A Day at The Tiki, The LA Porno House of Fred Willard's Alleged Lewd Conduct

I've ridden past the Tiki "Xymposium" hundreds of times on the 704 bus, which connects L.A.'s concrete-laden eastside to its breezy western coast via Santa Monica Boulevard. Every time I'd by chance glance over and see the theater, its fading, sunburned red sign getting shabbier all the time, I'd think that it looked like a good spot to drink oneself to death or to look for someone who owes you money.

To me, it never seemed to be the kind of place where I'd like to pull my penis out and masturbate, but, then again, I'm not beloved comic actor Fred Willard.

Last week, as many people are aware by now, Willard was arrested in the Tiki for what police are calling a "lewd act." That's a vague term, and Willard, who clearly has a lot of life left in him at 72, maintains his innocence. But Gawker was interested in what exotic delights sit behind the Tiki's dingy doors and entice people in the first place. Because I live exactly 2.4 miles away from the theater and have a particularly high tolerance for lewd acts (I‘m from Arizona), they sent me.

The second I agreed to go to the Tiki and write about it, my friends Dylan and Amanda said they wanted to go, also. I figured it would be nice to have some company for my first time in a jerk-off house, so I agreed. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, Amanda pulled up to my apartment with Dylan in her passenger seat. It was hot and humid out, and I immediately regretted wearing a black t-shirt and dark pants, but I wanted to look as inconspicuous as possible. "Are you ready to go watch some men in a small room masturbating to porn?" I asked. Dylan and Amanda laughed nervously.

Based on what little information one can glean from reading about the Tiki online, it's not necessarily absurd to be a bit wary of going there. One particularly racist review on Yelp warns you to keep your guard up, because "the latinos [sic] will expose themselves to you." Another, by a reviewer called "Bitten H." notes, "A quarter of the audience is wearing hooded sweaters and smoking crack, another quarter is jerking off, the rest are jerking each other off, cruising for a jerk off or doing something so vile you probably wouldn't want to see it." In short, the Tiki does not sound like a very inviting place, especially not for a trio composed of two men with opinions about fonts and a five-foot-five blonde woman. In the final testament to its outsized shadiness, when I call the Tiki on Saturday morning to ask some questions about its history and Willard's arrest, I find that the number has been disconnected.

When we arrive at the theater, on a block otherwise made up of a crummy strip mall and a 99-cent store, we can only find 30-minute parking. "I don't want to be here for more than a half an hour," I say. "OK, good." says Dylan. "I was worried." One of the more interesting things about the Tiki is that, unlike most other sin bins in the world, it has no rear entrance that might allow customers to enter and exit with some modicum of modesty. To get in, one must go through the front, which sits on one of the busiest roads in one of the largest cities in North America. If you are a person who is even a minor celebrity in L.A., there are literally dozens of more private places you can go to look at pornography (and that‘s not even including in your own home with your own computer). I didn't want to speculate about Willard's motivations before I'd even set foot in the theater, but it seems that if you're at the Tiki, chances are you either want to get caught, or that the thought of getting caught is part of excitement.

A Tiki ticket costs $13, which buys you a four-hour chunk of time in the theater. I can't even imagine watching four hours of straight porno in my own bed, let alone surrounded by strangers, but it didn't seem like the time or place to ask for a discount. Above the ticket counter was a sign in big blue letters: "MONEY NO BACK." When I told the South-Asian man behind the filthy bullet-proof glass I'd like to pay for three, he seemed fazed only when he saw that one of the tickets, the kind of little yellow rectangles churches use for raffles, was for a woman. "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh," he said knowingly. "Ohhhhhhhhhhh."

A Day at The Tiki, The LA Porno House of Fred Willard's Alleged Lewd Conduct

Just before you go into the theater, there's another warning in broken English taped to the door: "Do not open zipper and pant. Falling [sic] to adhere to the above instructions may result police arrest."

The Tiki is, without question, the darkest movie theater I've ever been in. Coming in from the brilliant mid-afternoon sun, I had to stop for a moment and hold the wall, fearful that if I tried to sit down too quickly, I'd reach out and grab a shoulder, or a penis. Ever since agreeing to come to the Tiki, what worried me most is what the room would smell like, so I was pleasantly surprised when the only odor I could pick up was stale cigarette smoke, which hung in the air like humidity from years of patrons once being allowed to light up and get their rocks off at the same time. It was only after a few moments that I could see just how small the room actually was. Surely no bigger than 700 square feet—Willard wrote on Twitter last week that it's the size of a racquetball court, which is 800 square feet—it's not much more than a small constellation of vinyl chairs and a midsize projection screen with porn playing on it. Someone had parked their mountain bike in front of the screen, on which a man with a Russian accent was receiving oral sex from a brown-haired woman and screaming at her, "You like that, you dirty bitch?!" To the right of the big screen, in the upper corner of the room, was a TV monitor playing a different porn flick. In that one, which looked to be from the ‘70s, a man and woman were having much more loving intercourse, with the woman on top and facing away from him. I started to consider why porn is much more violent now than it used to be, but then I noticed that a man sitting on the aisle was staring at me, so I quickly sat down.

