by RIP RENSE
(Oct 18, 2006)
Less Than Satisfying Encounters with Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um,
short. They are intended as a chronicle of the decline in civility and
efficiency, patience and deference, written with just the slightest
implication of humor, in this, the alleged 21st century. Names have been
included whenever possible to ensure fullest humiliation, and sometimes
omitted out of deep compassion.
LTSEWH # 1: AUDI
technology has been mastered. This is why, when I look both ways before
backing up---just as I was instructed in high school driver’s
education---and then look both ways again, and then back out.
A car appears behind me,
on my bumper, beamed there. Transported by Tralfamadorans. Vonnegut knew.
I feel more like Dwayne Hoover all the time. The universe is a big
construct created just to toy with me. One day I will start punching out the
robots to see the cogs and springs spill out their ears, and laugh my ass
On this day, though, I
settled for verbally prodding the humanoid a little.
I mean, I had backed
oh-so-carefully out of my home driveway, repeatedly checking the street in
both directions. Clear as the Montana sky. Empty as Bush’s head. It was
Sunday morning, the day practically glowing with renewed molecules and
color, as was my brain. I am reborn each dawn, you see, with a tiny, fragile
hope that I will not be subjected to the brutish behavior of
Barnyard-Americans. It must be genetic program, because it’s sure not logic.
And there he was. Zip-zam,
in my rear view mirror. No closer than an inmate in the shower when you
bend down to pick up the soap. Brand new silver Audi. Could only have been
materialized through a wormhole from Arcturus. I proceeded to accelerate,
but the driver could not wait.
He. . .honked.
I fully endorse use of
the horn under most circumstances. The horn is a remarkable device in that
it can convey so many complex ideas without using language: “Go faster.”
“Why are you sitting there when the light has turned red, you cell-phone-yacking
jackass?” “Please don’t end my life me with your Lincoln Navigator.” “I
believe this parking space is mine, and if you wish to dispute it, I will
remove the gun from my glove compartment and argue with you.” “You are
welcome to view my naked hindquarters at your earliest convenience, and to
display affection thereupon.” “I celebrate life!”
But as I rot, I mean, age, I
have less and less interest in territorial and priority disputes. Defer,
defer, defer, that’s my motto. I chant “path of least resistance” over and
over in my head, and perhaps will one day find myself pacing the same
stretch of sidewalk ten hours a day, saying it aloud. In between searching
the trash for discarded duck-and-goat-cheese pizza. But for now, I am what
passes for “sane.” Heh.
So I just stopped. My
eyes met Audi Lout’s in the rear-view. I waved him around. My eyes said,
“You are so much more important than I am, and must have more important
matters to attend, so please, go around me.” Well, actually, my eyes said
something different, but I had sunglasses on, so he couldn’t tell.
I think it took Audi
a moment to figure out that I was not going to move, because he honked
again. I waved him around again. With a violent, masculine thrust, he pulled
up next to me, stopping in blur of expensive silver. I adjudged him to be of
recent Mesopotamian descent, as was his ancient, doddering daddy in the
“Go ahead,” I said
calmly. “If you are in such a hurry, please go ahead.”
Audi Lout demonstrated
that he grasped American culture thoroughly with his response:
That was it. The universe
pranked me. Fragile flame of hope flickered to finality. He drove on. I hung
my head out the window, much as a happy dog does, and returned his comment.
Just in case he was hard of hearing, I also conveyed it in sign-language. He
did not respond, which I figured was because he didn’t want to upset his old
dad too much. So I took full advantage of the situation, and, after pulling
up behind him a block later, suggested that Lout avail himself of a one-way
airline ticket back to the country of his origin.
Or, more accurately,
LTSEWH # 2: OPERA
Now, the Marx Brothers
made movies called “A Day at the Races” and “A Night at the Opera,” and
obviously the guy next to me had gotten them all mixed up.
Up went his binoculars.
Down went his binoculars. Up went his---no, down, no up. . .Down went his
binoculars. He reminded me of the old Kenner “Drinking Bird” that you could
set on the side of your childhood glass of milk, and watch it “magically” go
up and down, seeming to drink with you.
This would have been fine
and dandy had he been conversing between watching the horses. Problem was,
he was not conversing, and there were no horse races. He was watching
Verdi’s opera, “Don Carlo,” at the Music Center.
