by RIP RENSE
ADVENTURE ON A TUESDAY
(Mar. 17, 2010)
spring was in the air like a fat guy sitting in front of
you in a theater. It was hard to see the day, such was the
hugeness of heat and blossom and pollen and perfume. And the
suddenly brighter, painfully brighter, sunshine.
I was behind, like
everyone else. Daylight Savings Time behind. It was 2 but it was
3. It was 1 but it was 2. It would soon be five but really four.
Not that I had a deadline. I had the luxury of indulging
disorientation. It would not cause me to miss a meeting, be late
for a lunch. I was on time. At all times.
I was “going to the
store,” you see. Big outing of the day. Oh, the housewifeyness
of it all.
Around me, the usual
pigslop parade of shiny greed machinery, brutish, booming.
Sunglasses at red lights, windows down, car stereos impotently
punishing the air with banalities, freakish pounding. Aural
dares to surrounding drivers, mega-decibel de facto “fuck you’s,”
sonic erections. High-tech tribalism.
I remembered a line from
an old Captain Beefheart piece:
“The music was. . .thud-like.”
I had an idea. If I
were to make a movie, I'd fix it so you could hear all the
thoughts of all the people in cars stopped beside you, whizzing
by, pulling illegal u-turns in front of you, cutting you off,
etc. The thoughts would pass with the cars. It could go
something like this. . .
“Uh. . .nice ass.
I’d sure like to. . .I want a goddamn iced fucking mocha. .
.. . .Oh God I’ve got to try that
restaurant---oh fuck I almost hit that dude---hey, fuck YOU,
asshole. . .I’m hot, and he knows it. . .Men are such pigs. .
.Nam myo ho renge kyo, nam myo ho renge kyo. . .Fuck wit me, I
kill you, Homes. . .Look at the tits on that. . .Yes, Jesus loves me. . .Damn straight, Rush, baby. . .If I
pick my nose, that guy will see. Oh, I don’t care. . .What’s
wrong with driving with a nice buzz?. . .Oh God I love this
song!. . .Look at that asshole, thinks he’s so fucking hot. .
.What? Why are you honking, you prick. . .I wonder what Michael Jackson is doing in heaven right
now. . .What’s that guy looking at?. . .Chingao, ese. . .Get my
script optioned, and. . .What’s wrong with Shia LaBeouf and
Khloe Kardashian. . .Shia LaBeouf, what kind of a fucking name
is that? African?. . .Black guys are hot. . .I wish I was Asian.
tartare? Who would spend sixty bucks to eat raw beef?. .
.My ass itches. . .I’ve got to get my eyes done. . .I'm soooooo fuuucked uuuupp. .
.I am an actor, I am an actor. . .Catherine
Zeta-Jones looks soooo great. . .Visualize, visualize,
visualize. . .Oh, I made that light---must be my guardian
Of course, my car was
also pulsing with dangerously loud music. Tom Waits singing
Keeps Mankind Alive.” The last line:
Mankind is kept alive.
. .by bestial acts!
I arrived at Centinela
Feed, where a petite, sullen kid snapped an aggressive
“Hello!” from behind a cash register (are they still called cash
registers?), another young employee shouted at me like a marine
drill sergeant, “Can I help you find anything today, sir?” (I
smiled and said “No, thank you”), and yet another kid who
obviously spent too much time at McDonald’s barked in a voice
better suited to giving commands to zoo animals:
“Help you find anything today,
I said no.
“Well, let us know if you
(All of this translates
to “I see you so don’t shoplift, asshole.”)
Lucky for other
employees, no one else asked me if I was “finding everything all
right.” They would have, but I got out of there very quickly
with my bag of Lotus brand organic cat kibble devoid of MSG
disguised as “natural flavors.” (No wonder the cats went
hog wild for that other stuff---it must be so goosed with MSG
that their kitty tongues had little flavor acid-trips.)
Back in the car, I eased
along sidestreets through bucolic neighborhoods ridiculously
verdant, blabbering with noisy flower gardens, the crisp, dry,
desert mountain ranges projected in the distance, behind a thin
sepia layer of smog. . .Waits continued singing on an album I
seldom play, because it is a collection of leftovers: “Orphans.”
I slipped on the second disc, “Bawlers,” and Tom sang in a
poignant, flagrantly Satchmo voice:
never hold back spring. . .Even though you’ve lost your way.
