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Confessions of the Man in the Garlic Suit

July 17, 1988|CHARLES PERRY

Today I'll be putting on the garlic suit again.

Most of the year it stays in the guest room. Most of the year I couldn't get arrested, popularity-wise, by dressing like a head of garlic. But today is the sixth annual Los Angeles Garlic Festival, where wearing a garlic suit makes you as welcome as Santa Claus.

Sometimes I wonder about how I got started doing this. Generally speaking I'm a sober-dressing, anonymity-seeking restaurant writer, but somehow I've gotten into a position where several times a year I play the fool before thousands of people in a garlic suit.

Like so many other things, this all seemed perfectly logical as it happened. It started 10 years ago with, as a matter of fact, the very first story I wrote for The Times. It happened to be about the annual garlic dinners Berkeley's Chez Panisse had been serving. In researching it I discovered there was a sort of garlic fan club/anti-defumation league called the Lovers of the Stinking Rose.

I don't know. It made a screwy kind of sense and I do love garlic, so I joined. But receiving the Garlic Times wasn't enough for me. I started hosting garlic dinners. I organized "gar-lucks."

A loose nucleus of garlic maniacs congealed around these meetings and it seemed only natural for us to march in the Pasadena Doo-Dah Parade. We've been in six of them now (the hippest thing we did was simply marching in our costumes with a banner that read: The Walking Heads).

Around that time the Nucleus Nuance Restaurant and the American Red Cross decided to put on an annual Garlic Festival, where restaurants (as of this year, about 40 of them) would run booths selling garlicky snacks from alligator jambalaya to garlic ice cream.

As a local garlic activist, I felt duty-bound to help. So over the last couple of years, for the cause of garlic and healthy blood (garlic is good for your blood, starting with its vampire-repellent qualities), I have appeared on television smashing garlic cloves; I've presented a plaque to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; and in general made a bloody fool of myself in public.

It doesn't make a world of sense, and all I can think is that there is a kind of genial madness about garlic. At the very first Garlic Festival the last people to leave were three giddy teen-age girls who skipped out arm in arm singing, "We've got garlic breath!"

I've grown to accept it. Diet is destiny. Today I'm putting on the garlic suit again.

Los Angeles Garlic Festival, San Vicente Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica in West Hollywood. Noon to 10 p.m. Admission $6; seniors and children younger than 12, $3.

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