Monday, August 23, 2010


I happened to be in my car a little more than I care to last Friday, but it turned out to be a pleasing experience: I was able to listen to Film Week on KPCC, the Los Angeles arm of National Public Radio.
I'm not a film review enthusiast; sometimes I might glance at a New York Times review when conflicted over what to see. Most of the time I end up being in agreement with the majority of their critics. But usually I prefer to go my own way when it comes to sizing up the latest films on offer. Having said that, Film Week is an excellent movie review show, as humourous as it is insightful and sometimes veering off the beaten track to explore deeper issues outside of the quality of the films in question that particular week. I was on hand to hear one of those discussions, held by Wade Major and Tim Cogshell, two critics for KPCC among other media outlets and hosted by Larry Mantle, the excellent host of Air Talk, the daily program which features Film Week.

The entire show was once again entertaining enough (the link to the entire podcast is at the bottom of this column), but the part of the discussion that caught my attention began when one of the gentlemen said what I and, I'm confident, many others have been thinking and feeling since the mid-90s:

"They don't make movies for adults anymore."

What proceeded was a conversation centered on the current studio system, the lowering of the average moviegoer's IQ and the completely irrational and incongruous ways in which studios assess profitability in the film industry. It was an exchange that, for me, couldn't have been more timely.

Recently my partner Victoria and I sat down to watch Kramer vs Kramer again. Although we'd seen it before, these movies never seem to lose their dramatic suspense. As we sat there, watching Dustin Hoffmann take us to the edge of the psychological and emotional cliff in trying desperately to keep his life together and hold onto his son, it occurred to me to ask the question: what are the recent equivalents of this kind of film, that is to say a film made on a medium-sized budget, with star actors of the highest quality, that not only was superb cinema but also highly profitable? I remember going to the movies in the 80s and early 90s and going down the list under the heading, 'now showing': there would be the requisite big-budget action/adventure films of course, in addition to the obligatory small child/teen movies. But in between, the meat in the sandwich, would be several movies made for... you guessed it... adults. These films were not adult films by nature of their genre; they took many forms. They were adult in tone and substance. And their rating confirmed that. Ever noticed how rare it is to see an MA or R rating these days? The reason will be known to most of you: studio execs are playing it safe, wanting the beloved 13-to-25 demographic to be able to see as many of their movies as possible.

Although the people in that age group may consume the most stuff,  they also, as a generality, have the shortest attention spans and the most superficial interest in the human condition. Movies used to tell us about that condition, but no longer in the vast majority of cases, which makes perfect sense: as we continue to focus more and more of our precious attention and resources on acquiring things, on the constant drowning out of our inner silence and feelings by the monotonous intellectual and spiritual junk food we now accept as 'entertainment', we find ourselves less empathetic, less fascinated by our and others' inner lives, and more interested in the superficiality of reality TV and the latest electronic toy which will give us that sense of self we lost somewhere along the way.

As a result, studios have to jump through more and more technological hoops to get these 13-to-25s, with their microscopic attention span, to the cinema. A vapid, paper-thin story containing loads of meaningless computer-generated images used to suffice. But, like all toys, the public grew weary of that. Now 3D has arrived and presto, every other big-budget movie can be 'enjoyed' through a pair of disposable plastic glasses.

Which seems just about spot on, given the disposable nature of most Hollywood films in 2010. And yet the numbers don't add up. As the gentlemen discussed on NPR last Friday, the average big-budget Hollywood film costs around 150 million dollars right now, and needs to make around 300 million to be able to call itself remotely profitable. Most of the movies which make a return of this amount are hailed as 'hits' by desperate, self-congratulatory studios in their press releases, while that rare species, the low budget movie that costs 1 million and makes back 5, is barely mentioned.

Which seems more sustainable? The so-called 'blockbusters' have gigantic marketing campaigns which make us believe that they are not only commercially successful but also relevant. Yet the reality is that many of them, proportionate to budget, are pathetic under-achievers and awful to boot, further alienating their core audience and guaranteeing that the rest of us will continue to spend our dollars elsewhere.