. .The world keeps dreaming of spring. . .
I have to tell you
that there was something on my mind, through all these tiny
events. Shouldn’t have been, but there it was. One of those
things that sticks for a lot of psychological reasons that are
best left unexplored. Come to think of it, most psychological
things are best left unexplored. Why take precious time to stare
up your own ass? Anyhow, I had looked at Facebook before leaving, you
see, and had happened upon an entry reading, “Francine Brandt is
contemplating the 'last day of Gusta, the perpetual kitten.'
Can't stop the longing for her to stay with us, but must end the
suffering....” And there was a photo,
a mug-shot, of an old calico, indeed a kitten grown old, an
elderly feline lady, her face a bit narrowed with age, her lids
half shut. It was apparent that she was in decline, and probably
And Gusta the cat, and
her last day on our strange vagrant orphaned planet, just
wouldn’t go out of my head, for some Holden Caulfield reason. Of
all the colossal, bafflingly merciless tragedies in the world,
my brain was stuck on a picture of a cat I’d never met, who was
about to die, and didn’t know it. And Waits sang. The
blushing rose will climb/ Spring ahead or fall behind/ Winter
dreams the same dream/ Every time. . .
There would be no more
springs for Gusta the cat. Marie Dressler in “Dinner At Eight”
came to mind, as she often does: “That's the unfortunate thing
about death. It's so terribly final.” Little Gusta's final day,
hour, moment. Never could she imagine a world in which odd
creatures far away would look at her face on Arthur C. Clarke-ian
machines, never could she know of such sophisticated human
ruminations and insanities. Couldn’t know much of anything,
really, not what she was, who she was, where she was, when she
was, or why she was. Of course, neither do we. It’s fair to
assume that these questions didn’t bother Gusta, though they
sure bother humans.
I parked at Whole
Foods, and wiped away a tear. They come at the most
unpredictable times nowadays. Next to me, a fabulously wealthy
West Side new mom was putting groceries into her big black
Infiniti, and talking goo-goo talk to her lavishly comfitted
baby in a stroller. Expensive car, expensive stroller, expensive
baby, expensive groceries. Cheap life. I thought of how amused
Kurt Vonnegut would be---or at least
Trout---by the idea of someone driving a vehicle called an “Infiniti,"
probably making trips of no more than four or five miles a day.
A vehicle made entirely of finite resources, operated by a
finite creature, in a finite world, and yet. . .comprised
entirely of elements that had traveled a quadrillion quadrillion
quadrillion light-years in order to be present in the form of
car and mother and baby at that moment. And I thought of the
Buddhist phrase of “infinite causes and conditions. . .” And then I got out of the way of a truck driving too fast
through the parking lot.
Inside "Foods" were still
more new moms and strollers full of other burbling fat little
fledgling greedballs, fantastically unsuspecting of the world’s
travails, pitfalls, peccadillos. . .of the picaresque,
picayunish, and pecuniary. Their eyes protruberant with
undiluted amazement, their tongues la-la-la’ing, their
hindquarters expelling whatever begged exit, with elan,
oblivious of social protocol. As are humans at the opposite end
of the time scale. An elderly woman alone in the bread aisle
unleashed a flapping jolt of haunch emission fit for Shaquille
O’Neal. You can never hold back spring. . .
I escaped Foods with one
bag, ten items, and a $33 receipt, and felt lucky. Every time
you go into that place for two or three things, you walk out
with one bag costing $80. In the parking lot, the inevitable
guys with clipboards who had ignored me on the way in (“Only ask
them after they’ve finished shopping”) assailed. I was a bit
surprised, as canvassers tend to bypass my gray beard and
rumpled attire (I'd write "thank God" here, if there was one.) One of them yelled at me:
“Check your spine today,
Check your spine
today, sir. . .Check your spine today. . The phrase floated
up into the pollen and blue, into the hummingbird-darting,
diesel particulate-matter suffused, carcinogenic Los Angeles
atmosphere. It interacted with molecules and light in ways that
physicists can describe elaborately, intricately, but will
forever remain unknowable to me. Check your spine. .
