by RIP RENSE
Call them Less Than
Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH for um, short. Names have
been included when possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
LTSEWH # 1: RESPECT
FROM YOUR ELDERS
There I was. . .
Walking through the
parking lot of Whole Foods in Mar Vista (it’s technically Westdale, but no
one know this anymore), where the rich and revolting shop. Me being part of
the “revolting” crowd.
There was a huge jam-up,
as there often is, while all the young greedbarons and elderly indolent
tried to fit their Lexuses and Priuses into not-enough-spaces---all in quest
of the magnificently
overpriced “organic” and “natural” fare that might keep them forever
I picked my way
delicately through a three-way juggernaut at a T-intersection aisle,
much as a cat steps daintily across a wet lawn. I made eye contact with a
driver on my right, so that he might realize that, although I might not be a
pleasing sight, running me over would result in deprivation of his freedom.
I proceeded to my parked
car. Suddenly. . .
A beautifully preserved
Mercedes sports coupe, circa late ‘70’s, gunned its engine and roared around
the right side of the car on my right. I would have thought that not even a
ferret could have slithered through that gap, but this lovely auto did just
that. I stopped abruptly in order to avoid becoming roadkill. It seems that
the driver had become impatient, and had thrown caution---and pedestrian
safety---to the Santa Ana winds.
I confess that this upset
me a bit.
“Slow DOWN!” I yelled
into the opened driver’s side window at the vehicle’s lone occupant, a
grimacing elderly woman.Her response:
A snarling employment of
the word, “you,” and its most popular antecedent, American’s favorite
What could I do but
return her hearty greeting?
LTSEWH # 2:
PHIL YOUR WORLD WITH LIVING IDIOTS
You expect sneezes.
You expect undisguised bronchial explosions during the pianissimo
passage of Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto. You expect entire atmospheres of
perfume, and occasionally less olfactorily inviting emanations. You expect
programs to be rustled, and purses to fall, and the occasional “music lover”
unable to restrain himself/herself from humming along with a principal
theme. You expect whispering, and even the occasional mutterer. You expect,
God help us, cell phones.
But you do not expect a
four-act dramatic presentation in the seat beside you.
She was young, she was
glammed up, she was primed for emotional fulfillment. She was Los
Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra General Manager Deborah Borda’s marketing
dream. She was there, to paraphrase the orchestra’s asinine slogan, to “Phil
her world with living music.”
As opposed to, one must
assume, dead music.
Zubin Mehta, the
orchestra’s music director of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, had returned to conduct
Bruckner’s 8th symphony. For those readers who do are not familiar with the
music of Anton Bruckner, suffice it to say that this is not very hummable,
easily accessed stuff. It is somewhat esoteric fare, long on bombast and
short on singalong. It is no more repetitious than George W. Bush.
No matter. Girly, all
coiffed and deodorized and decked out in decolotage-displaying duds, was
primed for performance. They could have played Varese and she would have
vavoomed. And it was quite a show, really, so compelling that it actually
upstaged Zubin and Bruckner, at least for me.
She leaned forward. She
clutched her hands together, as if in prayer. She leaned back. She rocked
from side to side. She moaned. She rocked forward and backward. She
undulated in a kind of circular motion. She rolled her head back on her
shoulders. She squeaked. She gasped. She sang. She clasped her hands
together, mouth agape. She grabbed her boyfriend’s arm with both of her
hands and kneaded.
This was in the first
And speaking of
boyfriend, well, he did a lot of speaking. He was essentially a
dressed-up bag of testosterone who was putting in his time before getting
his late-night reward. Paying his dues in highbrowland before getting down
and dirty with Girly. He was swarthy, he was hairy, he had the requisite
three-day-old beard growth to proclaim his testosteronicity to the world.
And he kept talking. I mean he blurted, as if he were at home in his living
room. Things like “What’s that instrument?”
Right, maybe he had
taken Borda’s smarmy characterization of Dizzy Hell---er, Disney Hall---as
“L.A.’s Living Room” a little too much to heart. I mean, the poor guy was
probably wondering where the peanuts and beer were.
After about ten minutes
of the Girly and Boyfriend Show had Philled my world with living idiocy, I
made the mistake of shooting a quick look at Beard Boy, putting my finger to
my lips, and smiling. Whoops. Let’s just say that I might as well have told
Osama Bin-Laden that I had just fornicated with all his wives. I got the
wild eye, all-whites-around-the-irises---the look that said, “Uh! Uh! I kill
O-kayyyyyy. . .
