by RIP RENSE
You find them everywhere. Blowing down
sidewalks, crumpled up in bushes, rumpled and stained in curbside gutters.
Bits and pieces of daily lives, discarded or lost, there at your feet. Each
one a chapter from a story, somewhere in the middle of a human book. Call
them city footnotes. . .
FOOTNOTE # 1:
Folded neatly in the
gutter on Westwood Boulevard was, of all this, a police report. I recognized
it instantly from years spent thumbing through them at cop stations in the
Valley when I was a police reporter at the Valley News. It took me
back. . .
For the record, I was a
less-than-stellar police reporter. I had little enthusiasm for cultivating
contacts with detectives in order that they might surreptitiously tip me off
to a murder or a twist in an existing case.
Still, I covered my share
of major crime, and while some of the cops tipped me off occasionally, I got
very tired very fast of writing about mayhem and cruddy human behavior. I
took more interest in the reports we weren’t supposed to write up, like
In fact, I once got up on
my idealistic young high horse and wrote a commentary about this, after
reading a very poignant and detailed account of some poor woman who came to
L.A. for fame and fortune, but wound up O.D.’ing in crappy motel with the
want-ads beside her. Why, I wrote, do we not cover this sort of heartbreak?
Just because there was no flesh-and-blood perpetrator? No sex? Nothing
The editor, perhaps
wishing to keep a brash young whippersnapper down, refused to print my
commentary! Sneered in the face of my earnest initiative! Said it was
well-intentioned but. . .unpolished or something. I considered
telling him that his ass was unpolished, but instead I sent it to the rival
L.A. Times, where an editor promptly grabbed it and said it wanted to stick
it on its own op-ed page.
I told my editor to stick
it, figuratively, coolly announcing that “I’d much rather it appear in our newspaper," to
which he Nixonianly declared, ‘No deals! No deals!” and added “You have a
very important decision to make, young man!”
He was right. So I
quickly sold it to the rival Times. And kept my job, by the way.
But. . .
So there was the cop
report, headed “Recovery,” as in “vehicle.” Wow. The LAPD had actually
recovered stolen property! This must happen almost as often as Oprah goes
without make-up. But here a red ’87 Camaro belonging to one Santiago Castro of
Huntington Park had actually been found downtown at 7418 S. Main Street, and
was now available for pick-up at Al’s Tow at 6180 St. Andrews Place in
And, hey, it was completely
intact. Except for uh, the rear license plate. Oh, and the front seats and
radio. And the hood, brake line, transmission, and um. . .
No wonder the report had
been tossed into the gutter.
FOOTNOTE # 2:
Death on the Sidewalk
There it was, on the
sidewalk, staring at me. I knew it had to happen eventually. I was face to
face with. . .
“I am that I am. And you
already made your choice.”
I must say this was a
jarring interruption to a walk-induced reverie. I mean, I was hoofing it at
a good clip up Ohio Avenue in West L.A., lost in thoughts of how to improve
the world, how in hell Emperor penguins survive, and a girl I used to know
who was extraordinarily flexible. And. . .
“What else is life, but
part of death?” said Death.
Gee, what a revelation. I
expected better of Death.
He was speaking from a
creased and dirty piece of paper, yes, but I’m kind of susceptible to
symbols, and when I see “Death” in big black letters, I pay attention.
Luckily, the piece of paper turned out to be a dialogue between Death and
someone identified as “Jean or Phoenix.” Guess she couldn’t make up her
mind. Anyhow, Jean or Phoenix kept prompting Death into cryptic
discourse with existential outbursts such as “Why can’t I just be mine?
Belong solely to myself?”
By the way, Death’s
response to that was, in part:
“Who says the two are
Yup, this was way over my
head. Or under. As Huck Finn used to say, it was “too many for me.”
The paper’s heading
didn’t help matters: “Who is Death talking to? Actually it is the same
question as before---who inhabited the duplicate body of Jean Grey?”
I stood there, reading it
to the rude accompaniment of evening gridlock traffic (another form of
death.) I tentatively and somewhat fearfully concluded that it was a school
assignment of some sort, probably high school. I could imagine a poor
teacher forsaking Faulkner and Steinbeck for some science-fantasy book that
kids might better “relate to”---what with talk of duplicate bodies and
Phoenixes and Cyclopses and weird statements like “I represent structure and
entropy.” Intellectual candy for adolescents.
