In a recent interview on the “WTF with Marc Maron” Podcast, crown jester of late-90s MTV Tom Green described his five-month marriage in 2001 to Drew Barrymore as being “great, then it wasn’t great, and then we broke up.” Learning that podcast host Maron had divorced a woman named Kim, Green said, “Imagine what it would be like if every time you left your house, every day, for the rest of your life, between five and ten people come up to you and said, ‘How’s Kim? You talk to Kim lately? I remember how you were with Kim? Weren’t you married to that Kim?’” Maron laughed. “It’s still a constant theme,” Green said of his life in 2013. “When you’re pumping gas or eating a sandwich, people like to loudly talk about it in front of you, ‘You were with that Drew Barrymore, eh?’”
I feel your pain, Tom Green. While I’ve never dated a Hollywood starlet, I have worn the uniform of a man who elicits the same-old conversations everywhere he goes, of a man haunted by a past he cannot change.
That man is Waldo.
It was the night after Halloween and I had the beanie, the black-framed glasses, the red-and-white striped shirt, and the blue jeans. I was in character and ready to go; so what if it was November? The air was cool and beautiful in downtown Knoxville on this first Friday of the month, meaning that art galleries were open late to welcome a crowd of hip couples, young families, and one Waldo for free wine, fruit, and fondue.
“Found him,” said a man with a beard when I entered my first gallery of the night. The man who had found me smugly grinned. I didn’t know what to do, so I gave him a touché smile.
“I found you!” a little girl yelled moments later. “You’re not a very good hider.”
To her I shrugged, as if to say you’ve got me. I was in good spirits, but a little self-conscious: how many times would I be “found” tonight?
The answer, I learned, was that I would be found again and again and again and again and again and again. “I found you,” the faceless hollered at me from the backs of motorcycles, from the second-floor windows of nightclubs, from crosswalks far in the distance. “Waldo, we found you!” they’d say, sometimes to me, sometimes to each other. I experimented with different responses: I’d smile and point or I’d wag my finger or I’d choose to more fully inhabit the character by trying to hide behind a streetlamp, as I did when an old, intoxicated lady tried to snap a picture of me.
But of course I was found again. And again and again and again, once by a woman I’d dated last year, who gave me a passing glance that seemed to say, “There’s Waldo,” rather than, “There’s that guy who accompanied me to Dollywood.” I was 90% sure she didn’t recognize the true man beneath the beanie. It had happened; Waldo had subsumed me.
A few people wanted pictures with Waldo. I obliged them, and I began to wonder: who would I be if could never take off this costume? What would happen if it I were Waldo every day for the rest of my life? Would I feel how Tom Green feels, pigeonholed by the public’s expectations of whom I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to talk about? And what if Waldo wanted to score a woman’s phone number in a coffee shop on a cold Tuesday in February? (“Every woman’s fantasy starts and ends with Waldo,” said nobody ever.) How would it feel to be a perpetual curiosity for strangers, but only in terms of being located in a crowd, and nothing more than that? It’s easy to see an existential crisis in store for Waldo: everyone keeps saying they found me, but why do I feel so lost?
On my way home, still dressed as Waldo, I stumbled upon a street band performing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” The band was grooving, and so I did a little shimmy-shake in rhythm to the music. I knew I probably looked silly: whoever asked to see Waldo dance? But that’s when a member of the makeshift audience turned to speak to me. I braced for what he’d say, convinced it’d be the same thing I’d heard throughout the night. But no. He said nothing about Waldo, nothing about “finding me”. He said, “You got that dub-step going.”
For a moment, I had escaped the striped prison of Waldo, and all it had taken was a funky dance move. I didn’t have to peel off my costume to get out of the Waldo box; I just had to do something deliberately not Waldo.
So there you have it, Tom Green. Hope that helps.