Free to be

Exploring indie art in Great Pasadena

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 6/30/2005

It can be argued that creation is the highest form of free expression.

That's why as we celebrate our nation's independence on July 4 we have decided to turn these pages of the Weekly into a gallery of visual art, political discontent and poetry by local artists.

Unfortunately, not all Americans support artists and their missions.

There is always someone to discourage art containing powerful social and political messages, or to tell us to censor what we would choose to see and hear. In today's America, some books are still banned and some art boycotted.

Beyond opposition, there is also neglect. As we spend billions on war, it seems there's just never enough money left over to keep arts and arts education programs going.

The artists featured on these pages don't get big money for what they do, don't enjoy popular support and often have to fight to get their work noticed.

They create to satisfy something within them, to be free to be who they are.

What follows is a glimpse of some of the all-too-often unrecognized talent living -- creating -- right in our own backyard.

‘Permanent’ insanity

Polka, drugs and lots of sex are all in a day’s work for ‘Cocaine Chronicles’ contributor Jerry Stahl

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 6/16/2005

It seems author Jerry Stahl may never be able to say enough outrageous things about the wildly fluctuating worlds of sex and drugs than what has already been chronicled about his real life in David Veloz's "Permanent Midnight."

In the 1998 film, Ben Stiller plays Stahl, who was once a Hollywood screenwriter making $25,000 a week but ended up blowing his fortune -- along with a number of close relationships -- on heroin.

The now-long-sober Stahl's latest work appears in "Cocaine Chronicles," a collection of short stories compiled by Altadena author Jervey Tervalon and Gary Phillips.

"Jerry has written extensively about addiction, and we were glad he could be a part of the book," said Tervalon, who teaches writing and literature classes at UCLA. "His story is funny and heartbreaking."

Tervalon went on to explain how the idea for "Chronicles" came about:

"Gary and I were on a panel for another book I edited, 'The Geography of Rage,' which was about the LA riots," said Tervalon. "We were musing about how cocaine increased the violence in the inner city to the point where it had set the stage for the riot to happen. It made the neighborhood explosive. It was like throwing kerosene on a smoldering fire."

Stahl, now 51 and sober for the past 12 years, says his offering is based on reality, and is definitely not for the squeamish. In one scene, for instance, the narrator is asked by an elderly woman to blow coke up her butt with a straw in order to score free drugs.

The curators of this narcotics-themed collection of stories by a number of authors contacted Stahl out of the blue, saying, "We heard you did some research on the subject, perhaps you'd like to contribute a story," Stahl recently recalled with a laugh about his talk with Tervalon.

Other writers in the collection include: Suan Straight, Lee Child, Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman, Nina Revoyr, Bill Moody, Emory Holmes II, James Brown, Kerry West, Robert Ward, Manuel Ramos, Detrice Jones, Deborah Vankin, who is a student of Tervalon's at UCLA, and Donnell Alexander, who is a staff writer for LA CityBeat, a sister paper to the Pasadena Weekly.

With credits that include writing for the TV show "Alf," countless magazine articles and a number of books, the latest called "I, Fatty," a fictionalized account of the trials of once-famed movie icon Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Stahl was in France recently pimping the French edition of "Plainclothes Naked." First published two years ago, that novel launches from a photograph of George W. Bush having kinky sex with the mayor of a small town outside Pittsburgh.

Erik Himmelsbach, Stahl's editor at the now-defunct LA Reader, met Stahl after doing a story on him when "Midnight" came out. Stahl liked the article and was invited to write a column for the Reader called "Bad Liver," which first appeared in the beginning of 1996.

"He was always really helpful with my work," said Himmelsbach, who until recently wrote the "Valley Boy" column for LA ValleyBeat, another sister publication of the Weekly.

"He would give me honest feedback. We had the same agents for a while. He was a good person to talk to about stuff because he's been through everything. I always appreciated his advice."

Stahl and other "Chronicles" authors will be reading their works at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

He'll be back at Skylight Books again on July 29 to promote the paperback edition of "I, Fatty."

Pasadena Weekly: Are you working on any new projects?