So I sat back and took in
the show. The one next to me.At least Beard Boy resumed his commentary
sotto voce, although Girly seemed to compensate with increased
histrionics. Yes, you guessed it, she began to. . .conduct. Mm-hm, her hands
would occasionally whip out and perform a little air-figure. Not as
interesting as Zubin, but it caught my attention.
I have to congratulate
her. That symphony is about 90 minutes long, and stretches of it bore me
into panicked daydreaming. It does have some very winning moments, notably
the remarkable adagio (precursor of Mahler slow movements), and some
stunning fortissimos that showcased the boffo L.A. Phil brass
section, but it is not an easy work to apprehend.
Girly stuck with it. I
could sense that her stamina was lagging here and there, and that she might
have had the occasional doubt about Philling her world with this particular
living music, but every time the orchestra increased volume a little, or a
timpani was hammered, she revived. What a trouper! If she did not actually
experience full-blown, crashing orgasms during the piece, she sure fooled
And perhaps later, her
LTSEWH # 3:
Driving in L.A. descends
daily to greater depths of depravity, brutishness, savagery, insanity. Other
than that, it’s okay.
I was cruising up Bundy
Drive around 10:30 at night in moderate traffic. I was, of course, at the
wheel of my old, beat-up Ratmobile, which elicits both overt and
subconscious condemnation by those riding in grander vehicles.
In other words, no matter
my speed, I am constantly passed and cut off. It’s tribal.
On this night, I noticed
a brand new Jaguar (I believe that
is pronounced Jehg-yoo-are) about two car lengths behind, manned by a
woman. I noticed this because she kept speeding up to my bumper, then
backing off two or three car lengths, then speeding up. I figured the driver
had ingested no more than two vodka martinis.
Now, please bear with
some mundane setting here. It’s worth it. Bundy narrows to one lane at
night, because the right lane fills with parked cars. This happens at a
particular point, and without fail, every time the narrowing occurs, drivers
get into all sorts of unnecessary snits. Inevitably,
someone speeds up at the last second and tries to cut in front of someone
else, or several cars stop in order to avoid hitting the parked vehicles,
and remain stuck there while dozens of cars pass by, refusing to allow
You get the stupid
of the cut-at-the-last-second ilk. I saw it coming. The thing is, I would
have taken the path of least resistance and slowed to let Dumbass in, had
she managed to try while there was still room. But she had waited until the
merger point had entirely passed. What’s more, she waited until there was no
room in front of me to allow a car to merge.
That’s correct, she was
driving where there was no lane, between me and parked cars, trying to force
me into oncoming traffic. She was asserting her vehicular superiority over
the Ratmobile. If her car could speak, it would have said, “out of my way,
serf" with an upper-class twit British accent.
I had three choices: 1)
Risk a head-on collision, 2) Drive her into parked cars and hope that she
experience a painless death, 3) Stop my car and allow her in.
I refused to even
consider option number three. Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t think
the fact that her putting my life in danger merited any sort of
accommodation. So I maintained my speed.
So did she!
Then I pulled fully back
into my lane, which forced New Jaguarwoman (no plates, even) just inches
away vehicular intercourse with the parked cars.
She slowed down, and
Phew, I thought.
I thought too soon.
She appeared on my left,
attempting to corral me into the parked cars.
Folks, I kid you not.
There was zero provocation for any of this.
It went on for about a
mile. First she would hang on my bumper, then zoom up on the right, forcing
me part way into oncoming traffic, then back on the left, forcing me to
nearly slice off about a dozen rear-view mirrors.
I could not believe it. I
still cannot believe it. But here’s the part that I find most unbelievable
opened up to two lanes, and Dumbass roared triumphantly past me on the
right. If you think I was a bit upset by this whole episode; if you imagine
my patience was tried a bit, or that I was just ever-so-slightly perturbed,
you would be reasonable in this suspicion. For when she stopped in front of
me at the inevitable red light---rendering utterly absurd her attempts to
have passed me---I rolled down the window and invoked all manner of colorful
expressions in inquiring into her driving habits. Perhaps some of my readers
in Australia or New Zealand listened in.
Jaguarwoman leaned out her window and yelled “I don’t like the exhaust your
car is emitting.”
Yes. Really. She had gone
insane, putting her life and mine in grave danger, because she did not like
the particular scent of my car. Never mind that it had just passed the smog
I hadn’t the slightest
idea what to say.
I still don’t.
LTSEWH # 4: WATER
ON THE BRAIN
“Could I have a
tall decaf iced Americano, please?”
