Friday night. I haven’t shaved in three weeks. I’m wearing a raggedy T-shirt and sagging jeans that I can no longer button at the top; a pair of black Converse tennis-shoes without socks. I have a military-green canvas backpack I’ve had for 40 years. I’ve got four disposable Fujifilm cameras and a bottle of water. From Glendale I take Los Feliz into Hollywood where I come out on Western and turn right at Hollywood Boulevard. I go about a mile into the thick of lights and activity and turn north at Whitney and find a parking space on Yucca. I take off my glasses and put them in the glove box, and now I can’t read anything smaller than a stop sign. I bring my pack and cane and a three-gallon orange plastic bucket, and as I walk toward Hollywood Boulevard I sing a song I learned when I was seven, "Old Dan Tucker":
Old Dan Tucker was a mean old man—
Washed his face in a frying pan,
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
Died with a toothache in his heel.
When I reach the Boulevard I go west on the sidewalk and continue singing, bringing up the volume and noticing people noticing me. I go about three blocks and find a spot in front of a falafel joint closed for the night. I put my bucket upside down and sit on it. I set my water bottle on the pavement close by, and I take out one of the disposable cameras, wind it to the first frame, and turn on the flash. People walk by and I yell, “Hey, look at me! Hey, look at me!” I take reaction pictures for 30 minutes. “Hey, look at me! God is dead! Hey, look at me!” It’s a nice collection of people. I finish up the first camera, 27 exposures, and move west a couple of blocks.
Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker.
You’re too late to get your supper.
Supper’s over, breakfast cookin’.
Old Dan Tucker just stands there lookin’.
I get comfy on my bucket and spot a young guy with a clunky DSLR, trying to be invisible and pointing his lens at me. I take a picture of him taking a picture of me. He approaches and tells me he does street photography in his spare time and Hollywood Boulevard is a great place to find humanity and asks me if that's what I'm doing. I tell him sort of, I’m working on a specific POV. He asks me if he can take pictures of me taking pictures, and I say sure.
“Hey, look at me! Hey, look at me! God is dead! God is dead!”
The guy makes a few exposures of me making exposures and then tells me thanks and walks off only to return a minute later and offer me a five-dollar bill. I tell him thanks for the thought, but I’m not really broke and crazy, I just act that way. I move to a spot in front of the Hollywood Wax Museum. “Hey, look at me! Hey, look at me! Hey, look at me!” I seem to be getting a lot of hostility, which is OK, but after a few exposures I take another walk.
I notice little clumps of street people across the Boulevard, so I cross at Wilcox and go west to a couple of hobos sitting on a low window ledge. One guy is pretty skizzed-out, rocking in place and holding in screams. The other guy has a sign asking for money, food, and/or pot. He smiles at me so I ask him is it OK if I sit here and take pictures of people walking by? He tells me sit, friend, and I put down my bucket and get comfortable. I look up at the pedestrians and do my thing. “Hey, look at me! Look at me! God is dead!” I shoot a young couple who pretend I’m not here and then a guy who flips me a peace sign. The friendly homeless guy laughs every time I make a flash. “What’s your name? Mine’s Gary.”
“Hey, I’m Scot. How’s it going?”
“Getting better all the time. Why are you taking pictures?”
“I figure everyone with a camera takes pictures of homeless people, but homeless people don’t get to shoot the alternate view, so I’m doing it for them.”
Gary tells me that’s cool and he’s glad I stopped by. He tells me America has been ruined by Americans and I don’t disagree. He tells me girls’ skirts have become too short and it’s not decent, and I do disagree. He tells me he took everything he owned in Delaware, put it in the front yard, and walked away. He says the planet is doomed, there is no God, and I tell him that’s just what I’ve been saying.
“Hey, look at me!” A young woman takes her eyes from her phone and looks at me. I hit the shutter and the flash lights her up. She gives me a scornful look that makes Gary guffaw. She stops and spins. “Is that how you spend your time? You just sit there and laugh and photograph girls you’d never have a chance with?”
“No,” I tell her. “I sit here and laugh and photograph everyone.”
Gary doesn’t like her attitude. “You’re not special,” he tells her. “He’s taking pictures of everyone. You’re not exceptional; you’re just someone walking by.”
She sneers at Gary and then tells me it’s against the law to take her picture without her permission.
“OK, sorry.” I bring up the little camera and point it at her. “How about now? Can I take a picture now?”
“Yes,” she says and shows me her middle finger. “Now you have my permission.”
I take a picture and she pivots triumphantly and walks away. Gary tells me she doesn’t understand the Earth is only a random speck and we are none of us more important than another. Yeah, well, I tell him, that’s true, but nobody wants to feel like a speck.
“Nobody wants all the things they get and nobody gets all the things they want,” Gary says. “Nobody cares about anybody else.”
“Yeah, well, we’re still evolving. I don’t think we’ve hit the halfway point yet.”
People go by and I do my thing and Gary laughs. A friendly drunk and his wife tell me they’re here from Russia and they love America and they give me three dollars. I give it to Gary, who says he loves Russian people because they know what’s real. I photograph a big bruiser with a babe on his arm, and she tells him, hey, that asshole just took a picture of me. Gary laughs and the bruiser turns and comes at me with both fists doubled so tight it looks like his knuckles are going to push through the skin. He gets in my face and says give me that camera, and I tell him no fucking way.
“You don’t take motherfuckin’ pictures,” he says. “You fuckin' understand?”
“Yeah,” I tell him. “No pictures, I got it.”
He calls me a motherfuckin' asshole piece of shit, and then he and the babe go away. Gary is cracking up.
“Jesus,” I tell him. “That guy needs to chill.”
“Give him a few million years,” Gary says. “Maybe he’ll evolve.”