Jerry Stahl: All the time. I'm working on a new novel and some scripts. My last book, 'I, Fatty,' was optioned to Johnny Depp, who's done a lot of work on the book. I love Johnny, man. He's the purest artist. Great fucking painter. Unbelievable painter. I may be doing a movie on Oscar Levant with Ben Stiller, and I have completed a remake of 'Sharky's Machine' for Warner Bros. I just accidentally sold a pilot to FX. I owed someone a meeting. I haven't written it yet, I just sold the idea in the meeting. It's called 'Junky Boy.' It's about those people who come to schools and give their little speeches, like, 'I shot heroin.' The main guy does that and becomes famous. But he hates himself because he's an asshole. And then he falls in love with the abstinence chick. You know, that Silver Way thing, that Bush-funded abstinence program. But statistically, the girls in the abstinence programs have this massive rate of oral and anal sex so they can stay virgins. No way is it going on their air. I just thought of the gnarliest shit to give them. Any time in Hollywood when you hear that someone wants 'dark and edgy,' run the other way. I always get hired for that and then I turn in scripts and they don't just reject them, they spray the room with Lysol.

Have you tried any other mediums for artistic outlet?

Not many people know this, but I was deeply into interpretive dance for a long time. I still have a leotard underneath. I mean if you're comfortable, you know, with male grace, I could give you a little demonstration. No, man. I basically just write. I love to write in planes and while traveling. There are no distractions. I write all the time. I think I started getting stories rejected by magazines when I was 15 or 16. That's when I started sending my stuff out. I'm still getting rejected by the same magazines all these years later. That's pretty much how I started out, doing journalism of one kind of another. My first paying gig was for the Santa Cruz Free Press when I was about 20, for eight big one-dollar bills an article -- not to brag.

Will you be doing any more columnist work?

I was a columnist for Details for three years. I don't know if I'll be doing any more columnist work. I miss it, though. I loved doing it. It was great. I was in the [Los Angeles] Reader for awhile, LA Magazine, and Details later.

How long were you with the Reader?

Chronology, along with other certain motor skills, is gone. I couldn't even tell you what decade that was. They were very cool, though. I could write whatever I wanted. I used to be the starlet boy for Esquire at one point. They would pay me like $400 a month and I would interview some up-and-coming starlet. Inevitably, I would fuck up the tape recorder and have to make up what the latest gossip was.

Do you ever want to direct?

No. I became a writer so I wouldn't have to leave the house. The last thing I want to do is order people around and get bitched at by producers. It would be very arrogant for me to walk in somewhere and assume I knew what the fuck I was doing. I know that's not a trendy answer, but I'm not one of those guys who wants to direct.

How did Ben Stiller research you for his role in 'Midnight'?

Ben did a lot of research. The money kind of fell apart after he committed to the role, so he asked me to write this movie for him. We hung out for about a year and became really good friends. He pretty much taught me how to write screenplays because I had never really written them before. I took him down there on Eighth and Alvarado and Fourth and Bonnie Brae and all those old stations of the LA junkie cross. He lost a ton of weight, made himself really sick and made himself feel and look like shit. It was hardcore, man. It was very De Niro 'Raging Bull' and Christian Bale 'The Machinist,' you know, he went way out there. I thought he was great. He's a great actor. Have you ever had someone play you in a movie? It's a strange experience.

Watching 'Midnight,' do you regret getting into that lifestyle?

There's no use regretting it now. I mean, there's nothing I can do about it. I regret all the people I fucked over, that's for sure. On the other hand, it gave me a marketable skill. I don't think you should regret it. If you lived through it, it's kind of a good thing to have survived.

For going there and coming back.

Exactly. It sort of burns the bullshit out of you. I stopped sticking things into my arms when I was 39. I always ate healthy, though. I was a vegetarian for 20 years. Shootin' dope and eatin' wheatgrass was the yin and yang that kept my liver crawling for another month. My 105-year-old liver basically lives in Ohio right now, so we made an agreement. It's not good or bad, it's just what I do. I think it's the worst when someone comes off as some preachy motherfucker. I go to great lengths to say, 'You know what? This is my deal. Whatever you do, God bless.' And afterwards, in interviews and such, people want you to be this after-school special guy. Have you ever watched a movie that depicts junkydom and think, 'That's bullshit'? Like, they stick the needle in, but never get a register. I lose them right there. I'm like, 'I'm out.'

