Westside Rentals Guy started out as just your average sign-twirler on 11th & Wilshire in Santa Monica, directly adjacent to Westside Rentals, the apartment-locating service that employed him. When we first heard of Westside Rentals Guy, Mr. Right-Click and I weren’t married yet, and were living in sin just down the street from the street corner on which Westside Rentals Guy had set up shop. Except he wasn’t Westside Rentals guy as such yet, either, he was just a guy making $15 or so an hour to twirl a sign and get people to go into Westside Rentals. But it was clear pretty fast that Westside Rentals Guy was destined for more than just an average sign-twirling gig. Watching him in the early days was kind of like if you were to go to a youth basketball game in Cleveland in the nineties, and there’s one kid who is like a man among boys, already slam-dunking at age 8, and you’re like, “Who’s that guy?” and they’re like, “That’s little LeBron James.”
Except, you know, we’re talking about sign-twirlers here.
Sign-twirlers have a lot of range in ability. In one afternoon driving the streets of LA, you might see a guy wearing headphones and a hoodie, holding his sign for discounted linens like it’s a dirty diaper, doing his best to look away from oncoming traffic and with an expression like he wishes there was some way to just melt into the storefront behind him. Those guys get paid a little less than the guy who knows how to throw his arrow-shaped sign up into the air so that it will land with the arrow pointing in the exact direction of the condos that are about to go into foreclosure. It’s a burgeoning trade, lots of room for growth, sign-twirling. But I’m not going to lie to you, it’s hard work.
Even among gifted sign-twirlers, Westside Rentals Guy stood out, though. For one thing, he had the energy level of a hyperactive toddler who forgot to take his Ritalin. Westside Rentals guy would jump around and dance on his corner for hours at a time. Like four or five hours at a time, he would do this, pumping the sign up in the air and punching his other fist like he went to a rave sometime in the late nineties and never woke up from the X-high. Eventually he added a harness onto the sign so that he could dance with it attached to his arm, and not actually have to hold the thing, which just made his routine more dizzying. Mr. Right-Click and I decided that he had to either be a methamphetamine abuser, or have some kind of serious mental disorder on the bipolar spectrum to keep that level of activity going for so long. Or perhaps it was both. We were pretty sure he had some serious psychological issues, but in a way Westside Rentals Guy became our hero, Mr. Right-Click and I, because there’s a metaphor for work ethic if ever there was one. Dancing to no music with a sign taped to your arm on a street corner in Santa Monica for five hours at a time? That’s a tough gig.
One time, I was walking back to our apartment and Westside Rentals Guy was hanging out beside the door to Elias The Tailor (the best place to go for tailoring in LA, by the way), talking on a cell phone. I guess he was on a break. I tried to walk by without catching his eye because even if I was fascinated by him, I was a little scared of him as well. But as I passed him he was hanging up his phone with an excess of drama, and he asked me, “Why are people such assholes?” and I was like, “You know, I don’t know. They just are.” It was kind of cool to share this moment of acknowledged universal truth with Westside Rentals Guy, like we both just sort of acknowledged that yeah, it doesn’t even matter if you’re a graduate student who cannot finish her dissertation, or a possibly paranoid schizophrenic sign-twirler, or whatever — sometimes people are just assholes.
Over time, Westside Rentals Guy’s act got more elaborate. Somebody gave him a cape, and then a shield that read “Westside Rentals” with some kind of elaborate ensignia, like he was part of the Superfriends League of Justice. I believe at one point he was wearing a helmet. He became more of an oddity, people started recognizing him beyond just the people who were situated in such a way as to see him every day, like Mr. Right-Click and I were. He became sort of a local celebrity, like that guy who paints himself in silver on the Third Street Promenade, or that guy who dresses up like Batman and roller skates around Mission Beach in San Diego.
Eventually, Mr. Right-Click and I moved away from Santa Monica and would only see Westside Rentals guy occasionally, when he’d make it on TV for being outrageous at a sporting event , or if we happened to be in Santa Monica. He remained part of our cultural landscape, but not part of our daily lives. Until Monday night, that is, when my Dad and I went to the Lakers game against Orlando at Staples Center and, late in the fourth quarter, a guy carrying one of those clear plastic martini shaker things they give you when you buy cocktails at Staples Center, dressed in a trench coat, sat down at the end of our aisle. Shortly after that, he got up, started to take off his trench coat, and I said, “OMG IT’S HAPPENING!” and got out my iPhone camera.
My Dad was a little confused about the whole thing — both the fact that I could videotape something with my phone, as well as why we should be so excited about this guy sitting at the end of our row. As for me, I’m not sure I’ve been more of a dork when spying a celebrity in real life, except maybe when I saw Brad Pitt. And I guess what I’m trying to say is that, Westside Rentals Guy, wherever you are, you have arrived, my friend.