Los Angeles has the well-earned reputation of being a haven for lunatics and people whose only contact with reality is the occasional natural disaster. As all the other highlights of my recent trip to LA’s sunny shores have subsided into distant two week-old memories, I find that I’m left with the piquant after-taste of lunacy. Three slight events stand out: I remember seeing a disoriented man in a Hollywood Starbuck’s, the “cane man” who shouted at anyone who came near him on the sidewalk (passed him twice, shouting “Rarrrrrr!!!” both times), but the big winner of the LA Weirdness Award for this year’s trip was the kid from the Puzzle Zoo down in Santa Monica….
Puzzle Zoo is a toy store located along Santa Monica’s famous pedestrian-only street named “Third Street Promenade”, a promenade lined by restaurants, stores and cinemas. I encountered Puzzle Zoo on a previous foray into Santa Monica five or six years ago and thought that I’d drop back in to check out their great collection of action figures and oddball toys from other countries.
Happily, the place hadn’t changed much and I headed straight up the center aisle ramp toward the action figure section. They had a decent assortment of Star Wars figures I’d never seen, there were some figures from Lord of the Rings that I’d only read about in collector magazines and the cold-cast porcelain sculpts were a treat. In fact, it was the miniature sculptures that really drew my attention on this visit. If you have a chance to visit Puzzle Zoo you’ll see that there are display cases ranged around the back of the store, filled with intricately sculpted figures based on live-action films and animated movies. I was working my way around the back of the store like I was in a museum, studying the “exhibits”. There was no way I was going to buy any of these items, for as fascinated by them as I am, the designer portion of my soul shouts “Nothing says crass like a giant latex-suited sex-goddess bookend!!”. (Nevermind that the latex-suited sex-goddess worshipping part of me already had a spot picked out for that bookend.)
As I passed the back door to the stockroom and stepped over to view the next case in line this skinny kid wearing a Puzzle Zoo apron approached me and engaged me in conversation. Let me clarify.
He engaged me in really inept conversation.
I’m talking classic sitcom, buying-time-until-my-buddies-finish-stealing-the-keg conversation. I don’t remember what he said when he first spoke to me, but I immediately noticed how he grabbed onto the last few words in my last sentence and used that to build his next sentence. It was kind of like this:
“You doin’ alright?”
“Oh yeah, I’m just looking at all the stuff you guys have, this is cool.”
“Cool, um, we have all this stuff you know….. and…. um…. do you need any help?”
“Um, noooo, I’m just looking. It’s been a few years since I’ve been here – I don’t remember you guys having this stuff before.”
“Yeah…. so… it’s been a few years since you’ve been here?”
At this point I realized that he wasn’t giving me the Circuit City “Can I help you? Just give me a shout if you have any questions!” greeting, this was something else. I went into bullet-time to run over the options of what exactly might be happening.
The first thing that sprang to mind was that perhaps the store had experienced a lot of shoplifting. With all of these expensive toys and sculptures in the back, out of sight of the register, it made sense to station someone in the back to watch for the vagrants and street kids that might cruise in to score a cold-cast latex sex-goddess bookend. That meant that I looked shady to the skinny kid standing in front of me rocking back and forth from one foot to the other.
Okay, if not a thief, then maybe he thought I was a cop, planning to go through that door marked “Employees Only”, perhaps busting the largest action-figure pornography ring in North America. Come to think of it, he looked pretty nervous.
Crack. This kid was on crack. Or whippets. Or hoojibs. Whatever it is that the kids are doing these days.
Since he never mentioned one of my starring roles or asked for an autograph I didn’t think that he’d mistaken me for a celebrity… if he DID think that I was somebody famous then he was definitely hiked up on hoojibs.
Whatever it was that he was trying to do, I finally tired of the game and moved on down the aisle, never finishing my tour of the toy museum. In less than five minutes I was out the door, heading down the street to find a place to eat that didn’t have any crazy people inside, all the while wondering what kind of crazy deal that kid had going on.
Until I saw the street girls wearing black hoodies with tiny burlap sacks in their back pockets to hold their cellphones. I kid you not. Crazy as LA is, watch for those little burlap cellphone sacks to be all the rage on the East Coast by Christmas. Sometimes crazy is profitable.