.What did it mean? A metaphorical question? Or was it my bad
posture? Trout might write a story about that, in which stranded
humanoid aliens gifted with CT-scan vision would wait outside
stores, picking out medical flaws of customers and asking if
they could give them little check-ups for five bucks. Then they
would eventually collect all their money and go to the Jewelry
District to buy gold and diamonds, which was their principal
diet. They were always near starvation. . .No, they couldn’t
check my spine. I already knew my spine, and how it is
compressed at the base to the point where there is almost no
disc left, and will eventually cause me to be a little less than
Back in the car and on to
Trader Joe’s, with Tom singing again. A great song, one of the
best he has done, with those world-weary, battered piano chords
he does so well, and lyrics about The Rip Post motto,
persevering through relentless absurdity. “Never
Let Go.” I cranked it up, and wiped more surprise tears
away. In a left turn lane, I noticed the woman behind me
noticing me dabbing my eyes. She looked nervous---uh-oh,
psycho in front of me---so I made a point of driving extra
safely, so as to reassure her. Why I do these sorts of things,
why I give a rat’s ass, I’ll never understand.
Trader Joe’s. . .free
coffee. . .Stevia sweetener. . .heavy soy cream. . .a touch
of happiness. . .cat treats, organic Fuji apples, dark chocolate
bars, smoked salmon, canned salmon, sardines, watermelon juice,
organic zucchini, organic cucumbers. . .How decadent, how rich,
how ridiculously convenient that one could toss such items
effortlessly into a cart, without ever having expended one
carbohydrate of energy to create, refine, pick, or package any
of it. . .What a spoiled lout I am. . .I remembered a scroll
someone recently gave me, reading, in part, “I am fortunate to
have awakened today. . .” How pathetic are people, that such
crass reminders of gratitude must be mass-produced. . .
More babies, more
kids, more swollen, pregnant bellies. . .So many new mothers
all the time. . .You can never hold back spring. .
.Lithe, coltish teen daughters trailing mothers who looked like
haggard caricatures of their kids. . .I drank a third free tiny
cup of coffee, and failed to step entirely out of the way of a
mommy and brood, did a little pirouette so as not to trip a
little girl with pigtails and glasses. Something about little
kids with glasses always breaks my heart. Shouldn’t, of course,
as they are lucky to be able to afford the care, and have
parents who care, but still, always breaks my heart. . .
“Find everything all
right today, sir?” said the checker, for the 456th time that
“Yes, thank you.”
And a little girl stood
in the doorway on the way out to make sure the door stayed open
for me, and for the customer before me. She was having a good
time playing doorman, and I said, “Thank you, dear,” which made
her smile with embarrassment, and run for Mommy. I often have
this effect on people.
Outside, a tiny man
materialized between parked cars. He was perhaps three feet, six
inches tall, and crooked. Bent sidways at the waist. Elderly,
gray, perhaps 70, in suit pants, and white shirt. Like an
apparition from Poe, an imp who fell through a crack in time
from 1922 Weimar Republic and into a hot blacktop 2010 Palms
parking lot of hot garish transportation machines. One of them
started, and prepared to back up, with tiny old guy walking
right behind it. I knew the driver could never have seen him, so
I stepped directly into the path of the car and stood there
until the time-travelling imp made his crook-backed way safely
toward Trader Joe’s, or more likely, into some other crack in
time and space. . .
And back in my car, and I
swear this is true, Waits began singing something called “Little
Man,” by Teddy Edwards:
Don't look back/ There
are things that might distract/ Move ahead towards your goal/
And the answers will unfold/ Little man/ Love is always in the
air/ It is there for those who care/ Little man. . .
I loved the bit
about “things that might distract.” How true, how true. . .I
remembered with fondness how Waits once took me to see the great
Edwards at the Biltmore Hotel, and how lucky I was for having
been, for a moment, in the presence of two such brilliant
musicians. What's wrong with this picture?
I sort of drifted home,
feeling a kind of buffer all around, a buffer built of held-back
spring, and grocery bags, and Waits’s music, and of not knowing
the life of a parent, or the life of an unthinking consumer; a
buffer from “Hello!” and “Check your spine?” and diesel
particulate matter. . .And I was in a place very alone, on a
too-hot March afternoon, in my dumb car, with thoughts of how I
can’t know who/what/when/ where/why am I, and how I am regulated
by infinite forces and conditions of spinning planet and genetic
dice, and how Gusta the cat was about to die, and didn't know
Finding everything all
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