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"Ski" Demski Ailing, But Hopeful After Beverly Hills Cardiologist Offers Help Following LA Times Article

by Bill Pearl

Ski 1(January 5, 2002. updated Jan. 7) -- As I drove up to "The Pole" at 4th and Lime today, LB icon, flag waver and occasional City Hall antagonist Thomas "Ski" Demski was outside, preparing an Olympic Flag (made for LA's 1984 games) for possible use at Salt Lake City's '02 games in the coming weeks.

I took a picture but Demski wasn't satisfied. He wanted both corners hoisted to better photograph the banner. "Hey, come over here," he said to a stranger walking down 4th St. The man smiled, came over and gladly helped Demski lift the banner.

Ski 2

Ski was pleased, thanked the helpful stranger, folded the Olympic banner skillfully and we went inside to talk.

Ski 6Mr. Demski, 72, freely admits his condition today is better than it was a few days ago when he felt near rock bottom. He'd been told seven of nine heart arteries, already once bypassed, were blocked again and it appeared little more could be done.

Then LA Times writer Bill Plaschke wrote an eloquent piece (published Jan. 1, 2002, Times Sports section) describing Demski's patriotic and civic deeds as well as his current plight. It was a catalytic action.

"A woman up in LA saw the article, " Demski told me, "and she linked me up with an outstanding Beverly Hills cardiologist. The doctor graciously spoke to me and I now have hope," he said, adding he planned to see the heart expert in a week or so.

Ski 5Seated at his computer (with his permission, we'll give you his email address below), surrounded by news clippings, ringing phones, cable television, a pill box and squawking pet birds, Demski seemed overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern for his health.

"CBS showed up and taped me for their national early morning show," he said, adding it could run this coming Thursday with Bryant Gumbel. The Beachbomber also carried a somber piece by Steve Propes following the Times article. Demski said PT columnist Tom Hennessy also planned a forthcoming piece. [Subsequent note: It was published in the Jan 6 PT].

"I was feeling lousy a few days ago, but now I have hope," Demski said while reflecting on two decades of his fiercely individualistic activism.

A clipping file traces some of his encounters with LB City Hall:

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  • In 1981, a City Hall staffer contended Demski needed a permit because his giant flag pole included shiny lettering saying "The Pole," making it a sign (which requires a permit). Demski refused and stared City Hall down. Would they really prosecute him for a misdemeanor, potentially carrying a $500 fine and six months in jail? The brouhaha was ended by the City Council, which changed the law to exempt flag poles from the city's sign ordinance. Score one for Demski.

  • In 1988, LB City Hall actually prosecuted Demski, charging him criminally for refusing to stop flying his giant flag after 10 p.m. City Hall acted after roughly two dozen neighbors complained over the flag's flapping noise; City Hall claimed the resulting decibels violated LB's noise ordinance and ordered Demski to lower the flag at night or face prosecution. (The Press-Telegram editorialized against Demski: "The order is reasonable. It simply requires Demski to follow normal protocol in handling the American flag -- and to demonstrate some courtesy toward his neighbors.") Demski refused to bow to City Hall's edict and was charged with seven misdemeanor counts that could have brought a maximum of three and a half years in jail and $7,875 in fines. (The court case made national news.) Eventually, a judge threw out City Hall's complaint against Demski. Score two for Demski.

  • Demski reacted to City Hall's actions by running for Mayor. Three times. In one memorable Mayoral candidate debate, Demski appeared with his pet parrot on his shoulder.

    Ski 7He still dotes on his birds. While we visited, he took time to greet "Blue," who was not in good humor and nipped Ski on his beard, although Ski didn't seem to mind.

    Ski 8

    Ski was alert and hopeful, gladly flashing his tattoos.

    Ski 9

    Despite his health, Mr. Demski travelled to New York and "Ground Zero" at the former World Trade Center. He is proud that one of his flags flew from a crane helping in the recovery effort.

    He looks forward to meeting with the uptown cardiologist in about a week.

    "I sure hope they can do for me what they did for [Vice President] Dick Cheney," he says with a smile, adding that he was an invited guest at President George W. Bush's Jan. 2001 inaugural.

    Ski 10He notices his NYC "Ground Zero" ID badge is lying on top of a box of pills. He shakes his head.

    I ask what he'd like his LB friends to do. Ski thinks for a moment, then says, "Just let 'em say a few prayers and think some good thoughts for me," he replies.

    I ask Ski if he'd like to receive email. His face lights up. He says, "Of course."

    With Ski's permission, we've included a direct link to his email address. Just click on:

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