by RIP RENSE
(Sept. 4, 2008)
Call them Less Than
Satisfying Encounters with Humanity, or
LTSEWH, for um, short.
They are intended as a chronicle of the decline in civility, efficiency, and
deference, written with just the slightest implication of humor, in this,
the alleged 21st century. Names are included when possible to protest the
incompetent. (Please note:
LTSEWH is now a book, with wonderful illustrations!
Buy one, you ingrates.)
LTSEWH # 1:
You know, I don’t like to
go to Starbucks, and there are many reasons. For one thing, I can’t drink
coffee. So my going to Starbucks is rather like Michael Jackson visiting a
whorehouse. You can enjoy the ambience, but there isn’t much to do other
than read the paper. Or if you happened to bring your laptop, write.
I can, however,
occasionally risk a decaf of some sort, as it generally doesn’t turn my
duodenum into the acid equivalent of the 405 "freeway" at 5 p.m.. Or 1 p.m., 2
p.m., or really, almost any time of day. (That “thoroughfare” is the
concrete version of one of those Eddie Murphy movies where he plays an
entire race of human beings.)
So there I was. . .
Ordering a “tall decaf
soy latte” at the Starbucks on Ocean Park in Santa Monica, across the street
from the ghost of Douglas Aircraft Company. I had my laptop, and had
intended to write a column---just not this one. As it turned out, the
“barista,” which is the term Starbucks uses to describe poor humans trained
to mix preposterous calamities such as “caramel macchiatos" for a few bucks
an hour, was a person I was familiar with. . .
Just the week before,
you see, I had sworn never to return to this Starbucks because of this
very barista. You see, this tall young fellow---like so many tall young
fellows of our time---imagines that he has a special personality, and that
it must be on display at all times. Or perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps he
really is a genius entertainer who has yet to be discovered. Perhaps he will
star in his own sitcom soon. After all, he is latino and gay, so the fact
that he is not on “Ugly Betty” is practically astonishing already.
But the problem is, I’m
just an old fart, increasingly older and fartier, and I do not enjoy hearing
a voice like a seal’s bark exploding into things like “Herrrooooo Honey!”
and "Wasss Gon' onnnnnn?" every twenty seconds or so. In between, “What’s
up!” and “White Chocolate Mocha!” and unintelligible declarations about
unintelligent subjects. And I mean it---this was a seal’s bark. An air
horn. It shot into my ears, caused my hammer to shatter my anvil.
I can only figure there
was some sort of freakish conspiracy of vocal cord and nasal cavity at work
in Barista Boy. Consider: aside from the din of all that important Starbucks
chatter you always hear---“my script is coming along. . .” “going to yoga in
a few minutes. . .” “the new Whole Foods is almost open---I’m going to go
bankrupt soon!”---and aside from the incredibly loud Starbucks cool music
of the moment. . .
I had headphones on, with Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft.” Cranked.
Not to drown out the
chatter. Not to drown out the cool music. No. To drown out the
strange ejaculations (poor word choice, I know) of Barista Boy.
It. . .didn’t. . .work.
If harnessed, this
guy’s voice could have lighted Reseda. And maybe Northridge. Plus he had
such a positively grotesque accent, and such a huge honker, that the voice
came out distorted, ugly, piercing. Think: trombone in the upper register,
with intimations of duck-call. Uh, make that a highly effeminate duck-call,
with that oh-so-exaggerated “s” hiss so strangely prevalent among Gay
I eventually concluded thought he was
retarded, and that Starbucks was hiring the handicapped. Really.
It was so absolutely
incredible that I had to leave. I later phoned Starbucks, and a nice
manager apologized for his colleague. Feeling a little guilty, I timidly
inquired if Barista Boy was retarded, and Manager burst into laughter, which
I took for a “no.” He apologized again, but did not say he would take any
I said nothing. At least
he spoke softly.
LTSEWH # 2:
Yes, I went back to the
same Starbucks, because, well, Barista Boy seemed to be on morning shift,
and I’m an afternoon writer. Besides, I live by the credo, “Begin at once,
and do the best you can.” But, well, I’m Rense, and the pixies and demons of
time and space naturally conspired to have Boy materialize just as I walked
in. And yet, in a miracle to rival the end of George Bush’s term in office.
