Dogs We Dig #14: Mario
Mario! It’s-a him! This shiny diamond of a man is our absolute favourite part of America.
After a disastrous Airbnb mishap, Helena spent her first afternoon in LA lugging her gear around looking for a hostel, which she thankfully found on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Sweaty and frustrated, she stomped the beach looking for a friendly face. And she found a bunch of them grinning googly-eyed at her from a coffee table. Fluorescent and adorably misshapen, these were today’s creations at Pet Rocks Venice Beach, run by Acting CEO Mario.
Mario’s existence here is uncomplicated. He wakes at dawn in his hammock on the beach, strung up amongst the other weirdos’ makeshift homes, and heads for the ocean. Here he gathers chi and then some fresh new rock friends, bestowing upon them eyesight, facial expressions and sentience. Each one is a character; some have names like Rockert Downey Jr or, simply (duh), The Rock. (Speaking of The Rock, actually, Helena’s dad met him once, just long enough to commit a faux-pas: “You’re that stone bloke, aren’t you?”). Mario’s afternoons are spent in an office chair under the palm trees, imploring tourists to consider a tiny new pet. These rocks can’t be bought; you adopt one that tugs at your heartstrings, and make an optional donation of food, drugs, money, art, vibes - whatever. Over the coming days Mario would share stories of his trippy adventures through America, blowing our minds.
Mario is Venice personified. Evenly sun-browned, he speaks in California English, every second word a slow “duuude”. He alternated between speed-dealer sunglasses and bookish frames, taught us about meditation and living in the wild, and concealed his hair from us for the first week under beanies, caps, and sombreros. He is a contemporary Californian hippie-stoner. But he’s an import - he hails from West Virginia, of all places. A little over a year ago Mario left home and embarked on a spiritual journey, intent on wandering the world in search of his true self. His ultimate quest? To make it to Goa, India. Having trekked to the West Coast of America, he inherited the Pet Rocks stand after its original founders left to trim trees in Humboldt County (apparently the dream of every Venetian). For now, the boardwalk is Mario’s home, where he sits patiently raising funds to propel him to his next destination, Hawaii. It’s here he hopes to become an off-grid jungle dweller, sleeping in his hammock and living off the land.
Have you heard of Slab City? Buried deep in the badlands of the poorest Californian county lies an abandoned military base. Within it is a 640-acre city with no rules, no laws and no police. It also lacks power, sewerage and waste systems, fresh water and taxes. Locals call it “the last free place on earth”. Built completely DIY by squatters, this city is off the grid and removed from civilization, attracting an array of fugitives, hippies, army vets, drug addicts, and weirdos. “Snowbirds” and their RVs populate the city during winter, but only a brave/stupid few stay for the summer months, when temperatures can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius. Slab City notably contains a church, various habitable art installations, a golf course, two stages and a grand piano. It boasts a weekly talent show and an annual prom. It is described as both an alternative living community and an anarchical nightmare. Theft and assault are common. This is the wild wild west. Of course, Mario was enthralled. He set up camp and called it home for a while. Rugged AF.
It didn’t take long for our friendship to blossom, and after a couple days on the boardwalk we invited Mario to join us on our roadtrip to San Francisco. After some meditating and a vivid dream, he determined it was meant to be and decided to join us. We were curious about his hidden hair but he was reluctant to share its secrets. He is obsessed with Asia. He taught us how they do in Cali: approach a stranger, say, “Steal my face,” and they’ll place a tab of LSD on your tongue. Almost all of his best stories begin with, “This one time when I was tripping…” Mario makes it a point to privately thank the universe for every meal, even fast food, eyes closed and hands held above the plate in silent gratitude. As our friendship ripened he became more at ease and finally let us see his glorious hair, wiry and black: future-dreads. Like a Hungarian puli.
Mario tagged along on our entire California leg for a total of three weeks, from LA to Yosemite. Can you fall in love platonically? I think so. To me, the logical next step from Hawaii is Australia, and I hope for him to materialise here sometime in 2019. But if you’re in Venice between now and Christmas, head to the end of Sunset Ave and find the magical golden boy in a sombrero painting stones. Tell him we said hi.