I hadn’t thought of the name in ages, yet inexplicably the last few months the name and all the madness connected had been wafting about the edges of my consciousness.
Then not long ago, savoring the morning’s first cup of coffee, I opened the L.A. Times and there it was, “Tony Alamo.”
“LITTLE ROCK, ARK. – FBI agents arrested evangelist and convicted tax evader Tony Alamo at an Arizona motel Thursday, alleging that he took minors across state lines for sexual purposes.
Alamo was staying at a hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., when arrested, said FBI spokesman Steve Frazier in Little Rock. The arrest came days after the FBI raided the Arkansas headquarters of his ministry. The religious leader — who began his career as a California street preacher in 1966….”
Like an old warrior at his battalion’s reunion, memories came flooding back.
It was a quiet war. As wars go.
Ignored by the media of the day for lacking the potential of global repercussions such as the recent Russian invasion of Afghanistan. But at the time, I believed measured against the Alamo War, international adventurism withered into the mundane. Of course I would as it was my war. I declared it and I fought it.
“In war from trivial events momentous ones arise.”~Julius Caesar
The Alamo War began as most wars do, ludicrously. Jenkins’ ear, rumors of animal fats on the Sepoy’s bullets, an upset on the soccer field, Double Bubble chewing gum stuck to the bottom of my sole.
The summer of 1981 often found me strutting Hollywood Boulevard, which in those days I considered personal turf.
It would have been just another smog smeared day in paradise for me – if I hadn’t felt that tug against my step betraying the trodden on unobserved wad of gum. I hop-hobbled with annoyance to sit on a convenient bus bench and sat to scan the gutter for a handy napkin or scrape to utilize in gum removal. Spotting a crumbled flyer I reached forth my hand to pluck up a thrice folded six “page” sheet with type small enough to give a Munchkin migraines. The pamphlet banner blared, “Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation,” and the title, “Guilt By Association.”
As I crossed my one leg over the other preparing to remedy the unwanted wad I offhandedly skimmed the first few words of the first paragraph….
Double bubble chewing gum. Such is how wars begin.
As any conflict, clash of nations or prize fight accrues more interest when one knows something of the combatants, allow me to intrude here with a bit of history regarding Tony Alamo and myself.
The most prominent feature of my development was a childhood under the sway of a single mother whose life style could easily have provided Kinsey’s study with an additional volume. So unsettled was it that throughout my formative years I was placed or dumped with a hodge-podge of relatives across this vast nation of ours. Six months in Corpus Christi, Texas; three on the Michigan peninsula, a year with Aunt Grace and Uncle Moses in West Frankfort, Illinois. You get the picture. One upshot of this shuffling was my exposure to a dizzying cross section of Christian denominations ranging from Lutheranism, the Wonder Bread of the American pulpit, to the surreal world of Pentecostal snake handlers. Rounding out this religious smorgasbord I would, in later years, due to certain predilections involving pleated skirts and edgy women, experience Catholic high masses and Sabbath services in both “Reform” and “Orthodox” synagogues. In spite of all this, or more likely because of it, whenever confronting a form requesting “religious affiliation” I proudly classify myself as “Secular Humanist with attitude.”
No I am not a Christian as recycled Mesopotamian myths hold no appeal to me, and while on a philosophical level I respect the teachings of the Nazarene I personally wouldn’t wait two thousand years for a Japanese TV repairman or Armenian plumber, let alone a Jewish carpenter. No offense to those with the patience to do so.
I consider myself a spiritual sort and frankly it disturbs me that most “devout” individuals I’ve encounter strike me as believing in their “religion” far more than they do God. When it comes to organized religion – well I find it a poor substitute for faith. But why did Tony and Susan Alamo get under my skin so? I can’t answer that, they just did. Damn deep too. Because reading that Alamo pamphlet that sunny afternoon was for me “a day of infamy.”
And I went to war.
I didn’t immediately let slip those pooches of discord and go careening pell-mell about Hollywood crying “Havoc!” First I plunged into the task of unearthing all I could on this “Tony Alamo.”
