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LA Story

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

It was through her political writings on CounterPunch that I first become aware of Dr. Susan Block. Her unique sexual perspective on all things political struck me as dead on. Her work with Bonobos www.bonobo.org/ had already put her high up on the scale of esteem amongst my friends. I began to correspond with Suzy via e-mail and that eventually led to meeting up in person.

The occasion was last month in Los Angeles when John Trudell, Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson held a benefit concert for the Women’s Cancer Research Institute. It was the second Give Love; Give Life benefit that the fellas have held for this cause.

LA Native Celia Alario and I hooked up for brunch with Quiltman, my good friend and member of Trudell’s band Bad Dog. Leonard Peltier’s attorney, Bruce Ellison joined us, as did Jimbo Simmons of the Treaty Council and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). Celia and Jimbo both have worked for environmental justice issues on Southwest Native Nations, most recently working to stop the “clean” coal scams. Ellison has represented many activists through the years and has recently taken on Tre Arrow’s defense. Arrow is a Portland forest activist who awaits extradition from Canada, with an unheard of $300,000 bail, as he has been charged with “eco-terrorism” offenses related to the burning of some logging and cement trucks. An arsonist who already confessed to the torchings has implicated Arrow.

Quilt had to go to sound check. Having some time to kill before meeting up with our concert party, Celia and I drove around LA, stopping for a while in the rain along the Los Angeles River. The river was running strong with the heavy rain – inside it’s fenced-off cement trough. The entire river is in a deep cement lined channel and side creeks, having suffered even worse, as they are completely buried in tubes, pop out of openings in the tall walls and create sad waterfalls. The river system is far removed from the salmon ecosystem that sustained the Chumash so well just a few centuries ago.

After fighting incredible traffic–it was already crowded Oscar week and the rare, torrential downpour had Angelenos driving like Portlanders when the rare snow hits–our group met up at a restaurant in the Universal City Walk. City Walk is a movie-themed, garish mall-like promenade–picture the Vegas MGM Grand without the gambling and without a roof. A Giant King Kong and a same-sized Shaquille O’Neill hung from storefronts; an upside-down cow drives an actual 1957 Chevy that goes through the wall of a Ben & Jerry’s and huge TV screens blast MTV videos – with other kitschy icons of Americana all around.

Suzy and her buddy Annie arrived and after introductions we headed down the City Walk to the Gibson Amphitheatre for the sold-out show. Sharon Longo of the IEN and Amazon Watch and Laurie Kaufman of Friends of Trees joined us. Both, along with Celia and many others have been working to save the South Central Farm. Tim Goodrich, one of the founders of the Iraq Veterans against the War was also in our party of twelve.

As we approached the amphitheatre, Cindy Sheehan’s sister DeDe and others from CODEPINK www.codepink4peace.org/ were outside the venue tirelessly passing out literature. Given the artists involved, more Native Americans than you ever see in one place were there, as well as aging hippies and cowgirls galore. The 26-year-old Tim ruefully noted the skewed age demographic.

The concert itself was superb. All the musicians were on top of their game. Money was raised and word gotten out about the Institute, as well as the illnesses themselves and the treatments available. The one weird glitch was when Annie’s camera was confiscated. After some dealing, I was allowed to take the camera backstage to be impounded by Quiltman until the end of the concert. The camera incident and the fact that we milled around afterwards with DeDe branded us troublemakers and we were followed by security all the way to our cars–stabled in Jurassic Parking, of course.

We headed to Suzy’s Speakeasy/Institute for a nightcap. The place covers 18,000 square feet on the third floor of a warehouse close to downtown–yeah, LA does have a downtown full of gleaming modern skyscrapers, but the entire place reminds me of 100 side-by-side suburbs. Like a Speakeasy of old, one has to be let in and then ride an antique elevator to the third floor. Of course it’s a cliché, but once through the door one enters a Fellini-esque world. Sexual art works are everywhere, collections of antique dildos and other sex toys are on display; lounges in the shape of labia, rocking chair-like masturbation machinesyou get the picture. Production studios, dressing rooms, archives and offices necessary for Dr Suzy’s video and radio programs take up one wing. In the center of it all is the bar with its great “No Taliban Laws” poster. Out one of the windows, one can see the old Dragnet building tucked amongst the new gleaming towers.

A few of the Bonobo Gang were up and around. The age range here was from twenty-something to sixties, much more to Tim’s liking, I’m sure. Introductions were made and libations served up by Suzy’s partner David. My posse – Celia, Daniel and Eileen were, like me, fascinated. It was easy to relax around these kindly folks–“Peace through Pleasure” being the motto and shared value of the Gang. It got late and we left with an invite for the incomparable activist organizer Celia and I to be on Suzy’s Saturday show.

Saturday morning the storms broke and there was nothing but sun out at Eileen’s childhood home in the San Fernando Valley. She, Daniel and I set out to hike in the nearby Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve that was finally saved in 2004 after decades of effort. It was a shorts and t-shirt day. We hiked to a Gaudi-like assemblage of rock spilling along a ridge. We climbed up to the rocks and entered a cave–keeping with the theme of our night to come I suppose, it couldn’t have been any more vaginal looking. We climbed in and didn’t even have to use my flashlight, as there were channels up to natural portholes in the ceiling–columns of light streaming down as if in one of Gaudi’s Catalan cathedrals. High up one of the columns was a huge bee hive, with the honey combs just attached in the open to the rocks under a lip below the bees private entrance hole at the top of the cave. Nice to see these threatened pollinators with such a superb homesite.