****

I wish I could tell you something insane happened during my ten minutes seated in the rather comfortable and un-sticky chair at the Tiki theater, but I can't. Maybe the four men in there knew there were interlopers in the midst, and so they remained on their best behavior. But from what I could see, it was basically just some middle-aged dudes staring quietly at very run-of-the-mill pornography. One of the men in front of me was asleep, perhaps there just to enjoy the air conditioning. Another, this one in the row behind me, had his chin in his hand and looked bored. When I saw a man to my left digging through a small vinyl bag, I thought for sure he was going for a sex toy or hypodermic needle, and I tensed in anticipation. In actuality, he pulled out a soda and then stood up in the corner and drank it, placing his foot on his chair's arm rest and leaning forward to stretch his calf. Every now and again he'd rub his crotch through his shorts, but after coming in with expectations of a crack orgy, seeing a guy gently touch himself through his clothes seemed as tame as an episode of The Cosby Show. Things got laughably commonplace when, during a scene in which the Russian man on the big screen was spitting on his partner's crotch and a man on the little screen was ejaculating onto a blonde woman‘s face, the guy from the ticket booth appeared in the theater with a bottle of air freshener. He walked silently up and down the aisle, spraying haphazardly into the air and leaving the cloying stench of fake potpourri. "He looked friendly," Amanda would later say, "and a little embarrassed."

Probably the strangest thing that happened all day came when Amanda, out of curiosity, went to check out the bathroom at the front of the theater. I'd looked at it before her and saw mostly what you'd expect: a toilet with no seat, a sink, and a garbage bin filled with wadded Kleenex. But not until Amanda went did the man who'd once seemed bored instantly perk up at the sight of a female silhouette. His posture went rigid, like he'd seen the ghost of a vagina, and when Amanda returned and sat one row behind him, he jumped up and stood in the aisle, fidgeting nervously in his slip-on rubber sandals, which he wore over tube socks. After a couple minutes, he decided to sit back down, though this time he sat right next to Amanda.

I didn't know what to expect after that, but I assumed that there was no way the revved up old man sitting next to my small lady friend in the porno theater was going to end well, so I told Dylan and Amanda it was time to leave. We rushed out hurriedly and, in the warmth of the sunlight, I realized how on edge I'd been for the 12 minutes I'd been inside. I couldn't even lean back in my chair, so I have no idea how anyone gets relaxed enough to have an orgasm in there. "What the fuck was that?" asked Dylan. "What the fuck was that?"

A few days later, having calmed down from my first visit, I returned to the Tiki with the goal of talking to a patron or two. I hung around for about a half hour starting at 8 p.m., during which time I realized that the only way to look creepier than a guy ducking into a peep show is to be a guy quietly pacing back and forth in front of a peep show. Only one Tiki customer came while I was there. He was clean-shaven and wearing a cable knit sweater, and his aftershave smelled expensive.

A Day at The Tiki, The LA Porno House of Fred Willard's Alleged Lewd Conduct

Alas, when I asked if I could interview him, he looked at me like I'd said something gravely offensive. "Please move," he said. He purchased one ticket for the evening showing of Teen Ravers, Roco's POV 9, and More Than an Ass Full.

With nobody else to talk to, I started chatting with the man at the ticket booth, the same man who'd sprayed air freshener in my face the weekend before. He told me his name is Kazi, and that he's been the manager of the Tiki for two years. Kazi was on duty the night Fred Willard was arrested, and he told me he remembers selling Willard the ticket—not because he knew Willard was famous, but because Willard was "acting differently than other customers."

"He read the list of movies very carefully," said Kazi, "and then he paid me and walked in, but he did it very slowly."

Kazi told me that when the cops came that night, he went into the theater with them. However, unlike with past raids, which he said have been happening more and more in recent months, Kazi didn't see anyone with their pants down or with "open zippers," not even Willard. "I didn't see that with this man," he said. According to Kazi, the cops questioned Willard in front of the theater for a few minutes before taking him away. He said that's the last he saw of Willard. He also said he‘s sick of the all the media attention focusing on his little theater. "I'm very tired of talking about this man," he told me. "There is too much talking about this man."

Kazi says the LAPD vice squad started regularly sweeping the Tiki back in November, and that now they come up to four times a day. In response, fewer and fewer customers have been frequenting the Tiki, horrified that they‘ll be forever branded "that one guy who was at the circle jerk theater." "Business has gone down," Kazi told E! last week. "Customers do not come. They are too nervous to come here." Kazi told me that he thinks all the talk of Willard will only serve to hurt business even more.

In the wake of the Great Tiki Theater Incident of 2012, I have a feeling that Fred Willard, who remains the host of ABC's Trust Us with Your Life, will be fine. The man to worry for is Kazi.


Cord Jefferson will be joining Gawker's staff as West Coast Contributing Editor on August 6.