“Do you want that
I confess that this
question left me puzzled. I realize that Starbucks offers all sorts of
permutations of coffee drinks, most well beyond my imagination and well
above my plebian taste. I tried hard to fathom it: coffee, with or
without water. What could it mean? I knew the question made sense in the
wonderful world of Starbucksland, but it was beyond my aging Americano
“Do I want that with
water? Are you kidding?”
“No, sir. Do you want
that with water?”
“ALL coffee comes with
water, doesn’t it? All coffee that I know is, in fact, made with water.
Am I on the wrong side of the mirror here?"
My incomprehension marked
me for a weirdo. The last comment seemed to inspire fear. Starbucks Boy
stared at me uneasily.
“No,” he said---I swear
he said this---“not all coffee comes with water.”
My friends, there are
days when it is best to just hide. Days when you almost believe in God,
because only a Supreme Practical Joker could pull this kind of crap on you
as you meekly and unobtrusively attempt to get through another punishing
“Not all coffee comes
with water? Um. . .what are you talking about?”
A second Starbucks
employee was now watching the scene. Soon the Starbucks Police would arrive,
from the Department of Starbucks Security.
Starbucks Boy didn’t know
how to proceed. He looked embarrassed, flummoxed. A wave of compassion
spread over me.
“Look,” I said. “I just
have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. It’s not your fault. I’m
old. Can you please explain it to me? It’s all my fault.”
He looked a little
relieved as he said, “No problem sir. We don’t have iced decaf, so we use
Americano, and we can add ice to it.”
Yup, sure, yes,
uh-huh, mm-hmm, and otherwise affirmative. Roger that, big guy.
“Okay,” I said.
And in a moment, he
handed me---I swear to Juan Valdez this is true---a plastic Starbucks
cup with about an inch of coffee in the bottom, ice cubes to the brim.
“Uh. . .what is this?”
“Iced decaf Americano.”
Somewhere in the musty,
cobwebby recesses of my brain, a couple of rusty old gears moaned, creaked,
grunted, and turned a click or two.
“Oh. So the Americano is
usually served as a shot? And that’s why you asked me if I wanted water?
Because I can also have you add water to the shot and fill the glass all the
enthusiastically. There was Starbucks hope for me yet.
I put my hand to my
forehead, closed my eyes, hung my head, and tried to shake all the absurdity
“Okay, pal. Then please,
I’d like a tall iced decaf Americano---with water.”
“Coming right up,
LTSEWH # 5:
I realize that in
the marketplace you encounter exactly two types of service: rehearsed
robotic recitation of phrases, such as “finding everything all right” and
“thank you for shopping at Ralphs”; and unsmiling, uncomprehending,
But sometimes I just
can’t stand it.
Like the day I walked up
to the box office of the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown L.A.. There
was an attractive young woman behind the opened window, or at least I
assumed she was a woman and not a piece of stunt-art.
I walked up. I tried in vain to
make eye contact. I presented a two-for-one discount. I got my tickets.
She had said nothing.
I walked away, then
thought better of it, turned around, and let fly:
“Look,” I said. “I
have just patronized your establishment. I have just given you money. I
have driven twenty minutes to see your exhibit. Can’t you even say, ‘hello?’
Can’t you say, ‘Welcome to MOMA?’ Or even a simply ‘thank you?’ Can’t you
make eye contact?”
I almost added
Letterman’s wonderful line for such occasions,
“Are you feral?” but was still trying to be marginally civil.
“I DID speak to you,”
came her angry response.
What was that archaic
expression? The customer is always right? The little minx was
arguing about it. And then---
“It’s HARD to hear inside
I was so deeply
moved by the enormity of her plight, by the suffering inherent in her
demanding and highly specified occupation, that I put my hands together in
“Oh, please, please
forgive me,” I said. “I’m SO sorry that you have so much trouble performing
your difficult job! Oh, forgive me, please!”
When I later vainly asked
that a supervisor speak to her, I was told by a polite young MOMA employee
that they would “speak to her about injecting more positivity into her
Gadzooks! New Age-ism
had entered into the proceedings! Again, I went completely
out-of-control. The Department of Museum of Modern Art Security Police were
due at any moment.
“I don’t care about
POSITIVITY! I’m looking for common courtesy! I’m looking for HUMAN. She sat
there like a goddamn ape, going uh uh!”
Then I went to the
exhibit, which consisted of illustrated panels by a man exponentially more
misanthropic even than me, a man whose insight into human behavior was
hilariously, bawdily, brilliantly realized in
comic books in the
‘60’s and ‘70’s---the great R. Crumb.
Sanity, at last.
For more LTSEWH’s, watch
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