Steering clear of the bustling bees, we climbed up and through one of the other openings and then kept on going up and over the ridgetop. At first we could see out over the huge expanse of structures that dot the once-fertile, citrus-growing Valley. But, once over the top, we were in an area where we could see for miles and not see any human structures.

I had been to LA only once, for a Rose Bowl, before this year. Because of my helping produce a CD of Quiltman’s Native songs, I’ve been there three times in the past six months, even taking in another Rose Bowl–unfortunately making it 1-1 for Rose Bowls for this Michigan fan. All three times I’ve been there recently I’ve gotten in a hike in some of the area’s surprisingly large protected areas.

Daniel, Eileen and I hooked up with Celia at the Century City hotel and off we went to find the Speakeasy again. LA may have a downtown, but at night it’s pure Omega Man. The only people around are transients and the cops rousting them. Of course we got disoriented, but eventually we found our way back to Suzy’s.

We gathered at the bar and greeted those we’d met before and made introductions to others for the first time. Soon, it was air time and we made our way to the studio area. After the usual sound adjustments, we were on the air. Just before we had left the hotel, I was informed of the death of a Breitenbush alumni friend of mine who succumbed at age 38 to brain cancer after a many years’ battle. I was in a bit of shock and somewhat subdued. But, luckily, Celia and Suzy carried the day.

We talked about activism in general. The War. “Ethical Hedonism” and how, as I see it, the more people are engaged in healthy sex, the less time they have for anti-life mischief, along with many other positive benefits. I told a short history of the effort to protect the remnants of our public Ancient Forests. I told the science of just why northern Spotted Owls are going under as we remove the forest canopy. Celia spoke of the many efforts she has been involved with and her own ways to prevent burn-out – an activist occupational hazard.

It being her show , Suzy was, of course, provocative with her questions. She wanted to know all about sex in the hot springs at Breitenbush amongst other things. Suffice to say, eco-activists tend to cherish their sexual encounters out in juicy, vibrant, potent, luscious Nature–in the forests, along the rivers, on a mesa topThat’s all Suzy got or you will get on the topic from me, as I’m not at all exhibitionistic like Suzy’s usual guests.

Suzy’s next guest, Michelle, calls herself the “Pass Around Girl.” She detailed how she rebelled against her Catholic upbringing; first by using her electric toothbrush as a vibrator before graduating on to many varied sexual liaisons. Among the dozen or so present in the studio, we polled ourselves and at least ten of us grew up Catholic! Scary! So, Michelle had our attention, even before she stripped down and revealed her many sexual tattoos. Michelle is married to a bi-sexual woman porn actress and is attempting to break into the business herself.

The saintly Annie came in wearing her “little friend” strap-on and sat down at the interview table with Michelle. As she sat down, her magnificent long, curly red hair (which she plans to cut and donate to cancer survivors) burst into flame as she came too close to a candle. I jumped up and was able to extinguish the flaming hair with my hands. Soon, the two stunning women were naked and a sort of porn audition began. Callers to the show instigated some discussion and demonstration of G-spot massage and female ejaculation, a favorite topic amongst the Bonobo Gang and two areas of Annie and Suzy’s expertise. Celia and I had to leave as we had to meet up with some other folks in the movie and music industries–amazing how much business is conducted late in LA. We left Daniel and Eileen behind. As we exited, Michelle was up on a cross being spanked by Suzy. Just another day in Bonobo land.

I’ve come away from this with great respect for Susan Block, her friends and the concept of Ethical Hedonism. The proof is in how the Gang interacts. They are incredibly kind with one another and with their guests. Peace thru Pleasure is clearly working for them. They walk their talk! Something must be in the air, as since I’ve returned I’ve been hearing from a number of friends on how they have happily embarked on some decidedly non-traditional sexual relationships–and it’s working for them as well. Again, I think of how much better off the world would be if Dick Cheney and his ilk were occupied with Eros instead of taking us all down with their lip-lock with Thanatos.

I spent the last two days in LA working on my grief and some on the production of Quiltman’s CD. On my way to the airport and a two-and-a-half-hour delayed flight, Celia and I went to eat in a Persian restaurant – LA does have an incredibly array of eateries – with Celia’s good friend, Atossa Soltani. Atossa has always impressed me as the clearest thinking and speaking activist of us all. She is the co-founder and executive director of Amazon Watch . She has been instrumental in rolling back oil exploration and logging in Amazonia and has led to the protection of vast areas of the region. Her heroic work on Indigenous support in the Amazon is Nobel-worthy.

It was quite the big city trip for this country mouse. Not at all sure when I’ll return. But, when I do, I’ll be sure to check in on the sweet, good-hearted Bonobo Gang and all the other dedicated folks working for a peaceful, ecologically healthy world from right there in the heart of the beast. Any and all efforts to bring peace and love to the wonderful, live-giving Gaia get my support–from raising awareness of cancer issues to CODEPINK’s tireless work to end the wars to conscious hedonism. Bottom line: they/we may already have destroyed the planet. But, we aren’t giving up and for sure we won’t let ’em get our day, too.

MICHAEL DONNELLY can be reached at: pahtoo@aol.con

 

 

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MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

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