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Fly that Freak Flag

by V (writer), Venice!, February 22, 2007

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If you have wandered around the Venice Boardwalk of late, you will have noticed a new addition to the riotous landscape. Crammed between a couple of tattoo parlors on the boardwalk between Horizon & Wave Crest, lurks a heavy curtained, narrow doorway emblazoned with, ‘Venice Freak Show.’

Although the Spruiker, who stands at his podium out the front, endeavors to lure you behind the curious curtain for a peek at the freaks, one could argue that a freak show is going on gratis, right there on the pavement. But for a measly $3, who wouldn’t want to satisfy their curiosity?

I had pedaled Mathilda (my beloved hot wheels) by the podium a dozen times, enticed by the creepy circus tunes and, quite superficially, the great circus font logo. I just had to know. So late on a Saturday afternoon, on our way back from a gang ride along the boardwalk to Malibu, three of the fifteen-strong crew decided to conduct some research for the team and report back our findings.

Stepping up to the podium to shell out the dollar bills, we were met by a lovely man with a Southern drawl, wearing a ‘Venice Freak Show,’ hoodie. All black with that great circus font embroidery in red and yellow, an order for this merchandise was placed immediately by my company. In our opinion, this tourist fare rocketed straight to the top along with one of our other favorites, the ‘Venice - Where Art Meets Crime’ t-shirt.

The husband and wife team who own this fascinating, little business are obviously life-long collectors of the bizarre and macabre, existing among some kind of underground culture of international traders in all things freakish and preternatural. From the moment you step behind the curtain into this tiny, wardrobe-like museum, you are overwhelmed with the strangest natural-history exposition and exotic, out-of-the-ordinary artifacts from across the globe.

From the Chupacabra to a two headed cow born last year, the displays are not for the faint hearted. I can’t exactly say that I felt comfortable viewing deformity, but there was a lot of interesting information surrounding the bizarre customs and rituals of other cultures. And for $3, it is absolutely worth the excursion.

Their Son, who I placed at about twelve years old, was manning the merchandise counter. They actually sell a collection of very cool buttons, postcards and other paraphernalia. My friend asked him if all this frightened him. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We have lots of this stuff at home too.’ I asked what his friends thought when they came over to visit his house, suggesting that they must think it’s the coolest house ever. He smiled a broad smile and with a twinkle in his eye excitedly said, ‘Oh yeah! They think I have the coolest house ever!’

With an ever increasing additon of boutiques that sell $200 t-shirts to the neighborhood and the advent of a Coffee Bean at the Circle, it is comforting at least to see that some new businesses are still attempting to keep the unique spirit of Venice alive.


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V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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10 comments on Fly that Freak Flag

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By Tumerica on February 22, 2007 at 07:38 pm
Long live da freaks! Once upon a time, way back when I was in college, I wrote a research paper on freaks. Yes, people with natural deformities--genetic ones, not those we choose to do to ourselves (like that lady with the kazillion inch bustline who was somehow able to persuade her plastic surgeon to give her yet another addition). Natural ones. And why the sight of deformities bothers us. Had a great time doing the research. And discovered a fab movie you must rent if you haven't seen it yet, called, yes, "Freaks." Circa 1930s, and featuring a cast of actors with actual deformities. It's something like a horror film and something sadder still--can't explain it. I'm so envious of where you live--too fun!
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By Carlos A.A.M. on February 22, 2007 at 08:40 pm
AHAHAHA! I've seen that guy on the picture walking around in his tight-ass speedos around Venice...not a pretty sight I must admit! I sometimes do a little tour-guiding and when I take people to Venice Beach I always suggest taking a peek inside. Nice story :D
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By Umbrae on February 22, 2007 at 08:54 pm
Venice is my home town. I was born and raised there. Although I love the idea of a Venice Freakshow, it saddens me to know end that the place I grew up in and the cultural imprint that it left is no more than a gimmick to all those who gentrified it and pushed all the residents out. ‘Venice - Where Art Meets Crime’ -- Yeah, there's a time where this were true. But those days are long gone. On one hand it's good for obvious reasons. On the other -- I miss my home and what it used to be. I liked it when 'freaks' actually kept people OUT instead of drawing them in. Sorry for the rant, but as one of the last natives standing - born 1981, Venice California, I'm saddened by the changes that occurred there.
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By V on February 22, 2007 at 10:42 pm
Umbrae, don't apologize for the rant. I hear you. I know a few originals and have listened intently to their stories of great change. I come from a similar neighborhood back home that has seen the same demise. But time can't stand still and change is inevitable (if but totally lamentable). I truly feel you, but this is life and at least I think a lot of Venetian immigrants (it isn't just those who want to add a beach side property to their portfolios and who want the novelty of some flavor that they then immediately want to tame for their own convenience and land value)respect Venice's significant contribution to modern, urban history and the role it played in the development of various sub-cultures and the mark it has made on Angeleno history. I've been a lot of places in the world and I truly believe, with all my heart that, even now, after suffering at the hands of much gentrification (just like similar neighborhoods all over the world) it is still a very special place Venice. I just hope it can stay this way for a bit longer.
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By V on February 22, 2007 at 10:51 pm
Oh & PS Umbrae, I'm sorry for you loss : (.
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By Steven Lane on February 22, 2007 at 11:36 pm
You gotta love freaks, the advances in medicine has put them out of biz. In the late eighty's I produced a film, "The Howling IV", The Freaks. We shoot some stuff out by magic mountain and I hired a whole group of freaks and "stuff" from some guys in Fillmore. We had the two headed animals, all the cool original canvas billboards, even had a real two-headed kid in a jar, I am going to have to go see if they are still in their camp. It was the Florida retirement camp for munchkins and freaks. There were sword swallowers and fire eaters, fat lady and bearded lady. It was cool, great article V. Venice has always made Simi Valley a very boring place, after you have visited a dead president there isn't much left.
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By V on February 22, 2007 at 11:51 pm
Tumerica - I want to read your college paper! Steve - I want to see the Howling IV. What a great experience!
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By Ariel on February 23, 2007 at 02:08 am
wooo, check this out!!! http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0485569/
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By V on February 23, 2007 at 02:33 am
It seems that I have a lot of back catalog viewing to catch up on with our amigo, Steve!
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By Steven Lane on February 23, 2007 at 12:18 pm
opps, I put Howling IV (That one was shot in South Africa), "Freaks" was Howling V1 shot in Los Angeles.
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