Last Sunday was a perfect California day. Sophia and I walked to the pier. There was an all-day jazz festival going on. The stage was set up right in front of the Pacific. Nearby was a small crafts fair, where vendors sold paintings, incense, and jewelry. Sophia and I settled in and enjoyed the music.
While I was in New York, I had bad-mouthed Los Angeles. New York seemed so much “real.” Now that I was grooving to the music, performed by a good-looking, ethnically diverse group of jazz players, the blue sky and blue ocean as a backdrop, the weather perfect, I remembered what I loved about California. Why deal with the grit and grime and bad manners of New Yorkers, when I can just hang out with the mellow dudes by the beach?
I always say that I feel more at home in New York, but in many ways, I am not a true New Yorker. I’m not brash or in your face. I don’t honk my horn or yell “Yo!” One of my favorite bands is… The Eagles. I don’t look for confrontation. I avoid it, wanting to sit back and watch the Tequila Sunrise.
I was listening to the third band of the afternoon, a terrific Latin Jazz quartet, when Sophia saw him marching through the crowd, holding his hand-written sign. He was a Holocaust denier. I had never seen one in all my life. At the beach? I certainly had never encountered one in New York.
Were there no other Jews on the pier on a Sunday? This guy was walking around with this sign saying the Holocaust never happened, and everyone kept on with their business, drinking sodas, listening to the music, and shopping for jewelry.
“I’m going to say something to that moron,” said Sophia.
“No. Forget it,” I said.
“I’m not going to forget it,” she said angrily.
Sophia is NOT afraid of confrontation, and I wasn’t keen on her going over there and making a scene.
“I’ll go over there,” I said.
“And take a photo of him. Post it on your blog so then you can show everyone online what a jerk he is.”
I stood up and headed in the direction of the Holocaust denier. I had no idea what I was going to say or do. I had conflicting thoughts. As a proud member of the ACLU, I knew that he had a fundamental American right to freedom of speech, even if his ideas are idiotic. He wasn’t posing a danger to anyone, only annoying the shit out of me, and ruining the relaxing afternoon.
I slowly crept up behind up, and took out my iphone. I wanted a photo of him and his sign. As I neared, the anxiety took hold. What would he say to me? Did I really want to get into a heated argument with a crazy person? What is the point? What if this is his intention — to get people, especially Jews, all riled up? Would it be better to just ignore him? Why was no one else saying anything? Did no one else give a shit?
I lifted the iphone to take a photo, my hand shaky, when I thought I saw him looking my way. I wimped out. I turned to my right hand side and made believe I was taking a photo of some artwork that was for sale at a vendor’s booth.
The vendor, an attractive, but heavily Botoxed blonde of about forty-five, immediately stepped in front of my iphone. It surprised me, because I wasn’t even aware she was there, my focus was so heavily on the Holocaust denier.
“Did you just take a photo of this painting?”
“I saw you take it.”
“I didn’t take a photo.”
“I saw you!”
My brain was working too slow to explain the whole situation — how I got nervous trying to take a photo of the Holocaust denier, so I faked taking a photo of her artwork as a distraction before I got my nerve again. I showed her the iPhone screen to prove that the camera wasn’t on.
“Let me see the photos,” she insisted.
This woman was getting on my nerves. I looked over at the typical beach artwork that was displayed — the sailboat on the ocean — and wondered what was up her ass.
I opened the “camera roll” on the iphone and turned it towards the woman.
“You see? Nothing,” I announced.
That’s when she crossed the boundary of civilized society. She reached out with her index finger and touched the screen of my iphone to scroll to the next photo.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I want to see the other photos.”
“I already told you I didn’t take any photos.”
“I want to see. I have a right.”
“A right? A right to what? To touch my phone?”
“This is my artwork. It is copyrighted. No one is allowed to photograph it.”
“That’s bullshit. You’re a vendor on a public pier. I’m free to walk here and take a photo of whatever I want.”
“I don’t want you to take a photo of my artwork.”
“Fuck you!” I said.
I never say “Fuck you,” in public, but there was a nut holding a sign denying the Holocaust three feet away from her, and she was upset because some guy might have taken a photo with his iphone of her shitty painting!
I became confrontational, not with the Holocaust denier, but the art vendor. I picked up my iphone and took a photo of her artwork.
“NOW I took a photo of your artwork,” I said, aggressively
“You CAN’T DO THAT!”
“I just did. And there is nothing you can do about it. This is a free country. This is a public pier. I pay for it with my taxes. In fact, I don’t know who YOU are or if you live here. I could go to the Redondo Beach mayor’s office and make sure YOU don’t come here again. As long as I’m not selling the photos I just took for profit, I can take as many as I want. This isn’t a museum. Sell them in your house, then you can make the rule. Right now, you are on public property!”
By now, my voice was loud and obnoxious, just like a stereotypical New Yorker’s, and was attracting attention from all the mellow jazz lovers. The Holocaust denier turned my way. Oddly, by yelling at the art vendor, I had just made an argument for him. This was a public space. I could take photographs of amateurish paintings of boats, and he could legally walk around with a sign denying the Holocaust.
“Asshole,” I said to him, and took a photo.