That truism is borne out in the numbers: this summer has been one of the worst for Hollywood in recent memory. Iron Man 2, Shrek 3, Sex & The City 2 (see a pattern here?), Robin Hood, Clash of The Titans and the embarrassing Prince of Persia all under-performed and, given their enormous budgets, will not make much money for their respective studios, most of whom passed on Slumdog Millionaire, a film made for 15 million dollars and is now into the many hundreds of millions in profits.

Clearly, not all films will succeed as Slumdog did. But what the people making movies in Hollywood need to understand is that they don't have to. Like many other elements in our global society today, Hollywood needs to downsize. The lust for movies that generate billion-dollar profits is creating a failed system for all concerned, evident in empty cinemas across the country. There are legions of us who love going to the movies and are ready to go tonight if films tailored to an adult mind and heart are made. It is an astonishing and sad indictment of our film industry that, for most people, the term 'adult film' only means pornography. I would suggest that the schlockfests mentioned in the preceding paragraph are much closer to pornography than their makers might care to admit- the pornography of glorified violence and token sex devoid of all authentic passion and/or tenderness.

So it's time to vote for change. Boycott movies that you know offer nothing. Don't be seduced into thinking that you 'have' to go see the next blockbuster because it's a 'big-screen' movie. There's only one criterion to satisfy in order to be called a big-screen movie: that it's good. That it affords us a communal experience that makes us more alive, not more listless and indifferent to the world. We all need to make a concerted effort to see good American films when they emerge, like the lovely Mother and Child, starring a radiant Annette Bening, wrinkles and all. This beautiful, engaging film cost 7 million dollars and so far has made half its budget back worldwide. Not much to inspire the creation of more films of its type and yet consider the untold hordes of moviegoers who were completely unaware of its existence and gifts; it is both sad and encouraging to know that if only a tiny fraction of this enormous group had seen a film like Mother & Child, it would have been a highly profitable commercial and artistic venture.

So vote with your abstinence and your engagement and never be afraid to be the party pooper who says in a loud voice, amidst all the gush and hyperbole, that the latest cinematic Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. 

Peter Finch said it best: "I'm mad as hell! And I'm not going to take this anymore!"


A hugely profitable film for adults. In brilliant 2-D. Go figure.

Pictures, from top:  Kramer vs Kramer, Columbia Pictures, 1979.
                                Annette Bening in Mother & Child, Sony Pictures Classics, 2009.
                                Peter Finch in Network, MGM Pictures, 1976.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Despite the constant upward surge of inflation and the continuing devaluation of the mighty dollar, there is still a lot one can do with ninety three clams these days.

Like almost filling up your gas tank, for starters. Or buying two grapefruits and a box of rice crackers at Whole Foods. Even better, you could make a donation to Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign: she's spent a hundred million so far and is still in a dead heat with a guy who's spent... about ninety three clams, but she has to save the three billion she's got left in her savings account for her failed presidential run in 2012,  so you'd really be helping the dame out.

Just a few examples. But there are other ways to blow ninety three bucks and last night, cloaked by a soothing Pacific breeze, with hope in our hearts and a rumblin' in our tummies, Victoria and I walked through the doors of Planet Raw, a supposedly trendy, all-vegan "eatery" (all who use that word in the absence of jest should be publicly flogged in the town square) in Santa Monica, a beachside neighbourhood here in LA.

I must preface what is to come with a qualification: we weren't expecting miracles. Years ago, I happened upon the perfect approach to maximize one's enjoyment (if that's possible) of this kind of culinary fare:

Keep your expectations very low.

How low? Well, it's surprisingly simple: expect that everything will taste like perfectly seasoned dirt, and work your way up from there. You'd be shocked by how pleasant vegan food can be when you don't assume it will be in any way satisfying. Heavens to betsy, last time Victoria and I ate at a vegan restaurant, we found some of the food to be almost decent. A stunner in anyone's book.

So it was in this state of passive acceptance together with girded loins and bored, pessimistic taste buds that we were seated at a table at Planet Raw, a strange moniker which could also have served as the name of a bondage club, which I think is perfectly appropriate, given the sadomasochism inherent in eating this kind of food on a regular basis.

The menu began with a full-page dissertation on the benefits of eating raw, organic food, the positive environmental effects, the geo-political and sociological ramifications and other facts and proclamations of global import. I understood the strategy; it was as if the owners were saying hey, the food you are about to consume may end up on the pavement outside at the end of the evening, but at least you'll be saving the world. It felt like the culinary equivalent of telling your friend that the blind date you're setting them up with has a great personality.

