Hollywood’s Ground Zero

Photo by Ted Soqui

"I'm Surfer Dude! I'm Surfer Dude!"
"Hey, Surfer Dude, we love you!"

THE ABOVE EXCHANGE OCCURRED AS GUESTS arrived at the Academy Awards, when a blond man in a tuxedo -- Mr. Dude -- leaned out of a 1957 Chevy limo that sped up Highland Avenue near the Kodak Theater. The enthusiastic response from some onlookers near the intersection with Hollywood Boulevard led me to believe that Surfer Dude was probably a character in a popular teen movie that I had missed, or perhaps figured in some hot new TV comedy. It turned out that he was neither, and his apparent fans in the crowd had only been momentarily caught up in the dizzy idea that the blond was somebody. Well, he was somebody for, as he told me later, he had a show on public-access television. Or rather, was about to, because the show was still in post-production.

But this mummer's deception ran deeper still, for he and a few confederates had also duped checkpoint cops at Sunset Boulevard into believing that he was a real celebrity who enjoyed access to Hollywood's ground zero -- thanks to a forged pass.

"We wanted to check the security," he told me, "which was really scary because I didn't make any pretense to look normal -- I was yelling, 'I'm Owen Wilson's illegitimate brother!' They just did a cursory search. They put a mirror under the car, but I didn't see any dogs come up. If we had a bomb or whatever, it would have gone off."

Surfer Dude, of course, is not this San Diegan's name. His actual moniker is Scoobie Davis, though he does surf. "I'm not a competitive surfer -- I catch waves to achieve unity consciousness," he told me. "My show is called Dude! with an exclamation point. In it I just look at the follies and foibles of L.A. -- which exemplifies the excesses of American culture."

Davis was part of a festive insouciance that made the pre-show a surprisingly populist affair, despite all the security and talk of possible terrorist attacks. A veritable army of performers, grifters and clowns, along with the usual repent-or-die religious Martians, made the people distributing fliers for Tony Alamo, the Catholic-bashing tax cheat, seem like emissaries from a realm of light and reason by comparison.

But this Palm Sunday's real story was that the people of L.A. and Hollywood had not been cowed by the mini police state set up around the Kodak Theater; instead, they thronged Hollywood and Highland to catch a glimpse of the stars whose limos pulled up in the middle of the intersection where the red carpet leading to the theater began. A high, wavering squeal raised by dozens of young girls swept over the scene when Russell Crowe got out of a black Suburban, and for a moment it seemed that a thousand cameras, camcorders and binoculars were raised into the air, no matter how impossibly far away their owners were.

THE CRUSH AT HOLLYWOOD AND HIGHLAND reminds us that we really do live in a semblance of a city, a town whose citizenry is not always content to stay at home and watch TV. The sealing off of the Kodak perimeter was an insolent and expensive case of security overkill and easily matched New York's precautions taken for the recent World Economic Forum -- even though no world leaders attended the Academy Awards and, unlike the WEF meetings, were not challenged by an organized protest movement. (Only about 25 homeless advocates, in a Threepenny Opera­ish moment, made a brief protest march against the money spent on the Oscars.)

The Hollywood lockdown remains another unnerving sign of how little official America (the America of paranoid government officials and business leaders) trusts the average person. The rooftop sharpshooters, street closures and squads of uniformed and plainclothes cops amounted to a declaration of war against not only free speech but also the common person's right and ability to occupy public spaces. Johnny Grant, Hollywood's tiresome "honorary mayor," hardly had al Qaeda in mind during a radio interview when he snarled that small-business owners who complained of the draconian measures should leave town so that their shops could be turned into "quality" businesses.

As usual, the awards themselves came off as a creepy self-affirmation pageant filled with imitation-maple-syrup moments of sweetness. The show got the populist razzings it so richly deserved -- not from the local dollar-a-blowjob media but at the countless Oscar TV parties held throughout the city, such as one at Silver Lake's Akbar cocktail lounge. As the evening and booze wore on, Akbar's queeny audience began making catty remarks at the room's big screen; as one scene of Manhattan's skyline followed another in Nora Ephron's lame film salute to wounded New York, one wag muttered, "Where are those planes?"

The next morning parts of Hollywood Boulevard and other streets near the Kodak remained closed for the cleanup. Down on Sunset the sidewalk in front of Blessed Sacred Roman Catholic Church was littered with Tony Alamo fliers and palm blades that had been sold by a street vendor the day before. The juxtaposition was inexplicably life-affirming -- we are all Owen Wilson's illegitimate brother.

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