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AL MARTINEZ

Notes on the Angel of Malibu

June 19, 1990|AL MARTINEZ

The kinds of people journalists know are always in foment. That's because they tend to gravitate toward those of us able to publicize their fomentation.

We, in turn, are attracted by their cheerful willingness to die for causes that range from protecting the darter snail to defending the civil rights of extraterrestrials, should their civil rights ever be violated.

One of my best friends has been in a rage for 32 years, including weekends. It began with what he felt were the racist overtones of the Frito Bandito, a stereotype Mexican cartoon character who hustled corn chips. His anger has never subsided.

Everything infuriates him, and he in turn infuriates me, due to a tendency to telephone in the hours past midnight as he lies awake simmering over the fate of things like California's northern spotted owl.

When I told him I was tired of hearing his outrage at 3 o'clock in the morning, he took to calling me with good news regarding the causes he holds dear. Now I am as sick of his joy as I was of his fury.

"What's he done now," my wife says sleepily when the phone rings, "hatch a condor chick in captivity?"

One of these days they will find him either nailing himself to a cross on Venice beach or riding the back of a sperm whale into the hazy sunset, never to be heard from again.

I mention him today by way of introducing a woman who, while not as manic as my friend, is also a person in foment.

Her name is Valerie Sklarevsky and she lives in a 150-year-old gypsy wagon in Malibu with a dog named Dancer. The police know her as Angel.

She is so famous as a demonstrator that Bobby Dylan included her in one of his tunes, "License to Kill."

It goes, "There's a woman on my block, sitting in the chill,/ Saying, 'Who's gonna take away his license to kill?' "

That's Valerie.

You have probably seen her on the 11 o'clock news being led off in shackles or being dragged down the steps of a federal building shouting, "Stop killing women and children!"

She has been arrested 30 times in the past decade, 10 times so far this year alone, mostly for protesting U.S. policies in Latin America. Protesting is pretty much her full-time job.

I became aware of Valerie last month when she spattered a red substance on herself and knelt to pray on behalf of the six Jesuit priests and two women murdered last year in El Salvador.

What impressed me was the fact that the red substance she spattered was her own blood.

Up until then, I had assumed demonstrators used a blood substitute of some kind, composed, perhaps, of a mineral water tinted with vegetable dye and thickened slightly with corn starch to give it substance.

Not so. Valerie not only uses her own blood, but sometimes has a nurse draw enough of her blood to pass around to others.

If that isn't commitment, I don't know what is.

A slim woman in her mid-40s with brilliant green eyes and a kind of natural, Earth Mother appearance, Sklarevsky became radicalized in 1979 when, on the very same day, the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island broke down and her boss went crazy and began beating her.

The events, of course, were not related, but she perceived their proximity to be a spiritual message that has motivated her ever since. She fasted for three days and came out looking for trouble, so to speak.

A vegetarian who doesn't drink alcohol, take medications, watch television or read very much (reading tends to diffuse her concentration), Valerie believes that the metaphysical power of prayer and protest can bring a great force to bear on those who practice violence.

In addition to the aforementioned causes, she has demonstrated, fasted and/or prayed for the rights of native Indians, farm workers and the homeless, while opposing insecticides, the mistreatment of animals and destruction of the environment; though, of course, not on the same day.

"I care about people, trees and fish," she said to me at lunch one day, glancing at the smoked salmon on my plate as though it were a filet of dolphin. "My life is dedicated to speaking out for creation."

Since working for creation doesn't usually pay, Valerie earns real money by cooking and caring for children. She pays only $40 a month to live in the gypsy wagon and exists, one supposes, on roots and nuts.

"The one thing I fear," she said pointedly, "is being laughed at."

Well, she needn't worry about me. I like what she's doing and respect her a lot more than I do my crazy friend. No more dolphin jokes for me. I'm even sorry I ate the smoked salmon. The dead bagel would have done just fine.

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