Boy was quiet! He was no
longer a Starbucks star, grinding down cochleas for that stray Tall
Americano agent who would change his life. Either he was not feeling perky,
or---dare I have hoped?---someone had actually told him to STFU. (I think
you can figure out that abbreviation.) Home free! Let’s type! Well, no.
Those pixies and demons again, you see. They’ve got my number, 24-7.
I ordered a “Decaf Tall
Soy Latte,” because I figured my gut might tolerate it, and because I have a
sweet tooth. Or teeth. And by gosh, it didn’t cause any discomfort. The
problem was, Starbucks is in trouble these days---so much in trouble that
its new ad campaign reminds customers that it sells plain coffee. This is
like a gas station saying “Get your fresh gas here!”
Which came down to my
“tall” (that’s four-inch) drink being roughly 60 percent
Starbucks-in-trouble ice. After four sips, I had a decaf tall soy pile of
“Excuse me,” I said to
Order Guy. “I’m sorry, but as you can see, my drink is more
than half ice cubes. What are the possibilities of getting a refill? I
really don’t care for having paid $3 for a glass of coffee-flavored ice. The
economy being what it is.”
“Oh, certainly sir,” said
Guy pleasantly. “What I suggest you do in the future is ask for
‘light ice.’ We follow a recipe, you see, and it calls for the ice cubes to
fill that much of the cup.”
In other words: we’ll rip
you off unless you instruct us to do otherwise. I had a suggestion for
Order Guy and his company, but I kept it quiet.
“Oh. Okay. Thank you very
And lo, Guy turned to
Barista Boy, communicated in some gobbledy Starbucksian Young Person
Dialect, and I duly awaited my refill, which arrived promptly enough. . .
With enough ice in it to
sink the goddamn Titanic.
I mean, if there was more
ice in the cup, physics professors would have wanted to conduct a study. I
just stared in disbelief. Well, disbelief is actually my starting point each
day (see masthead.) Let’s say I stared in some mildly psychotic glaze borne
of living too much in disbelief. Or too much in L.A., which is the same
thing. Some director would have loved my face for a close-up.
“Um. . .Excuse me,” I
said to Barista Boy. “I’m sorry.” (Yes, somehow it was all my fault, as
is global warming and
Cindy McCain's wardrobe, which is probably somehow
causing global warming.) “I uh. . .should have asked for ‘light ice.’”
Simple enough to resolve?
Sure. Like Diane Sawyer’s unfortunate new facelift.
Here is what Boy did,
ladies and gentlemen. I swear to Juan Valdez and Cesar Romero. Without a
word, he dumped about one-third of drink-and-ice, and then filled it back
up. . .with soy milk! Bear in mind, please, that the drink had already been
made with soy milk. He was gilding the soy milk lily! The soy milk eats
(If the reader is at this
point finding this little narrative tedious, or suspects the narrator of
having gone entirely insane, he or she has full permission and encouragement
to instead watch CNN or Fox or “Pimp My Ride.”)
Now here is the No-whip
Tall Whole Milk Cappucino climax to my Starbucks satisfied customer
The cup was still 90
Really. I picked it up,
tipped it left, tipped it right. The ice did not even move. Only the
liquid, which perhaps contained as much as two tablespoons of decaffeinated
coffee swimming in soy milk. I seriously wondered if Boy was messing with
me, but one glance at his decaf-tall-this-is-beneath-me face told me
“Uh. . .Sorry, man, but I
asked for ‘lite ice.’”
“Dat is light
Ah, yes, argue with
the customer. . .
God, if you really existed, you would have sent a nice
lightning bolt up this kid’s ass. He spoke with a petulance that is a drill
“But look at it,” I said
with positively breathtaking restraint. “The ice fills the entire cup.”
“No eett dussunt."’
The things I restrained
myself from saying, I won't tell you.
“Yes," I said calmly. "It
does. Can I please get ‘light ice?’”
I know how bright you
are, readers, which is to say that I know that you have already guessed what
This fine, hard-working
immigrant gay latino American (bravo, Starbucks, for your Affirmative Action
hiring!) destined for entertainment industry greatness, took my drink
without speaking, poured out about a quarter of the liquid and ice, and. . .
Yes! Filled it back up
with soy milk.
Then sort of slid it at
me, turned his back, and walked away.
I would not be betting
heavily on Starbucks stock, if I were you.
LTSEWH # 3: God of
There I was. . .
