Where Art Meets Crime

By CJ Gronner,

Ahhh, Venice. Beachside bohemia, tourist attraction, art colony, “Dogtown,” close-knit community ... criminal haven?

It is indeed all these things, and it's sometimes hard to know which one you're dealing with. Last Friday brought this into sharper focus than normal at The Brick House art opening for Paul Gronner's “This Is How We Roll” exhibit of new works on skateboard decks (Check it out over the next few weeks and SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS!).

Friends, family, neighbors and strangers turned out to enjoy art, tunes, cold beers, and a fun Friday night close enough to bike or walk to (though many props to people who made the drive from Manhattan Beach, etc, to support their friend).

Among the strangers was a fellow who immediately made himself known to all with his loud cursing and derogatory remarks to the women present. You could smell the booze on him, and the crazed look in his eye was hard to miss. The thing was, as residents of Venice, you get pretty used to this type of character and tolerate it as just part of the scene. So we did. People looked at the boards, and caught up with each other, laughing over beers and that day's stories, all the while casting wary glances at the Guy Who Would Not Shut Up.

I asked him to watch his mouth once and got scoffed at. He was all high-fives and back slaps with the guys present at first, so we all just kind of let him be, hoping he'd get bored and leave soon. But then he started grabbing at the women. He grabbed my visiting Mother and asked her to make out. He picked up a five year old girl in the air to do who knows what. Her Dad grabbed her away and left the place entirely. This was all while the guy was still in a jovial mood.

We discussed calling the police ... but what was the charge? An annoying drunk (more likely cracked out) guy in Venice is business as usual and our police have better things to do, right? He got increasingly more aggressive, showing his biceps and tattoos to any male that got close, and continued to harass any female passing by with comments about their physique and his lewd intentions.

We continued to try and ignore him - but it was really starting to ruin an otherwise lovely night, that Paul had worked very hard to be ready for and deserved to celebrate with his community. This cat was bloody and sweaty, and freaking everyone out, and I commend my friends Pete and Justin (incidentally, and interestingly, the ones from M.B., NOT Venice) for talking to/putting up with him, in an attempt to keep him calm and away from the ladies. The guys who DO live in Venice - and can usually be counted on to bounce any troublemakers at any party - recognized the crazy aggression and wanted nothing to do with this dude. But still, what was the charge?

Some wine was spilled and a dear female friend knelt to help clean it up. Unfortunately, this left her well-toned ass exposed. Homeboy wound up and slapped her posterior SO HARD, she was still in pain hours later. That was it. She screamed at him and stormed outside to call the cops...and call them again when they didn't show up the first time. Unbeknown to us at the time, the owner of The Brick House had already called when told what was going on.

Pete and Justin kept talking to the guy who thought his ass-slap was hilarious. Everyone else either steered clear or buzzed about it all outside on the corner. The kind of amazing thing was, through it all, it remained a fun party! I guess that is part of the resilience you build up by living in Venice, which is a great thing! But still, the guy remained inside and no one knew when he was really going to snap, because it had become real clear that he was a dangerous guy (plus that bloody part was a bit unsettling).

The police finally came, the story was explained, and they asked if our friend wanted to press charges. And that if she did, she'd have to go to court and all that. Great. But to her credit, she was mad enough to say, “Do it.” Though it may have felt a bit extreme to see him walked out in cuffs for being a drunk brute, it turned out to be a really good thing. Needless to say, we were all happy/relieved to see him go. The party resumed to full force lightheartedness and it was joked about that Paul had orchestrated a good publicity stunt for his cool art. Slick.

The more I thought about it though, and it has been discussed amongst we who were present, was the question of when do you know when it's all cool and Venice, and to let it be, and when do you act and get help? It's a really fine line sometimes, as this night demonstrated. I guess the answer is just to have each other's backs and keep an eye out ... and know what your limits are before things get out of hand in a scary way. This night could have ended a lot differently, and I'm grateful now that we did “over-react.”
Ahh, Venice. “Where Art Meets Crime.” Literally.

* Full disclosure: Paul is my brother. Both he and his art are WONDERFUL. Congratulations on a great show, Paul!

Posted: Wed - August 1, 2007 at 01:00 PM