Hiding from Michael Jackson

You can run into anyone, anywhere, anytime, even an international pop star… so try to look presentable and have self-confidence

Charlotte Laws, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields

Have you ever looked so scruffy that you want to crawl under a rug? Has your hair ever been so frizzy that strangers ask if you’ve been electrocuted by a toaster oven? Has your face ever been so puffy that it seems like you’ve ingested a tub of grease, a ten-foot-tall Tater Tot, or a salt mine?  

This was me on a particularly embarrassing day in the 1980s when I was in my 20s. I had errands to complete and little time. I was wearing frayed gym shorts and a blouse that looked like it had been through World Wars I and II as well as Custer’s Last Stand. Frankly, I looked like a bag lady minus the lady. I resembled a bag.

I needed to pick up photos from a local camera shop. My plan was to dash in, grab my pictures, and scamper back to my car before anyone could shout, “What’s the Loch Ness Monster doing in LA?”     

I was alone at the camera shop counter; the clerk had gone into the back to retrieve my merchandise. All of the sudden, pop star Michael Jackson entered, wearing a flashy satin shirt and black pants. He was accompanied by two other fellows who seemed like bodyguards. I was in shock and unsure what to do.

I tried to ignore Jackson and his cohorts because of my appearance. I was unsure whether they’d had breakfast and didn’t want them to regurgitate their Cap’n Crunch. But Jackson was not having any of my evasive nonsense and tried to strike up a conversation. Perhaps he was baffled as to why anyone would so willfully ignore him since he was an icon at the height of his fame. Perhaps he hoped to ease my discomfort. Perhaps he just needed a friend.

He stood on my right. I quickly turn my head to the left. Then he moved to my left. I whipped my head back to the right. He leaned around several times hoping to be acknowledged and finally spoke. “Hi,” he said in a meek voice.

With my face still turned, I mumbled, “Hi.”

He seemed to be searching for something to say. “You look like this girl.” He pointed at one of the many photographs displayed under a glass countertop.

I shifted my eyes ever so slightly so I could see the picture. No disrespect, but this woman was over forty and looked like Pee Wee Herman in a wig.   

“Are you her?” he asked softly.

“No,” I exclaimed, still hiding my face. “And I don’t really look like this. I look terrible today.”

The clerk appeared with my package of snapshots, which I tore open at breakneck speed. I whisked out a picture of myself in which I was dressed to the nines. “This is what I really look like.” I offered it to Jackson, while still concealing my face. He studied the photo.

“This doesn’t look like you,” he replied in an innocent voice and again pointed at the girl under the glass countertop. “You look like her.” He clearly meant no harm and probably didn’t think she looked like Phil Spector during his mugshot.      

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Jackson.” I finally revealed my face, smiled, and bolted to my car.

This embarrassing incident taught me one thing: you can run into anyone, anywhere, anytime. And these chance meetings can be beneficial, a stepping stone to achieving your dreams. The person you bump into might be an old friend with whom you hope to reconnect, a cute guy that you want to date, or a famous person that you’d like to befriend. It might be a politician who holds the key to important legislation, an executive who might give you a job, or a fat cat who could donate to your favorite cause.

I have learned another thing. Looking like a tattered Boo Berry can hinder your goals, especially when it kills self-confidence.   

Originally published in the MJ World Network - Oct. 9, 2019

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Charlotte Laws and Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard in Los Angeles on September 8, 2019


Article about Charlotte Laws & Undercover Debutante in Atlanta Jewish Times

Article titled, "In Search of a Birth Family," in the Atlanta Jewish Times on August 14, 2019.


Readers' Favorite Review of Undercover Debutante by Charlotte Laws

Charlotte Laws is the author of Undercover Debutante
Undercover Debutante: The Search for my Birth Parents and a Bald Husband by Charlotte Laws is the recounting of the author’s days as a young woman as she tried to find out who were her biological parents and what transpired in her life moving forward. No one knows how hard life can be better than Charlotte. Adopted and then mistreated, she knew from early on that she was the only one who would ever stand up for her. So she did exactly that and kept her head high. Getting away from her adopted father was not easy, but she did her best. Life had planned some obstacles for her and she realized that when she started to search for her biological parents. From devil worship to being held at gunpoint, becoming a private eye and even working as a maid, she saw it all before she actually got a hold of her life. During these exciting and terrifying adventures, she found her true love in fighting for the ones who don’t have a voice of their own.