“If you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be in danger in every single battle.” ~Sun Tzu Art of War
For those who have never known a world sans internet it is almost impossible to conceive of the difficulty gathering information back in those days when dinosaurs ruled the earth and the first PC, the eight bit powerhouse Commodore 64, was still a year off. I spent hours in the Hollywood Library pouring over Micro-fiche (Google it) searching any nugget concerning Tony Alamo or his Foundation, and what I discovered read like “Alice Through the Looking Glass” as if adapted by Kafka.
Bernie LaZar Hoffman was born in Joplin, Missouri 1934. His parents were Romanian Jews. A high school dropout Bernie arrived in Los Angeles in the early sixties where he pursued a career as a music producer and singer under the names Marcus Abad and Mark Hoffman. All evidence to the contrary, he claims to have been approached to manage the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
After a short stint in the California penal system and a failed marriage, Bernie, Marcus or Mark (take your pick) was in the office of a Los Angeles agent when, so the story goes, like Saul on the road to Damascus, he was filled by the presence of the Lord, and curled into a fetal position on the shag carpet shrieking at the top of his lungs, “No, God, no! Please don’t kill me – !”
Bernie converted to Christianity and shortly thereafter met Susan Lipowitz another Jewish convert to Christianity nine years his senior. In 1969 the couple was married, legally changed their names to Tony and Susan Alamo and embarked on their ministry.
In the painful twilight of the glorious Sixties Tony and Susan trolled Hollywood and the Sunset Strip for acid burnouts, junkies, runaways and other counter culture’s casualties. Initially their efforts won approval; they even received a commendation from then governor Ronald Reagan for ridding the streets of humanity unsightly wreckage.
Working out of a sizable compound located in Saugus, a desert community about an hour north of the city, the Foundation had an undeniable presence in Los Angeles during the 70’s & 80’s. You couldn’t go to a Dodger’s game, the beach, your local market without returning to one of their pamphlets on your car’s windshield.
Typically exceeding a thousand words these handouts were heavily peppered with quotes plucked helter-skelter from the Judaic Old Testament rather than its Christian sequel, but their bulk was comprised of Tony’s own convoluted, preposterous ramblings. They preached “The teaching of sex education, planned parenthood, ERA, homosexuality, or evolution contrary to the word of God” and a guaranteed E-ticket to Hell. They accused the “diabolical Supreme Court” and all Federal and State agencies of being under communist control and after his election to the presidency, even branded Reagan another dupe of Moscow.
The real mote in Tony’s eye though was “Romanism, Vaticanism, Catholicism, the mother of harlots, the mother of every abomination of earth.”
His flyers charged the Vatican with instigating the American Civil War then murdering Abraham Lincoln when he got wise to their nefarious doing. They blamed the Holy See for both world wars, asserting Hitler, Franco and Mussolini were Catholic agents in a plot to conquer the world. And when John F. Kennedy refused to kowtow to the Papal line, it was the Vatican that decided Dallas needed a nice parade.
Wow! All this from a bunch of old wops in satin slippers – who would have thought?
The absurdity of it weighed on me. Tony Alamo calling himself a Christian was comparable to a career arsonist whose hobby was tossing kittens into tree branches claiming to be a fireman.
The embers of rage in my guts were fanned hotter and hotter during my research but it wasn’t until learning of the criminal investigations of the Foundation by a dozen states’ law enforcement agencies on charges ranging from voter fraud to the operation of a black market adoption racket, that those embers went nova.
“The enemy advances, retreat; the enemy camps, harass; the enemy tires, attack; the enemy retreats, pursue.”
Hollywood was the mother lode for the Foundation’s recruiting efforts and their flyers
as ubiquitous in tinsel town as waiters with resumes and blonds with boob jobs. Any day of the year you’d find groups of former street people, the core of Alamo’s followers, tramping the boulevard forcing pamphlets into reluctant hands. They always traveled in numbers of six or more using the tactics of pack predators to surround, isolate and overwhelm.
