Monday, January 23, 2012

Suburbs of Our Discontent

Today's Suburbs of our Discontent comes from our friend and everyday shakespeare supporter Adam Barr. As with all things Hollywood, his story—ripped from the headlines—is larger than life. At the same time, it's a tale of everyday human foibles and annoyances. Shakespeare got that: he could put a couple of griping gravediggers tossing a skull around smack dab in the middle of a tragedy of epic proportions, and it somehow made sense on a deep, human level.

The news that has dominated Los Angeles this week, in close competition with the Golden Globes post-event fashion analysis, has been the severed head that was discovered in the Hollywood Hills last Wednesday. A dog walker found it near the Hollywood sign while she was hiking with her mother and a pack of nine dogs. Two of the dogs ran off the trail after what the women believed to be a ball. It turned out to be a man’s head, in a plastic grocery bag. They described him as in his 60’s, of Armenian descent.

Two things popped into my head upon hearing the news. The first was that it was the Armenian mob, since this sort of thing is, historically, right in their wheel house. The second was that I could scratch out a pretty good post for your site from this. Something clever in which I used Hamlet’s graveyard scene to comment on how sad it is that we’re all so numb to news items like this because a.) we’re bombarded with similarly gruesome news pieces on a daily basis, and b.) we have no connection at all to the victim. I’d go on to point out that for someone out there, some poor soul, this is horrific and intensely personal news. Like Hamlet discovering the skull of his childhood jester. I fantasized about the dog walker herself discovering the head and recognizing him as someone she knew. “Alas, poor Mahmoubian. I knew him, Mother.” And so forth.

But I opted not to write anything. I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, I’m not a Shakespeare scholar like you guys, and any parallels I might draw between me & this head, and Hamlet & Yorick would be a stretch. I simply had no connection.

Then, today happened. I was in Whole Foods this morning, making my way past the goat milk yogurts and sprouted nuts, when my friend Mimi called. Mimi and I became great friends over the last three years from walking our dogs together in Griffith Park every morning. “Adam,” she said. “The LA Times just posted a story. They identified the head that dog walker found. It’sHervey.

My stomach bottomed out, and I nearly fell over. I knew Hervey. I knew Hervey well. We both did. He used to walk his dog, Cocoa, with me and Mimi most mornings for about two years, before he moved further west. And to be honest, I walked more often with him than Mimi or any of the other regulars on the trail. It wasn’t that we were especially close; it was that our schedules matched up. Between 8:15 and 8:30, Hervey and Cocoa were there at the trailhead, without fail. Many times, I would even wait for him to show up because our dogs played so well together. A fellow of infinite jest.

He was a gregarious guy, Mexican by birth (not Armenian), with an ebullient, almost mad passion for life. A quick talker, Hervey would chat away about films, museums, art, food, his dog. Over maybe 100 morning hikes, he would tell me about his days as maitre’d in that restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, how he would seat Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. How his regulars would send him cases of expensive liquor and free tickets to Europe as thank you. In the beginning, I’d grill him about his life here in LA. I thought it had tv series potential (I write for tv). A few times, we even exchanged small gifts. He’d drop a bag of tennis balls by my house for my dog, I’d leave a particular DVD on his windshield.

Lest I wax too sentimental about him, I’ll say here that I did reach a point where I had enough of Hervey. For all his lusty living, he was a terrible listener, and tended to repeat a lot of the same stories, often with changing plot points. He loved his dog, but he didn’t believe in training it. He’d throw hunks of jerky into the air for all of our dogs to catch, setting their training back and pissing off us owners. Towards the end, I stopped waiting for him to arrive and tried to time my hikes so I’d avoid him. Mimi felt the same.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I knew him, and had a certain fondness for him. The fact that this happened to him, that his head -- and we now know, his feet and hands -- were cut from his body... It makes me sick. It’s one thing to read about the many decapitations sprinkled throughout the Riverside Shakespeare, but to get close to it, in real time... I can’t stop thinking about it, yet at the same time, I dare not think too hard about it or my mind inevitably reaches for the grisly details of the act. And this is someone I knew.

The police say they’re following leads, but who knows? It’s a big city, with a lot of people, and Hervey was not one to stand apart from a willing audience.

I guess, in the most horrible of coincidences (or is it ironies?), it seems at last I’ve found an angle for my post.

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