Our visit to the Sierra Madre Playhouse last Saturday proved to be a turning point for me. I feel like the static friction is broken, and this enormous weight I'm trying to push is ever-so-slightly starting to roll. Here's a sampling of my experiences.
My plans were very modest: I didn't want to cause a scene or do anything that might draw the wrong kind of attention. I didn't want to intimidate people by having a camera on, get in their faces, etc. I just wanted to share information that has been kept from the audience. Then I want them to form their own opinions on both Frederick Hodges for being a child molester and Sierra Madre Playhouse for covering for him.
My wife and I (and our little dogs, too) would simply stand out front and hand out "information about the piano player for today's event". I made the following flyer with a brief and intentionally shocking description of my tribulations. The contrast between the cheerful attitude and the message on the flyer would create cognitive dissonance that is difficult to put out of mind.
The Free Show
The opening event of the festival was a free show at Noon. They had limited seats available so you had to reserve a ticket. I called earlier in the week to see if I could get tickets, but they were already "sold out".
Back of House
We made it to the public parking behind the playhouse just before 11:30 and started unpacking ourselves and the dogs (we drove from Las Vegas that morning). A quick change of shoes, refill water bottles, make sure we have the right layers for the weather, grab some flyers out of the box, etc.
Our parking spot was facing the back side of the playhouse and surrounding buildings. While we were unpacking I glanced over and noticed a certain tuxedo-clad blond gentleman making his way towards the back entrance, escorted by a man with a headset. I'm fairly certain Frederick saw and recognized me as well. He started whispering to headset man and they were both looking our way periodically.
I loved this. Whatever anger and sadness I might have felt seeing his face was drowned out by the feelings of schadenfreude and power. I can only imagine what his guts must have felt like in that moment we made eye contact. He could do nothing but wonder what would happen next.
Front of House
We walked around the corner to the front of the playhouse. There was a nice large standing area extending out past the sidewalk, with a bench along its perimeter. What a perfect public easement for exercising freedom of speech! A handful of people were sitting/standing around waiting for the doors to open. After we found a spot to sit with the dogs I got to work.
"Hi, are you here for the film festival?"
"I have some information about the piano player if you'd like."
"Oh sure! Thank you!"
Quickly, everyone outside the building when we got there, including the security guard and usher, had a copy in hand. I went to sit down with my wife and dogs, waiting to see how things unfold. Just after sitting down, I heard the distinct sound of high quality printer paper crumpling. We looked over and saw a woman get up and throw the flyer into a trash can.
Most of the other folks tastefully folded the paper and proceeded to avoid eye contact. This is the response I was expecting, given the apathy I've received in response to e-mails & social media posts. It was definitely painful to watch someone make such a clear display of refusing to even entertain the existence of my message, but in some ways I think it showed everyone else what kind of resistance I've been dealing with.
Another young man arrived and was sitting at the other end of the bench. I did the whole spiel with him, and left him with a flyer. As I noticed other nicely dressed people without dogs approaching, I would repeat this process. Everyone I talked to was eager to take the flyer.
The security guard waved me over to talk, and I obliged. He was very respectful and kind, and also doing his job. He quietly asked me why I was doing this instead of trying to have a dialog. I less-than-quietly answered "because I've been trying to have a dialogue for weeks but Sierra Madre Playhouse keeps ignoring me". This conversation spilled over to both the usher and the door woman, and got a bit heated. The door woman was talking to me from across most of the standing area so it was basically impossible not to loudly talk about how they're covering for a child molester.
I guess they felt there was no reasoning with me (and if they're going to cover for a child molester, there really isn't) so they backed off. I went and sat down with my wife, waiting for more folks to arrive.
The young man I mentioned earlier then came over. He struck up a conversation to express how unbelievable it was and to give his sympathy. He told us he was here for school credits on recommendation of one of his teachers, but the free show was sold out. We chatted a bit about how much trouble I've had getting anyone to show any sign of empathy and such. He said he was going to let his classmates and teacher know too and went on his way.
A little while later, the woman sitting to our right got my attention and said something like "Hey, I just want to let you know I hear you too. If I wasn't here with a group of friends I probably wouldn't stay". I get it. She's not there on a mission. She heard my message and that's all I was after.