A “Group Leader” was appointed to each troupe to crack the whip and keep
them busy. The G.L.s also served as the Foundation’s spokesmen when interacting with
the public. In dealings with them I learned that the majority of G.L.s were ex-cons, and
all of them carried chips on their shoulder somewhat larger than a standard redwood.
The first engagements of the Alamo War were fought on Hollywood Boulevard. Scenes from those encounters are frozen in my memory, like so many black and white photos from “Life Goes to War.”
A tall, Latino G.L. in his twenties with the needle tracks still raw and red on his arms had become enraged at my questioning the faith of “Pastor Alamo.” With a half dozen Alamo followers about us clutching their pamphlets he stood before me shouting, “Yeah, you rich? Pastor Alamo’s worth millions, okay? So what do you know?”
I replied, “I know it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
His face grew redder than the wounds running the length of his arms as he spat out, “I ain’t listenin’ to no commie crap!”
In front of Hollywood’s Largest Toy store a fat Alamoite and I were locked in a verbal firefight with tourist and shoppers on the boulevard walking around us in ever widening arcs as its intensity grew. The fat Alamoite had a face that hinted he could be hiding billiard balls in his mouths. His hair was the color of a wet grocery bag with a grimy straw cowboy hat two sizes too small perched atop it.
Throughout our clash he was constantly rubbing at his nostrils using the stubs of two missing fingers from his right hand. After spewing on about the “Whorish Catholic Church” and “Satanic American government,” he set to stuttering “F-f-f-faggots are go-go-gonna roast in hellfire, cause f-f-faggots aren’t but ma-ma-maggots!”
I injected with, “Didn’t Jesus say, judge not, least you be judged?”
“S-s-s-ure,” Stub-fingers snorted, “but he only s-s-s-aid that once!”
“Force and fraud are war’s great virtues” ~Machiavelli
The weeks went forth into months and I kept pushing the envelope. Escalation was fast underway but I craved more, I craved the satisfaction of single combat.
On the back of the Alamo pamphlets was an 800 number to their “World Wide Headquarters” in Alma, Arkansas, population then 2,755. Virtually owned by the Foundation, the town was where Tony and Susan resided in the comfort of a 16,500 sq foot Victorian mansion boasting a heart shaped pool and tennis court. Their devotees were housed nearby in wooden barracks.
Eventually I dialed the 800 number. A bland, robotic voice answered feebly, “Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation.”
Having all ready resolved in advance my surest approach would be a strong offensive, I used my best “in-charge” voice, and barked in the phone, “Let me speak to Tony.”
At the other end there was confused mumbling.
I repeated my demand in a more commanding tone, “This is Ernest, now get Tony!”
More mumbling, a hesitant, “Wait a sec’,” then I found myself on hold and subjected to a recording of Tony Alamo ranting about the curse of “Liberalism, feminism, and Romanism.” The voice was shriller than I expected.
A scant minute later the same shrill voice broke into the recording and clamored petulantly “Who is this?”
I was on line with Tony Alamo himself.
I quickly introduced myself then fired the first volley. “Tell me, Mister Alamo, how do you reconcile Jesus’ teaching of love and forgiveness with the accusations and hatred infusing every line of your flyers?”
A brief pause followed with only the phone’s static hiss filling the thousand miles plus of wire, then Tony unleashed –“Ya say wha’ ya’ll say in that whinny homosexual voice, but I know yer Satan himself speakin’! God’s gonna kill ya, ya li’l faggie!” He fumed. “God’s gonna have ya burnin’ down in hellfire – !”
As I silently withstood this salvo, weighing the best counter, Wellington’s immortal words, when faced with the daunting choice of committing his last reserves against Napoleon, came to me.
“Well in for a penny in for a pound.” In for a penny.
An opening in Tony’s tirade presented itself and I exploited it. “Spoke to Ellen, Tony. Ellen Gagan*. Had a nice chat.”
My mentioning his first wife’s name caught Tony like the rock outa David’s slingshot. Now I had never really spoken to Ellen Gagan. I’d come across the name in my inquires and that Tony had divorced her to marry Susan. But as deception is within the arsenal of warfare I grabbed opportunity by the horns and planted it where I expected my foe was the most vulnerable.
