Line One: Hollywood

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Last Sunday afternoon, like everyone else in Los Angeles, I went on strike. I staged the walkout on the second floor of Fred Segal, the colorful Melrose emporium where hipsters like Charlize Theron and Michael Stipe roam among the Oliver Peoples sunglasses, Kate Spade luggage and the kinds of clothes made possible by perfect physiques and first-dollar gross participation. I went because Fred Segal was having a sale. "Up to 75 percent off!" they promised. A white shirt on a sale rack caught my eye. I liked it because the fabric weave contained nearly indiscernible but daring white circles. The shirt cost $380.

I figured 75 percent off would put the price somewhere south of $100. When you've parked between two Range Rovers and are standing next to a shelf of cashmere sweaters in the $700 range, less than $100 for a shirt seems terribly reasonable. I was sold — until informed that customers had to buy five items in order to qualify for the 75 percent discount. To understand the disappointment and betrayal I felt at that moment, you should watch the slickly edited, thump- thumping trailer for "The Contender," psych yourself up for a thriller, then, when it opens Oct. 13, pay $8 to see what's actually a thoughtful political drama starring Joan Allen in business suits and Gary Oldman in a Mike Brady perm. You may want to stage a walkout yourself, and that's just what I did at Fred Segal, vowing not to return until the establishment had shed its ridiculous quota policies.

Suddenly I was cool. In Los Angeles these days, going on strike is about the grooviest thing you can do short of wearing a hip-hoppy knit winter cap while lifting weights at Crunch next to Tobey Maguire. L.A.'s bus and rail operators have been on strike for about three weeks now in protest over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to eliminate some work rules and reduce overtime pay. The actors' unions recently set a record with the longest strike in Hollywood history, over pay for commercials. And already the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America are causing panic by threatening strikes against networks and studios next year, primarily over residuals from cable (which has boomed in the last few years) and Internet outlets (which might boom some day).

Being on strike for several days now, I've had plenty of time to think. I've thought about how the anticipated actors' and writers' strike will shut down all production, leaving 272,000 workers unemployed if the various factions of the entertainment industry don't avert the work stoppage between now and mid-2001, when contracts expire. I've realized that at the moment, 4,400 bus and rail operators are going without pay and 450,000 weekday public transportation users are struggling to get to work. So now I'm thinking that striking isn't actually cool at all — not even in Los Angeles, where follow-the-leader is everyone's favorite party game. So even though the writers are blaming directors for their contractual shortcomings and the MTA is implying in radio ads that the transportation workers are greedy, I will not point a finger at Fred Segal. I will end my shop stoppage. I'm going to the Gap to look for white shirts. And maybe come up with a compromise.