The doors finally opened and most of the folks went inside. People were arriving more frequently, and from the opposite side of where we were stationed, so we moved to the middle. At this point I was spending most of my time standing, approaching people cheerfully offering information about the piano player.
A few times the usher would try to assert himself into the conversation. "Don't listen to this person, just come this way". He was by far the most active force in trying to make people ignore my message. Every time he would dismiss me I would say something like "yeah, he just wants to cover up the fact that the piano player is a child molester." "Yes, ignore the victim of sexual assault." etc.
These exchanges were always brief. It seems like he just wanted to get his word in and then he'd back off. But they happened throughout the day. It went around like this for a few more minutes, then the student returned.
He had two other friends from film school and his teacher with him, and they all came back to show me support. The teacher asked for another copy of the flyer. We all talked a bit more (well within earshot of others) about the issue for a while. The door woman came out and started telling them they could come in. The student said he was told earlier that they were sold out. She said something like "well, some seats may have cleared up since then. come on inside". Clearly they didn't want us interacting. The students declined and we chatted a bit longer. They went on their way and I continued canvassing.
Don't Shock Old People
As Noon approached, more people started showing up in larger clumps. Apparently some of the folks who already got my flyer had gone to get food & drink while they waited. As one group returned, one of the men stepped aside from the line to talk to me. In echoes of my previous interaction with Andy Senior of the Syncopated Times, he told me something like "if you're going to come here with this kind of message, don't go talking about blow jobs and rape with 80- and 90-year-olds."
Let me back up for a minute. In my last post, I had no substantial response when Andy said "The octogenarians and nonagenarians who subscribe to TST would go into cardiac arrest." But the more it sat with me, the more ridiculous it sounded. The day before we left on our trip, I sent him the following message:
Now, suppose I published a front-page item with headline "Pianist Frederick Hodges Accused of Long-Term Sexual Abuse." The octogenarians and nonagenarians who subscribe to TST would go into cardiac arrest, but worse, Hodges himself would see it since one of his old lady patrons sends him a gift subscription. I would get sued to death.
I just can't get over this paragraph. It is unfathomable to me that a journalist could hold such views. Let's get the obvious bit out of the way...
I would get sued to death.
Since when were newspapers and magazines held liable for truthfully and accurately reporting what other people are saying? What grounds would Frederick have to sue you for merely relaying the fact that I (and others) have accused him of molesting children? Even if you weren't protected by freedoms of the press, you still have truth as an absolute defense against any libel or defamation suit. I'm very familiar with this fact after the writer you hired hilariously threatened me with a libel/defamation suit for putting him on a list of people who never responded to me regarding Frederick.
So no, I don't believe for a second that you're genuinely worried about being sued. This is a post hoc rationalization because you can't bring yourself to address your admitted hypocrisy head on. By making this choice you are covering for a child molester.
The octogenarians and nonagenarians who subscribe to TST would go into cardiac arrest
On one hand, this is kind of hilarious. Have you heard of survivorship bias? Do you really think people would make it to 80 or 90 years old in this world if they couldn't handle a bit of shocking news?
On the other hand, could you be any more condescending? How would your audience feel knowing you think so little of them? Do you really think the majority of 80 or 90 year olds are so out of touch with reality that they can't have empathy for the victim of a child molester? It's clear that you prioritize keeping your audience in the dark in order to maximize the economic value you extract from them. I wonder how they would feel about that?
Has the Streisand Effect ever crossed your mind in this conversation? This weekend I've got some plans that are likely to drive large volumes of traffic to my blog, so we'll see where that leads. If by some miracle you have a change of heart, I'm happy to tell you more about it.
Just to make sure these words continue to ring in your mind: you are making excuses in order to cover for a child molester.
So with this fresh in my mind, my response to the man who took me aside was "oh are you saying old people are too weak to hear the truth?" He gave me a frustrated "there's no reasoning with you" look, said "OK whatever" and walked away. Something about it stuck with me, though. This will come up later.
People stopped arriving around Noon, and we waited about 5 mins more before heading back to the car. We had just been driving for 4 hours and went straight into protest mode, so we needed to unwind a bit (and to finish our lunch). The student group was at the corner when we were leaving so we all chatted a bit more on the way back to the car.
At 1:00 we went back to the front of the building to wait for folks to leave. After 20 mins, only a man and his child left. Maybe the show ran over or maybe people were just hanging around socializing inside? We decided to just go check into our motel and come back for the 4:00 show.