“Ellen tells me your beef bayonet – you know your doink, your nob, the ol’ talliwhacker?“
I’d blinded him with my bullshit, time to sting like a bee – “She tells me if yours were a wee bit bigger it could pass for a cocktail wiener.”
In battle victory is achieved not by firing the most shots but by firing the right one. And apparently I had. Tony went ballistic. Imagine Gotterdammerung super sized. And messier.
He screamed, cursed, then in a voice spreading shriller by the second, spat a staccato invocation up at God. “Lord, Lord, hear me!” he cried. “Crush this sinner, crush this unholy sinner! Smote ‘im, Lord! Smote ‘im down to the bowels of Hell.”
On that Tony Alamo hung up.
“In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.” ~Sun Tzu
At the end of the war’s first year Susan Alamo died of cancer. Which I take no credit for.
Refusing medical treatment she relied instead on the power of prayer to rid her of the disease, but apparently God neglected to write “Cure Susan” down in his day planner.
So it goes.
Referred to by the faithful as, “the Handmaiden of God,” her passing seemed to unhinge the last mooring Tony had on reality.
When Arkansas Health Authorities went to claim Susan’s body, Tony refused to surrender it. While a lengthy legal battle ensued, Susan’s body remained within the heavily guarded Alamo compound surrounded by followers praying around the clock for God to resurrect her.
Meanwhile there was news from the home front. I met Diane; a statuesque American Beauty Rose recently arrived from Portland to attend Occidental College. We fell in love at first handshake. She was also a very devout Catholic of the Libertarian bent. (That pleated skirt thing remember?)
I decided not to reveal that any time I left her company I plunged into a No-man’s Zone of my own devising. I told myself this was to protect her from falling victim to “friendly fire.”
Even as it was, though, religion was a touchy subject between us. Once as we rode the 405 a powder blue Volkswagen zipped ahead of us, with a bright yellow bumper sticker inviting the reader to, “Horn if you love Jesus.”
“Honk your horn,” Diane asked her voice all warm and fuzzy.
“Please, just honk.”
We went back and forth till I relented rather than have the two of us go three rounds under Marquis of Queensbury rules while tooling the San Diego Freeway at sixty-five. Begrudgingly I tapped the horn producing a slight chirp of a beep. Responding to this an arm instantaneously extended from the VW’s window and executed a classic digitus impudicus. It was a very long night ahead of us.
“He who stays on the defensive does not make war, he endures it.” ~Field Marshal Colmar Baron von der Goltz
The War reached a new level with the advent of the infamous “Blue Posters.”
WARNNG! PEOPLE -NEWSWEEK- TIME- LIFE MAGAZINE- Are secretly owned by the Vatican
Posters three by two and a half foot, every inch oozing verbal venom, splattered the Southland like blood at an ax murder crime scene. There was nothing on them to show responsible for their printing but for me the bombastic style and ridiculous slanders pointed to only one culprit – Tony Alamo.
Driving past them brought a twisting to my guts, like you have at the sight of a flattened fur pulp on the road.
Nights not spent with Diane I started canvassing the city ripping down the Blue Posters wherever I found them. Come the following night however fresh broadsides would only be pasted in their place.
It was a labor intensive act tearing them down and one I felt lacked “fire power.”
The idea of a stencil occurred to me and I fashioned one from poster board with a message direct and to the point.
“Tony Alamo is the New Jim Jones!”
Armed with stencil and spray can I was soon adept at leaping from my car, blitzing the posters with a hissing swipe then vanishing off into the night like Zorro in a Dodge.
Before long two events came to pass which I took as reactions to my stencil campaign; First a new Alamo pamphlet appeared on the streets entitled, “The Pope’s Secrets.” In it Tony argued that Jim Jones was actually a “Roman Catholic Jesuit deacon posing as a Christian murdered along with his flock by the Vatican to make the world look narrowly and suspiciously upon innocent retreats.”
Secondly Tony played his trump card – manpower. Overnight numbers of the Blue Poster’s tripled around the city meaning more teams were assigned the task of pasting them up. My nightly assaults continued only now I felt less like Zorro and more like Sisyphus.
