by RIP RENSE
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: Have
I don’t know, I almost
threw this one back where I found it, which was on a sidewalk in West L.A.
in a neighborhood where lots of little Indio mothers walk along with
passels of kids trailing like ducklings.
What I held was an
artwork, probably by one of these ducklings. It’s hardly anything to take a
second look at, a work of crayon scribble on blue paper, cut out with those
wonderful elementary school blunt scissors (I hope.)
The thing was yellow in
the center, with a thick red border and skinny blue outline. Superman
colors! In fact, it was sort of shaped like the Superman emblem, lacking the
rather crucial “S.” (Or was that a Kryptonian symbol for “Kal-el,” which was
Superman’s real name?)
So the reason I
kept it, and decided to share it with the 23.7 weekly readers of this
column, was its shape. I think the duckling was making a heart, or trying
to, as the top has three humps instead of two. Although that would make it
closer to anatomical correctness, given aortic structure.
But it stopped me, you
see, that kids are still scribbling hearts, and proudly cutting them out to
give to their moms or girlfriends. I had forgotten this goes on. It is so
pure and guileless as to seem almost the doing of an alien being, in this
gnarled age of religious insanity, stupid wars, sociopathic consumerism,
suicide bombing, corporate rape.
I wondered if this little
kid would have any heart left at 20, 30, 40. I wondered if he or she would
be butchered in some war, or become one of the struggling poor, or a
homeless drunk with scabbed feet. Or even worse, a television news anchor.
The way I figure it, this
duckling will never create anything nicer or more beautiful than that simple
paper heart that I found crumpled, stomped, dirty on the ground in a very
nasty and unforgiving time and place.
FOOTNOTE # 2: Match
made in. . .
Cheviot Hills is a
sumptuous neighborhood. It’s the neighborhood equivalent of a fat bite of
cake and ice cream. The gardens explode if you so much as sneeze on them.
They’ve got flowers there the size of elephants.
There are more monied districts
in L.A., more splendid ones as well, but Cheviot Hills has always seemed to
retain an old-L.A. hominess that is proof against its extravagance and
ostentatiousness. Or at least it did for me until the other Sunday morning,
when I found a slip of paper in the street fronting a house that probably
sold for about $29,000 when new, and is now worth a month of Kobe’s salary.
“Chase and Paige,” it
said at the top, in cursive letters, and underneath, “May 18, 2007.”
“Chase and Paige?” I said
to my redoubtable female advisor, interrupting our quiet post-breakfast
stroll to admire local posies. “Chase and Paige?”
Now, I admit to a
particular dislike of the name, “Paige,” particularly with an “i” (long
story, folks), but these were the kinds of things you expect to find
floating on the top of a cappucinno. Decaf No-whip Latte, extra Chase and
Chase and Paige? A match
made in trust fund, leather-upholstered, white folk fantasy-name heaven.
Born, raised, shaped in Cheviot Hills World, their designer-encased hinds
never knowing the inside of vehicles worth less than thirty grand. Survived
four daddy-paid years at USC, Chase now nearly done with law school, job
waiting. Paige trying to choose between acting and child development. More
Chases and Paiges on the way.
Ladies and gentlemen, I
present. . .
Mr. and Mrs. Honey!
I hopefully inspected the
other names on the invite, lest the bride and groom’s had been a fluke.
Nope. Grant, Kirsten, Jared, Hunter, Haley. Fraternity and sorority row
bulwarks. A couple of tokens, Marc and Bill, did nothing to mute my
bemusement. I don’t know, I’m no one to talk about names, I guess, but
sometimes I think that people would get along better if more were just named
Jake and Charlie and Trudy and Mabel.
# 3: Writer’s block
Nathan is a kid with no
future. No, not because his name is Nathan, which has a perfectly dignified
history redolent with patriotism and hot dogs (which in this country pretty
much amounts to the same thing.) I say he has no future because of a piece
of his homework folded and discarded near a west side Los Angeles elementary
This was a two-sided work
sheet headed “Focus on Meaning” and “Focus on Spelling”---exercises in
verbal skill and knowledge. There was a fill-in-the-blank section where you
insert words from a list into sentences, a matching section where you write
the vocabulary word next to its proper definition, a section for filling in
the missing consonants and vowels in the same vocabulary words, a “find the
hidden word” puzzle.
As near as I can tell,
Nathan did well on everything. True, he wrote “seperate” in the blank for
“Let’s ____ the cookies into two piles,” but hell, I still have days where I
still can’t remember whether it’s an “e” or an “a,” either. So does his
teacher, apparently, who marked it correct (!) And he tried to fudge the
spelling of the word elsewhere, writing the “a” over the “e” (teacher marked
him wrong here!), but that’s just crafty.