The Main Event
The drive to the theater took a lot longer the second time, so we arrived a bit later than I hoped (15 mins instead of 30 mins early). The doors were already open, so there were only a couple people outside either chatting with the usher or waiting for other friends/family to arrive. I gave a friendly wave to the security guard who smiled back.
This time it was a paid event, so there was a lady in the box office, as well as a few other staff members milling about. I meant what I said about not wanting to be a nuisance, so I didn't bother approaching the person talking with the usher or the box office lady. At this point, I don't think anyone affiliated with Sierra Madre Playhouse was unaware of my presence.
Nothing made this clearer than when, in stark contrast to my experiences at the Noon show, multiple people refused to even make eye contact let alone take the info about the piano player. In the tunnel vision and daze of emotions surrounding the whole day, I'm sure some of them had been to the previous show and already got my flyer. But there were others who seemed to have heard through the grapevine.
One person was initially dismissive, saying they worked for Sierra Madre Playhouse as the director of marketing (probably assuming that I was part of the event too). When I heard that, I perked up and asked "oh! in that case, are you aware that the piano player is a child molester and Sierra Madre Playhouse has been ignoring me for weeks?" She said "No I hadn't heard that". I asked "do you mind if I give you some information about it?" and to my surprise she said "yes." I almost couldn't believe it. I thanked her, and we went about our business.
Biases and Reflections
When no one was around, I'd go back to sit with my wife and snuggle the dogs. She shared some feedback that I wasn't expecting. She pointed out that I was neglecting to hand flyers to the women in some of the groups. Having been in that tunnel vision semi-dazed state it had completely escaped me, but upon reflection she was completely right. Looking back on it, something about what that man said earlier had a lot more influence on me than I thought or would have liked.
I was subconsciously trying to protect the old ladies just like he wanted. It took a conscious effort to overcome this, mostly by trying to fight off the tunnel vision. I tried to make more eye contact, and offered flyers to everyone. I didn't have this mental block when the group only consisted of women, or if the group was on the younger end of the age range. I drew the line at handing them out to children though.
One person started questioning my motives. He asked "why are you doing this instead of talking to the police?"
"I am talking to the police. I contacted the Berkeley PD a couple weeks ago"
"Ok then why are you here doing this?", he said while walking away.
Now having to yell loud enough that he can hear me, "because people with power can make a difference right now.". I was so frustrated I threw in a "Duh! Why else would people protest something?" more at the sky than at the person who had disengaged at this point.
One gentleman I approached said "I already talked with the piano player. It's fine."
"Oh, it's fine that he's a child molester? You're OK with that?"
A couple different gentlemen took the time to read my flyer, and came back up to return them. One was just being dismissive, saying something like "thanks, I don't need this." The other took the time to say he was sorry for what I went through and offered some suggestions like talking to the police or suing. I mentioned that I have talked to the police but there's still a lot of questions re: statutes of limitations. But recently they removed statutes of limitations for civil cases of child sexual abuse. So this is still on the table if I can find money or a pro-bono lawyer.
The Kids Are Alright
At some point a woman in a very fancy dress, hair, and hat approached. I approached her and asked if she'd like some info about the piano player. She smiled, saying "Thanks, I already know. I'm good with it." and continued inside. At this point I probably should have, but I could not believe what I just heard. My blurted-out response was "you already know he's a child molester and you're OK with it?" I'm really glad she was near the end of a large-ish crowd of arrivals because I needed to sit down. My wife told me "well, I was going to compliment her on her dress, but now I just want to throw up on it."
Moments later everything changed. A woman and two teen/young adult girls came out of the theater and walked up to us. They told me they wanted me to know they heard me and care about what I went through. They could not bring themselves to stay in the show knowing what I had shared with them.
I was so humbled and appreciative I don't have a clear idea what all was said, but the usher wanted none of this. I don't think I've painted a complete picture of how much he played the villain's sidekick in this whole ordeal. Every time he was outside and saw me approaching a group of people he would actively herd people away, telling them to ignore me.
He's the only one who knows his motivation at the time, but for whatever reason he decided to intervene. We were facing the entrance on the bench, so the family had their backs to the door. The usher came and inserted himself between us, putting his arms out like a stanchion to guide them away from me. He told them not to interact with me, and asked them to go back inside to watch the show.
