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behind the news | Essay / ROBERT A. JONES

A Drama Being Played Out on Stage Nine

February 07, 1996|ROBERT A. JONES

Up in Seattle, they lay down in the streets to stop the Seahawks from heading south. This was a team that Seattle had labeled a loser and pretty much deserted at the box office. A team owned by a man reviled locally as a carpetbagger. Yet when the moment came for the moving vans to pull out, they lay down in the streets.

"You can't take our memories!" they bleated.

Down here, the civic fathers promised not to have round heels when it came to the Seahawks. The team was a loser--at least everyone agreed on that--and who could trust an owner who jilted the last city where he had parked his players? Anyway, Los Angeles wanted a team of its own, not a purloined piece of goods from a small-market backwater.

So what happened when the Seahawks' vans started south? Anaheim rolled over like a $2 floozie, promising the Seahawks' owner, Ken Behring, the new stadium it had denied the Rams. Not to mention six months free practice time at Rams Park as an appetizer. The Los Angeles Coliseum's managers, hearing nothing from the Seattle emigre, pleaded for someone to give Behring their phone number. Behring, for his part, stood up Anaheim at a scheduled meeting, continued to ignore the Coliseum and went to meet L.A.'s mayor. Everybody had an offer to make.

Maybe we just can't help ourselves. Somehow, some way, the rich and powerful have maneuvered the rest of us into playing parts for their heavy life dramas. A sign of the Age, no doubt. We have come to understand our roles and now play our parts willingly. We sing out huzzahs on cue, or weep pathetically when the drama turns sour for our hero.

And is it just football? Haw. Does Steve Forbes, a man who inherited $400 million, want to run for president by parading a flat-tax proposal that would

soak the poor? Sure he does. No problem. We will take him seriously--hey, he's on TV all the time, isn't he?--and elevate him to the front rank of candidates.

Do Messrs. Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg, worth a collective $2 billion, want $70 million in tax breaks to build a movie studio next to the marina? We will cut the check and describe them in the paper as "the Dream Team."

Whose dream? No matter. We are content to carry a spear and stand in the corner of the stage. In the '90s, the bigger dramas of bigger lives seem to mesmerize us. If an heir to the DuPont fortune pulls out a pistol on his 800-acre estate and shoots to death an old friend, we regard the murder as an opportunity to reflect on the heir's personal demons. Did his father ignore him? Yes, yes. Did his mother smother him? Yes, yes. Anyone can see how such a childhood would drive a rich man to murder.

And what of the dead man who spilled his blood on the expensive graveled driveway? We don't know. He was not rich.

Here in L.A. we do our spear-carrying bit as well as anyone. You could argue it's in our blood. One of the most famous novels about Los Angeles, "The Day of the Locust," opens with a scene of bit players being herded through the back lot of a movie studio in the 1930s.

"An army of cavalry and foot was passing," Nathanael West wrote. "It moved like a mob; its lines broken, as though fleeing from some terrible defeat.

*

"A little fat man, wearing a cork sun-helmet, polo shirt and knickers, darted around a corner of the building in pursuit of the army. 'Stage Nine--you bastards--Stage Nine!' he screamed through a small megaphone.

"The cavalry put spur to their horses and the infantry broke into a dogtrot. The little man in the cork hat ran after them, shaking his fist and cursing."

In the modern age, we have become that cavalry, forever headed toward the next Stage Nine in the public drama. We lie down in the streets to block the Seahawks' moving van as if that van were about to carry off our very lives and not merely the detritus of a rich man's hobby.

And others of us cheer when the same detritus arrives here. The mayor makes time for the rich man and we await their pronouncement. In between watching O.J., of course. News cameras take up their assigned watches outside the rich man's quarters. And soon--if all goes well--we will sing our huzzahs for the Anaheim Whatevers.

*

What of all those hopes and promises to create our own team in Los Angeles? It may happen yet. Peter O'Malley with his plan for a team in Chavez Ravine or Michael Eisner with his plan for Anaheim could beat back the rich man and send him scuttling home to Seattle.

Or they could join him in his Los Angeles crusade. After all, these are rich men also, with their own heavy dramas to support. They need us. And we need them. It's the new balance of power. Just don't forget your spear.

*

Last week, I included Phil Anthony in a list of deceased unsung heroes of Southern California's postwar years. Anthony, as the man who lowered the price of the backyard pool and brought its pleasures to thousands of middle-class families, qualifies easily as one of our culture's pillars. But he is not deceased. My apologies for any anxiety this may have caused his family and friends.

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