“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavor to find out what you don’t know from what you do.” ~Duke of Wellington
The Alamo War devolved into a war of attrition. I was spending over two hundred dollars monthly on spray paint and averaging two or three hours of sleep crammed between finishing my righteous vandalism and clocking in for my job at a marketing firm on Sunset.
At times I was so spent I never even made it to the job but slept straight through till it was time for me to set off on nocturnal rounds still crusted with paint spittle from the previous night. I desperately needed a second front opened.
To that end I began copying the information I had accumulated on Tony Alamo and mailing off packages to government agencies and news outlets local and national.
I never received back any response or acknowledgement except once.
The editor of a weekly L.A. entertainment guide requested a meeting to discuss a possible article. The meeting did not go smoothly. The editor worried that I lacked the prerequisite journalistic distance to produce a balanced piece.
“I’m not mistaken that you hold very firm opinions regarding Tony and Susan?”
“Dunno. Is loathing an opinion?”
“You see? How can you be trusted to show objectivity?”
“I’m very objective about who I loathe.”
The editor told me he’d give the project more thought and call. He never did.
“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
Union Major General John Sedgwick’s last words
before being shot at the Battle of Spotsylvania
I struggled to keep my “hobby” concealed from Diane. But between those nocturnal jaunts where I’d disappear from midnight to dawn and her discovery of five cases of spray paint stashed under my bed I was forced to come clean.
Despite her religion being the primary target she did not approve of my “activities” and struck at my soft Jeffersonian under-belly
“Aren’t they entitled to their opinions?”
“They’re not opinions, they’re lies of an inflammatory nature.”
“Distasteful as that may be it still falls under the heading of free speech.”
“Free speech does not allow one to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater!”
“Which they’re not. The allegations are so outlandish it’s more like they’re
shouting ‘theater’ in a crowded fire. Making them the object of a crusade imbues them with an undeserved importance.”
“All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
“And there is no freedom of speech without toleration for unpopular opinions.”
We could go on like that all night long. And frequently did.
Each time Diane woke to find herself in bed alone and the apartment empty she’d go out to sit on the couch and await my return. When I did bleary eyed and splattered in the night’s color of choice the argument would commence and with each repetition the intensity increased.
“You can’t see how you’re letting yourself be consumed by this!” she’d shout.
But she was wrong. I saw the struggle was burying me, but seeing that wasn’t enough to stop me.
I knew the Foundation’s resources were bull dozing over me, but knowing that wasn’t enough to stop me.
Perhaps I was nothing more than a thorn in the dragon’s side, but screw it I was gonna be a sharp thorn.
Diane and I stopped seeing each other. I chalked it up to collateral damage. I would have been brokenhearted, if I hadn’t been so obsessed mounting a new campaign.
“Self interest is the great engine.” ~William Tecumseh Sherman
The Foundation drew its honey from numerous hives. In Alam Tony and Susan had over 30 business concerns from supermarket to hog farm as well as an ornate dinner theatre where some of country music biggest name performed. (Former president Clinton in his autobiography, My Life, relates travelling there as a youth to see Dolly Parton and describes Tony Alamo as “Roy Orbison on speed.”) All these operations were staffed by the cult’s zombies working without pay.
But the big bucks came from three sources. Donations brought in by the Alamo’s syndicated television ministry that featured Susan perching with Tony singing the occasional gospel song. But here her death proved a major blow to the cult’s fortunes as even Bible belt fundamentalists judged “The Gospel According to Tony” repellent.
Another source of cash had been the Foundation’s “Senior Outreach Program.” A hateful racket structured around live performances by Susan and Tony provided “free” of charge to retirement facilities across the South. At the entertainment’s conclusion though Susan would personally extend an invitation to the seniors to come live in a true Christian community set in the natural beauty of Alma, Arkansas, where all their needs, physical and spiritual, would be joyously tended to – after first having them sign over their social security benefits to the Alamo Foundation. Happily this scan too was ended by the loss of Susan’s soft sale flim-flam.
