In light of yesterday’s post about Jews and guns and the vigorous, articulate comments from our readers I am republishing my three-part series about the LA Riots of 1992 in which Karen and I and the children were caught. We were unarmed. The police were, um, absent, and the bad guys owned the streets. It was a defining moment in my life.
Hollywood is burning.
Karen and I lock every door in the house, shut tight the windows, we move through the house switching off all the lights.
Gazing from our bedroom window we watch orange flames lick at the darkness, pillars of black smoke climbing into the sky. We can actually smell the acrid odor of burning rubber.
“Look how close they are,” says Karen.
“Just past La Cienega. Maybe eight blocks away.”
Karen gives me a long penetrating gaze:
“What do we do if they come here?”
My mind is racing away. The truth is 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 buy a pistol.”
Karen says: “How about a shotgun?”
Two Hours Earlier:
The rioters are 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. The visual is quite enough. Their faces are twisted into expressions of raw hatred. The mob looks intent on some serious violence.
A few kids laughing, milling about aimlessly and in apparent good cheer. Hey, maybe this is just a community street festival.
We’re at a screening for a new movie. It’s a Hollywood premiere, a charity event for, get this, inner city youth.
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 personal relationships grease the wheels of the business, and because the producer is a player and admires my work, I schlep Karen, Ariel, eleven, and Offspring #2, seven-years-old, to the screening slash charity benefit in the DGA building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
What could possibly go wrong at a swanky premiere?
Inner City Youth Are Outside—But Not For Long
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, at long last, cuts 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 you’ve 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 say.
I stay put. I want to see what’s happening.
“Please, step away from the doors,” they plead 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 DGA building, towards us: a thick wave of fury marching with a terrible velocity towards this cocoon of—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 youth, and —
— and the inner city youth 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.
Hey, This is Just Like the Movies, Only Not Really
Abruptly, we are plunged into darkness.
And as if on cue, a woman screams, just like in the movies.
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?”
I’m thinking: Um, do I really look like I have the answers?
A rent-a-cop calls out: “We turned off the lights so they can’t see inside. It’s a safety precaution.”
Panic spreads like a virus 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, creative 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 enemy’s flanks 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.
Time to go Israeli.
Part II: The Get-a-Way. In which Los Angeles devolves into anarchy, and the police are revealed to be helpless, hopeless and useless.
Part III: The Gauntlet. In which we make our escape and navigate through streets of fire and yours truly vows never to be at the mercy of a mob ever again.
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 25-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.