Me, I was watching him
watch Verdi’s opera, “Don Carlo,” at the Music Center. My eyes read the
supertitles uncomprehendingly, because my brain was full of “what the hell
does he think this is, a f---ing football game?” and “does he have an
extremely large nervous twitch?”
Had he been a novice
opera-goer, it might have been understandable to some extent, had there
been lots of revelers or swordplay or gods walking across rainbow bridges or
something. But he was a full-blown buff (I heard him talk about many operas
he’d seen) and this was later Verdi, with a good many scenes in which all
the action takes place near the uvula.
Yes, tenors and sopranos
were standing perfectly still, singing their stuffing out, and Binocular Boy
was zooming his specs up, down, up, down, up, down, up-down-up,
down-up-down. Literally once every three or four seconds. (I counted.)
I cupped the side of my
face. Somebody needs to invent “opera blinders,” so as to screen out the
opera buffoons beside you. Opera glasses should never be given to opera
I’ll bet the guy doesn’t
know Groucho from Chico, anyhow.
LTSEWH # 3:
I was having a little
e-mail exchange with a longtime friend.
friendship was in imminent danger.
E-mail should never be
confused with friendship. And friendship should never be confused with
e-mail. People write things in e-mail they would never speak to one another,
or write in a letter. And unless one inserts those little smiley-thingies,
or the monolithic “LOL” every other word, all e-mail appears as playful as
the Declaration of Independence.
“See any good movies?” I
queried my long-time friend, who shall be here known as Ouliotta Hemoglobin.
Ouliotta replied that she
had seen this and that, and offered a couple of comments about them along
the way. Four or five flicks, total.
I responded that I had
seen one, intended to see another, heard good things about yet another, but
that I had no plans to see “Brokeback Mountain” because “I don’t need a
movie to inform me that gay people can love one another.”
Ouliotta, who is a
kneejerk, borderline hysterical defender of anything gay, or even
slightly happy, decided that I had somehow slandered all homo-bi-quadra-sexual
“Rip, when you send
e-mail, don’t proselytize,” she wrote.
Proselytize, last I
checked, means to preach in the interests of converting someone to your
point of view. I will award any reader who can convince me that my sentence
about “Brokeback Mountain” was proselytizing, a brand new complimentary
“Springtime in Lompoc” calendar. Postage included.
“Ouliotta,” I wrote back,
“do not EVER instruct me how I may write e-mail to you. Who the hell do you
think you are?”
Suffice to say that things did not improve from there. Ms. Hemoglobin admits her flaws and faults every bit as readily and often as
George W. Bush.
She mail e-mail no more.
LTSEWH # 4:
He was behind me. The
devil. El diablo estaba aca! To borrow Hugo Chavez’s U.N. speech.
Y tambien, El diablo tenía un teléfono de la célula.
That’s cell phone,
“Yeah,” el diablo
said, no louder than Adolf Hitler to an audience of 10,000, without a
microphone, “We’re going to do fourteen episodes! Telly Savalas!”
And on and on about his
pending hotshot Hollywood deals. El diablo, I should add, was from
Australia, so he had one of those accents that is like the sharp corner of a
table that you hit your head on. He was in his early ‘40’s, or late ‘30’s,
but not late enough for my taste. He had no trouble getting enough food, and
had the close-shaved post-butch-haircut look, black sunglasses, black shirt,
black jeans, black heart.
We stood at a corner,
waiting for the jolly green walking man to appear. El diablo was
five feet away, shouting as if to create an echo in the Grand Canyon. The
light changed. I crossed the street in flamingo strides, hoping to leave el diablo, who took quick little pig-steps, well behind. But being the devil,
he managed to hang close, still yapping into his cell phone about “forrdeen
episodes” and Telly Savalas.
“What the hell,” I said
to my female superior. “Doesn’t that a-----e know that Telly Savalas is
“He’s not saying ‘Telly
Savalas,’” she cautioned. “He’s saying ‘telenovelas.’”
“What, is he making
Mexican soap operas?”
“No, that’s what they
call series TV now, or something.”
