Reflections on life and change in Venice on the occasion of artist William Attaway’s eviction

By Dominic Hoffman

Dominic Hoffman addresses the crowd at Attaway’s going-away party with some observations on gentrification and sense of place in Venice Photo by Joe Piasecki

Dominic Hoffman addresses the crowd at Attaway’s going-away party with some observations on gentrification and sense of place in Venice
Photo by Joe Piasecki

Editor’s Note: Actor/writer/director Dominic Hoffman delivered the following tribute during a goodbye party at Attaway’s 334 Sunset Ave. studio on Saturday.

This is for everyone. Everyone in this room. But more importantly, for everyone outside this room — for the simple reason there are more outside than in.

Everyone wants to get in. In the room. In the club. In the house. In the restaurant. In Gjelina. In the water. In the parking space. And, of course, in the money. This group wants to get in Venice. Some of us want to just be allowed to stay in Venice.
Venice …

For me, Venice is a tattoo. L.A.’s tattoo. It’s a tattoo on the arm that is the beach. It’s not the shoulder that is Malibu; clean, rounded and shiny that palisades its way into Santa Monica. Venice is the muscular and sinewy tattooed bicep, big and flexing from the pain it withstood after being imprinted with so many colors, so many lives, so large a canvas. It’s a living tattoo. A tattoo that moves with the grace of a wave and, like a wave, can withstand the pounding of the storms of change. There are endless images on the tattoo.

There’s the woman walking her dog, looking for a place to drop … she’s lucky the world is her toilet. She’s unlucky; the toilet’s her world.

There’s a man on the beach juggling his dreams. People stare in wonder as he throws nothing mid-air and one day hopes to catch what he cannot see.

A trio of girls shimmies by with shapes that make an old man smile, a young man nervous and a butterfly land on a vine of jasmine.

The tattoo is large.

It can hold all the hipster’s hats — all the graffiti cans. It can process all the data from Google and all the chats that are snapped.

Venice is accommodating. To be without a house doesn’t make one homeless.

But people say Venice has changed. It is now hooked up; digitally wired and integrated … a phone appears on the tattoo, it is of course, interactive. The phone rings, but in Venice, everyone answers.

There are many artists on this tattoo.

One stands in front of his easel in contemplation, in reverie, meeting silently with his muse. His wife and babies asleep on a day bed nearby, he begins to paint their dreams.

There is a lament in the air. Venice is changing. I lament too until I realize that Venice was born of change. Venice is consistent only in that it changes, radically, often. Lamenting this change is akin to lamenting too many immigrants coming to a country already changed forever by other immigrants who have come before.

We think of change as if it is new.

As if …

Like smoking a new cigarette … like finding a new boyfriend … like buying a new pair of shoes … like moving to another place … as if this cigarette is the first one you have ever smoked … as if this is the first boy you have ever kissed … as if you don’t have another pair of shoes similar to the ones you just bought … as if you have never lived in another place. New like that … as if.

Venice is in a state of as if …

… as if my 24 years in the same apartment trumps the new neighbor who has built in front of my building, taken my parking, and stolen my ocean view.

Neither of us holds the trump card. Because the deck of cards that is Venice, although it holds the requisite amount of kings, queens and jacks, it also holds an abnormal number of jokers to even things out on the side of folly, and to protect both the fool and the wise man alike.

On this tattoo Hare Krishna chariots roll along the Ocean Front Walk singing the Krishna/Krishna loop and handing out inedible cookies.

Harry Perry follows on his skates, turbaned, his face burned and leathered by the Venice sun; he pawns T-shirts and sings a plaintive song about life on Mars.

Languages spill out from everywhere. A polyglot Camelot.

At a table watching it all sits a writer scribbling furiously to describe this stew of humanity … to translate it … to distill it to its most basic essence so she might explain what this Venice thing is.

She will fail on two counts. Firstly, Venice will have already changed before her ink has dried, and, secondly, someone will have stolen her bike while she was watching the parade.

But that’s Venice.

It gives and it takes. It contracts and it expands. While our lives become more compact, (we often find ourselves alone in a room with a computer and somehow think we are in touch with the world) the tattoo that is Venice grows and changes.

For us, the one a caveat when getting a tattoo is that it is permanent. Let’s hope we all aspire our addition to L.A.’s tattoo is worthy of permanence.

So here’s to Attaway in appreciation of his contribution to the tattoo we call Venice.

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