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Al Martinez

Some Scream for Oscar, All Scream for Ice Cream

March 26, 2001|Al Martinez

It has come to this, a grown man with proud journalistic credentials riding around town in an ice cream truck to be close to where the Academy Awards are going to be presented.

Yes, sadly, that was me doing exactly that Friday in a Ben & Jerry's "scoop van" decorated with green fields and Holstein cows and loaded with cartons of "concession obsession" ice cream meant for free distribution near the Shrine Auditorium.

For a guy like me, it would have been better had I been handing out cold, dry martinis, but to the best of my knowledge a martini truck does not exist . . . yet.

Publicist Abbie Schiller invited me along to do this because she thought it would be fun. I know of a lot of ways to have fun, but handing out ice cream to people camping on the street in order to glimpse a celebrity has never been among them.

This is probably something I would not have even considered doing had they not moved me to Mulberry Street, where ice cream is a way of life. A compelling reason for my saying yes is that Abbie's father is Bob Schiller, a comedy writer in the great tradition of ancient Greek humorists. He has written for "I Love Lucy," "All in the Family" and other shows created in the days before comedy was packaged into freeze-dried containers.

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My job was to hand out ice cream cups to "people on the wrong side of the ropes" at the Oscars, according to B&J marketer Peter Nolan, who drove the scoop truck. This included street sleepers, security guards, news photographers, TV technicians and others without honorable means of support.

I tried to be jovial in the situation, which is difficult for me under any circumstance. But I just couldn't work up to that, even though Ben & Jerry's motto is, "If it's not fun, why do it?" Exactly.

At one point, I lamented to Abbie Schiller that I was demeaning myself only for the sake of a column, and she shot back that there was nothing demeaning about ice cream.

After she said that, I stopped to think of all the demeaning things I had done in life, and high on the list was digging holes for toilets as a private in the Marines. Abbie was right, in a way. Once you have dug holes for toilets, everything else becomes either meaningful or spiritual.

Among those who greedily accepted my free spirituality were members of a group called the Oscar Chatter Club, who were camped along 32nd Street. They simply loooove the Oscars and the celebrities and the fairyland magic of an occasion they consider second only to the resurrection of Michael Landon, should it ever occur.

"Why do you do this?" I asked, and they replied with a degree of effervescent enthusiasm that it is impossible to translate into human terms. Like Snoop Dogg singing a madrigal. The idea of camping in the street for a week to see maybe Kevin Costner stroll by is contrary to my nature. Half-naked actresses strolling by? That's different. Looking at women trying to show it all has been a part of manhood since Eve invented the peekaboo fig leaf.

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One of the ice cream recipients was NBC reporter Jennifer Bjorklund, who was sitting in the front seat of a news van typing on a laptop computer. She ate the ice cream without missing a beat, and when I asked how she liked it she said, "uhhuh, yeah, OK," or something like that.

When I was younger I could drink, smoke a cigar, write and hum "Yankee Doodle" without missing a comma, so I admired Bjorklund's versatility. She's one of us, all right, even without the cigar.

I spent half a day handing out ice cream to people who look forward to nothing better in their lives than camping in the streets of L.A. once a year. In one family, they pass the tradition on from generation to generation. The mother has done it for 32 years and her daughter for 11. When the daughter bears children, they too will assume the heavy legacy of Oscar camping, and so on ad infinitum, hoo-boy!

A family of six from Dallas pulled up in a limo just as we were ready to leave a parking space. "Ah'm from Texas," the man announced proudly as he moseyed up, as though declaring the moral principles of Samothrace. "Can we get some ahs cram?" I am not about to hand free ahs cram to people from a state that stole America's soul, but Peter Nolan happily obliged. "Maghty pleased," the Texan said.

I ate a cup of concession obsession and thought it was pretty good. I mean, I wouldn't go to war over it, but I didn't mind a spoonful or two. It tasted like chicken. I like chicken.

I gave a cup to one woman and watched her inhale the stuff. My dog Ace has perfected inhale-eating, but she is the only human I've seen who has mastered the technique.

"Was it good?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," she whispered, "yes . . . yes . . . yes!" It was reminiscent of Meg Ryan in the orgasm scene of "When Harry Met Sally." I half expected a middle-aged lady with blue hair to walk up and say, "I'll take whatever she's having."

After that, we scoop-vanned into Hollywood for awhile and then I took leave. The last I saw of the van, it was going down Sunset Boulevard, sunlight gleaming on its Holstein cows. I blew it a kiss and stopped at a bar with a pool table for something less sweet. Then I became jovial.

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Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He is at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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