I Was Arrested on Hollywood Boulevard
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I read a lot of how-to books on making it in this city. Hollywood's multiple versions of How to Win Friends and Influence People could fill the shelves of the Mar Vista Library (which is really small, but still). The books are stuffed with mindless industry platitudes; in my early L.A. days, the one I always tried to follow, often against my better judgment, was "Always say yes."
Which is exactly how I ended up in handcuffs on Hollywood Boulevard. At 11 a.m. On a Tuesday.
My friend RJ had asked me to star in his film project. Me, who is not an actor. Who is a writer. Who can barely navigate a dinner party without unknowingly taking a whole pint's worth of nervous beer sips while trying to think of witty one-liners, let alone perform in front of a crowd. And RJ wanted to film me dressed as Waldo (skinny guy, glasses, red-and-white–striped shirt and cap), parading outside the Chinese Theatre with the likes of Batman, the Joker and Captain Jack Sparrow.
I said yes. I had been led to believe that you always say yes.
And so on a warm winter's day, I stood near the corner of Hollywood and Highland in my barbershop-pole T-shirt, tapping Waldo's cane on Groucho Marx's star, eyeing the morning crowds. The boulevard smelled like sunscreen and urine, which did little to quell the sick feeling that I was far out of my element.
RJ — exactly the type of guy who always says yes without needing a push from some corny motto — told me I looked great. He told me I was going to nail this. He told me the shot was beautiful. He told me, finally, to walk into the throng of tourists mingling outside the theater.
On the sidewalk, a gregarious, hip-quaking Elvis caroused with middle-aged women. Batman posed stoically with families. A seedy-looking Joker turned on a lovely young woman to demand, "Why so serious?" Oh God, I thought. Is this why I moved to the West Coast? Is it too late to go to law school?
But strangely, once I came to terms with the tourists spying on me, just about bursting out of their Keds to declare "I found you," I realized that I actually liked the attention. I hid behind shoulders and street signs while cheeky teens aimed their iPhones at me. Little kids waved. Fathers chuckled. Mothers thanked me. Elvis — the King himself — winked at me. And behind those glasses, underneath that candy-cane striped hat, I was no longer myself. I was a star. I was Waldo.
That's when a friendly-looking LAPD officer called me over to his cruiser, "just to talk." The next moment I was in handcuffs, watching in slow motion as two hipsters cruised by in a Prius, filming the incarceration of America's favorite elusive oddball.
I pleaded with the officer. It wasn't my project! I knew nothing of permits! Up the street, the Joker also was being escorted into a black-and-white. The demented clown eyed me through his greasy green hair and snuck a conspiratorial grin in my direction. Suddenly, it hit me.
"Wait! I'm not a street performer!"
The cop wrote on his pad. Said nothing. He seemed to believe this was a game he and I had played before, and would play again someday soon. More cars rolled by. Tourists pointed their phones at me. Obvious jokes echoed through the crowd ("I know where's Waldo. He's behind bars!"). And then I was whisked away to jail.