With sinking hopes, we surveyed the menu. It promised the world:  gluten-free spaghetti and 'meat' balls, warm lasagna (warmth seems to be a huge draw in the raw world) and my favourite, a bacon western double burger. Who needs meat, dairy and flour when you have these treats? Hope returned; my taste buds stood on tiptoes; Victoria and I looked across the table at one another and afforded ourselves a smile, the leering grin of diners anticipating dizzying, euphoric satiety.

After what seemed like an hour (although the waiters here didn't offer cow, they seemed to enjoy moving like them), our young aspiring model showed up, asking us if we were ready. You bet we were. I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs with a straight face, while Victoria went for the cheezy kelp noodles, after an appetizer of guacamole and chips.

We waited. Wheezing, dessicated homo sapiens surrounded us, proudly devouring their morally superior food, casting suspicious glances at us between wooden forkfuls of high-priced, designer roughage. They can smell our meat breath, I told Victoria. Nevertheless, we felt safe; these people could barely lift a water glass to their pallid faces without fainting.

Tectonic plates heaved. Continents shifted. Finally our guacamole arrived with what this establishment so cavalierly referred to as 'chips'. These small bricklets came in two varieties: one was a seeded cracker of some sort, which passed as edible. The other? No amount of hypnotherapy could have prepared me for this waking nightmare. The last time I had seen objects like this was when I tried to dig through the wall of a Tijuana jail cell- I'm sure these moistureless nuggets now gracing my plate had the same properties as those I had hidden from the guards on my way out to jettison them in the exercise yard. Concrete is vegan, as far as I know. I never escaped from that Mexican prison. I won't digress any further, except to say that forced sodomy on a grand scale was looking pretty good right now when faced with inserting one of these things into my gob.

But I did. Victoria stared, seemingly entranced by the horror show playing out on my sheet-white face. This was not taste; this was anti-taste, all the evil in the world pumped into one mortifying bite. I calmly placed the rest of the thing down on the plate, slowly took a sip of water and exhaled, a tiny sob escaping my offended lips. Victoria, having dodged a bullet, instead reached for the seeded crackers which, once buried under guacamole, were mildly acceptable.

Appetizer attempted, we sat back in our seats, already exhausted. We were like the boxer who returns to his corner after a bruising first round, his former feeling of invincibility suddenly transformed into doubt, introspection and, worst of all, fear. Heaven knew what awaited us.

Finally, the main course emerged. As soon as the plates hit the table, we knew that this meal could only have been constructed in Hell. My 'spaghetti in marinara sauce', as described on the soapbox disguised as a menu, was a sham, the greatest of hoaxes. Forget Nazi propaganda, forget Mao's 'Cultural Revolution', forget "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", forget even "mission accomplished"... this was The Greatest Lie, trying to pass itself off as dinner. I imagined a bunch of wise guys from The Sopranos showing up here, ignorant of the kind of restaurant they were walking into, and ordering the spaghetti and meatballs. Tony would take one bite, calmly put his fork down, politely pay the check and tell the guys that they were leaving. An hour later they would return to the scene, baseball bats in hand, and the next day Planet Raw would be a steak house.

Victoria wasn't doing much better. Her 'cheesy kelp noodles' were a modern disaster, right up there with the Greek economy and Kelsey Grammar's Macbeth. Victoria's face reminded me of my father's when we went to see A Night At The Museum. This was disassociation in its purest form, taught to young federal agents to prepare them for torture and interrogation. Victoria had disappeared, only her body remaining, shovelling the food into her mouth as her mind thought of puppies, tropical paradises and harems containing attractive men who cooked and cleaned.

I snapped my fingers, startling her back to our miserable shared reality. It was time to get the hell out of here, and based on the evening's experience I knew we had to start Project Runway on preparing our check now if we hoped to get out anytime soon. I hailed him and told him we were done. He asked if we wanted to box anything up to take with us. We told him we'd love to but were going to a party. He said he understood completely. I gave him my card and he left, saying he'd be right back.