Who doesn’t know about Charlotte Laws? She is an unsung hero who does her due diligence and ensures that she gives her voice to the ones who don’t have one. It was a pleasure to see a side of her that I have never experienced before. It was heartbreaking how she didn’t hold back and shared the good, the bad and the ugly of her life with her readers. She shared her shortcomings, her passions, and her flaws with us openly and showed us that even though you don’t have much, you can always rebuild yourself from the ground up. I enjoyed reading about her life and her struggles; she made it easy with her word choices and the flow of her story. It was all so effortless! Beautifully poignant.

Link to the book review on Reader's Favorite Book Reviews.


Kirkus Reviews: Undercover Debutante by Charlotte Laws

Following is a book review by Kirkus...

Laws’ memoir focuses on the wild and varied situations she finds herself in while seeking her biological parents.

Undercover Debutante by Charlotte Laws
As the adopted child of an upper-class family in Atlanta, Laws (Devil in the Basement, 2018, etc.) had always felt like a “B-flat while [her] peers…had been C-sharps.” Laws’ demanding father dismissed everything that wasn’t money, and her distant mother’s suicide attempt left her in a vegetative state. The author’s quirky worldview and dark sense of humor were always at odds with her rigid, depressing childhood environment. Fleeing west as soon as she could, she moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. She worked as a bodyguard, a backup singer for an Elvis imitator, a maid, and a live-in caretaker in a mobile home. She encountered some of the strangest characters the West Coast had to offer along the way and found herself in a few genuinely harrowing situations that she recounts in riveting detail. In leveraging her greatest skill as a party crasher, Laws got a handle on the sprawling metropolis of LA and found pieces to the puzzle of her past. When she eventually met her biological father and heard the story of her birth, she mused to herself that, “Even as a zygote, I was on track to be a TV movie.” Questions of family and heritage come into play with each new profession and zany escapade as Laws writes of single motherhood and struggling to make it in the city of Angels. Like David Sedaris’ wry personal essays, Laws’ chapters feel like self-contained short stories that mine any given situation for personal confessions and comical observations. She does tend to veer off course, and some editing of the more tangential episodes would have made for a tighter exploration of the pitch-black comedy that is Laws’ family history. But even when the memoir strays from the primary storyline into tales of sex dungeons, glitzy celebrity parties, or dating service mishaps, Laws punctuates every moment with an extraordinary sense of comedic timing and a sharp eye for twisted details.

Turns bleak family secrets and struggles into one hilarious, witty joy ride after another.

See review on Kirkus website.

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US Review of Books Recommends Undercover Debutante by Charlotte Laws

Following is a review by the US Review of Books...

In her third book, Laws chronicles her early life and search for her biological parents. Her memoir is filled with the kind of stories that are too outrageous to be fiction. Though she was adopted by a wealthy Southern family and grew up in Atlanta society, she made her way to Las Vegas as a young adult with only $500 and the determination to prove herself. Taking on a variety of jobs—including maid, actress, and private investigator, to name a few—she eventually continued her education in Southern California where she later became involved in politics and animal rights advocacy. Always at the core of her being was the question: Who are my parents?
Charlotte Laws

Laws is one of those writers who makes readers feel as if they are sitting across from her as she relates fascinating story after fascinating story. She has undoubtedly led an unusual life complete with encounters with the famous and infamous. Yet, she tells each story as if she is looking at her life from afar, not letting whatever emotional baggage she may be hauling interfere with its telling. Perhaps the ability comes from growing up as an adoptee in a life which is yours by chance rather than biology. Perhaps it comes from the many scenarios adopted children create around questions of their birth parents. Perhaps Laws is just a great storyteller who needs look no further than her own life for substance. Whatever it is, she has it. Her memoir is an entertaining and enlightening romp through her struggle to succeed. Readers will love the ride.

This book is RECOMMENDED. 