One of the young women chimed in saying something like "Excuse me, sir, I'm in public and I have the right to talk to whoever I want." They may have exchanged some more words but I was too blown away by what was happening for them to stick. He skulked back into the building and I'm sure the three women could see a transformation in my face. This was one of those faith-in-humanity restoring moments that happen all too infrequently. We traded sympathy and gratitude, and they went off to hopefully enjoy the rest of their night. I'm sure their consciences felt lighter than most of the other folks at the event.
This put an exclamation mark on a pattern my wife and I had been noticing: the young ones are here for it, and won't take shit from anybody. Everyone who stuck in my mind as a particularly egregious example of refusing to hear the truth had gray hair. The older you are, the less you seem to care about the human condition.
If the "don't shock old people crowd" are any indication, this seems to be more generational than age-related. The older generations were trained to keep their mouths shut, never talk about their family troubles with strangers, "stand by your man", and all that. I'm so glad these times are changing. Your family is who you choose and who chooses you. Everyone should be supported through their mental health struggles. And shitty people should suffer the consequences of their shitty actions, regardless of what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by a prosecutor. Victims should be heard.
The show was about to start, so there weren't many more arrivals after that. My wife and I left to relax in the motel until the next event at 6:15. On the way we stopped at a roadside fruit stand to buy some strawberries, and I got to practice my recently acquired (if significantly limited) Spanish.
The Evening Shows
I got a bit confused by the schedule. There was an event at 6:15, but it wasn't a separate ticketed event; it was a different part of the event for folks who came at 4pm. We showed up at 5:45 but the doors were all locked and the box office was closed. So we went back to the motel to have dinner before the 8pm show started.
We arrived just about 7:30. The security guard was inside the door opening it for attendees, and it seems as if people had been coming and going to/from dinner. A lot of people were inside already, and I recognized many of the folks coming back to the building. Eventually, the security guard came outside to keep an eye on us.
There were a handful of groups who hadn't been to the earlier shows so I still managed to hand out some flyers. One woman actually said "oh I didn't get one of those earlier". I'm not sure if she was one of the women I accidentally neglected or if she was just part of a group we didn't encounter, but I was happy to oblige. But for the most part, there were far more people who didn't want to engage than at the previous shows.
Some of the people returning to the show were staff members. I noticed the box office lady returning, and started to approach her. She said something like "oh, no thanks. I already know". It had been a long day and I was feeling a bit drained and frustrated by the disproportionately negative responses of the evening crowd. I replied "Oh, you already know and you're happy with that then?". She said "Oh, I didn't say that. I'm not happy at all". This quickly interrupted my negative thoughts and I said "Thank you for saying that. A lot of people I've talked to don't seem so clear on that point."
Then I noticed she was walking with the usher, the pinnacle of folks who don't seem so clear on that point. I hadn't consciously noticed him before that. Maybe my mind blocked him out? Maybe it was just the tunnel vision returning? Either way, he can't change the fact that he saw me and heard me and knows what I came to say. Whatever his response was in that moment, he has to go to sleep at night hearing me shout about him covering for a child molester.
By 8:00, the streets were starting to look empty. No other groups seemed to be approaching so we started packing up to leave. I went up to the security guard, thanked him for being respectful and said sorry for making his job harder. He thanked me and wished us a good evening.
If I haven't made it clear already, I think this trip was a huge win. I knew going into this that most people would not want to hear the truth. I was fully prepared for the paper crumpling, the confrontations, the dismissiveness, the condescension; these are all things I've encountered in my recent interactions online, and in past experiences doing activism with my grandmother.
A family walked out of the show because they empathize strongly enough to be disgusted by the mere presence of Frederick Hodges, the child molester. The show has been advertised for at least a month. Who knows what special event they were celebrating, or how long they've been looking forward to this. All I know is they heard me.
A group of students spread the word and showed up to support me instead of Sierra Madre Playhouse. They could have used the door woman's invitation to score some class credits, but they were having none of it.
A handful of others expressed their sympathies and concerns, which was definitely a change of pace from the usual fingers in ears.
But most of all, my message got out. People who didn't want to confront me had no choice. People who didn't want to hear the truth had no choice. People who wanted to shut me down failed.
This is how change is made.