What kind of music do you listen to now?

Nothing but polka. I'm the polka guy. I don't talk about it much. I'm not bragging. It straddles the universe for me.

Writer R.J. Chmiel contributed to this report.

 Chapman wins council seat

By Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, 6/9/2005

It wasn't on par with, say, Bush beating Gore, or David killing Goliath, or Rocky pummeling the evil Drago.

But in the rustic confines of sleepy Altadena, Justin Chapman's victory over longtime Town Council incumbent Mike Manning amounted to nothing less than an historic achievement.

Actually, the 19-year-old Chapman, a freelancer for the Weekly and the youngest person ever elected to the Town Council, was victorious by a near mandate, more than 62 percent of the ballots cast -- winning 42 out of 67 votes for Manning's former Town Council seat from Census Tract 4602.

Chapman will now join 15 other members of the Town Council -- two apiece from each of the community's census tracts -- on the advisory panel to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

An actor and a journalism student at Pasadena City College, Chapman was elated over his underdog campaign kicking into gear for a come-from-behind win Saturday during the voting at the unincorporated community's annual Altadena days celebration.

"I had my work cut out for me. But I definitely had some help," Chapman said about his grassroots campaign, which was run by Chapman and his friend, Colin Burton, a student at LA City College.

Chapman also thanked opponent Manning for his years of service on the council, where Manning will not serve as an alternate councilman.

"I thought it could have gone either way, really," Chapman said, adding his tenure on the panel "won't be boring."

Chapman will be sworn in June 21.

From there, it's anyone's guess what will happen.

But, the teen said, the first order of business will be "meeting and establishing relationships with all these people; people at the police station, the fire station, all the businesses, and creating a dialogue with them and getting to know their concerns."

Chapman, 19, scores upset in Altadena [Town Council] race

By Gretchen Hoffman, Pasadena Star-News, 6/5/2005

ALTADENA -- Nineteen-year-old Justin Chapman ended Mike Manning's 10-year incumbency Saturday in one of two contested races for the Altadena Town Council.

Chapman, a Pasadena City College student and freelance reporter for the Pasadena Weekly, received 42 votes to Manning's 25. Manning, 57, has been on the Town Council since 1995 and serves as vice chairman.

In the other contested race, incumbent Billy Nwoye held onto his seat with 101 votes, compared to challenger C.R. Tillman's 23. Tillman was recalled from the Town Council by a special election in 2001.

Nine candidates were competing for seven two-year seats in Saturday's election. Eight seats were technically available, but there was no candidate in one of the tracts. Three incumbents did not run for re-election.

Also elected in uncontested races were William Jones, a management analyst for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, 2ith 24 votes; incumbent Steve Lamb, an architectural designer, with 15; incumbent Michele Zack, a writer, with 18; incumbent Ken Balder, a Realtor, with 40; and Lorie Judson, an associate professor at Cal State Los Angeles, with 11.

Twenty-eight people living in a northeast Altadena census tract with no candidate running for the open seat cast votes in support of the Town Council.

The Town Council serves as an advisory body to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which oversees unincorporated Altadena. It consists of 16 representatives and eight alternates who are selected by residents of eight census tracts.

Nwoye credits his landslide victory in part to residents' satisfaction with positive changes under way in his southwest Altadena tract. His campaign platform centered around beautification, education, security and traffic.

"A lot is happening in Altadena," said Nwoye, who has lived in Altadena for 10 years. "There's a new energy. They're happy that the blight is going away. They want clean streets, they want to reduce traffic, and they're happy that the crime is going down."

With 327 valid votes cast, the turnout was 13-percent higher than in last year's election. In that electin's two contested races, incumbents Bobby Thompson and Jacquie Fennessy were victorious, with 61 and 35 votes, respectively.

The comparatively high turnout, especially Nwoye's 101 votes, was because of two factors, election chairman Jamie Bissner said.