Link to the review on US Review of Books website

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Author Charlotte Laws to sign Undercover Debutante at Barnes & Noble

Bestselling author, Dr. Charlotte Laws, will sign copies of her book Undercover Debutante at Barnes & Noble in Calabasas on Saturday, August 24, 2019 from noon - 3 pm. The bookstore is located in the Commons mall at 3745 Commons Way in Calabasas, California. The event is free. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Undercover Debutante is a hilarious memoir about Laws's young-adult years in Los Angeles. It received a Publisher's Weekly award and has garnered rave reviews.

Charlotte Laws is the author of Undercover Debutante (2019)

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Veganism and My Food Fight with Milton Berle

Remembering my bizarre lunch with the foul-mouthed, meat-loving Uncle Miltie whom—to everyone's surprise—later became a vegetarian. 

Veganism is no longer a Mona Lisa wearing googly glasses and a bikini. In other words, it is no longer ridiculed, deemed un-American, or held in contempt—at least not by the vast majority of the country. It is a lifestyle choice that has become popular, partly due to celebrities (Bill Clinton, Zac Efron, Beyoncé, and Natalie Portman, among others) who tout its merits and partly due to animal activists who point out the suffering that nonhuman animals endure on factory farms. The diet is also praised by top athletes who say it helps with their game, by health professionals who claim it reduces disease, and by environmentalists who argue that embracing it is the only way to avert a full-blown climate disaster.   

These role-models ignite change. They motivate others via their words and personal behavior—something that has been my mission as well for almost 40 years (first as a vegetarian and later as a vegan). It has not always been easy. By declining to eat meat, I have experienced the full gamut of human craziness, mainly back in the 1980s and 1990s. I have been hated, taunted, belittled, nagged, lectured, and even bullied. But my experience dining with comedian Milton Berle at the Friars Club in the early 1980s was perhaps the most unusual. Following is what happened, as excerpted from my 2019 memoir, Undercover Debutante. I had been invited to lunch by Milton’s son, Bill, who was a friend from college.    

The 18,945-square-foot Friars Club looked like a windowless, grand yacht. It was anchored on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Milton and other old-time celebrities had started the private show business club in 1947. They frequented the venue for lunch and events. The ceiling was shaped like a rolling wave, and the dining room was a spacious cabin at the stern of the mighty structure. 

The three of us were seated at Milton’s private table in the center of the room, and that is where I met the famous comic, who wore a blazer and gray slacks and treated me as if I were a deck chair rather than a person. By the end of the meal, it felt like I had been thrown overboard or walked the plank. 

“I fucked Nancy Reagan, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, and Marilyn Monroe,” Milton bragged as if trying to impress me or somehow be funny. 

“Nice … to meet you,” I stammered, truly disgusted by the vile and misogynistic language. The man totally lacked class, and although I had rejected much of my Atlanta upbringing, I was unimpressed with people who cursed a lot or made an effort to be offensive. The comedian brought out the “debutante” in me. 

“I bet you’ve heard about my dick.” Milton slid into a monologue about his gigantic penis and then segued into kinky details about recent sexual exploits with women whom he clearly did not respect. I felt sorry for Milton’s wife and glanced at Bill. He looked embarrassed. 

“She gave me head and I ate her snatch. … Me and that broad. We shtupped for three hours …” Milton suddenly noticed a patron on the other side of the room. “Oh, I gotta give that cocksucker a cigar.” He jumped from the table for one of his many flits to converse with diners on the other side of the room.  

The menu was predetermined. A waiter appeared with a tray of dishes, which prompted Milton to dock himself at our table for a bite. “I’m a vegetarian. No meat, please,” I told the waiter as he spooned portions of food onto our plates. 

“No. Give her some of that,” Milton said, pointing to a beef dish. The waiter seemed torn but ultimately decided to obey Milton. 

“No, no,” I pleaded. “No meat, please.” 

“Give it to her.” Milton motioned again at the beef dish. “And give her some of that chicken, too.” The waiter flashed an apologetic look but did as Milton commanded. My pleas had been firm, but the comedian did not care. He seemed to be on an ego trip or think he was at war with me. I had lost the battle of the Friars Club lunch, and my plate was contaminated. My innocent peas and crisp salad had lost the battle as well. Meat sauce oozed onto them, encroaching upon their purity and deliciousness. Tiny chunks from terrorized chickens tainted my once-pristine rice. Bill looked ashamed but stayed silent. It was as if he knew from experience that he could not confront his dad. I ate nothing for lunch, but Milton—still obsessing over sex stories—failed to notice. 