But the jewel of the crown was the Alamo of Nashville designer label.
Airbrushed, rhinestone cluttered, hand embroidered denim jackets with “Alamo” embossed on their brass buttons, produced at the Alam compound. Former cult members would testify Alamo used followers’ children to affix the rhinestones, working them alongside their parents from 8:00 A.M. to 10 P.M. to meet retailer’s demands.
Alamo’s customized jackets costing upwards of two thousand dollars were a favorite among celebrities of the day and could be found on the backs of Mister T, Brooke Shields, Hulk Hogan and Sonny Bono among others.
There was also a retail line which put Alamo boots (popular with truck drivers) and jackets priced at around $300.00 in up-scale clothing stores across the nation.
Unable to expand the front, I focused on my own theatre of operations and conducted a reconnaissance on the shops up and down Hollywood Boulevard. I found 21 that sold the Alamo label. My new campaign begun.
“Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam” (War’s sinews are unlimited money) ~Cicero
My approach was not to confront but inform the merchants. To which end, I’d arrive at their business fortified with only information packets on Tony and the Foundation. Those shop owners who were Catholics themselves were understandably aghast and the Alamo items were gone from their stores by the next day.
My recon led me to believe that six vendors might be gay, so their packages included various Alamo’s assertions concerning homosexuality being “caused by demon possession.” All six leaped into their display windows and were stripping jackets off mannequins even before I left the premises.
A month into my hearts and minds campaign aimed at the boulevard’s commercial interests and the stores carrying the Alamo line plummeted from 21 to 6. Shortly thereafter I was astonished to find a local L.A news program had reported on a “trendy clothing line disturbing connection to a little known cult.” And it got better, probably due to the celebrity tie-in the story aired nationally.
I felt like Rocky Balboa after landing a roundhouse on Apollo Creed’s chin, I wasn’t even fazed at losing my job the same week due to excessive absences.
“Hard pounding gentlemen. We will see who can pound the longest.”
Wellington, as the battle at Waterloo reached its peak
There was no D-Day in the Alamo War; there was a D-night.
I was dog tired and idling before a red light at the close of a particularly arduous poster expedition that had funneled me down to San Pedro and back. A dark blue van jerked up alongside me and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar mug – Stub-fingers. With the light’s shift to green the van sped off, but what happened next somewhat terrified me. I reacted.
I reacted reflexively as a good soldier does, without thought or hesitation and enter into pursuit.
At a discreet distance behind, I observed the van swing over and park at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. I followed suit and glided stealthy to a stop.
Stub-fingers and three others sprinted to a restaurant’s wall covered with a row of blue “Warning” posters I had stenciled out earlier that evening. They pasted new ones over these then piled back in the van and shot off down Hollywood.
Waiting till they’d gone far enough to be safe from detection, I gunned up to the wall and faster than a speeding bullet had the fresh posters all screaming “Tony Alamo is the New Jim Jones” in Brazilian Coral Pink. (Not my first color of choice but there was a sale!)
Back in the Dodge I proceeded cautiously to where I expected the Alamo van would be. I came up slowly just as Stub-fingers and company were bounding back in the van having already slapped new posters over those I’d defaced. After watching them roar off down the deserted avenue, I plunged in and eradicated their effort again with a spray paint nuking.
They preceded to take the same precise route I’d traveled earlier, Hollywood Boulevard to Vermont, south to Manchester, Avalon east – and at each and every wall, signal box or vacant store front new posters, shimmering damp with fresh paste, had been slapped up to replace those I’d stenciled out, which then I in turn – get the picture?
To San Pedro and up again, a Grand Prix connect the dots race, the whole chain was repeated over and over one link at a time. Finally, two hard hours later, we were back again at square one, the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
From behind a Ralph’s truck a half block away, I stared at Stub-fingers flailing his arms and shoving his minions as he raged at the wrecked posters arrayed across the restaurant’s wall. Too numb with fatigue to draw satisfaction from this spectacle, I was only waiting for my adversaries to leave the field before returning to my apartment to collapse.
But something wasn’t right.