That of course was 'right back' in vegan language, which we now knew meant at least ten minutes, during which time Victoria and I were able to each go to the bathroom and weep quietly, all the while nursing an ever-increasing hunger that would not quit. I dreamt of rare steaks topped with melted cheese and then layered on top with more steak, which was lovingly covered with steak-flavoured cheese. Not to be.

I returned to our table and there the total lay, winking at me: $93.20. We had spent ninety three American greenbacks on this fiasco. I saw the manager standing by the door, ready to bid us good night. Rage boiled inside me, courtesy of this con merchant and the people who employed him. It was time to burst the bubble, to pull the curtain back on this operation and say what most of this customers had to be thinking, that this was highway robbery and it had to stop. Now.

We headed for the door. He shook my mind, gave me a winning smile and asked how everything had been for us that evening.

I looked him right in the eye.

Stared deep into his burning soul.


Picture:  A standard entree at Planet Raw.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Yes folks, I'm back. Kind of.

My self-imposed sabbatical at an end, it's time to once again put my proverbial ear to the ground that is this American life; time to check the country's pulse; time to jettison asinine, redundant cliches.

What an introduction. My own writing suddenly reminds me of all those hack comedians who, stupefied upon entering the stage to a lukewarm, indifferent audience, revert to that most tired refrain, "anyone here from outta town?" 

The comparison is apt, people. For I truly am, in this moment, the archetype reborn, remade: I am the writer with nothing to say.

How did I reach this point? Shouldn't all of your encouragements, your compliments, your positive feedback have driven me on to even  greater heights? Did I not bound out of bed this morning and head for this computer like a vulture might swoop in on a carcass, ready to resume my role as literary watchman for the unwashed masses (for those of you who do occasionally wash, let that go by; for my English readers, don't even think of trying to protest)?

Sadly, the only carcass left in the room is me. It's extremely hard to write scathing political comment, brilliantly witty satire or profound, insightful thoughts on the self and its development when your mind's a blank.

But the problem's causes, its roots, must be investigated. How did this happen? How did I turn into the blog-o-sphere's (new term- feel free to co-opt it) version of Jimmy Fallon? How did I become such a blimbo?

Is it possible that my loved one, my Lady, the jewel in my crown, Queen Victoria, has so entrenched herself in my consciousness as my Muse that, in her recent absence, I have lost all creative facility? The woman left town a week ago; my blog went untouched for the entire time. This has to be the answer, an answer that exposes me for the fool that I am. She returns tonight; if I had only waited until this evening to reconnect with the globe via this column, I could have written something masterful, a bronzed edifice for our time. I see it now: Victoria spots me waiting at the security exit; she leaps into my arms; I drive her home and bring in her nine bags; she flops on the couch, turns on her favourite sitcom (whatever tired, dated comedic retread which happens to be on in that moment) and demands food and liquid refreshment; I hurriedly acquiesce, terrified of her disapproval; she eats dinner, tosses the gnarled bones at me and orders me to carry her to bed. My hopes rise, but alas, she is asleep before I've put her down. I am deliciously close to violating her in her slumber when the possibility strikes me of being asked to cook more food if she wakes; I leave her be and rush to my computer, filled with the creative impulse and the desire to write. Art ensues.

That is how it could, and would, have gone if I'd waited. But no. I had to show up this morning and admit my incompetence to all of you.

Which is why I'm thinking of retiring. I can't be dependent on the whims of a rapacious, salacious Muse who demands three 5-star meals each day. I'm going for the scorched earth policy; if I can't do this on my own, I'm not going to do it at all. Let's see how long this world keeps on turning without the likes of me. Where are you going to turn for your daily intellectual nourishment, huh? Not the newspaper; no one reads those anymore. Books? Useless, anachronistic piles of papyrus, waiting to be murdered by the digital age. And speaking of that age, maybe you think you'll just move seamlessly, effortlessly to another blog? Don't kid yourself- you're way too loyal to ever go behind my retired back. Let's face it: you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.

So I suppose I'll keep going. Victoria will disembark and everything will return to normal.  Ideas will find their way back to my addled brain. Once again, I'll be able to attempt the creation of graceful sentences, with middling results. Politicians, Christopher Nolan and the creators of Dancing With The Stars will once again cower, seeking shelter. Universal equanimity will return.