“I hate your dad,” I told Bill at the end of lunch. Bill replied, “I know,” as if this sentiment had been expressed as often as Milton’s vulgarities. 

At some point following the combative lunch, Milton ironically stopped eating meat and even went so far as to attribute his long life to a vegetarian diet. (He died at age 93.) Although some say he quit consuming flesh because of his conversion to Christian Science, a show business insider offered me a different story. “Milton became a vegetarian because of people like you. He was influenced by those who came into his life.”  

Although I don’t think I influenced him more than any other deck chair on the Titanic, I do think the “cumulative impact” theory holds water. It is possible that as more and more vegetarians entered his life and set a good example, he began to rethink his habits and seek change. 

If Milton can change, we can all change; and the time has never been better. The Economist calls this year—2019—the year of the vegan. Although veganism was once ignored by mainstream media, today it is discussed. Although it used to be the target of condescension by the meat and dairy industries, now many in these increasingly profit-challenged fields are scrambling to stay relevant by inventing their own meatless and dairy-free alternatives. In the past few years, there has been a 600 percent increase in the US by those who identify as vegan; this has prompted restaurants and grocery stores to provide more plant-based options.   

Climate change—arguably the most pressing issue of the century—has done much to propel veganism into the spotlight. According to experts, meat and dairy intake in the US must be abolished or significantly reduced to avert catastrophe. The journal Science states that eliminating meat is the single most effective action that an individual can take to fight global warming. 

We must all be role models for the sake of the planet, for the sake of nonhuman animals, and for the sake of ourselves. Let the food fight begin. 

Published in Medium and in A Vegan Life on July 25, 2019


Charlotte Laws, Ph.D. is a BBC TV pundit, a former California politician, and the author of the award-winning memoir, Undercover Debutante, which comes on the market in August 2019. You can follow her on Twitter @CharlotteLaws

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Author Charlotte Laws reveals secrets about writing, promotion, and sneaking her book to Oprah at the Golden Globes

I sat down with bestselling author, Charlotte Laws, to discuss her award-winning memoir, Undercover Debutante, which comes out in August 2019, and to ask her about the writing process and book promotion. Laws has authored a number of books as well as articles in the Washington Post, L.A. Times, Newsweek, and Salon. She starred on the NBC show The Filter, currently works as a political pundit on BBC TV, and is known around the world as “the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn” for helping the FBI put a notorious hacker in jail.    

Hello, Dr. Laws. Thanks for joining me today. I know a lot of this is in your memoir, but how did you get into writing? Did your interest begin in childhood, and if so, did your parents foster your talent?  

I toyed with writing as a preteen and teenager, but it was nothing serious—mostly just embarrassing love poems that I gave to a cute boy in my class. He probably thought I was crazy, but thankfully he escorted me to the prom and some debutante parties. I was raised in Atlanta by adoptive parents, but the experience did not foster much of anything except a desire to escape. My adoptive mom committed suicide, my adoptive brother was killed in a car accident, and my adoptive father was verbally abusive. In addition to the family tragedies, I felt like a black sheep in the community. I didn’t seem to have anything in common with the people of upper class Atlanta. I eventually left Georgia and tracked down my birth family. I learned that my natural father had authored books. He and I have much in common, and after meeting other birth relatives, I came to believe that nature is much stronger than nurture.

Really? That’s interesting. What other commonalities did you find?    

Although my birth mom and I knew absolutely nothing about each other, we’d both ventured down the same religious path. We were raised Christian, then attended a Unitarian church for a while, and eventually converted to Reform Judaism. My natural grandmother and I enjoyed the same bizarre hobby: buying brand new department store dresses and decorating them with sequins and beads. We also had the exact same furniture, including a rare carved desk that I have never seen elsewhere. Other similarities are mentioned in my new book.    

Let’s get back to writing and book promotion. What advice do you have for wannabe authors?

I find that it takes stamina and passion to write a book. It takes persistence, innovation, insider knowledge, and a sprinkle of fairy dust to turn it into a bestseller. I believe that everyone has at least one book-length story to tell, and anyone can be a talented writer. Sometimes it takes practice. A writing instructor once told me that after you’ve written 100,000 words you become a good writer. I think that is right.

