The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on August 19, 1992 · Page 323
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 323

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Wednesday, August 19, 1992
Page 323
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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 19, 1992 B1 1 FEAR: Harassment LOS ANGELES TIMES WASHINGTON EDITION Continued from BIO The story begins in the Middle East. Kouchacji was born in Syria and raised in Lebanon. In the early '70s, he was working as an entertainment writer for a French-language weekly in Beirut when he married an American singer. After moving to the United States, where he became a citizen, Kouchacji worked as a sommelier for Disney World and several New York area restaurants. On the evening of June 30, 1974, Kouchacji and his wife were in Beirut, where she had been booked for an extended engagement. She had been invited to a women-only party thrown by a Saudi princess, and Kouchacji had agreed to pick her up at 11:30. But the time came and went, and she didn't appear. After waiting until 1 a.m., Kouchacji decided he had the wrong address, and left. According to Kouchacji, this is what happened next-. Turning the corner, he found his way blocked by a small vehicle. Four men with machine guns jumped out. They dragged him out of his Mercedes, bound him, threw him into their auto and drove away. Fifteen minutes later, Kouchacji found himself inside a Palestinian refugee camp. He was actually relieved. He had feared that his kidnapers were robbers. But now they would learn that he was a non-political person and neither Arab nor Jew and would quickly clear up a case of mistaken identity. His captors had other ideas. They asked his identity but refused to accept his explanations and he was thrown into a windowless basement with only one light and a blanket on the floor. Over the next five days, he was interrogated every two hours, beaten severely and threatened by an endless series of men and young boys waving automatic weapons in his face. Convinced he was going to die, Kouchacji attempted suicide by taking a small plastic bowl and scratching his wrist with it. Tearing away at the cut with his teeth, he opened a large wound. His captors found him lying in a pool of blood. They rushed him to a hospital, where a doctor patched him up. While in the hospital, Kouchacji managed to contact his mother through a sympathetic orderly. She alerted the American embassy that, along with the Lebanese government, interceded on his behalf and obtained his release. State Department documents that Kouchacji has obtained under the FOIA indicate he was kidnaped by a rogue faction of the PLO which mistakenly believed he was a CIA agent a foreigner driving a Mercedes with Belgian plates in a neighborhood where he didn't belong. It was, as Kouchacji knew all along, a mistake. But it changed his life, both "psychologically and maybe even physiologically," says Wiley, his psychiatrist. Kouchacji became convinced he had to clear his name: "You know, kidnaped in FANS: Madonna Continued from BIO peted conference room about twice the size of a 7-Eleven. In a far corner, videotapes of Madonna interviews played endlessly on a 19-inch television. Just out of earshot stood the "Madonna Collectibles Museum." three long tables crowded with dolls, picture discs, a press kit from "Desperately Seeking Susan" and an authentic Frederick's of Hollywood copy of the bustier Madonna wore on the Who's That Girl Tour. Fans perused the merchandise or huddled in small groups, trading bootleg videos for Japanese CDs and then trading addresses so they could go home and trade some more. Buses left every few hours for a nonstop, blurry-photo, $25 tour of important sites from her suburban Detroit past, like the department store where she used to shoplift and the Dunkin' Donuts where she hung out when she ditched church. If some patrons were disappointed with the number of card -table merchants "You get a lot more at a Star Trek convention," observed Miguel Mendes of Montreal others were positively dizzy. "This is the greatest Madonna convention ever," said Jim Harris, 20, forgetting that it was also the only Madonna convention ever. "I'm the biggest fan in Paw Paw, Mich ," he said, his voice rising in evangelical passion. "She's the greatest entertainer ever. She's the best dancer, the best singer, the best actress, the best everything." Paw Paw, don't preach. There was no one to convert, except the occasional parents wondering what those darned kids had gotten them into this time. "My theory is that after Sinatra, there's no one else," said Frank Morsovjjlo, 54, of Oak Lawn, 111. He flew up SurtSay morning with his Lebanon by the PLO, which leaves the immediate impression that I am an Israeli agent," he says. Kouchacji began feeling paranoid and guilty because he thought other people believed he had done 'The only way I can go back to work is if I leave behind a trail of notoriety, it puts everybody on the spot if something happens . . . I'm telling the terrorists, listen, Bashir is an important person in Washington, he's known.' BASHIR KOUCHACJI something wrong. He knew there were factions within factions in the Middle Eastern maelstrom, that betrayal and distrust were the norm. He became convinced that people thought he was an agent of some sort the Mossad (the Israeli secret police), the CIA. who knew? He even questioned if his wife had any part in this. When