But not for me. Victoria just called. I made the mistake of asking her if she'd be hungry after her flight this evening. The response was savagely immediate:

"Cornish game hen, freshly captured and roasted, ladled with a garlic and rosemary au jus, and served with sauteed baby carrots, potatoes au gratin and freshly picked spring greens tossed in a red wine and raspberry vinaigrette."

A few problems here. I haven't seen any Cornish hens in the gardens of my apartment building for weeks. I don't have a ladle. And it ain't spring. Not to mention the au jus and au gratin portions of the request. Anytime Victoria italicizes words like that over the phone, I know I'm in trouble. It means, "buddy, make this happen or else." Eerie.

So there it is. If you see another post in a couple of days, it means the hens were found, slaughtered and given the thumbs up by my Muse.

If another post doesn't show up, what can I tell you. Go buy a newspaper.

Victoria's dinner in pictures,  from top: 
                                              Baby carrots.
                                     The Hen, of the Cornish variety.
                                             Patooties Gratin.
                                             What the...? Oh for frick's sake, I said "jus"...

Friday, August 6, 2010


The Obama Administration's Labor Department has been releasing unemployment numbers that have been consistently troubling and considered poor news for the US economy: according to the most recent data, the official unemployment rate released by the Department stands at 9.6%, which is its way of saying that 9.6% of the 'labour force' is currently out of work.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided we needed another team of superheroes to root for, so they coined the term labour force. I imagine millions of people, resumes at the ready, eager to charge out into the world and get employed!, briefcases, tool kits and aprons being their weapons of choice.

The reality is just a tad more prosaic. If we all want to practice a little more integrity and intellectual honesty in thinking about and dealing with the unemployment crisis that is going on right now all over this supposedly First World nation, then we have to survey the landscape without blinders and accept the situation as it is. 

The labour 'force' is not really a force at all. It's something more akin to a large, inert mass. The only reason that Mr.Obama and his administration can bandy about numbers like '9.6 percent' is because that number does not include the vast, slumbering army of human beings who are no longer looking for work. If those people were included in the great Force, what would the national unemployment rate look like?

The National Jobs For All Coalition has published research showing that if those who have ceased to search for work were included in the unemployment figures, in addition to those who only work part time because they are unable to find full time work, the official unemployment rate would be 18.2 percent, almost double the current figure. To put it another way, instead of saying that 14.6 million people are unable to find gainful employment, we would have to raise that number to 29.1 million. 

Those extra millions that are not usually included in the official numbers fall into a relatively new category: 'hidden unemployment'. It is astonishing to consider that, even with the uncounted now being counted, we are still not taking into account the millions of people who have full time work yet are not paid a living wage, have no job benefits and work in horrible conditions. But that is for another day. The number of real unemployed is disastrous enough.

So why are these people not included in job statistics? Why does President Obama not address the situation, compassionate as he is, preferring instead to talk of an 'improving economy' that is slowly 'adding jobs'?

The obvious, and clearly correct, answer is political considerations. Of course the President has to paint as rosy a picture as possible in order to stay in power. But to truly see the scope of the problem, one must see the pattern that has emerged in the rhetoric and focus of all political leaders for many decades now. The issue of poverty in the United States has not and will not be spoken of, not in any kind of authentic, meaningful way. The main cause of that poverty, the ability to find consistent work paying a living wage, would therefore also be off the table.

Economists like John Maynard Keynes, together with FDR among others, believed in the idea of Full Employment, a term we never hear anymore, either from our political leaders or the corporate media that currently monopolizes our air waves. Although full employment was never close to being achieved, it was a unifying idea that had support for a time, and policies were enacted in an attempt to bring the American society, so devastated by unemployment during the Depression, closer to that reality. That idea has long since been eradicated from all political consciousness and what we have left is an acceptance of a society where tens of millions and counting will never find meaningful work with a wage that gives them the opportunity for an improving quality of life through decent living conditions and a high quality education for them or their children.

We now hear politicians talk of the problems within the job market being 'cyclical'. The cynical ignorance inherent in this kind of thinking and rhetoric is breathtaking. Anybody who has witnessed the massive, systematic laying off of our blue collar workforce over the last thirty years by hugely profitable companies knows of the great lie being told to us. Anyone who was watching closely while politicians, bought by multinational corporations, allowed for the exploitation of foreign workers and the termination of local ones in the name of 'free trade agreements' would also be aware of the reality. Finally, any citizen who wanders through the streets of US cities, witnessing the staggering number of the homeless and indolent in addition to the vast wastelands of Third World neighbourhoods would also have trouble believing that high unemployment was 'cyclical'.