"No. 1 was Justin getting out there and putting out fliers and making himself known to the community," Bissner said. "No. 2 was when C.R. entered the race, that caused Billy to redouble his efforts. They just got the word out that there was an election going on and people ought to vote."

"We had a good election," Bissner said. "It was very successful from an Altadena standpoint."

Gretchen Hoffman can be reached at (626) 578-6300 ext. 4494, or by email at

Concerns in Chief

PCC Trustees abruptly end selection process for a full-time police chief amid claims of impropriety by controversial acting Chief Brad Young

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 6/2/2005

Former Pasadena City College acting Police Chief Brad Young is no stranger to controversy.

Two years ago, Young, who at the time was a lieutenant, and then-Chief Philip Mullendore came under investigation following a claim they beat up a demonstrator at an anti-war protest on the PCC campus during the first days of the US-led pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

Both men were ultimately exonerated in separate investigations by both Pasadena police and the PCC Board of Trustees.

Then, shortly after Mullendore retired 1½ years ago and Young assumed the acting chief's position, Young came under fire again. This time three of his own employees claimed he secretly tape-recorded what they believed were private conversations.

Like the assault allegations, those claims were also investigated by Pasadena police and the board, and again both agencies found no wrongdoing on Young's part.

Now Young, who has since had his claim for $1.8 million in damages in relation to the employees' complaints denied, finds himself at the center of another controversy, involving the Board of Trustees, which, without explanation, ended the hiring process without picking a new full-time replacement for Mullendore from among Young and two unidentified candidates.

Instead, the board replaced Young in the acting chief's position with former Fontana Police Chief Frank Scialdone. Young has since been returned to his former lieutenant's status. Scialdone was appointed to the Fontana City Council in 2004. His current term will expire in November 2006. He was employed with the Fontana Police Department from 1973 until he retired in July 2004.

Scialdone has been assigned to spend the next six months conducting a management audit of the campus police force, after which he will "submit recommendations to the Board of Trustees," said Janet Levin, PCC's dean of External Relations.

Except for saying that he is innocent of all allegations brought against him, and that the officers and the dispatcher had been subjected to discipline by him prior to their claims of invasion of privacy being made, Young declined to be interviewed at length for this report.

"We wanted to look at the situation in the department and evaluate our specific needs," Vic Collins, PCC's dean of Human Relations, said of the Trustees' decision to end the hunt for a new chief. "It had nothing to do with the allegations against Young."

Collins was referring to complaints filed against Young last fall by campus police Officers John Hynes and Alan Chan, and campus police dispatcher Ralph Humphrey, who alleged that Young had secretly taped their conversations in the locker room.

After a six-week investigation by Pasadena Police Detective Rich Cassidy, Deputy District Attorney John Perlstein decided not to file charges against Young, citing a lack of evidence.

"The tape recorder in Young's locker could have been put there by 1,700 people," said Perlstein.

Young had broken the latch off his locker during a demonstration on locker security several months earlier.

Soon thereafter, Young and the accusing dispatcher and officers filed two separate claims against the Pasadena Area Community College District.

In his claim, Young said he was libeled and slandered by the district in relation to the allegations. That claim asked for $1.8 million in damages.

In their claim, Hynes, Chan and Humphrey allege their privacy was violated. That allegation -- claims are typically the first step in the filing of a civil lawsuit against a government agency -- did not seek monetary damages.

The Board of Trustees voted as part of the Consent Items during the Open Session of the March 16 meeting to reject both claims, according to Malinda Altmetz, administrative assistant for the Board of Trustees.

"In order for any claim to go forward, it is standard procedure for [the Board of Trustees] to receive then reject the claim," said board Vice President Geoffrey Baum.

In their claim, the officers said they noticed an activated tape recorder in Young's locker on the evening of Aug. 27.

According to the claim, "the recorder was installed without a warrant and in violation of the employees' rights to privacy."

The claim further states that after the officers and the dispatcher filed a police report, police "investigators confiscated the tape recording of the officers' and other individuals' conversations from Young, and it was found to be blank. The conduct in destroying the tape constitutes, among other things, spoliation of evidence needed for prospective litigation and destruction of evidence."