We moved about thirty feet in front of him, but there was no carrying on any
conversation, no chance for benign enjoyment of the glorious grimy sidewalk
or magnificent billboards for upcoming slasher/chainsaw murder films for
Hallowe’en. I was subjected only to the business dealings of el diablo
and his telenovelas. I turned around.
“Please,” I said. “Speak
louder. I wish to hear you more clearly.”
“What did you
“I can’t hear your
conversation clearly enough. Please speak louder.”
“F--- YOU! You got a
problem with this? You f---in’ idiot! You’re a f----in’ idiot! (Then, into
phone.) I can’t believe it! This arsehole is givin’ me s--- for talkin’ on a
cell phone! F--- YOU! F--- YOU! You’re a f---in’ idiot.”
Because he had
verbally saluted me with that most treasured of old-fashioned,
practically patriotic American declarations, I returned the favor. He was
suddenly beside me (still on his cell phone.)“I’m doin’ my business, you
“Yes. I know. I can hear you. Everybody can hear you. You’re making me listen
to you doing your business.”
He was in the
testosterone trigger zone, his reptile brain trying to figure out if he
should take a swing at me or not. He walked past, (still talking on his cell
phone) then turned around, walking backwards! Who says Australians are
“F---- YOU! You’re a
f---in’ idiot! Don’t you ever do any business?”
“I don’t own a cell
“Oh, what are you, some
kind of f---in’ crusader against cell phones?”
I considered the
question. A realization startled me like a Britney Spears ringtone.
“Yes,” I said. “I am.”
“F--- YOU! You’re a
f---in’ idiot! I can’t believe this arsehole is busting my balls because I’m
on a cell phone! You f----in’ idiot!”
I was very tired of the
scene. I was very tired of him. I was very tired of life. Or what passes for
it in this, the f---in’ idiotic 21st century.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m a
“Yeah, you’re a f---in’
Fortunately for me, I got
to turn right, and el diablo kept going straight, still turning
around to call me a---you guessed it---“f---in’ idiot” a couple more
once---stopping his big Hollywood telenovela cell phone conversation.
I smelled the sulphur
long after he was gone.
LTSEWH # 5:
I was having another
little e-mail exchange with a longtime friend.
friendship was in imminent danger.
I mentioned that I was
having a bad week, and this is why I had been somewhat incommunicado.
Friend, who shall here be known as Avant Gert, responded sympathetically,
which I took to mean, in part, “what happened?”
I explained how, while
exploring the idea of returning to school, a college department head had
treated me with all the interest one bestows on used tissue. My note began
like this: “I left myself open for b-----t. I was talking to. . .”
Now, most people in their
right minds---no, let me phrase that, as most people are not in their right
minds. Let’s just make it “most people.” Most people would read my e-mail as
the simple conveyance of information; the beginning of an anecdeote.
Avant Gert did not.
Somehow, the convolutions and synapses in her head---a head I have been
acquainted with, and a very good friend to, for nearly 25 years---read my
sentence as. . .pertaining to her! She thought the “I left myself open for
b-----t” somehow pertained to her sympathetic e-mail.
Ask me how. Go ahead. Ask
me, and I’ll tell you this: I can no more answer this question than Dick
Cheney can resist taking a lollipop from a crippled child.
She sent an e-mail
denouncing me, sneering at my desire to get a teaching credential (“why, so
you can feel superior to your students?”), calling me “boiling with anger”
(I just simmer, really), and on and on.
Yes, dear readers, you
know me. Because I know from past experience that she sometimes gets into a snit for
no fathomable reason, I stayed patient. I tried again to explain that she had
simply misread the e-mail, and asked her to re-read it in order to see that
it referred to a school administrator, not her. But this just put me deeper
into e-mail quicksand, getting sucked under. The more I explained, the more
she bitched and sniped. After a couple of days of this madness, I had enough
and told her that she had screwed up, and that it wasn’t the first time she
had misread an e-mail, and had gotten irrational.
She wrote, “I am
thinking of ending this communication.”
I considered falling on
my knees, flagellating myself with cactus, rolling in broken glass as I
begged her, “please, please---not that---anything but that!”
Instead I ended the
To use the term loosely.
(She mail e-mail no
For more LTSEWH's,
watch this space. And watch this website for the big LTSEWH book, coming
sooner than you like.
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