Just a Thought – Curtis Massey, Karen Bass and Lenny Bruce

At the City Council meeting last Monday night on Nov. 22, there was a moment so absurd that it was farce. I realized it was farce when I saw that everyone involved was taking it so seriously. Think about this – if you were killed in an amusement park, would you want a roller coaster named after you?

For the last two years, Culver City has revisited the death of Police Lt. Curtis Massey annually. At this moment, not much else would persuade all those police officers to even be in the same room with Police Chief Don Pedersen. Our newly elected Congresswoman Karen Bass was present to offer a tribute. While Massey’s anniversary will not fall until Jan. 28, by that time there will be a sign on the freeway where Massey died, dedicating that stretch of the road to his memory. Is anyone familiar with the idea of irony?

It might because Bass makes me queasy, or that Pedersen makes me queasy, but the whole thing made me feel like throwing up.

If you were killed in a factory, would you want a stretch of the production line named after you? Really?

While I don’t agree with most of what the Mormon Church stands for, they do have an interesting take on why their Christian Church does not use the symbol of the cross. The explanation I have heard from several Mormons asks “If you had a friend who was stabbed to death, would you remember him with a knife?” This is in complete sympathy with a quote from the infamous comedian Lenny Bruce, who was not a Mormon, but noticed, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”

Because Massey was killed on a freeway, we’re going to name an overpass for him?
I think I’m going to be carsick.

Which brings me to Karen Bass, who certainly did not originate the idea of putting up signs on the freeway “In Memorial.” I don’t know who did, but I will speculate that they spent way, way too much time on the freeway, thinking about death.

I am stuck with the notion that Culver City and Karen Bass are like two strangers in an elevator, who find themselves with some time to pass, and nothing much to say to each other.

When Bass was running for office this past year, I was at an event where she offered to answer questions from the audience. I was sitting next to Rosie La Briola, who candidly observed that we had not seen much of Diane Watson during her term of office. “What are you going to do to change that?” she asked Bass, “How will you do things differently so that we know you are working for us?”

Even the most polished professional politician occasionally has a moment where the mask slips. For just an instant, with a look of embarrassed honesty in her eyes, Bass dropped her persona. Shaking it off quickly, she took a breath, forced a big smile, and changed the tone to one of joking apology. “Well, you know, it’s a long trip around from D.C., that’s a lot of miles, and I know Diane put on a lot of miles, and you still can’t see everyone, and you still can’t do all you want to do. So, I will do my best. I don’t know that I can do more than Diane, did, I surely will try.”

Rosie and I exchanged cynical glances, and sighed. The subtext didn’t need to be articulated. Yeah, well, we’d vote for her, but not with any enthusiasm. Wouldn’t be seeing much of her anyway.

I can certainly this freeway memorial for Massey as a gesture, an attempt to make some sort of elevator conversation on the congresswoman’s part. But like an awkward comment offered simply to break the silence, it falls flat.

At the council chambers, I could see the police force eyeing Chief Pedersen and imagined what they might be thinking. Dragging Massey back for another official ceremony as s way of waving off the critics, if even for a few hours, showing himself as a stalwart pillar of the CCPD, honoring the fallen hero, Pedersen was in the right place at the right time. Lots of folks in the chamber probably thought he was doing the right thing. I didn’t.

The Culver City Council members, who at least had the good taste not to instigate any of this, listened to the proclamation being read, and posed for photos, and eventually got back to the agenda for the evening.

In the mystery novel version (or action-thriller screenplay) there would have to be a whispered conversation between Bass and Pedersen, agreeing to use the anniversary of Massey’s death for their own villainous purposes. In reality, Bass and Pedersen are probably equally unaware of and unconcerned about each other. Our police will have to continue to work for someone they think is a bad boss, a bad cop and a bad guy. The congressional representative will have a lot more to deal with than putting up a sign on a freeway, just to make conversation with some well-placed constituents.

Lenny Bruce also noted “Satire is tragedy plus time.”

I have had an amazing relationship with Curtis Massey, although I doubt we ever met. I had just started at the Culver City News when he was killed. In local news business, it was like learning to swim by leaping off the high dive into deep water. I got a lot of compliments on how the paper covered the story. I can credit Lt. Massey with teaching me to swim, fast.

When I parted company with the Culver City News almost a year later, I spent some time thinking about that cold afternoon at Holy Cross Cemetery. I thought about all the police who turned out. I thought about community and service. I thought about ethics and honor.

At this point, I can only wonder what Massey would think of the whole deal. To me, it’s still not something to laugh about. I’ve lost too many loved ones to unexpected and sudden deaths to ever find it funny. But if you were killed in a car crash, would you want a sign with your name on it on the freeway? Really?

