A 2000 story for my “Sidecar” column for New Times LA, an alternative weekly published from 1996 to 2002.

Mondo Video, Sanctuary of Sleaze

On some days video rental seems like a sideline to Mondo’s de facto role as halfway house. Today’s visitors include Bunny Boy, a stout black man conversing in an unintelligible falsetto with a plush rabbit, and Rocketboy, a bearded giant, outfitted in a homemade super-hero uniform.


Imagine that Blockbuster and the Warehouse got married and had a baby. Imagine the infant came out all deformed, and was quietly abandoned in a dumpster. The creature grows up angry and deranged, forming allegiances with violent and sleazy underworld filmmakers, digging up and resurrecting long-dead videos, and eventually breeding its own cinematic monstrosities worse than all the rest. The starring role in this horror show would be Mondo Video, a Los Feliz movie retailer located on Vermont between Hollywood Blvd. and Franklin Ave. and Hell.

On some days video rental seems like a sideline to Mondo’s de facto role as halfway house. Today’s visitors include Bunny Boy, a stout black man conversing in an unintelligible falsetto with a plush rabbit, and Rocketboy, a bearded giant, outfitted in a homemade super-hero uniform.

It’s Saturday night, and there’s a steady flow of customers crawling out of the city’s rotten woodwork for their video fix. Wild-eyed, and sporting a Fu Manchu mustache, owner “Colonel” Rob Schaffner signs up a new member, welcoming him to “the Mondo Family.” There’s cultish Mansonesque ring to the phrase, but Rob’s alarmingly sincere. “Hey, this is one place where fucked-up people can come and be at home.”

Mondo is literally a family undertaking. Rob’s wife and partner-in-crime Chris emerges from the back room with their dog Ilsa. Aside from her “Camp Erotica” T-shirt and canine companion, (who turns out to be “85% wolf”), she looks like someone who might let baby-sit your kids (if you weren’t too attached to them). The couple’s been together 17 tears ago, ever since a first date at K-mart in Harbor City. After 13 years of what Rob fondly remembers as “living in sin,” they tied the knot in a 1997 ceremony at the kitschy faux-Bavarian chapel in Torrance’s Alpine Village, at which a few wedding appeared wearing Nazi armbands. Isla, who takes her name from one of Rob’s favorite film’s Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, is an important Mondo’s Mascot’s along with Rocketboy, a sort of adopted man-child who lives in the basement of the couple’s San Pedro home. “The beast in the cellar,” is Rob’s affectionate name for the spaceman.

Rocketboy wears a patchwork costume including Halloween cape and customized flannel pajamas. Referring to what looks to the rest of the world like an old Nintendo data glove, he claims that his “Power Glove” is the creation of NASA engineers. His ensemble’s topped off by a gold Styrofoam Viking helmet. Rocketboy says he regularly prays to Odin, and associated Norse Gods, and begins describing his erotic fixation on Pippi Longstockings, whom he claims was “the first super-hero ever portrayed on screen. She’s super-strong, and she does super-fantastic stuff..” he explains.

Chris eases Rocketboy out of the conversation by offering him a root beer. Rob is quick to correct the misconception that Mondo Video is exclusively patronized by the insane. “Oh, no, no, no! I get suits coming in here all the time,” he says. “Cops, lawyers, doctors…” At 39, his voice has already guttered out into the evil croak of a white-trash William Burroughs. “Actually, those are the guys who rent the most deviated things I have. They’re always asking things like, ‘uh, do you have anything where they cut off the feet and then pee on the stumps?’ They ought to be fucking film producers! Universal’s missing out! Think of it: “ET in Bondage”!”

A quick perusal of the racks reveal more about the Schaffner’s rarefied tastes — from “Sid and Marty Kraft” to “shockumentaries,” from Bunuel and to drive-in schlock and psychedelia, from vintage striptease to hardcore fetish flicks (“Enticing Enemas,” “Lustful Midgets.”) There’s also a “Young Filmmakers” section featuring the work of amateur filmmakers unmotivated by artistic pretensions or commercial success. In fact, any glue-huffing sociopath with a camera and at least 5 productions bearing the Mondo stamp of approval can receive his own section in the racks.

Suddenly a Bettie Page look-alike leading a Doberman enters the store, and Bunny Boy — thus far quietly muttering to his doll something about a “hologram Quija board” — begins shrieking, “Rabbit girl! Rabbit Girl! Where’s your high heels?” Chris explains that every girl is “Rabbit Girl,” and that the ideal Rabbit Girls hops in on black stilettos. Until the real one comes along, Bunny Boy (sometimes called Arthur) contents himself by passionately kissing the rabbit doll’s face, or the scabrous spiderweb of sutures holding the front of the head together.

