Man vs. media.
Grabby headline, no? Not quite as gloriously specific as “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar,” but still eye-catching. And catching eyes is how you stay alive in these dread latter days of content overload. So, yes, sex and violence: we had a story with a little of both on our main drag here in La Mesa last week. Menswear resale shop owner Peter Carzis got himself caught on film twice: first, fondling a woman in front of his store, and then attacking the gaggle of reporters who showed up to ask him about it. And it was a gaggle: videos of the incident show at least six people, two of them with cameras, the rest with smartphones. If it bleeds, it leads, and if there’s sex, there’s rubbernecks.
“It was so weird,” said one of those reporters when I spoke with him the next day. “Genuinely. As a reporter, you go out, and you’re looking for…” He paused. “The store next door said he’s a great guy, really mellow. The corner store says he’s a terror, sends a shiver down the back every time he walks by. So we’re genuinely…” He paused again. “Maybe there’s an explanation. Maybe there’s something there.”
Remarkably, the sight of six people with cameras outside his store did not dispose Carzis to offering said explanation. Instead, recalled the reporter, “He just comes and attacks this poor woman — grabbed her, shook her. I came running, but he’s old and frail. You can’t just throw him on the ground; he might really get hurt. So you’re like, ‘All right, just let him blow off steam.’”
Sometimes, the reporter becomes part of the story.
Well, not quite. Roll tape. Carzis’ tirade brings some Scorsese-level rage-cursing to the show. Put Pesci’s voice in your head as you read the transcript. Let’s pick up where he starts stomping toward the retreating Cameraman. (I couldn’t find footage of the altercation between Carzis and the woman.)
Carzis: “You think you’re a badass, motherfucker? You’re a badass?”
“That’s right, I’m a badass,” says Cameraman.
“You’re a badass? Show me how bad you are, motherfucker! Show me how bad you are!”
Cameraman does not show him how bad he is. He’s thinking about his camera. But camera or no camera, Carzis’ rage is disconcerting.
“Hey Peter! Peter, you’re about to get arrested,” says KUSI’s Dan Plante. He sounds positively cheerful, and why not? This stuff is gold.
“Look what you just did to me,” says the woman in question. “You just pushed a woman. What do you have to say to that?”
“Oh, fuck you,” says Carzis. “I say fuck all you motherfuckers.” He’s walking back towards his shop as he says this, throwing middle fingers behind him in an instant meme. (Yes, I’m part of the problem.)
“Really?” asks Plante, moving in close behind him.
“That’s what I say,” says Carzis, turning and knocking Plante’s phone to the ground. “Fuck you, fuck you. Fuck you, you motherfucker.” Carzis kicks at Plante. Plante kicks right back.
“Come on, gimme some more!” cries Peter, grinning wickedly. “That’s all you got?”
They tussle again, and then Plante gets an idea. He takes off his glasses, and tells Carzis, “You want to hit me? Go ahead.” Carzis thinks about it, laughs, and then walks away. A reporter informs Plante that his nose is bleeding.
And how does Plante report that on the five o’ clock news? “Yeah, the guy went after me, he started trying to kick me and punch me. Fortunately, he’s a slow old man and he didn’t connect…It’s just unbelievable…It’s an absolute crazy thing. We’re out there trying to tell a story and the guy who’s the subject of the story starts attacking us.”
A friend texted me after seeing the fight video: “Heading down to the store to buy a suit from that man to show solidarity.” I talked to another friend, a guy who also works in downtown La Mesa. “You know where all this demonization of the mainstream press is really coming from right now, don’t you?” he asked. “I mean, this is all filtering down, you know? You could show him screaming, saying ‘motherfucker,’ and throwing punches, and people would just say, ‘Fake news.’” People like my solidarity-minded pal.
“I’ve talked to Peter every day for years,” said a fellow passing by the closed-up shop. “Never a problem. A friend of mine had a daughter who worked next door for two years. Never a problem. But he’s 79, 80 years old” — 76, anyway — “and he’s started having mini strokes. You see something, you call the police, the police take care of it. Maybe someone’s not acting right, and it’s a 5150. But it got onto social media, and people started enjoying it. They kill people: Anna Nicole Smith, Amy Winehouse. People haven’t learned.”
Someone told me that there was a reason police took a while to find Peter Carzis. That he has “a chronic medical condition,” and that “he was shuffled off to the hospital in an ambulance.” The press release announcing his arrest said that he would be booked after being medically cleared.
Ever see His Girl Friday? Great movie. In it, a slightly cracked man has been sentenced to death. The media is, naturally, all over the story, including a salacious tidbit about Molly, the girl who testified at his trial after she found him wandering the streets one night and took him in. Molly’s got moxie. She busts in on the reporters as they’re playing cards and demands a reckoning. The boys ignore her, but star reporter (and fellow female) Hildy Johnson notices.
“It’s a wonder a bolt of lightning don’t come down and strike you all dead!” rails Molly. When Hildy intervenes, Molly declares to her, “They ain’t human!”
“I know,” replies Hildy. “They’re newspapermen.”
“All they been doing is lying!” cries Molly.
Hildy sympathizes as she leads Molly out of the room. “I know.”
Then men are abashed. When Hildy returns, she pauses in the doorway and delivers a doozy of a line:
“Gentlemen of the press.”