As I gazed on incomprehensibly Stub-fingers and crew, suddenly armed with posters, brushes, and glue buckets, hurriedly replaced the ruined posters – again!! Then pouring back in the van they sped off down Hollywood, tires squealing.
The implication was as unavoidable as an energetic lap dance from the circus fat lady.
Stub-fingers, that fat tub of mutant gopher pus, was not staying down for the count! The bastard was striking off to retrace the whole damn course over again!
“Forget it,” I screamed aloud like a banshee with a severe case of hemorrhoids. I hadn’t had four hours of sleep in the last seventy-two! My paint gooey hands were stuck to the steering wheel. My aerosol scorched eyes were struggling to crawl from their sockets to search out a hot tub full of visine!
I wasn’t getting sucked into this insanity! Screw it!
Then from somewhere deep inside me came bubbling up the words –
“In for a penny….”
I fought to shut out those words, quaking with headache that felt like every Mick in creation was auditioning for the touring company of “Riverdance” inside my skull.
“In for a penny….”
Glancing over my shoulder I could barely make out the dim glow of tail lights in the distance.
“In for a penny….”
Grappling the steering wheel as if to crack Stub-fingers’ bloated neck I spun about the car aiming it at the faint far off red dots.
Hollywood to Vermont to Manchester, the same streets, the same stops, it played out like a scratched LP repeating the same notes again and again.
I kept after them. Collapsed over my steering wheel elbows akimbo and only able to keep one eye open I must have looked like the star student at Popeye’s School of Driving. An hour into the second round as my psychotic state and I had a Kodak moment. I keep envisioning I was in this square dance from hell – Bow to your corner – Stub-fingers’ crew would undo what was I’d done – dosado! Then I redid – allemande left – what was they’d undone.
I was losing it. My rational existence had devolved to reduplicative acts triggered by external stimuli – stalk, pounce, whoosp-whoosp the paint, repeat. The only thing separating me from the lowest form of organic matter was not having my radio set to Russ Limbungh.
“So ends the bloody business of the day.”
Homer, The Odyssey
Somewhere on the wrong side of four A.M., all God’s children found themselves back again at Hollywood and Vine.
Tucked away again behind the Ralph’s truck I listened to Stub-fingers curses echo into the night’s emptiness as through bleary eyes I watched him contort madly about before the twice expunged posters mocking him in dazzling Brazilian Coral Pink. I was draped over my steering wheel like a discarded condom on prom night and feeling as beat up as a Rodney King piñata at Daryl Gates’ birthday party.
Then Stub-fingers and the others, still screeching, bumbled back in the van and clattered off. I followed, my head wobbling like a toy top running out of spin. I have continued trailing in their wake for fifteen minutes before it hit me like a concrete cream pie thrown in a Mack Sennett comedy – we were on the Hollywood Freeway! Stub-fingers and his evolutionary challenged crew were retreating to the Cult’s headquarters in the far off wastelands of Saugus!
The field was mine!
My triumphant return to Hollywood lead to a counter seat at an all night diner where I wearily awaited morning slumped over a coffee cup its rising stream caressing my face until its contents cooled to cold brown water.
I was exhausted. Empty. Victorious.
It was only then that I actually felt hate’s narcotic potency course through me, felt how much a part of me hatred had become and how tightly I had bound myself to Tony Alamo, blood brothers in hatred. And suddenly I experienced the ecstasy in hating.
Hate liberates crippled, stunted souls. Infuses empty lives with the façade of vitality; bequeaths the sham of “righteousness,” and an pretence of strength.
Tony Alamo, Jerry Falwell, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ann Coulter, Meir Kahane are world class haters because they fail at being anything else. For those souls drowning in their own fear and own failure hate is the last refuge.
“The purpose of all war is ultimately peace.” ~Saint Augustine
And there it ended.
No final outcome.
Only a shaky truce entered into over an undrinkable cup of coffee.
I went home and slept soundly for the first time in a very long while. When I woke I took my stencils and remaining cans of spray paint down to the trash bin. Then I went back and slept some more.
