I’m on my way to the gym for a swim inHollywood. I hear drums and a horn and I follow the noise. An ancient ritual of music and dancing has unfolded on the playground of the school affiliated with Blessed Sacrament Catholic church. Two teens beat on drums, a man blows into a conch, and I’m reminded of Tibetan refugee monks in Nepal blasting into conches to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters and scare away poisonous creatures. Today, the ritual I was is complete with dancers shaking tambourines and clacking shells decorating their ankles. Incense burns in goblets. It is a celebration and an offering to invoke ancient mythical gods of the Mayan or Aztec civilization.
The participants express beliefs, hopes and dreams in an ancient art form; it was the theater of an ancient civilization. I stand in awe. Faces expressing deep joy and freedom without artistry. My thoughts tumble and ramble: primitive form is art; sophistry is inauthentic. I am taken back to another place and time.
“Who’s organizing this event?” booms a voice from behind. I half-turn to see a curiousity mixed with annoyance expression on a man. I say, “The church or the school probably.” He turns sideways and looks to an apartment, “Well nobody can sleep in that apartment with all that noise.” It is 10:30 in the morning, and this is Hollywood. “What are they doing?” he asks. I turn back to the dance. “Performing an ancient ritual. Isn’t it great, right here, right now inLos Angeles.” I affirm the gift of this display.
“Well, isn’t it a strange?” he throws at me. “It is a pagan practice and this is a Catholic church.” I am confused as to where he is coming from with the “zig” of the people who can’t sleep in that apartment over there (including him probably.) The “zag” is the juxtaposition of the pagan practice within a Christian property. Well, I think, Christianity is also based on many pagan practices (check out Zeitgeist and some back issues of the marvelous series “Horizon”.)
“Yes, but it’s their ancestry and I think it’s great they’re expressing it,” I add. He counters back in his Slavic accent “Well this isAmerica,” and stalks off. As he walks away, a gaggle of Harley bikers in leather turn up the throttle like geese flying by and trumpeting their passing presence. “What next?” he cries with arms thrown up in the air.
The encounter awakens me back to present time and place. I cross the parking lot to the gym, in thought. What was that? Some people just like to argue it seems. He didn’t have to convince me of anything, except of what was obvious; he was annoyed that he couldn’t sleep. It might’ve been a leaking faucet or the buzzing of a fly, and that would’ve roused him into arguing his point. Instead he tried to reason with me that this practice in a Christian property in theUnited Statesdoes not compute. Perhaps it is worthy of calling in “the authority” to break up the gathering, he might’ve thought. Now I wish I had said something like, “Dude, you chose to live in Hollywood.” This is not the burbs where everything is predictable: the same plaza with the collection of outlet stores and franchises galore that you would find in Rancho Cucamonga as you would in OrangeCounty. Even more poignant is this is a country where people can express diversity and they’re practicing their right to do so.
He did leave me thinking about the counter argument to the premise of my play. I am immersed deeply in exploiting my theme with positive arguments, that I lose sight of the other side of the equation which is the other half that makes the story whole. Let me explore, I thought to myself as I dive into the cool water of the swimming pool. What’s driving my antagonist? What perils can he throw in the path of my heroine? What will make the stakes higher and heighten the drama?