A vaguely familiar motorcycle cop interrupted my stride with a question. He wore the LAPD film division patch. I am a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. Previously on my IMDb, I may have seen him securing one of the many shows and films I’ve worked on location throughout LA. He would not have witnessed me sporting a mustache, short shorts and rainbow tactical leg warmers. As a TV and film actor who frequently delivers gripping performances (Without. Saying. A Word.), I’m typically cast as a clean cut businessman, detective, cop … or even LAPD. But walking home yesterday I was my character Lt. Frank FFIREHS of Vegas90210.com. Who many consider to be the impression of that guy from Reno 911! Who Tom Lennon calls “my doppelganger“. And “bigger“.
Who is Tom Lennon? (Sorry Tom, people ask. Clearly a crime against humanity.) Tom is that guy. The original Lt. Dangle of Reno 911! and Reno 911!: Miami. He’s also that guy, Felix #5 on The Odd Couple on CBS. No, not that guy from Friends. Or Rob Schneider. Tom (together with frequent collaborator Robert Ben Garant) wrote the Night at the Museum films. (he put words in Robin Williams’ mouth.) For comedy nerds and Marc Maron, he’s that guy from The State. Oh, and remember that time you dropped acid and spent the day at The Getty? You were actually watching the Terrence Malick film Knight of Cups. Tom Lennon and the Dark Knight were involved. Anyway, I digress. (But only with painstakingly narcissistic purpose. As an ex girlfriend rocket scientist employed by a Fortune 500 warfare dealer once noted, I’m merely an “AMW”: Actor, Model, Whatever.)
Back to our thrilling story. Intensely curious, the stalwart officer inquired what I was doing in my costume. “What is this all about?” he demanded, while guarding where William Hung just sang “She Bangs”. Yeah. The officer was working security for American Idol‘s last stand at the Dolby Theater. Yet somehow I was obligated to break character. To explain myself. As a busker, a performing artist. As seen at Beacher’s Madhouse at the Roosevelt Hotel (and the MGM Las Vegas). As seen on TMZ. As seen in The Hollywood Reporter. As seen on ABC. Bakersfield. Explain my costumed self. In Hollywood. Steps from where Oscars are awarded.
This is my life. This is why I’m the Eagle Scout honor student life has instructed to openly mock authority. But wait. It gets weirder. Weirder than Presidential candidate Ted Cruz auditioning for the remake of The Princess Bride.
Remaining in character, I respond to our earnest officer “I protect the Boulevard from democracy and Jimmy Kimmel“. (Who is Jimmy Kimmel? Fair question. You know. Jimmy. Not drunk Jimmy. The other Jimmy. The one with the podcast. Broadcast from an abandoned Illuminati bed and breakfast. On Hollywood Boulevard.) This usually earns a laugh. Or a smile. Or at least a look of recognition that I’m acting, spouting cartoon crazy and not about to break character. Law enforcement increasingly gets the joke lately. Earlier that day a female LAPD officer shared with me the speculation among her colleagues of what I might be off the boulevard. “You’re not like the others”. Their guess? I’m a grade school teacher. (Why do I say female? We need more of them in uniform. I watch them frequently and effortlessly reach for their … brains. What do they know that too many male LAPD officers apparently don’t?)
But this LAPD officer dude guarding American Idol from their just deserts remained serious. Serious as a legacy network executive ordering ten new reality TV shows. “What’s wrong with democracy?” I reply: “Democracy gave us American Idol, the Kardashians and Donald Trump.” I had gone a busker move too far. But my crime wasn’t trashing American Idol, loved by too many. (Despite the fact that as reality TV, it and its competition show ilk exploits non-union talent. If one is unfortunate enough to win, the contracts heavily favor the producers. Not the winning contestants.) I even had to dampen my “American Idol is Evil” rants earlier in the day (some to people queuing for Idol – on my Periscope, naturally) because a friend who just performed on the final Idol show informed me Ryan Seacrest had helped his music career. He shared this, breathlessly returning to work. At a restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t know if that is commentary on Seacrest or how America treats upcoming artists. Or both.
