Hollywood is burning.
Karen and I lock every door in the house, shut tight the windows, switch off all the lights.
Gazing from our bedroom window, we watch orange flames licking at the darkness, pillars of black smoke climbing into the sky. We can actually smell burning rubber.
“Look how close they are,” says Karen.
“Just past La Cienega. Maybe eight blocks away.”
Karen gives me a long penetrating gaze.
She says: “What do we do if they come here?”
My mind is racing away. I don’t say it out loud, but we are defenseless. Unless I get crazy inventive like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs.
“After this is all over,” I vow, “I’m going to go out and buy a pistol.”
Karen says: “How about a shotgun?”
Two Hours Earlier:
The mob is surging towards the front doors of the theater. They are shouting, but the glass doors are so thick we cannot hear what they’re screaming. One look is all we need, faces twisted into expressions of raw hatred. There is no doubt that the mob is intent on some serious violence.
We’re at a screening for a new movie. It’s a Hollywood premiere and charity event for, get this, inner city kids.
I’m friends with the executive producer.
“Bring Karen and the kids,” the producer chirps on the phone,“it’s a kid-friendly movie, there’s gonna be a reception, and really Robert, it’s gonna be fab-u-lous.”
And so: because this producer is my friend and I want to support her movie, and because I’m a Hollywood screenwriter, and because personal relationships grease the wheels of the business, and because this lady producer is a player and admires my work, I schlep Karen, Ariel, and Offspring #2 to this classic Hollywood event.
What could possibly go wrong at a swanky Hollywood premiere?
It is a Wednesday evening, April 29, 1992. The Rodney King tape has been running like an eternal loop on every network 24/7.
The film, a real stinker, has, at long last, cut to its final fade to black. Everyone is now mingling in the reception area. Guests congratulate the producer, director and stars, assuring them that the film is: ”Great, just great,” and “the best work they have ever done,” all the expected and acceptable lies we tell each other.
Suddenly a chill sweeps through the room.
Something is happening.
It’s happening outside.
I step towards the large plate glass doors of the theater. The security men, two burly rent-a-cops, deeply alarmed, start locking the row of doors.
Mesmerized, I stare as something hard bounces off the thick glass. There is a tiny white wound.
“Step back from the doors,” the security men call out in surprisingly firm voices.
I stay put. I want to see what’s happening.
“Please, step away from the doors,” they plead repeatedly as more guests press forward trying to glimpse the fearful gathering outside.
I see it happening. A classic shot unwinding in slow motion: the mob swarms towards the movie theater, towards us: a thick wave of fury marching with a terrible velocity towards this cocoon of well-intentioned Hollywood—there’s no way around this—Hollywood Liberals.
Sheesh, talk about a target-rich environment.
It’s almost funny.
Here we are, inside, raising charity for inner city kids and—
—and these inner city kids are outside trying to get in. Not, mind you, to express their ever-lasting appreciation for our spectacular generosity. Nope, hard as it is to believe, but it looks as if the objects of our charity would like to lynch us.
Or maybe burn us to death.
Almost funny. But not quite.
Abruptly, the lights go out, and we are plunged into darkness.
Offspring #2 leaps into my arms.
Trembling like a frightened rabbit, she stutters:
“D-d-d-addy, what’s happening?”
Karen grips my arm:
Ariel squeezes my hand, and asks:
“What happened to the lights?”
A woman screams.
And just like in the movies I can sense panic spreading through the crowd.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War I had a long and detailed conversation with an Israeli officer, an incredibly brave and highly decorated tank commander, who explained why Israel always beat the Arabs in war:
“We maneuver, we remain flexible and liquid. The Arabs have a fatal tendency to fall back into a defensive posture. You cannot win a battle or a war when your position is static. We shoot and scoot. We keep moving, we probe the enemies flank and then move in for the kill.”
We are trapped in the lobby and outside a mob of rioters, are moving in, surrounding the building.
I’m determined to go Israeli.
Next Week: Part II: Escape. In which Los Angeles devolves into anarchy, and the police are revealed to be helpless, hopeless — and useless.
Note: I’m frequently asked how I’m able to remember incidents in such detail, including dialogue, from so many years ago? It’s simple. I do not rely on my memory. I have been keeping a detailed diary for over 20-years. This post, as so many others, is based on my diaries. If there are gaps in my entries, I check with Karen. She was also keeping a diary, plus Karen has a phenomenal memory.
Copyright © Robert J. Avrech