by Skylaire Alfvegren
After a decade operating out of a 600-square-foot storefront on Vermont Avenue, Mondo Video was "exorcised from Los Feliz Village" late Sunday night.
Rarely had a single city block been so polarized by a business, much less a video store. A video store that plays to particular fringe elements, yes—forget simplistic demarcations like comedy and drama. Mondo’s specialized sections include "Doomsday Cinema," "Delinquency, Booze and Dope" and "Spiritual Themes" (which includes Robert Duval’s The Apostle and Jud Suss). No less than three anti-Mondo petitions were circulated by local civic and residential organizations, although none would return phone calls.
It’s not Mondo’s merchandise--20,000 videos, mostly demented, amputee porn to lost episodes of The Twilight Zone and every possible cult film—that’s had the neighbors’ panties in a collective bunch. The cut-out penises glued to the cash register, the blow-up doll violated by GG Allin, the general bad taste of the mangy storefront didn’t quite jibe with the trendoid boutiques and upscale restaurants drawn to the neighborhood in recent years.
According to owner Rob Schaffner, Los Feliz was but a collection of "free clinics, prostitutes and homeless people living in alleys" when he decided to relocate from San Pedro in 1992.
The particular stretch of Vermont embodied the early to mid-90s zeitgeist; Amok Books relocated from little Hyperion circa the ’92 riots. Beck got his start at the open mic nights at the Onyx Café. "The people who lived here were real, poor artists, not trust fund artists," says Schaffner. It was a time when a minimalist, highbrow bong shop would’ve been laughed off the block. "It was an atmosphere that was inspiring, not perspiring."
The gang’s mission to "destroy every American holiday" by holding their own, including 4th of July transvestite Bar-B-Ques and greasepaint-coated re-enactments of the Easter story had neighboring businesses claiming Mondo’s activities have grown unbearably grotesque. "I grew up in Amsterdam. I mean, I’ve seen everything," says Lynn of neighboring hair salon Purple Circle, who’ve been on the block six years and initially tolerated Mondo’s antics. "They’ve just gotten completely out of hand in the last couple of years."
But who can fault the Mondo Family for having a sense of humor? Billy the Worm, who in the days proceeding Mondo’s departure, took to running naked up and down Vermont. Or Jimmy Beck, who caused hipster magician David Blane to explode after walking through their sidewalk card trick shoot and proclaiming, "The queen of diamonds, that’s the card they used in ‘The Manchurian Candidate.’" Blane’s crew were so insensed at having to reshoot they beat up some of the Mondo multitudes. Litigation is still pending.
While Mondo has brought some bad mojo upon itself, neighbors have also attibuted the work of local hooligans to the store. They’ve been harassed by a group of Armenian gangsters for the past year, who’ve hurled trash and mackerel at the store, and last week nailed a rotten pig’s snout to the tree out front. One event in 2001 drew two carloads of party-crashers who spied a naked man inside the store. The next morning, ‘Homo Video’ was scrawled on the back wall. "There was a guy working here, Randy, who is gay. He felt threatened and he no longer works here." "Hate crimes, daily," as Mondo-ite Brother Terry put it. The harassment continued right up to their final weekend. Beck provoked the wrath of one hothead consumer, who hurled a cardboard standee at people in the store. "We can’t even leave in peace!"
While the denizens of Mondo aren’t entirely innocent, they seem to have endured unfair treatment from the neighborhood they helped to popularize. "It’s the people that have been here two, three years… they don’t respect what we stand for and what we did for the neighborhood."
"The Los Feliz business community has a long-term plan, and Mondo doesn’t fit into it," says Erek. "Like next door is going to be an upscale clothing boutique called Asian Tops, Jewish Bottoms, because they’re trying to cater to everyone."
One neighborhood artist who wished to remain anonymous claimed to have seen the cops come in and out of the store four times in the past couple of months. "Cops love this store," says Erek. "I shit you not! We have cops who are members. The true crime section, our serial killer profiles, the S&M porn. A lot of them come in for research purposes."
An heroic "grassroots effort" among Family members to move the contents of the store to the new location—4328 Melrose Avenue—this past weekend prevented any parting gestures, including a planned "candlelight vigil" for Los Feliz Village, starring the ashes of cult actor/porn pioneer Titus Moody (for whom Mondo staged a benefit in 2000). The new location--twice as large and strategically positioned between an Hispanic church, a Masonic temple and a pizza joint—is already open for business.
"It’s walking distance from the Faultline," Brother Terry reminds me. ‘Cruising Sunday’ will remain a tradition. "Every Sunday from 3-5 we come dressed in whatever gay stereotype we can think of and watch the Al Pacino vehicle "Cruising," which is about New York’s gay leather scene."
As for Los Feliz, "You can polish a turd, but it’s still a turd," says Schaffner. "There’s nothing there anymore, it’s like wringing out a dry towel." He predicts a turnover among businesses as derelicts are attracted by the easy marks and expensive cars. "Those dirty bums, they just start peein'!" Rob’s father, Art, a dead ringer for Russ Meyer, pipes up. "Mondo has been a scapegoat for this whole neighborhood. It’ll be interesting to see who gets blamed once we’re gone."