That night I called Diane. We hadn’t spoken for months. She invited me out to her apartment in Northridge. I brought a bottle of wine – cheap stuff. She cooked for us – she was a lousy cook. It was a great dinner!
Some weeks later as Diane and I were driving to catch a movie when our carefree banter buckled as we each spotted a long line of fresh “Warming” posters lining the length of a construction site’s retainer wall.
Diane likely sensed it was an effort to keep from pulling over. At the crowded theatre we found seats as the lights dimmed and film commenced. As I sat there in the darkness I finally concluded I no longer had the time to squander on Tony Alamo. Hating, as Martin Luther King so aptly put it, “Is just too big a burden.”
As I reached that resolution, I was suddenly startled by a booming burst of laughter from the theater’s audience.
I had forgotten it was a comedy we were in.
Afterward we headed towards Hollywood, and nearing the posters’ site I was relieved not having the least desire to look their direction. It was Diane who excitedly called my attention to them. I turned to find the entire row scrawled covered with the words “Why hate?” in a bright singing green paint.
I smiled for the rest of the evening and a good part of the next day.
As time went on I noticed other hands at work against the Alamo posters.
In Pasadena dozens had been painted over with “Nazi lies!”
In East L.A. scores were nullified by crosses of brown masking tape with the word “Forgive” etched on the horizontal strip.
So it was that I hung up my sword and shield – okay spray paint and stencil – and like all good soldiers faded away.
But at seeing my old foe’s name in connection with his recent legal troubles I decided to check on how he’d fared and so for the first time ever I sat at my computer and typed in “T-O-N-Y A-L-A-M-O.”
The screen flickered and flashed like I had kicked the Millennium Falcon into hyper drive – “The Real Tony Alamo,” “Tony Alamo and his Gang of Pedophiles,” “The Alamo Watch.” Google pages a-go-go that made for some interesting reading.
In 1985 a Tennessee grand jury charged Tony Alamo with filing false income tax returns and in 1994 he was convicted on tax related violations stemming from his clothing label and imprisoned until 1998.
Also in 1998, after sixteen years without a hint of resurrection, Susan’s body was at long last handed over to her family for burial.
On his release from prison Alamo relocated the newly named Tony Alamo Christian Ministries to Fouke, Arkansas where he proceeded to rebuild his business base. When Alamo began posting armed guards on the public streets around his compound some Fouke citizens decided to look into his background. There is now an active effort to expel Alamo and his “ministry” from the town.
Tony continues to sell his designer jackets and apparel under the label “Tony Alamo Design.” It ever has its own web site.
Today the organization’s annual income is placed at around 4 million dollars and Alamo has built himself a luxurious mansion in Fouke where he dwells with his 30 “wives” among them said to be girls as young as ten.
In May of 2008 The Village Voice ran an article entitled “The Barely Legal Empire of Tony Alamo” by Maria Luisa Tucker linking him and the cult with two charity front, “Arm Full of Help” and “Action Distributors, Inc.” out of New York and New Jersey that appeal to large corporations for donations of goods which purportedly will go to those in need.
One company, Tempur-Pedic, donated 8,000 mattresses intended for Hurricane Katrina victims. The mattresses began showing up on EBay and a FBI sting uncovered nearly three thousand of them stored in an Arkansas warehouse whose ownership is registered to two of Alamo’s “wives.” Tempur-Pedic is now suing Alamo for 15 million dollars.
The old compound in Alam, Arkansas has stood deserted for a decade and a half after Tony fled to avoid arrest for child endangerment. Today the 16,500 sq foot mansion is in a state of decay and the large heart shaped pool empty except for the accumulated cluster of dead leafs and other debris.
I felt the need to talk to Diane who is now married and living in the Pacific Northwest. She was delighted that I’d called. We both agreed it had been too long then enjoyed a shared saunter down Memory Lane.
The mood grew more somber as we spoke of The Alamo War and all the resultant fall out.
Diane asked if I were still quick to mount my “mighty steed and charge off to battle dragons?” I admitted my moral indignation still had a hair trigger.
There was a pause before Diane ended the final quietus that had fallen over our conversation with a simple benediction, “Good.”