Boardwalk

Pacific & Windward, the Center of Venice, California

If you squint hard when you look at the above picture, you can see the set of the Mexican border town in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958) in which Charlton Heston plays a Mexican drug enforcement officer—one of his weirder roles.

Now it’s just ground zero for one of Los Angeles’s main tourist attractions: The Venice Boardwalk. The boardwalk runs roughly between the Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Pier. It’s only when you cross the border from Santa Monica into Venice that the fun begins. There are scores of tattoo parlors, cafés, tourist junk shops, fortunetellers, psychics, and handcrafts. including a lot of dubious art. The Midwestern tourists who come by the busload see what they think is the “real” Los Angeles, whereas what they see has been created largely for their benefit.

I sort of enjoy the tatty atmosphere of the Boardwalk, but I mainly go because it contains one of Los Angeles’s last surviving bookshops, Small World Books. Today I picked up a copy of James M. Cain’s last novel, The Cocktail Waitress, and a book by Alan Watts about Buddhism. Then I had a slice of pepperoni pizza from Rey’s and trundled back to my car, which was parked at a confusing intersection of streets a few blocks away near Electric and Abbot Kinney.

If you go a few blocks south on Pacific, you will find the bridge over the Venice canal that was the scene of where Joseph Calleia plugs Orson Welles’s corrupt Captain Hank Quinlan.

The Scorpion and the Frog, Circa 2017

There’s a Lesson Here for Voters

The story goes back to Aesop. A frog sitting by the riverbank is approached by a scorpion, who asks him to ferry him across. The frog hesitates: “But you’ll sting me and I’ll die.” The scorpion asks, “Where is the reason in that? If I stung you, we’d both die.” Being a reasonable creature, the frog agrees and lets the scorpion hop on. In the middle of the river, the frog feels a horrible pain as he is injected with the scorpion venom. As he feels his body shutting down, he asks: “Why did you do this thing? Now we’ll both die.” I don’t know if scorpions can shrug, but let us say this one can. His last words are: “I can’t help it: It’s my nature.”

Or you can hear Orson Welles tell the same tale in his film Mister Arkadin (1955):

Now what’s the moral of this story insofar as you and I are concerned? Let’s say the scorpion has a shock of bright orange hair. He’s been around for a long time, so we have some notion of how he behaves. Knowing that, why have we allowed that scorpion on our backs?