Me, I went back to my
reverie. Couldn’t quite remember her name. . .
FOOTNOTE # 3:
Someone was practicing
their thank-you’s---everyone should!---scrawled in printed caps all over the
back of a list of jobs available at Brotman Medical Center: accounting
supervisor, admitting rep, respiratory care practitioner, HIM clerk. . .
The first thank-you
(reprinted as written):
“Thank you you’ve been
helping in everything I’ve needed thank you for everything.”
Hmm. . .Maybe a tad
unfocused, repetitious? Number two:
“Thank you for making me
feel very necessary.”
Touchingly candid, though
possibly a bit too self-effacing, don't you think?
“Thank you for your
comfort for your deep kindness great thanks.”
Long on praise, short on
grammar. Number four:
“Thank you for making me
feel appreciated, noticed, important. . .what more could I ask. . .”
Wow. Somebody must have
done somebody a hell of a good turn. I pushed away the uneasy feeling that
somebody might just be trying to insinuate his/her way into somebody else’s life.
“I am so very ordinary.
Thank you for making me feel special. . .I am grateful for your thought,
your selflessness. . .”
Yes, this was now
dangerously thankful. I am not worthy!My initial thoughts of, how
lovely that someone would spend such energy on trying to express gratitude.
. .changed to uh-oh. . .
I turned the paper over.
There, I was relieved to
find that Grateful Person had instead printed several inspiring quotes,
including one from Woodrow Wilson about nursing your dreams through hard
times, or some such cliche. Another quote, apparently anonymous, perhaps
yielded insight into the too-humble writer’s psychology:
“You must always be
displeased by what you are.”
Still another, allegedly from
Eleanor Roosevelt, read: “If we wait till we are ready, we never do
I wonder if the writer
ever got ready to say “thank you.”
And I wonder if Brotman
Medical Center hires HER clerks, too.
footnote, side one. View
footnote, side two.
FOOTNOTE # 4:
Shelby’s friend really
wanted to help Shelby out.
Sometimes friends just
want to manipulate friends in the guise of helping, but I think Shelby’s
friend really meant it. She had taken the trouble to fill almost two pages
of notebook paper to help, after all. A young person is not moved to such
prolific written utterance without inspiration.
“I have some suggestions
to help you loose (sic) weight. Before you start your diet you should get
all the stuff that you need ready and prepared.”
I pictured some poor kid
who had probably grown up on
Whoppers and McNuggets. It wasn’t hard to picture. They waddle by on their
way to Uni High in my neighborhood daily. Shelby’s friend went on to counsel
against starving oneself, and wisely noted that certain foods actually help
burn off calories.
Then she laid out a daily
Breakfast: green tea,
grapefruit, bacon, salad. Lunch: salad, grapefruit, fish. Dinner: salad,
This, said Friend, would
help Shelby burn off six or seven pounds in the first week. But, she
cautioned, “. . .you need to exercise also do some runs in the morning and
Forgive the crass
observation, but a diet like that would certainly lead to runs in the
morning and nights. (Har!)
Anyhow, the part that
cemented my suspicion that Friend really was a friend was the conclusion:
(sic) “Well this is my diet. I think you should do or you should try the
regular way just eat healthly and exercise the second option.”
This seemed like a
syntactically crippled attempt to not be dictatorial in her direction, which
I found startlingly wise and healthly for a young person.
FOOTNOTE # 5: Lost
Now, I’m all for studying
different countries and cultures. The world is shrink-wrapped, there is no
more elbow room, and we are all citizens of Patagonia, Morocco, and Des
Moines. Well, in a way, anyhow.
So I was not surprised by
the nature of a lost or discarded piece of homework by one Anthony N., dated
Nov. 1, ’06. It was about African art, and began:
“3 observations for each
paragraph on Africa Antistic African Art has been collected in europe for 60
The rest of the page was
I had three immediate
observations on Anthony’s paper: 1) spell out “3” and “60,” 2) capitalize
“Europe,” and 3) learn how to write a sentence.
Oh, and a fourth:
Fire the teacher for
giving this kid a B-minus.
For more City
Footnotes, watch this space.
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