It's time to accept the fact that large scale poverty and unemployment here in the US is not cyclical, it is structural. What do we do with the millions of under-educated people who want to work? Can we educate and 'retrain' them all? Of course not. How do we replace the gigantic portion of manufacturing, agricultural and other blue collar jobs that are never coming back? Will we continue to be content to allow that mass of 'insignificants' to remain hidden? Simply ignore the problem until it is pushing against our back gate, clamouring to get in?

We need new ideas and a new political consciousness that tells the true story of this country in this moment. It will require a massive downgrading of our defense spending. It will require a huge tax hike on the stock market, with buyers and sellers paying a tax on every transaction. It will mean that polluters will pay for every molecule of carbon they pump into our atmosphere, as well as all of us paying into the public fund every time we fill up our cars, until we get so sick and tired of paying for gas that we start to vote for improved public transportation systems, systems that will hire hundreds of thousands of people. It will mean that our governments federal, state and local start to think about ways to hire people that improve the conditions on this planet, from environmental cleanup and protection to being paid an effective wage in order to effectively teach more of our children and adults.

But let's begin with seeing the problem as it is. Realism does not have to mean pessimism. Write to your local congressperson, senator, city council. If you believe that your political leaders need to make a good faith attempt to solve these problems, or at least raise consciousness about them, tell them so.

I believe Barack Obama to be a compassionate force for good. But he also needs to know that he can't take my support for granted. We need to be on the lookout for political leaders who don't accept a band-aid, an aspirin and a good lie down as solutions to chronic social problems that have this country and a large part of its populace on its knees.

Picture: Cutbacks on essential infrastructure, such as street lights. Read this sad and disturbing article in
              today's New York Times.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


My girlfriend Victoria crashed her bicycle on Sunday. I could bore you with the moment-to-moment details of the event, but other than being painful and traumatic for her and extremely upsetting to me upon hearing her scream and then seeing her bleeding from several places while sprawled out on the street, the accident itself was simply the catalyst for the profound experience which followed.

I have many strong opinions and feelings around organized religion, few of which I will expound on in this post today, other than to state that I have always believed that people should be free to do whatever they please, as long as they are not harming others or themselves in the process, a belief that has placed me in direct opposition to the teachings of all religions, as far as I can tell. I, like most people, have been approached countless times by people working for their local church, bearing a great many pamphlets and brochures, asking me if I've found Jesus or simply wanting to start a dialogue, presumably in the hope of awakening some kind of curiosity in me about their particular religious practice. The question I always respond with in turn has not changed over the years; it is the ultimate litmus test for me and so far has produced unanimously similar results: "I have friends and family, whom I adore, who happen to be gay. Where does your  church/religion stand on homosexuality?" Initially most will try to dodge the question, pontificating on the abstract. Upon further pressing, they usually end up talking about how "we are all sinners" and that they're taught to "love the sinner, not the sin" or some such avoidance of the direct question that was posed to them. At that point, I usually tell them that when their church is ready to stop practicing bigotry and discrimination and is ready to embrace all people, I'll be ready to listen.

That may or may not sound severe. Sometimes my mood might not be so militant and in those moments I wish those people well and simply move on without comment. But my position does not change: I have always felt passionately about the harm that has been done to so many over the centuries, and especially our gay brothers and sisters in recent times, in the name of religion, 'morality' and 'righteousness'. Any time I educe even the slightest scent of bigotry, of separateness, of someone saying that they are in any way superior to someone else based on some mode of behaviour that they choose to follow, I am ready to oppose and denounce. I am not saying that this aggressive stance is always or even usually productive; it certainly does not allow for much conversation to occur, a result which has produced unfortunate moments in the past. But that has been my inner reality upon coming into contact with most manifestations of religion and its practice.