he asked where she was that evening, her answers were vague, he says. (He will not give his former wife's name and does not know where she is living.) Looking back, Kouchacji believes if he had received psychological counseling immediately after his kidnaping, he might have been able to deal better with the trauma. "That would have taken the guilt and fear off," he says, "because when they fester a long time, every action that comes laterfrom an innocent guy who says hello in the street, to a phone call that is a hang-up, or from anybody or anything who looks Arab and wants to talk to you it's a threat. It's somebody who wants to hurt you." Kouchacji stayed in Lebanon for a few months, hoping his continued presence would convince people he was not a political threat. Then he moved to Los Angeles in 1974, where he became the manager of the Dar Maghreb Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Still he was fearful. He suffered from extreme mood swings and bursts of paranoia. He eventually moved to Atlantic City, where he managed a restaurant. Then he and his sister, Vivi-ane, opened the first Marrakesh Restaurant in Philadelphia in 1977. The years in Philadelphia were good the restaurant was a hit. More importantly, the city had a relatively small Middle Eastern population, which offered a kind of therapy for him. He could ignore the past and just work. But redemption was always in the back of his mind. In the early 1980s, he and Viviane decided to open the Marrakesh in northwest daughter, Jodie, 22, who was standing respectfully behind the velvet rope that sealed off the "museum." "As a parent, there's a fine line here," Morsovillo said. "I'm very liberal in raising my child. But as a role model, this isn't what you want." Well, maybe not. But any number of conventioneers counted the inviled-yet-absent Madonna as an inspiration. "She's the richest, most powerful woman in the world," said Jennifer Gray, a theater student from Chicago. "She's self-made and self-motivated. She brought herself out of that little disco queen mold and turned herself into Madonna." Gray found out about the Ma-donnathon on Chicago television, but didn't find out much. She drove to Southfield not knowing her final destination and called hotels until she found the right one. "I'm just amazed at how she's been able to promote herself," said Gray, who wore her mole correctlyto the right of her nose. "I just really respect her." Aviva Schnarch, 15, badgered her parents into making the four-hour trip from Toronto. "It sounded like a great opportunity to add to my collection," she said. With $200 in hand from babysitting and clerical earnings, she eyed a stand-up cardboard movie display that eventually went to someone else for $50. "She gets what she wants and she has talent," Schnarch said. In the two years, two months, two weeks and six days since she saw Madonna perform, she has worked to become similarly assertive, "and now I've assumed that role. I'm not a follower,, I'm a leader." The Carperifers sold a lot of iii(aaiHf V-r4 a m BERN1E BOSTON Los Angeles Times Bashir Kouchacji now says that D.C. They saw Washington as a sophisticated step up, and, says Kouchacji, "I thought maybe by managing an Arabic restaurant, in a city with all those Arab diplomats, I will clear myself with the Arabic community." Then the calls began. A phone was installed in the D.C. Marrakesh during construction, and when Kouchacji came down from Philadelphia to supervise the work, the phone would ring and there would be no answer at the other end. When he decided to hook up an answering machine, he found messages consisting of weird laughter and tsk, tsk sounds. With the opening of the restaurant, the calling escalated. L'enfant became a fixture. Employees were threatened. Kouchacji's longtime lover was terrified. And slowly but surely, Kouchacji began to change. Edginess replaced the cordiality that had been his trademark. Nightmares about beatings and torture overwhelmed sleep. "The most significant change to me," says Kouchacji's former lover, who prefers to remain anonymous, "is that I became aware that no one was above suspicion to him. That was very unnerving to me. He was Madonna look-alike Jennifer Gray records, too, but they probably never turned a meek junior high schooler into a drill sergeant. And they don't figure to get their own convention. "Madonna inspires everything I do, and I'm not ashamed to say it," said Tim Davis, 24, a fashion design student from Cincinnati. "She made me realize who I was." Davis sewed most of his outfit, which included an ivory blouse-sleeved shirt with a built-in cravat, ivory Spandex knee britches and an 18th-Century-style corset with lace-up sides. The corset was crafted of the same green floral fabric as his Rand -made shoes, psychological counseling immediately after his kidnaping might "have taken the guilt and fear off." very angry. He never got physical with anyone, but he would erupt in rage." (She and Kouchacji broke up in 1987 after five years. ) That rage, and the debilitating nature of an estimated 7,000 abusive phone calls over a three- to four-year period, drove him to seek psychiatric help. Kouchacji has been in Sibley Hospital since 1987. He has been discharged on several occasions, but two or three weeks outside his haven are enough time for the nightmares, the sleeplessness and the paranoia to return. He has had some success with treatments at the Swiss clinic where he has been hospitalized several