First, you need to figure out when you are most productive. I have a surge of energy early in the day, so I tend to work on my books and articles at that time, usually from about 5 a.m. until 2 p.m.

You also need to establish a process. I begin each new project with research. I might conduct interviews, travel to particular locations, read relevant articles and books. It can take me months, or even a year to complete the research phase. By the way, I also do this for fiction and creative nonfiction projects. My next book is set in seventeenth century Holland. I have purchased dozens of resource books about the time period, the language, the customs, and even biographies about relevant historical figures. Before I put pen to paper—or more accurately fingertips to keyboard—I will pour over these books and make detailed notes as well as a rudimentary outline.

Do you have suggestions on getting a publisher and promoting a book?

The process can be a full-time job. Completing a book is phase one. Phase two is finding a publisher, and phase three is promoting the heck out of the book. With my first manuscript, I crashed publishing houses in New York in search of a publisher. I remember chatting up a Simon & Schuster employee in the lobby of his building, having lunch with this fellow, and convincing him to introduce me to a big-shot editor. I was able to pitch my book.

Crashing also helped me with promotion. I was able to land TV interviews. For example, I once crashed a major studio and made my way to the executive offices for the show, A.M. Los Angeles. I talked a producer into letting me be a guest on the program. I was introduced as “the woman who crashed the studio.”  I appeared on the show twice.

Easy for you, (laughter) as you are listed as one of 15 most notorious party crashers in the world.

True, but anyone can do it. In 1988, I wrote a book about how to crash celebrity events… or really how to crash anything. Crashing is a strategy that can help you get to the right people. One time, I sneaked into a political fundraiser to hand a movie treatment (which was based on my book) to actor Matt Damon. He asked his agent to meet with me. Last year, I crashed the Golden Globes for only one purpose: to hand my book to Oprah Winfrey. She has a popular book club.  

Oprah? You’re kidding? Tell me about this. 

Oprah’s website states that advance review copies from authors and publishers are not accepted. In fact, it says that all books they receive are tossed in the trash. I knew I needed to hand it to Oprah in person, but how? She was slotted to attend the Golden Globes, so I decided that I would gatecrash. Although I’d sneaked into quite a few award shows in the past, this one turned out to be amazingly difficult. There was a tremendous amount of security, and the streets were partitioned off around the Beverly Hilton hotel, where the event was being held. I ended up trudging through a construction site behind the hotel in my high heels and evening gown. It was hilarious stepping over mounds of dry mud and weaving around tractors. When I got to a back door of the Beverly Hilton, I told a guard that I had already been inside the award show, but had left to get coffee at Starbucks. For some reason, he bought this ridiculous story. Then I had to finagle past another three guards in order to finally get into the event. It was not easy!  I eventually ended up sitting at a table with Christopher Plummer, Ridley Scott, and Natalie Portman. Oprah was at the next table. During a commercial break, I was able to strike up a conversation with Oprah and hand her a copy of my book. I have no clue whether she read it or will read it, or whether it will make it into her book club, but at least I did everything I could.      

That is hilarious. You say that it takes innovation, persistence, insider knowledge, and a sprinkle of fairy dust to turn a book into a bestseller. What do you mean by this? 

The persistence part is obvious. You must keep plunging forward even if you get 1000 nos for every yes. Innovation is simply thinking outside of the box. It means doing something unusual like party crashing.

By “insider knowledge,” I mean that it helps to learn everything you can about the book industry by talking to authors, agents, publishers, book designers, and others… and by reading articles, books, and blogs on the subject. You can learn insider secrets. For example, it is smart to drum up pre-sales by doing press well before your book is released. Presales are important if you want your book to be a bestseller on day one. Why?  I’ll illustrate with an example. If you get 5000 advance orders, these presales are tallied on the first day of the book’s release. In other words, it looks like, wow, this book sold 5000 copies in one day! This can catapult your book to number one on Amazon and get it onto various bestseller lists. Another tip that most authors don’t realize is that Amazon will allow you to list your book in a full ten categories, but they do not tell you this on their website. You have to wait until your book is on the market and phone them. Then they will add the categories. When you have insider knowledge, you will have an advantage over other authors who don’t know these tricks.