Today Arthur is also dragging along an auxiliary project — a “flying saucer” resembling a gyroscope mummified in duct tape. Surprisingly Rocketboy, a frequent UFO abductee working on a time machine of his own, seems disinterested, almost annoyed by Arthur’s UFO. It seems there’s been hostility simmering between the two since Easter when Mondo celebrated the Bunny Rabbit’s doll’s “birthday” with an egg hunt, which Rocketboy claims was unfairly skewed. “They all helped Arthur! No one helped me!” he fumes. “They were all running around, saying, ‘I got an egg for you Arthur! Here’s another one Arthur!’’”

Another holiday tradition is the July 4 “Transvestite BBQ, held for the last 10 years in the store parking lot. The latest of these is attended by a smattering of cross-dressers. The evening “climaxes” with a spontaneous lip-synched rendition of the theme to the forthcoming Mondo production, “Camp Erotica,” performed by porn star Kiki d’Aire shortly after she empties her bladder next to one of the parked cars. “Camp Erotica” is Mondo’s second film. Previously “Brides of Countess Recula” defined the production company’s uniquely deranged aesthetic with its memorable “Blood Orgy” scene featuring an unforgettable wriggling by Bridgette the Midget.

It was only last year that Mondo launched into porn production, but the pornographic action flicks of Russ Meyer are actually what inspired Rob to launch his business in the first place. Seated in a neighboring booth at Musso and Frank, back in 1983, Schaffner happened to overhear Meyer bitching about the major video chains refusing to carry his work. Then and there, Rob struck up a longtime friendship, realizing that Meyer was describing a retail niche that he (as an obsessive and deviant video collector) was born to fill. After “eight years of hell” running the store in unappreciative neighborhood in San Pedro,” Mondo relocated to Los Feliz in 1991. To finance the venture, Rob borrowed against the family home co-owned and occupied by his dad, Art, a retired cop.

Capt. Art is the patriarch of all this perversity, the incendiary fuel that drives Mondo’s hellish dynamo. The Captain’s emphasizes his police persona with handcuffs at his belt and a wallet stuffed with burglary tools, and dubious badges. His manner is as abrasive as his sandpaper voice. At first hearing it sounds as if Ilsa may have lunched on a bit of his larynx. He taps at an old head injury by way of explanation. “Steel flashlight.1983,” he says. “Robbie got beat up at the same time. Domestic deal in San Pedro.”

Capt. Art’s hair is dyed jet black, and though he admits to being 70, he says he’s “still chasing 34-year-old girls.” Semi-retired, he says he keeps busy pestering the LAPD with “crime-busting” leads. He also works on VCRs, cars, and carpentry, and “makes crosses for beautiful women — for a massage parlor or whatever you want to call it,” he rasps. “Robbie was there. I told him not to do it, but he let her handcuff him to it.” Art chuckles at the memory of his son shackled in a domme’s dungeon.

“See this son of a bitch here?” He thrusts forward a bruised fingernail. “It’s that fucking faggot-face Rocketboy! I got mad and yanked the window down on it.”

Rob eagerly chimes in with a little family trivia: despite the Captain’s loathing for the thing under the floorboards, he not only willing rents the space, but has also bailed Rocketboy out of jail on more than one occasion.

Art flies into an altered state of rage. Screeching like Barney Fife caught in a nightmare flashback, he relives it all, eyes bulging in disbelief: “Telephone rings: ‘Get me out, get me out they’re going to rape me! They’re going to kill me. I’ll help you paint the fence. I’ll help you paint the house. Old sucker Art gets him out! And I should’ve known better! He fucked me over the first goddamn time! Sick son of bitch! Sick lazy bastard! I still can’t understand why I did it. I pray every night, just asking what the hell happened to you, Art? I talk to my CATS about it!”

Rob is blissfully at home with vicious yet comfortably predictable routine.

Rob’s love of grotesque drama says a little about his attitude toward the changing Mondo neighborhood. “When we came over here it was all hookers and clinics and sleaze, and we loved it.” Now, he fears an “ugly trendiness” and beautification programs that could destroy the desperate atmosphere that previously felt so homey. “If they put that potted palm in front of my store, I swear I’ll piss on it every day till it’s dead.”

Not surprisingly, angry messages are frequently slipped under the door. “There was one, scrawled on brown paper bag,” Rob recalls: ‘Your storefront is grotesque. Please don’t force your tastelessness on the neighborhood any more.’ “Tasteless what? I mean, fill in the blank!”

What the concerned citizen omitted, the Shaffner’s seem to be taking care of pretty well. Filling the blank today are around 1800 videos. The collection is growing and more and more lost souls are drifting into a new dysfunctional family.