Look At Me
I have a problematic spine and I’m walking with the aid of a battered aluminum walker. I’m taking pictures with 27-exposure disposable film cameras. If the weather is nice I dress in a hospital gown with shoes and socks, otherwise I go with jeans and a hoody. I’m ungroomed. I have an old army-green backpack tied to the walker. I have an orange plastic bucket I flip over when I have the need to sit. I left my glasses in the car and now I can’t read anything smaller than a stop sign. I go to the star-studded sidewalks on Hollywood Boulevard and yell at people. LOOK AT ME. I take reaction pictures of tourists and locals.
For a time in the late 1960s I lived in a little shack made of vegetable crates behind a carwash in Orange County CA. I washed cars for a dollar-fifty an hour. Technically I was homeless, but in truth life on the skids was an adventure for young drug addled idiots like myself. For four years in the 1980s I crashed with friends and had no permanent address I could call my own. Unstructured as my life has at times been, I make no claim of being a spokesman for the indigent on the streets of Los Angeles. My own reality is the only one I can speak for.
Homelessness is a scary prospect and not far removed, nowadays, from the bourgeoisie. Random people LOOK AT ME, in the guise of a madman, with scorn and humor, mistrust and empathy. They laugh and smile and frown, and they pretend they don’t see or hear me. Occasionally they offer me money and sometimes they threaten me with violence. I’m an image of America, in times of Civil War. I’m a baby boomer and Peace and Love has fallen away like Arctic icebergs. I’m just another guy and I’m a mirror of a precarious tomorrow. LOOK AT ME is a portrait of hope as well as despair in a country that has lost its footing.
When I reach the Boulevard I go west 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 out, “Hey, look at me, hey look at me!” I take reaction pictures for thirty 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.
I get comfy on my bucket and I spot young guy with a pricey 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. He asks if he can take pictures of me and I say sure.
“Hey look at me, hey look at me! 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 offering 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 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 swallowing screams. The other guy has a sign asking for money, food, and/or pot. He smiles at me so I ask him is it okay if I sit here and take pictures of people walking by. He tells me sit friend and I put down my bucket and get situated. 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?”
“Life is a dream. Why you taking pictures?”
“Everyone takes pictures of homeless people, but homeless people don’t get to shoot the alternate view, so I’ve taken up the cause.”
Gary tells me that’s cool. He tells me America has been ruined by Americans and girls’ skirts have become too short. 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 and there is no God and I tell him that’s what I’ve been saying but nobody listens.
“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 women you’d never have a chance with?”
Gary doesn’t like her attitude. “You’re not exceptional.” He says. “You’re just someone walking by.”
She sneers at Gary and tells me it’s against the law to take her picture without her permission.
“Okay, sorry.” I bring up the little camera and point it at her. “How about now? Can I have permission now?”
“Yes,” she says, “How’s this?” She shows me her middle finger.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.”
“We’re still evolving,” I tell Gary. “And we haven’t yet reached the halfway point.”
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 which I give to Gary. 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 million years,” Gary says. “Maybe he’ll evolve.”