Walking innocuously down
an innocuous side street in an innocuous West L.A. residential area. The
weather was innocuous. Birds chirped innocuously. A squirrel buried a nut
and eyed me. Innocuously.
In the back of my mind, I
had a very strong sense that something was about to be very not innocuous.
When life looks like
easy street, there is danger at your door.
There was an alley ahead.
Let me help you picture this. Big wide street with big sidewalks, no trees,
all colors of stucco and shrub screaming with sunshine. Shadows hiding under
rocks. I approached the alley, walking on the sidewalk. The alley was also
completely unobscured, which is more than I can say for the thinking of the
driver sitting in it.
He was stopped at the
edge of the alley, looking at me. I was perhaps 25 feet away. We made eye
contact. The usual, innocuous "Okay we see each other so there will be no
accident" look. The car was nice, recent model of some innocuous sort. The
driver was latino, shaved head, perhaps in his mid-30's. I am not latino,
have a lot of hair, and can almost remember my mid-30's.
I proceeded in front
of his car, glancing again to make sure there was eye contact and giving
him the quick "thanks" wave that has become requisite in L.A. traffic. It
could actually save your life, I believe, unless mistaken for a gang sign.
Anyhow, I completed
passing in front of his car in perhaps 1.5 seconds. I took another twenty
steps or so, and crossed the street, at which point I became aware of
someone shouting. I had headphones on, you see (Grateful Dead: "Help on the
Way"), so I couldn't tell the direction at first. I turned. . .
It was the bald guy in
the car. Stopped in the middle of the street. He was leaning out the window,
shouting at me at the top of his lungs. He sounded like Cheech doing a
parody of Cheech. The God of Vatos. And this, so help me, is what he said:
“I’M DRUNK, MAN."
I wasn't sure I'd heard
"I’M DRUNK. YOU’RE LUCKY
I DIDN’T KILL YOU! I’M DRUNK!”
What could I say? He was
certainly right. I was very lucky that he hadn't killed me.
“Thank you!” I said, and
gave him the "thanks" wave, to boot.
Damn. Lucky he
didn't take it for a gang sign.
LTSEWH # 4: White
It was hot, the traffic
had died and the corpse was stinking. Driving the three miles to the yogurt
place had not been as bad as a root canal. Okay, I've never had a root
canal, so maybe it was just as bad. Homer never imagined the heroism and
staunchness of spirit, let alone feats of derring-do, that are required to
drive a short distance in L.A. these days.
Yet I had made it. I
needed that yogurt. I really did. For some reason, this new kind of yogurt
that isn't really yogurt makes my stomach feel good, when it doesn't. (Which
is often.) There must not be any dairy in it, that's all I can figure. So
all things considered, it's not bad medication, having to eat frozen yogurt
four or five times a week.
It's just that having to
get in a car and drive to get the stuff in order to stop gut pain is, well,
the pixies and demons are after me, again.
Yet I had secured the
transaction in seconds, returned to my car, and had a spoonful down my
gullet on its way to placating the rat that lives there, gnawing on my
duodenum. I backed the car out. I pulled forward. I waited behind a car
turning right on to a main street. The car turned. I pulled further forward,
and looked to my left.
A confession: I am the
last living person in L.A. to retain the knowledge that pedestrians have
the right-of-way. Period.
I looked in my rear-view
mirror. There was a car behind me, waiting. Middle-aged white male at the
wheel. Yet there was a good three-quarters of one car-length between my
modest vehicle and his. I backed up, oh-so-slowly and carefully, to allow
the pedestrian to cross in front of me. Plus, you see, the main drag in
front had no more traffic than Hillary Clinton has pins in her Obama voodoo
doll. No way to pull out and turn.
And you know, Joe Biden
might be a blowhard doofus, as Karl "Pigboy" Rove said recently, but the guy
behind me had him beat. He blew his horn hard, this doofus, and then leaned
on the horn. Leaned on it. Really. As I backed up almost as fast as
ants crawl, nowhere near his jackass vehicle. Leaned on it.
Evidently, he disapproved of my allowing the pedestrian enough space to pass
Naturally, I got out of
my car, walked back to his, dragged him out through the driver's side
window, knocked his front teeth out, kicked him in the testicles, and
stuffed him head-first into a nearby trash can.
Okay, not really. I
settled for the impotent third finger, and went on my way.
The yogurt was melting.
For more LTSEWH'S
buy the goddamn book. Ingrates.