Victoria and I were on our way to brunch with friends last Sunday morning when the accident occurred. We were on Franklin St, a busy neighbourhood street here in Los Angeles, and she lost control of the bike and hit the pavement right across the street from the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles.  I've noticed this church before in my travels; it is clearly an 'alternative' place of worship- one would only have to see the congregation gathered out front after a service to know that this is a place where everybody would be accepted. In retrospect, it certainly shines a light on my own heated sense of judgment and bigotry to note that prior to Sunday, I would never have felt any positivity for the place or the people who frequented it. If anything, I might have thought them fools for supporting and worshipping a god whose writings so clearly denounced them. But, as with anything, it's all in the interpretation.

As I raced to Victoria to lift her bicycle off of her, I noticed that we were surrounded with people. My initial impulse was to repel them, so that I could tend to my girlfriend myself. But as I examined the many cuts that she'd sustained, I heard a voice say, "I work at the church across the street. Do you want to come inside and sit down?"

We didn't hesitate. Of course we would like to come inside. Inside sounded comforting at that moment; the street no longer seems a friendly place when it's just come into contact with multiple body parts, including your chin. Without hesitation, someone agreed to watch the bikes as we were escorted across the street and into the church.

There was a lot of activity going on. It was Sunday, so of course there were services. It was around 1030 and we later found out that there was an eleven o'clock service, a little more "upbeat" as was explained to us and evidenced by the band that I saw setting up as we were headed to a quiet room with a couch that they'd allotted us. All around us were the same people you'd see anywhere in Los Angeles, ranging from straight to gay to transgender, from white to black and all colours and ethnicities in between. Coffee and snacks were on offer as people did what they always do in groups: mingled, laughed, teased and flirted.

But in the immediate circle that surrounded Victoria and I, there were only three human qualities that made themselves strongly felt: kindness, generosity and concern.

I highlight 'concern' because to me that quality, when freely expressed toward us, is so keenly felt. We all remember those who have cared about us deeply, who have taken the strongest possible interest in our lives and trajectories, who have put their arms around us and have told us that no matter what, they will be there in our time of vulnerability and hurt. These are the people we call first with our triumphs and who want to be first to our door in times of need.

But what is it to feel that from strangers? To see people so genuinely concerned for our wellbeing, so ready to forget themselves and attend to any need? We sat and watched as one person would come in with water, another with a kind word, yet another with a caring touch or glance. Then there was the man who had a medical background who brought a first aid kit and tended to Victoria's bleeding toe. "Stay as long as you like", they said. "Don't worry about your bicycles, they've been brought in", we were told and I was stunned to see that our bikes were sitting in the welcome room, taking up space as people were preparing to head into the church hall. The bicycles had been brought in, just as we had been brought in, into a circle of kindness and loving concern that, looking back, feels all too rare in this society.

None of this should be exceptional...

But it is. It throws into relief just how rare this kind of pure kindness is. I don't see it very often out in the world. I don't feel it often enough myself. People like Donald Trump are revered for their achievements, their ability to "get ahead". I even heard a fellow in the gym recently say that "you have to tip your cap" to people like Bernie Madoff, because they were able to exploit people's ignorance, even if what they did was wrong. This is a large part of the world we live in, where avarice, ambition and climbing the ladder are traits that are valued most highly, even when their expression might be to the detriment of our ability as human beings to extend kindness, generosity and compassion to others.

But not at the church on Franklin St that day. I felt what it was to be enveloped by those warm, human expressions of what is, ultimately, pure love. Am I now a believer? Not in someone's God.

Yet I am, as a result of that experience, simply a more powerful believer in the transformative power of our greatest renewable human resources: concern and caring for others and acts of kindness and selfless generosity. When I think of how overwhelming it was to receive those gifts, I was inspired to know how often I have the power to give them.

After an hour or so, we decided it was time to leave. I was compelled to embrace Bill, one of the people who had looked after us. I could barely speak as I tried to express my gratitude and amazement at the attention we'd received. He simply said, "that's what we do."

In that moment, I would have given anything for every person who has condemned homosexuality as a sin to have been able to walk in my shoes for the preceding hour. I am confident that, having had the same experience as I, they would no longer be so opposed to gays and lesbians having a presence in their church, or at their altars in marriage.

Romeo said it best:

"My love is as boundless as the sea,
 My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
 The more I have, for both are infinite."

Victoria and I felt the glow of that infinite, shining power on a chance Sunday morning. May it be exercised and felt by every one of us whenever we get the chance.