(Illustration by Marv Newland. Click for bigger.)
The early 1990s was such a strange time for me. I was working as a promoter for Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation, and to say my memories of this time are deeply conflicted and ambivalent is a gross understatement. On the one hand, animation! Travel! Meeting animators! Visiting Disney production warehouses! Hanging out with John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Andrew Stanton! On the other hand: INSANE bosses! Living out of suitcases! Having bottles broken over my head! Wait, what? Let me explain.
We were presenting the show at our home base, the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (now the San Diego MoCA). When working in San Diego, I would ride my bicycle from my house in Mission Beach to the Festival office in La Jolla. Sometimes at night after the show, we'd briefly gather at Spike's nearby home to go over the evening's receipts. I wasn't wild about Spike (more on that below), but on this particular day, Canadian animator Marv Newland, one of my favorites (see here and here), was visiting, so any excuse to socialize with him was enough for me.
Eventually I said my goodbyes and hopped on my bike to head home, pedaling along the winding side-streets of tony La Jolla. Just a couple of blocks away from Spike's house, I encountered a car idling in the middle of the road, with a gentleman going through the trunk. As I slowed to pass, he looked up at me and mumbled something. I stopped and asked if I could help. Before I knew what was going on, he knocked me down, bike and all, and four other guys jumped out of the car and started... well, beating me up, grabbing at me, generally fucking me up. I struggled. And then CSHHHH! one of them smashed a wine bottle over my head. I remember thinking, "Oh, wow, this is wild, I just got a bottle broken over my head! Just like in the movies!" I continued to struggle, and then CSHHHH! another bottle smashed over my head, followed, amazingly, by CSHHHH! yet another bottle. Crazily enough, I distinctly remember thinking, "Jesus, there are five of you, and I'm a skinny runt, and this is really overdoing it!" I also remember being startled that having three wine bottles smashed over my head didn't really hurt all that much. "Why am I still conscious," I wondered. Finally, they got my wallet out of my back pocket, jumped back into the car, and drove away. I could feel blood running down my face, and my bicycle and I were a tangled mess in the middle of the road. I managed to sit up and look at the car driving off, and was surprised to see that I had a clear view of their license plate, which I immediately committed to memory. I felt oddly triumphant, and even a little smug at my ability to concentrate on this important detail.
I groggily and painfully stood up, all the while repeating the license plate number over and over in my head (number number number), took stock of myself, decided that I was surprisingly undamaged, and decided (still repeating to myself, number number number) to head back to Spike's house, only two blocks away, to get help. I walked in without ringing the doorbell (number number number) and entered the living room, where Spike and Marv were still where they had been when I left. They both looked up and I believe Spike said something like, "Did you forget something?" (number number number). Within seconds, their eyes widened and jaws hit the floor. I was a bloody mess. I turned to Marv, who always, always had a pen and sketchbook in his hand, and blurted out, "Write this down right now: NUMBER NUMBER NUMBER NUMBER NUMBER! NUMBER! NUMBER!" He did.
There's some more unpleasantness to come, so let's take a brief intermission and look at a picture of a cute puppy:
Before I continue the story, I have to tell you something about Spike: he is the most openly, enthusiastically racist/xenophobic person I have ever encountered (and I'm from Arizona, so that's saying something). He had a special name for each group: African Americans were "nigs," Mexicans were "beaners," gays were "fudge-packers" or "carpet munchers," Indians (from India) were "spots" (har har), Middle Easterners were "towel-heads," etc., etc. He used all these terms openly, loudly, and frequently. Most of all, Spike really hated black people. If he saw you giving a flyer for the show to an African American, he would furiously chastise you. "You just threw five cents down the toilet," he'd scream. "Nigs don't come to see the show. What are you, an idiot? DON'T GIVE THEM FLYERS."
So when it became obvious to Spike that I had been mugged, the first thing he asked, rather than, "Are you OK?" was "Were they nigs? They were, weren't they?" I stammered, "Yeah, but...." That, predictably, set him off: "See? Of course they were! Fucking nigs! Goddamn nigs!" I could see Marv rolling his eyes, and he diplomatically interrupted, "Uh, let's get Peter to the hospital, Spike, OK?" So off we went, Spike raving the entire time, which didn't exactly make me feel better.
At the hospital, the doctor examined me and determined that I didn't even have a concussion, but that I'd need a few stitches on my head. He proceeded to sew me up. Police arrived and took a report, and were impressed that I had managed to get the car's license plate number. Everyone was amazed that I wasn't hurt a lot worse. "Are you sure you had bottles broken over your head? Three bottles? Really?"
I had been thinking about that, too. How was it that I had never lost consciousness? "You know what I think it was?" I offered. "They brought down the bottles as hard as they could. Because the wine bottles were cheap and thin, and the impact was so strong, all the energy was dissipated by the bottles exploding outward as they totally shattered, rather than the force being directed into my skull." The doctor shrugged, "Yeah, that actually makes sense; I think you're right." So if there's a lesson to be learned from my experience, it is this: if you want to knock somebody unconscious with a wine bottle, don't swing it with all your might, because it probably won't work. Now you know! News you can use (service journalism!).
The other good thing that came out of the experience was that the next day, Marv presented me with the drawing featured at the top of the post, showing what he was thinking about (Ew! Riverside!) when I interrupted his wool-gathering with my dramatic, blood-soaked entrance. Thanks, Marv!
I also decided that I simply couldn't stand to be around Spike any longer, and shortly thereafter switched to working for another division of the Festival of Animation so that I wouldn't have to listen to my boss going on and on AND ON about how I was a "nig victim" every chance he got. I didn't want to be his "exhibit A" in his never-ending quest to enlighten those around him to the dangers of the scary mud people. Sheesh! I was honestly upset at myself to lend ammunition to Spike's virulent racism.
In the end, the police traced the license plate. Unfortunately, it belonged to a car owned by a rental agency in Los Angeles which the cops said was known to rent cars to gang members so that they could go on "field trips" to rob people in fancy neighborhoods like La Jolla. They had "no records" of who had rented the car, and it was a dead end. It certainly explained why they didn't seem to be terribly concerned that the plate was readable as they drove away from the gooey mess they had left on the road.
Oh, and my wallet? The one they had expended so much energy to obtain? I had three dollars in it, not even enough for a buck apiece. Not even enough to buy another bottle of wine.