I talk about a “sprinkle of fairy dust” because luck unfortunately plays a part in success. There are as many as a million books published each year in the U.S., so it is not easy to get recognition for even the most amazing one. You need to persevere and not beat yourself over rejection. The greatest authors have all been rejected at some point.  They succeed only because they do not give up. Notice how we have circled back to step one, persistence?

Yes (laughter). Lastly, I want to ask you about book title? If an author has the ability to choose the title or offer input to a publisher, what do you suggest she do from a marketing standpoint?

Obviously, you want to pick a title that will make readers pick up the book, but few authors realize that the title should also be unique. Do a Google search in advance and check out the competition. Try not to select a title or phrase that is plastered all over the Internet. When a potential buyer looks for your book, you want her to find it.

Thank you for your time and this valuable advice, Dr. Laws, and good luck with your new book.
This is an interview by Paulette Mahurin that appeared in Thrive Global on July 1, 2019. 

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I Committed a Crime. The Government Calls It Terrorism

I recently responded to a casting call for a reality TV show. Producers were seeking folks to confess crimes—secret crimes for which they’d never been caught. I figured this was a show that would never make it to air because only a fool would risk imprisonment and social retribution for a mere fifteen minutes of fame. Nevertheless, I decided to be that fool. I contacted the casting director and confessed my past crime, which arguably qualified as a terrorist act.

I had participated in this midnight caper over a decade ago and frankly I was proud of it—so much so that I had already confided the details to family, friends, and law enforcement. Yes, my crime was no secret. I’d confessed the truth to federal agents when I was a lecturer at the FBI Academy in the late 2000s. Their response was the equivalence of a yawn—which was surprising since the FBI website defines my violation as domestic terrorism because of its link with an environmental, political, or social motive. 

On the other hand, perhaps the nonchalant reaction of the FBI agents was not all that surprising because the absurd law that I’d potentially breached—the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA)—was passed by Congress merely to coddle big business, to preserve corporate profits, and to ensure that executives and CEOs remain motivated to make hefty political donations. The AETA still exists today, instilling fear in animal activists. It marginalizes them as “terrorists” and effectively muzzles their free speech.

How It All Began

It all started in the mid-2000s when a man named Red showed up at my monthly Directors of Animal Welfare (DAW) meeting with a pigeon named Twister on his shoulder. I had started this not-for-profit group in order to provide political representation for nonhuman animals in the Los Angeles area.

“These animals are special,” Red said. “Pigeons descended from heroes. They helped people during wartime. We have betrayed them. Now they are routinely killed as pests.” 

Red wanted the DAWs to help with the pigeon cause. He had saved Twister from a crow attack, but most of his rescued birds had fallen prey to man-made hazards. Red had 220 feathered friends residing at his Torrance home, including two chickens and four mourning doves. It was unclear whether he was a hoarder (a person with a good heart who was over his head in providing adequate animal care) or merely an innkeeper with a very busy schedule.  

Red explained how he always offered freedom to healed patients. But just because they were pigeons didn’t mean they were pigeon-brained. They usually chose shelter with Red and dependable meals rather than risk the perils—hawks, falcons, owls, and malicious humans—that awaited them in the open air. Street pigeons live three or four years, while those in captivity can survive for 35. Red was a bit of a hero in his community. Residents knew they could count on him. Sick and injured birds were sent to him by groomers, pet shops, and even veterinarians.

There were two animal control officers from adjacent jurisdictions who called him a godsend. He would care for the most maligned creatures on earth when no one else would.

Angel was a blind baby pigeon who had tumbled from her nest. A lady asked Red to help her, and like 911, he was on the scene in minutes. Angel could not fend for herself in a complicated and vision-mandated world, so Red took her into his home and fed her. They went on errands to Home Depot, they played in his backyard, and Red gave the lady updates on Angel’s weekly activities, including the fact that she’d found a mate and given birth.

“I would normally never allow a pigeon to have babies,” Red said. “But I didn’t have the heart to take her eggs away. Angel needed these two little ones. She was such a proud mama.”

Angel and her babies were happy until the day they were murdered. 

The Mass Slaughter

Torrance Animal Control had a fancy new truck that read “Torrance Police. Excellence through teamwork.” They contacted Red about his pigeons. No more than four were allowed per property, according to city law. He had 10 days to remove the animals. Red telephoned me about the predicament. The DAWs located two licensed wildlife rescuers, who agreed to take the critters, releasing some and finding homes for the others. I telephoned Torrance Animal Control to inform them that our organization was on the case. I was told that everything would be fine.

