waving it high into the air as if surrendering to the Lord, he then bellows out his crescendo.“ We all can make our own Patmos!” he shouts, “just as the Apostle John was sentence to the island of Patmos by the Romans”. The minister pauses for a good 30 seconds as the assembled worshippers sit silently in their seats.Then, in the finale the pastor whispers “We too can sentence ourselves to our own island of Patmos.”

While the Apostle John was destined to write about the apocalypse over 2,000 years ago, Nicholas Negroponte currently writes about a brighter and a more enlighten world through technology. Mr. Negroponte is one of the early disciples of computer technology and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. He is also the progressive founder of the One Laptop per Child Foundation which aims to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. He believes that with access to the computer, children are more engaged in their own education.

For over 25 years, Mr. Negroponte and his wife have had a home on Patmos and have selflessly provided the island’s 3,000 plus residents with free wireless broadband web access. In spite of being isolated on the eastern borderline of the Aegean Sea and being the northernmost island of the Dodecanese island group, the world is only a key-stroke away for the citizens of this remote and rocky island. Unfortunately, the Negroponte’s were not home when I was there, but I did manage to invite myself to a Greek Orthodox wedding.

Greek Orthodox weddings are always on Sunday. They aren’t performed after Easter and Christmas, nor during periods of fasting or the day preceding a Holy Day. Vows aren’t exchanged since marriage is considered a union between two people in love, not a contractual agreement. Wedding bands are traditionally worn on the right hand, not the left. The bride may throw a pomegranate instead of the bouquet (duck if you’ve had too many uzos). The many seeds of the pomegranate symbolize the fertile possibilities between the two young lovers. At the reception, plates are broken on the dance floor (or some other hard surface) for good luck. A member of the immediate family begins and others quickly join in with much yelling and laughing as the plates shatter.

Patmos covers only 34 square kilometers (13.1 sq. miles) with its greatest length of about 25 kilometers (9.6 miles). For such an isolated little island, the poet Peter Porter said it best in his poem “Saint John on Patmos”: “For the right visions you need a desert or an island.”


Bob had the kind of face that would compel you to volunteer any loose change your pocket held without him ever asking for a handout. His home consisted of a metal shopping cart supported by well-worn wheels, two paper bags, an old plastic container of water and a rolled up gray blanket. The corner of Central Boulevard and Windsor Road in Glendale, California was where he called home. This move was a sage-like decision on Bob’s part since the Salvation Army was positioned across the street which provided food, clothing and care and half a block to his east was the Windsor Al-Anon club that furnished free coffee, occasional shelter and most importantly, some welcomed comradeship with fellow tribe members.

It was up to you to get Bob talking since he was never known to initiate a conversation. His english was laced with a thick Yugoslavian accent and it was because of this that he was christened with the street name “Bob from Yugoslavia”. In his youth, he was trained as a pianist but as the years passed by his hands grew to be swollen and arthritic which made tying his shoes or buttoning his coat as painful as a Beethoven sonata. Bob’s private moments took place in a utility alley behind the Armenian market where he would seek refuge by smoking discarded cigarettes and watching reality slip away.

We had a very short history in our acquaintance but Bob from Yugoslavia became my navigational marker that signaled my return home from overseas. As strange as it may sound, it was comforting to see him sleeping under the tree, his tree, at the corner of Central and Windsor. One day, I noticed that the only thing holding his threadbare jeans together was the grim beneath him. I managed to sneak a pair of new levis and socks into one of his paper bags while he was napping under his tree. I couldn’t help but watch from a distance to witness Bob’s reaction to his good fortune; he proudly held the trousers up to the sky with a toothless smile and turned to look around as if he would find a magical garment fairy.  The following day I expected to see him wearing the new pants but to my surprise he was wearing the same grubby jeans. Bob had traded the jeans and socks for two packs of Marlboro cigarettes to a local gardener.

I asked Bob one day, “If you were to write a letter to God and be guaranteed that God would read your letter, what would be your the first sentence?” He looked up and spoke as expressively with his eyes as with his words, “God keep me warm and never let me get cold again”

We continued our brief interludes over the years until one day conspicuously absent from the corner was Bob and his shopping cart. A member of the Al-Anon club told me that Bob had peacefully passed away underneath his tree while napping. I can only hope it was on a warm sunny California day.

Bob’s tree.

Leather to the pavement and more back alleys: Art is in the eye of the beholder and what is art to some is only an eye sore to others. Our history of graffiti goes back to the time we lived in caves and during Roman times (two thousand year ago) graffiti was used to indicate boundaries and expression of political dissent. Today we twitter.