No, my crime to this LAPD film division officer was to suggest ANYTHING derogatory. About Donald Trump. “Who are you going to vote for, Bernie or Hilary? They’re communists! We need someone better than Barack Hussein Obama. He’s the worst president ever.” I’m biting my lip, staying in happy go-lucky character, increasingly aware that I’m a fake cop packing a Central American banana and this is a real cop packing at least one very real gun, probably crafted with pride in ‘merica. And he’s not having any of what his old school grumpy clearly considers subversive nonsense. He patronizingly asks me whether I’m even registered to vote. Do I appreciate how precious that right is, that people of certain sexual orientations would be quickly killed in Saudi Arabia? Apparently he thinks I’m gay. Hard to tell his thoughts on the Rob Schneider question.
“Who else is there, Ted Cruz?” I triple down in character: “Oh, is that the guy who auditioned for the remake of The Princess Bride?” Apparently that reference was too subtle for LAPD: Falling Down Edition. Perhaps he missed the reaction from Mandy Patinkin in TIME magazine to the Aspiring Actor Street Preacher from the Great Nation of Texas relating to the folks on the campaign trail. LAPD impatiently schools me: “No, he’s running for President of the United States”. The hair on the back of my neck stands at attention, much as I used to during military drill in Boy Scouts. Or at mock boot camp in the Delayed Entry Program for the United State Marine Corps. That one time. Before I found out someone put me on the FBI’s Subversives List.
I flashback to college, standing in front of Hillsdale President George Roche, who condescendingly invites me to “just let it go”. The “Harvard of the Midwest” had dismissed me for accepting free college folders without proper authorization. The man who was currently banging his son’s wife while raising millions for a college proudly defending “family, church and local community” was offering me a quid pro quo: shutter my independent student newspaper and we’ll welcome you back to the “Hillsdale family”.
In a nano second I’m back, facing this veteran LAPD cop devoid of humor or propriety. I summon all my acting ability to remain as childlike and apparently clueless as Donnie in The Big Lebowski as possible. I clearly cannot engage this peace officer with any logic remotely reminiscent of Twain, Mencken or Hunter S. Thompson. I’m guessing they were Goddamn Communists, too. Or worse, too subtle for this reptilian brain sporting a badge before me, packing a gun to “protect and serve”. American Idol.
I somehow gently extricate myself enough that a “best wishes brother officer” appears to satisfy our friendly neighborhood LAPD Trump voter.
Hours later I’m in a bar on Hollywood Blvd for a writers meeting for The Hollywood and Highland Players. Sans costumes, I’ve got my laptop out, because we are writing our sketches for next week. The humanity! Some dude and his LADY! plop down at the bar near me. His vibe: he’s cooler than the thieves who took a joy ride down Hollywood Boulevard doing donuts on their way to selfies with the homies in South LA before their inevitable if disappointingly less than dramatic arrest by LA Sheriffs.
Instantly this guy is in my face. “What’s with the laptop? You doing your homework? Why don’t you do that on your own time?!” I ignore him until he starts leaning into my personal space with his phone and puts his arm on my bag. I look him eye to eye and ask him what the problem is. He backs off for a minute, then returns to his alleged roasting, which includes such witty barbs as “Captain America”. (I was wearing a black sweater. My ball cap was blue not red. It said “SF”, not “Make America Great Again”.) My fellow writers and I ultimately move to the other side of the restaurant. We were there to write sketches, not re-enact West Side Story over hot wings. Apparently people writing scripts in Hollywood is suspect. But then again, American Idol had just sung its alleged swan song. And my plea earlier on Periscope for #DropRealityDonut to become a thing? Not yet a thing.
That was my yesterday. A Thursday. In Hollywood. A town rampant with bullies. Some wear badges and vote for Trump. Some go on a joy ride to score a reality show contract and Ford Mustang endorsement deal. Some impress the girl they’ll later domestically abuse by trying to pick a fight in a bar. Some follow in the footsteps of Dick Clark by exploiting artists and bringing us the Kardashians. Some feel they need to redeem their sins as popularized in The Big Short, even if only as a former lackluster and unenthusiastic loan officer. This is why I’m a working artist father who wears short shorts and rainbow tactical leg-warmers. While asking passing tourists “Is it because Jesus wore shower slippers too?”