But there was no 10-day grace period. The shiny Torrance Animal Control truck and seven police cars pulled up to Red’s home on the following day. Officers bolted from the vehicles like military specialists, bent on rescuing hostages in enemy land. But there were no hostages. There was no enemy land. This was not a perilous situation. It was just elderly Red, Angel and her babies, and their feathered friends, many of whom were healing from past wounds.

Red was handcuffed and taken to the psychiatric ward at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where an officer laughed. “You will be here for at least 72 hours.”

Instead, Red was deemed sane and released within three. In the meantime, two DAWs had driven to Red’s home. They confronted Torrance Animal Control, who had taped off the area. They were told to leave. I spoke with an officer on the phone, reminding him that the DAWs would be removing the birds. He was evasive and would not reveal what was happening at the property. 

But what was happening at the property was clear to Red’s next-door neighbor, who glanced out his window in horror. They were slaughtering the birds, one by one, with lethal injections. The ground was bloody, and syringes were scattered throughout the yard. The neighbor tried to intercede but was informed that all the birds were sick. 

“Well, these two sure don’t seem sick, do they?” the angry neighbor yelled as two pigeons escaped from the handlers and flew to a wire above Red’s residence. They watched the humans slaughtering their friends for a minute and then flew away.

“Get back in your house right now,” an animal control officer barked at the neighbor. “And don’t come out until we’re through.” 

Distraught members of the community huddled outside of the taped-off area. Some had brought injured pigeons to Red. They pleaded for the return of their loved ones. But animal control was not sympathetic.

“I just want to take my bird home,” one guy begged. 

“Step away, sir,” an officer replied.  

Only Twister was saved that day. An officer from the Redondo Beach Police Department, who was also Red’s friend, appeared at the scene and was able to finagle Red’s favorite bird away from Torrance Animal Control. She said there was a lot of dander in the house, but it was not as filthy and objectionable as the media later portrayed it to be. The home was red-tagged by the County Health Department due to the bacteria, feces, and feathers on the premises. And Red was told that he would go to jail if he set foot on the property. The city also filed charges against him for animal cruelty as a hoarder.

“Oh God, they executed them all. My children have been slaughtered.” Red bawled when he learned about the fate of his birds. “They were not diseased. And I was helping them.”

Twister was examined by a vet and found to be healthy. How ironic that the one and only saved bird was not sick. But Torrance Animal Control still clung to their story that all the other animals were all too diseased and undernourished to be allowed to survive. I would soon have proof to the contrary, and I would learn that Torrance Animal Control had been negligent, in addition to being outright killers.

The Crime

The shocking phone call came on the following day. “They may have overlooked some of the birds in the house,” Red said. “There were a couple living on top of boxes in the hallway. I bet they’re still there.”

It was illegal to enter Red’s home. It had been padlocked by law enforcement. And we could not ask the city of Torrance to make a further search, because we believed they would kill any remaining birds. They had reason to hide evidence and cover their tracks. There was an animal cruelty case pending, and officers would be deemed negligent—and cruel themselves—for leaving pigeons behind to starve, suffer, and die. Plus, if birds were found to be in good shape, the evidence could be used against Torrance. No reasonable jury would believe that Twister and a few of her lucky feathered friends (located after the fact) were in good shape, while all the others were diseased. I called my friends in Los Angeles city government and pleaded with them to search the home. (I was a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council at the time and about to be appointed to the 912 commission.)

“It’s outside our jurisdiction,” a lawyer from the L.A. city attorney’s office told me. “We can’t meddle in Torrance’s affairs. There’s an agreement between cities.”

I spoke to the mayor’s office, a city council member, two lawyers, a city commissioner, and a seasoned newspaper reporter. All offered the same advice: “Tell Red to break into the house.”

We had all become conspirators in the crime. We knew about the unlawful act of “breaking and entering” in advance, and we were circulating emails to other conspirators. Because our e-mails were traveling over state lines, crimes that would normally fall under local jurisdiction could have been ratcheted up to the federal level and could have led to involvement by the FBI.