The document also states Young "acted under color of state law, within the course and scope of employment, and as an official policy maker for the [Pasadena Area Community College District]. He is vested with policymaking authority over personnel actions such as the ones at issue in this claim."

Young said Hynes, Chan and Humphrey were retaliating after being disciplined by him, an assertion that they have denied.

The two officers and the dispatcher declined to comment for this report, but denied Young's claim of retaliation to a reporter with the Courier, the college newspaper.

Officer Leroy Henderson, president of the Pasadena City College Police Chapter 819, presented the board during the Oct. 6 meeting with a formal notification that eight members of the Police Officers Association had cast votes of no-confidence in Young as chief.

Death and torture made 'simple'

By Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, 6/2/2005

The latest information from Amnesty International on the nearly 600 men and juveniles being held by the military at Guantanamo Bay was issued as part of a broader report on torture tactics, including the continued use of capital punishment in nations around the world, including the United States.

On Tuesday, according to Reuters news service, President Bush said the report, which described Guantanamo Bay as a modern American "gulag," was "absurd," primarily because it came from information provided by people who know what's actually happening htere: former detainees.

"It seems to me like [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of, and the allegations by, people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained, in some instances, to dissemble -- that means not tell the truth -- and so it is an absurd report [from Amnesty International]. It just is," Bush said, according to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

As it turns out, Bush is also a big fan of the death penalty, with his home state, Texas, still leading the way in the number of people executed each year. Although the president did not comment on that portion of the AI report, which shows a total of 59 people were executed in the US last year, 23 from Texas, Bush might have said something like this: "Keep it simple, stupid."

But Bush didn't say that, at least not this time around. LAPD Detective Andrew Monsue said that to Los Angeles Times reporters Scott Glover and Matt Lait, who were investigating the possibly wrongful conviction and subsequent life imprisonment of Bruce Lisker, a former meth head from Sherman Oaks who in 1982 was arrested by Monsue and charged with the bludgeoning and stabbing death of his mother, Dorka Lisker.

Had a confused teenage Lisker not capitulated to authorities and eventually confessed to a crime that he now claims he did not commit, he might have been eligible for the death penalty. After all, America still kills juveniles, with 70 kids under 18 presently sitting on death rows around the country, a third of them in Texas, according to AI.

But Lisker's case was anything but simple, and nobody knew that better than Monsue, who, as it happens, let go of another prime suspect who had motive and opportunity to kill Lisker's mother, was planning to do so, according to witnesses, and even probably left his shoeprint on Dorka Lisker's bloodied head. We say it was that person because a subsequent investigation by forensics experts have determined that it wasn't Lisker's shoe that made those marks. Even the county prosecutor who threw Lisker in the clink for life is now having second thoughts.

And what does now-Lt. Monsue have to say about these revelations?

"We've got a lying, cheating, murdering son of a bitch in prison that's making these allegations... and you're sitting here questioning my credibility. ... That upsets me."

Sound familiar?

Bush said that when accusations are made about actions taken by Americans they are "fully investigated in a transparent way," much as Monsue has said he is comfortable with the end result of his investigation into the death of Dorka Lisker.

We think the comments of William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, could apply to both Bush and Monsue on the absurdity of their reactions to both cases.

"What is 'absurd' is President Bush's [and now Monsue's] attempt to deny the deliberate policies of his administration [which in Lisker's case meant Monsue keeping things 'simple' by foregoing other evidence pointing to his innocence]. ... What is 'absurd' and indeed outrageous is the Bush administration's [and now the LAPD's] failure to undertake a full independent investigation," Schulz said, according to Reuters, aside from the bracketed portions.

We agree, only we think these words apply not only to Gitmo and Bush and now Lisker and Monsue, but also to all of the growing number of incidents in which unmitigated power shamelessly lies in the face of truth in life and death situations -- and gets away with it.


In an unrelated matter, we heartily endorse Justin Chapman, a dedicated journalism student at Pasadena City College, for a seat on the Altadena Town Council. Justin is a bright 19-year-old who has plenty of fresh ideas, many of which you've been reading about in these pages over the past few weeks. We believe Justin is the right person to get in touch with today's kids, who, as we all know, need more of our attention than ever.

Vote for Justin Chapman on Saturday.