times. Kouchacji has also been through a seemingly endless series of legal confrontations. He has hired several lawyers to intercede on his behalf with the FBI and the phone company. Three are working on various aspects of the case, including attempts to obtain FOIA data. An FBI spokesman confirms that when the agency was called in, the phone company did have a trace on the line, starting in early 1987. The FBI, which started its own trace in May, 1988, has never been able to identify the caller. The phone company will not says her guru "brought herself out purse and fan. The fan had fans of its own. "I modeled it after the 'Vogue' video," he said. "I snapped it open when I got here. Some girl screamed and went and got her friends." Vamping and posing were primary pastimes, with dozens of people dressed like Madonna or just not dressed like anything you'd normally see on the street. Two blond teeny-boppers in top-knots and pony tails wandered around practicing synchronized Madonna moves, stopping like a parade, float for anyone with a video, camera. An MTV crew worked tile room the field pro comment on the case, but said that out of 13,700 complaints in 1991 for harassing calls, traps or traces were put on 6,750 lines in the sprawling Washington metropolitan area, lasting one to two weeks. They say it is rare that the FBI is called in and only then it is at the request of the customer. In the meantime, Kouchacji has won a $436,000 workers compensation judgment from his insurer, because the nature of his job which involved a lot of phone time was the primary cause of his illness. Kouchacji has decided to fight back in a highly visible way, both against L'enfant and to repair his reputation. Beginning in January, he and the restaurant have placed a series of ads in the Sunday opinion sections of the Washington Post and Washington Times. Most of the ads feature a large "USA!" headline, with copy leaning toward exhortative political homilies on the order of "only the United States can ensure that the new world order will be truly responsive to the rights and needs of the oppressed." Kouchacji sees the ads, which JOHN LUKE For The Times of that little disco queen mold." ducer actually wore a necktie and wanna-bes compared notes on their media exposure. "You know what? MTV talked to us!" "So? Entertainment Weekly talked to me for a whole half-hour!" At one point, a six-months-pregnant vendor stood on a table to take a picture of a magazine photographer taking a picture of Gray, one of the more convincing look-alikes. Julia Nash, 24, the vendor in question, held a 2-inch-thick wad of bills in one hand and rubbed her eyes witri the other. cost about $13,000 each in the Post, as "therapeutic," but says they also fulfill a specific agenda: "The only way I can go back to work is if I leave behind a trail of notoriety, it puts everybody on the spot if something happens . . . I'm telling the terrorists, listen, Bashir is an important person in Washington, he's known." And the phone calls? Kouchacji thinks he might have seen some faces during those days in Lebanon he wasn't meant to see. The calls and harassment might be a warning he should keep quiet. Relatives and employees tend to agree the kidnaping is at the bottom of the harassment. "What else would it be?" says Nina Frangieh, a niece who runs the Philadelphia Marrakesh. "Why else would it be happening?" Nine years after L'enfant first called the Marrakesh, the restaurants' business has been affected because of abnormally high employee turnover. The calls aren't as frequent three days can go by without a buzz but L'enfant hasn't forgotten his friends. "This L'enfant should have grown up by now," says a longtime employee of the restaurant, "but it's the same voice." "I'm going to cry when this is all over," she said. Nash was liquidating most of a collection six years in the assembling 13 cartons of magazines, videos, posters and imported CDs. "I'm having a child," she explained, "and I have no insurance." Her only consolation was the thought of Madonnathon '93. "It'll probably be bigger. That's when I'll come and buy back everything I sold." Promoters Bruce Baron and Pete and Linda Weinzettl are already contemplating next year. Scott Crane. 31, a graphic artist from San Diego, had two suggestions. First, he said, "they need to get some stuff that's really Madonna, some stuff actually owned." And more important, "they need to get that Queerdonna thing." Queerdonna, a 300-pound drag queen, had been expected to enter the impersonation contest Saturday night at Menjo's, the Detroit gay bar where Madonna learned to disco. For reasons unknown, she missed the party, which included a three-tiered, wedding-style birthday cake with little Madonna figurines and black candles. She also missed Sunday, leaving the field wide open for eight Girls and Boys who needed far less Material. Gilian Opolko, an 18-year-old from Kitchener, Ontario, who won on Saturday, had the closest resemblance but only a modest bump and grind. She finished third. Ari Gold of New York City, who dressed like himself but danced like Madonna, finished second in a contest adjudicated by audience with a blond wig that might have set her back $10, won the top prize-, a jacket ostensibly worn by a dancer on the Blond Ambition tour. An hour later, she was still being approached or autographs. "It's stardom only because I'm somebody else,1' she said. "That'the sad part." '

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