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Story pick: Speedo Man on Venice boardwalk

Amir Edwards hates it when he waltzes up and down the Venice Beach boardwalk in California and guys -- not women -- slap his behind. He also doesn't like people who approach him in bank lines and make loud remarks that could be construed as scandalous, such as, "I didn't recognize you with clothes on." And Edwards gets miffed when women have the audacity to ask him on the street if he "stuffs" his shorts.

Yes, these are the tribulations of a 36-year-old bodybuilder, who walks up and down the Venice boardwalk every single day wearing nothing but sneakers, gloves, a strange headband, baby oil, a fannie pack, and...Speedos. At least Edwards shaves his body hair...um...right?

The Los Angeles Times has launched a series of stories, called "pop.u.LA.tion," told through audio slideshows, about the region's motley array of characters. "L.A.'s richest resource and greatest glory may be its people, a clamoring carnival of both native-born and transplants, of dreamers and believers," writes Steve Lopez, the paper's famed columnist, in the series' introduction. Lopez ought to know about the city's quirky set: His articles and book about a homeless man who plays the violin was made into the 2009 movie "The Soloist" starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx.

In the newspaper's feature on muscleman Edwards, published Monday, Times photographer Mel Melcon has produced a hysterical slideshow, narrated by Edwards himself. The photos show Edwards prancing up and down the boardwalk, wearing all-black Speedos or Speedos designed with the American flag.

(For one of the all-time greatest stories on people who wear Speedos, you must read this 2001 story by Darragh Johnson in The Washington Post about a runner in Annapolis known as Speedo Man.)

One shot of Edwards shows him posing with a woman, but Melcon was sure to include in the backdrop a building with the sign, "Venice Beach Freakshow." Other pictures show Edwards shaving his legs, working out at the gym (where he is forbidden to wear Speedos), and getting gawked at by onlookers. My favorite shot shows a little boy dressed in a winter jacket and scarf staring at Edwards in utter fear.

Edwards is a candid and funny narrator, particularly when he complains about people slapping his rear at random. "Oh, the happy hands," he sighs. He also confesses to a desperation for attention: "I wear Speedos even when I have pants on because I never know when somebody wants to take pictures."

But I wish Melcon had prompted him to talk more about what compels him to walk up and down the boardwalk wearing Speedos -- other than that he derives pleasure from showing off his sculpted body. He has a girlfriend, a psychic, so he's not there picking up women.

I also wanted to know how Edwards makes a living. One photo shows him wearing black pants and carrying a plastic bucket down an alley, so I wondered if he had a side job of some sort. A caption identifies him as a bodybuilder, but it's not clear how much one can earn in that field.

The slideshow is engrossing. The combination of the photography and ambient sound -- Edwards' razor scraping his skin, or the ladies' catcalls -- place you right in his world. You feel like you're there on the boardwalk, amid all the hustlers and locals, in a way that rises way above a traditional story.

By Ian Shapira  | April 28, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
 
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