Mary Getlein

Venice is a Poem

By Mary Getlein

I walked on the beach, the sun was shining brightly, sweet winds blew over our heads. We looked up: sea gulls riding wind currents over our heads! I was so astonished! It was so beautiful!

I was so glad I finally got to California. My boyfriend came back from a summer in Santa Cruz ranting about how he had to go back and did I want to go, too? Did I want to go? Leave Richmond, Virginia, where at 3:00 am it was 101 degrees? HELL, YES!

We ended up in Venice in October, 1971. October days were so warm and beautiful. The ocean was a deep blue and the sunsets were magnificent. The place was swarming with hippies. Everywhere you looked, you saw hippies. People smoked dope openly in front of the cops. I walked around with my mouth hanging open – there was so much to see! It was like an every day carnival. There were belly dancers, and snake people that would dance with huge pythons. There was an incredible mix of talented artists and musicians. People here were so friendly and FUNNY – probably because the majority of the population was HIGH at any given time.

In 1971 people had not heard of “political correctness” yet, so things could get ugly very fast. Police were called pigs openly, and a lot of people challenged the police on a daily basis.

My second apartment in Venice was at 17 Ozone Avenue, and there was a head shop right at the end of Ozone. It was there that I picked up my first copy of The Beachhead. It was very radical and printed all sorts of rants and raves about the political mess we were in at the time.

Its politics reflected the view of the Venice community. We wanted to save this oasis of beauty and warmth for ourselves. Why not? Not many people wanted to live in Venice then, too “dangerous”. It was perfect for hippies. Low, low rent and barters and exchanges made it possible to live a happy life and not spend too  much time working. A giant hippie playground, with cute little restaurants and eating places to hang out in. Another thing we had then was benches. Lots and lots of benches along Ocean Front Walk. Also, the old pagodas were built of wood, so you could sleep on them. The city purposely replaced the old, homey pagodas, with new ones built with concrete benches to sit on, which are not very comfortable.

On the Ozone side of the Boardwalk, there lived a lot of Jewish survivors of concentration camps from World War II. They were fun to hang out with and hear stories of their lives.

There was Harold’s Bakery, where you could get a loaf of bread for 25 cents. Ruthie, who worked at Harold’s Bakery, was so sweet and kind to all of us crazy hippies. You could get a potato knish and it would fill you up all day.

We all loved The Beachhead and looked forward to the new issue coming out. I liked the fact that they published so many poems and promoted so many radical views. The idea of Venice Cityhood was really strong then. If you go back and read the old issues, you see the problems and you see the solutions.

The ‘70s was the emergence of free clinics, free legal services, domestic violence shelters, Women’s rights, Chicano rights, the Black Panthers, The Grey Panthers, Vietnam Vets Against The War – it was a time of self-discovery, and a back to nature movement. The Environmental Movement was approached on a crisis level – Save the planet right now!

The rents in Venice were  incredibly cheap, so for $100 a month you could live in a tiny apartment right on the Boardwalk, where you could listen to the ocean day and night. There is nothing like seeing a harvest full moon hang in the sky at 3 o’clock in the morning.  This place splashes us with beauty every time we turn around.

It was very beautiful in the ‘70s, but there was also a lot of drug abuse, battered women, and lost or forgotten people ending up on the streets. There was a free box on Brooks Avenue, and you could go there and leave clothes, or food, or even joints, and pick up what you needed.

There was a lot of violence that happened on the Boardwalk. A lot of street gangs fought over drug territories, just as they do now. I always say, “It’s still Venice”. Just because all these yuppies have moved in here and jacked the rents up and turned Abbot Kinney into Melrose Ave, doesn’t mean the drug/gang problem has gone away. There are still victims of shootings in Oakwood and other parts of Venice. In the ‘70s, people would beat each other up, or a gang would beat up one guy, and the police were never there. And in the 1992-94 gang war in Venice, the police response was nil.

Now it’s the year 2012, and The Beachhead is still in front of the issues, taking them on, again and again. “Support Your Local Artists” used to be a slogan that was used a lot here. If you claim to love this community, then spend your money here. Put up, or shut up. Artists can’t live on dreams. They need to pay bills and eat, too. This place is crawling with artists, poets, musicians and lovely, tolerant people. It’s also becoming global – you can’t even eavesdrop on tourists anymore, because they are speaking in German, French, Japanese, etc. Venetians who have lived here for years are usually very tolerant with a highly developed sense of humor. You have to have a sense of humor when you live in a carnival.

Venice has always been a party place, a bohemian place, a runaway oasis, for far too long to change now. We will always be a place for people to run to, even if all you can do is sit at the edge of the world and stare at the water.

You move here and you become a sun worshiper and an ocean worshiper, and all the other things leave your mind. A slogan of The Beachhead is “This paper is a poem”. Well, this place can be a poem too.