I also figured that our crime might qualify as terrorism. The AETA is overbroad, vague, and arguably violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. It is open to interpretation and subject to the whims of law enforcement. It specifically forbids activities which damage or interfere with the operation of an animal-related company or project; it also forbids activities which cause an individual associated with an “animal enterprise” to feel fear.

The AETA could be used against: a) civilly disobedient activists who illegally block the entrance to a fur store (thus causing the establishment to lose profits), b) activists who damage a beef transport truck (thus causing the establishment to lose equipment), c) activists who scrawl “meat is murder” on a wall (thus instilling fear in a nearby butcher), or d) a mother who rescues soon-to-be-beheaded mice from her son’s cruel science fair project (thus interfering with the animal-related presentation). According to the language of the AETA, any illegal act which falls under federal jurisdiction and which targets an “animal enterprise,” is potentially fair game, regardless of how minor the act may be. 

I was not sure whether Red’s house qualified as an “animal enterprise” under the definition of the AETA (or under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, another ridiculous law on the books), but I was certain that my conspirators and I could go to jail. Of course, if I was deemed a terrorist or criminal conspirator, some of the most respected folks in Los Angeles government were as well. 

While Red made preparations for the big heist, e-mails between me and the other conspirators whizzed back and forth. A tenured UCLA professor agreed to drive the getaway car. She was 70 years old and had never before committed a crime. We discussed the possibility of blaming the illegal break-in on the Animal Liberation Front by scribbling “ALF” on the door. But that idea was dropped because Red believed he could make it look as if no one had entered in the first place.

Red sneaked up to his house with his flashlight that day. He cut the padlock from the front door and replaced it with his own. He’d photographed it earlier, and a locksmith had sold him an identical model. No one would ever know there had been a switcheroo. The break-in would happen just before midnight.

“He’s heading into the house. So far, no cops.” The university professor gave me a blow-by-blow account of the caper from her cell phone in the getaway car.

Red’s house was in shambles. His legal files and computer hard drive had been confiscated by police, and an envelope with $3,000 was missing. He tiptoed from room to room with his flashlight until he saw a beautiful sight. It was a little boy pigeon, who normally nested in the back of a closet. He was perched in the center of the dark bedroom. He seemed to wonder where everyone had gone. Red was inside the house for exactly 38 minutes.

“He’s out. Oh, my goodness, he’s got a pigeon,” the professor hollered into the phone. “Get down here, now.”

That is when I drove to Torrance. I sloshed through mud puddles and up the grassy lawn of the house where Red, Twister, and the newly found pigeon were staying. 

“Here he is. Isn’t he a beauty?” Red said. A veterinarian checked out the little boy and deemed him fit.

I put Red in touch with a big shot criminal attorney, who was a friend of mine. He was one of the lawyers who had successfully represented Michael Jackson in the well-publicized child molestation case. Shortly after “Big Shot” was hired, all animal cruelty charges against Red were dropped. 

On the day following the illegal break-in, I got a second shocking phone call from Red. “I think there may be another pigeon in the house. That little boy’s brother likes to hide in the living room corner near the ceiling. I’m going back inside tonight.”

“Oh no!” I howled. I seemed to be trapped in an I Love Lucy episode. 

The following evening was a repeat performance with the UCLA professor in the getaway car and the furtive midnight rescue. Red found the sibling as expected, and we got him checked at a bird clinic. “He’s in perfect shape,” the veterinarian announced.

Despite the dozens of poor birds who had been murdered, three pigeons had been saved; and Red would not be the birdman of the county jail.

As predicted, the reality TV show never happened. The casting director later phoned me. “We couldn’t find enough people to confess, and we didn’t want to go with a crime like yours.”

Although she did not explain what she meant by “a crime like yours,” it was clear to me.  Television programs have advertisers, many whom use, torture, and kill animals to create their products or to carry out their services. For this reason, producers and networks are leery about venturing into the controversial terrain of animal activism and potentially alienating the deep pockets that sponsor their projects. It is risky to question (even indirectly) whether it is immoral to wear animals, eat them, or test cosmetics on them.  

I was disappointed to learn that my story would not air because I had a hidden agenda: I hoped to prompt a discussion about the AETA and ignite a public campaign to abolish it. I hoped to assist, in my own little way, the largest group of victims in the world: nonhuman animals.


Published in City Watch on July 19, 2019

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