The deed is done. Bass gets her official good will gesture, and Pederson gets another 20 minutes to pretend that anyone on the police force respects him.

While I do hope is isn’t untimely or violent, after I go I think I would like to have a sunflower planted next to a bike path or maybe a playground– please, no plaque.

The Actors' Gang


  1. Great article Judith, although I don’t share your outrage over the idea of the memorial. Yes, there is irony to it, and yes, I’m sure the people pushing for it are there for self-serving reasons. But the idea of a memorial for a fallen officer is a way of recognizing not just him and his sacrifice, but all those who serve and protect the public. It reminds us not to take them for granted, and maybe even to be a little more careful each day on our own drives home. A sunflower in a garden may be the perfect memorial for a family member to plant for Officer Massey. Maybe they’ve already done just that, or something like it. And, if they are opposed to the memorial then I think it IS a problem. But this sounds more like a matter of spotting irony in symbolism (w/ a little contempt for local pols thrown in) and then being frustrated that no one else sees it. People may well see it, but view something else as more important. I can see your point without feeling that it trumps the merits of a memorial. And neither of us could possibly say how Curtis would have felt–although I’m sure he never envisioned making such an impact on the world that he would have a stretch of freeway named after him, or that his family would be able to pass by it proudly forever. As for the cross, it is a reminder as much of Christ’s life, His sacrifice, and, most importantly, His resurrection, than it is of His “execution.” Just one woman’s opinion:)

  2. Your reader should have instructions- Whatever you are using (Kindle, iPad, etc. ) will have RSS included. Good luck!

  3. Please keep your horrible, nasty, outrageous opinions to yourself, Judith. Curt Massey was not just another fallen officer and hero, he was my brother. Speaking on behalf of our family, we find your remarks regarding his memorial sign, his Chief and Councilwoman Bass inappropriate and rude. You clearly do not know either of them well, and your vile attitude is not welcome. I almost didn’t comment since your article so so horribly pathetic it hopefully won’t get too many readers. Thank you so much for making me read this diatribe on the anniversary of his death…really made my day. As a family we planted a tree in Curt’s honor on the two year anniversary on Friday. The memorial sign is a special tribute to my brother, hard fought for by Councilwoman Bass (who has her own tragic circumstances…but you probably didn’t know that) and Chief Pederson. An yes, he wouldn’t have asked for it but he sure would be proud. His three beautiful children will always know the incredible impact their father had on this world. So next time you rant some scathing article, make sure you remember that there is a family and a story behind all your so-called self-serving characters. I DO know them all…and they are wonderful people. You should be ashamed of yourself. I know Curt would be.

  4. Judith, you make me queasy and you should be utterly ashamed of yourself writing such an article, one that Curt’s family, me included, should have to read on the two year anniversary of his death.
    Next time you decide to put your idiotic words into print, take note how people connected to the story will feel.
    You are thoughtless.
    Let me also add that Curt’s family completely supports the decision to place a sign at the overpass where he was so horrifically killed.
    And, for the record, Congresswoman Karen Bass and Chief Don Pedersen have been nothing but supportive and kind during this time.
    Again, you should be ashamed of yourself and hopefully no one gave any consideration to your nasty article.

  5. My thanks to both Jill and Holly for writing. Since this post was published in November, I’m puzzled as to how anyone was “forced” to read it on on the anniversary of Curtis Massey’s death. When this was first posted, I heard from a number of people in the community who disagreed with my point of view, and they felt the sign on the freeway would be a thoughtful memorial. As you know, I don’t.
    If you read my more recent essay on “Hope, Health and Healing,” you know that I have also lost close family to sudden violent death, and I know how traumatic and painful that loss can be. I offer my sincere apologies to anyone whose grief was stirred anew.
    There is no question that Curtis Massey was one of the best officers Culver City ever had, and that his positive influence in the community was felt by all who worked with him, or whose lives were touched by his goodness.
    My objection was to the behavior of the Bass and Pedersen, and I still feel that this was calculated grandstanding on the part of two officials looking for a boost in their pr ratings. I am glad to hear that they have been considerate in their communication with the family; it is the absolute least that should be expected of them.
    Again, my most sincere condolences on your loss. I thank you both for your comments. Crossroads is here to be a voice for the community.

  6. Judith, I happened to come across this article on the two year anniversary of Curt’s death while trying to locate a different article. Of course I would read something negative regarding my brother’s death, so I could reply accordingly. I believe you would do the same for one of your family members.

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