In fact, Nathan did
superbly on these exercises, showing an easy and accurate grasp of
definition, spelling, word usage. All the makings of a writer, in other
As I said, a kid with no
FOOTNOTE # 4: Tale
from the gutter
A rather cantankerous old
editor of mine, Larry Fowler, used to huff, “You can throw a brick and hit a
reporter.” To his credit, he never did this, although not a few of his
reporters might have enjoyed throwing a brick at him.
Well, paraphrasing the
late Mr. Fowler’s use of this global-warming-proof cliché, you can throw a
brick and hit a screenwriter. Or a would-be screenwriter. And although this
is notoriously true in L.A., my guess is that the phenomenon has spread to
Milwaukee, Independence, and most any place where people supplement their
clerk jobs at Borders by selling things on eBay.
The odds of getting
a screenplay produced, of course, are almost as good as Bush learning to say
Yet this has not stopped
brave screenwriter Ray, whose e-mail name is, interestingly, “screenwriterray.”
He is at it, tap-tapping on his keyboard and e-mailing ideas far and wide,
or at least to someone named Rita. One of his treatments fluttered at my
feet recently, having been sprayed into partial blur by a lawn sprinkler.
a blonde who was married rather problematically to a Los Angeles doctor. Two
markets nailed already! Anyhow, Blondie heads north to Los Olivos, where she
encounters a “surfer dude” who calls her a “stubborn little bitch,” and soon
enough entices her into a Jacuzzi after a couple of glasses of Bailey’s
Irish Crème (yech), a Simon and Garfunkel concert on DVD, and a joint.
(Ah, it’s a love story!)
Turns out the “dude”
owns two Corvettes, which seems to really impress her, as it should any
self-respecting American draft animal---er, woman. A few sample lines:
“Maybe he was a drug dealer. . .Their marriage had become stagnant. . .He
liked women but wanted to keep things light. . .Getting laid was dangerous
in this aids (sic) generation. . .You don’t need a bathing suit. . .”
Now perhaps I am
not entirely fair to screenwriterray’s prowess as a storyteller, as about
one-third of the right side of each Xeroxed page was missing, but I think I
caught the gist of the saga, which was entitled (murmuring, portentous,
mildly psychotic cellos here):
“Rendezvous With Fate.”
I’m all right now.)
Well, I’m not sure what
else to say about screenwriterray, except that the laugh is probably on me,
as women tend to eat up this kind of stuff, and the treatment will probably
be picked up for a few more grand than I am making with this column.
By the way, while you can
throw a brick and hit a reporter, it is very hard to throw a brick and hit a
FOOTNOTE # 5: Boss
I once briefly dated an
editor of mine (not Larry Fowler), which was not the biggest mistake I’ve
ever made, I’m sorry to say. Well, this editor apparently had notions of
becoming Mr. and Mrs. Honey, which was as far from my mind as a roll in the
hay was near. Besides, alcohol played a big role in our temporary rapport,
so I figured this was just good, clean, wholesome, All-American fun.
Besides, I was young.
Enough excuses for you?
Anyhow, I learned a
bitter lesson from the experience. Never dreaming that the editor was in any
way disappointed by the fact that I had not professed undying love and
promptly proposed marriage, I later asked if I could use her as a reference
for a job. This was perhaps six months after I had so callously used her for
my prurient, drunken gratification.
“Sure,” she said. “I’d be
happy to let you use me as a reference,” she said.
Now that was sporting, I
thought. A real professional. No grudges.
What a little surprise it
was, then, when the editor of the newspaper where I aspired to work told me,
“We’ve never seen better clips (articles), frankly, than yours, but we’re a
bit worried that you might be a pain in the ass.”
Well, I freely admit
to having been a pain in the ass to any and all stodgy, unimaginative,
authoritarian, incompetent, phoney, power-mad bosses by doing such
outrageous things as fighting for clarity in my copy, but that’s another
It turned out
that the first editor---call her Mabel---had um, dissed me. She gave
my writing full marks, but added, “I got along with him fine, but I can’t
speak for other people.”
Wow! Hell hath no fury!
Did it cost me the job? In a way. The editor went on to research my life
like Homeland Security and the CIA combined. It lasted weeks and weeks! I
had to supply another batch of references, and the editor spent as much as
two hours on the phone with them, discussing me! In the end, they offered me
the job, but I turned them down (despite better pay and more vacation!)
because I figured their interview “technique” didn’t bode well for future
editing experiences. One peep outta me, and I would be branded a
"pain in the ass."
Which is a long and
roundabout way of saying that I found a letter of reference near the
Veterans Administration written by Executive VP Mallory (last name omitted
here) for James the Moving Guy. Mallory went on and on about what a
fabulous, courteous, dedicated worker James has been on the numerous
occasions over many years where she required a mover---in both her working
and private life.
I figure James the
Moving Guy must have been a lot smarter than me, or less drunk.
Wait a second. I read
Mallory's last line, which was about how she only knew James “within this
specific and limited capacity.”
Whoah! That sounded a lot
like, “I can’t speak for other people.”
James, you cad!
For more City
Footnotes, watch this space.
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