by RIP RENSE
I READ THE NEWS
TODAY, OH BOY
Sept. 17, 2009
Had a little time to kill (before it kills me)
prior to a physical therapy appointment the other morning, so I
bought a newspaper, because you still can. Well, what passes for
a newspaper. I spent 82 cents (gasp) for the new L.A. Times.
Right, the thinner version, with the new giant logo at the top of
page one, and the giant ad at the bottom.
Buying it made me feel
sort of like I had just successfully cloned a triceratops.
Parked myself at a table
outside a closed yogurt place, under the glare of a Korean guy
inside (yes, he was Korean, as I’d heard him speak before), took
a sip of mint tea, and laid out the rag. The sun was shining,
there in the remains of Westwood---where Diddy Reese Cookies and
Stan's Donuts are the only enduring businesses, and theaters are
going the way of. . .newspapers.
I glanced at the lead
story, and let me tell you, the headline was exciting. Get your
nitro pills out, folks, here it is:
“Southland’s vital signs
Told you. Is your heart
racing? Sweat beads collecting? Now that’s a thrill-and-a-half
of headline writing flair.
Aside from being every
bit as interesting as a trip to Lomita, the story turned out
to be a lie. Typical L.A. Times head-in-the-sand boring
recitation of meaningless statistics lie. Vital signs improving?
Har. This place was long ago raped and
murdered by developers in cahoots with so-called government, and
the stench of the corpse is suffocating. The “economic recovery”
touted in the story? Mortician’s make-up.
Ah, so what else did page
one of my
local 82-cent ostrich have to tell me?
“Mexico,” it said, is
“under siege.” This was the standing headline, apparently, for a
series of articles about problems in Mexico. This one told me
that Mexicali has very little violence, but is very, very hot.
Wow! There’s something to talk about with my cats over the water
cooler. Well, The Times believes that Mexico is local news, you
see, and such important local news that it belongs on page one.
Silly me, always thinking that L.A. news belongs on page one,
and that Mexico is a foreign country.
I glanced at a photo at
the top of the page, which illustrated a story that was not on
page one. (Huh?) It was jauntily captioned “A Vocal Local” (give
that rhyming writer a lollipop!) and showed a beefy middle-aged guy at a
microphone, yelling at the L.A. City Council. He was, it turns
out, president of the local Service Employees International
Union. It was not news that someone was yelling at the City
Council. Lots of people do this, and it never does any good.
But the photo was
every bit as scintillating as Burbank City Council shots we used
to run on front page of the old Valley News and Green Sheet, in
the ‘70’s. You know, fat guy stands at microphone with sour
look on face.
Let’s see, I thought,
what’s in “Column One?” That’s often interesting enough.
Scanned the headline, “Films in a land with no cinema.” Why, I
thought, it must be about Westwood! At last, the Times was
putting local news on page one!
But. . .no.
This turned out to be
about Saudi Arabian filmmakers who “focus on oppression but must
take their finished work to other countries” for screening.
Gosh. I mean, this seemed a perfectly interesting story if you
are a Saudi, or in Saudi Arabia, but I confess that my interest in Saudi Arabia is
not quite as great as my interest in several million other
things. Including how and why the city of Los Angeles continues
to allow developers to rape and murder neighborhood after
neighborhood. I wondered why the Times has never done anything
to defend the city from destruction, gridlock, density, but
I didn’t wonder too long.
Then there was this
urgent headline, in all caps: “HEALTH LIMITS PROMPT BACKLASH.”
Now, this had me worried. Oh, no, I thought, not a “backlash!”
Imagine such a thing in the world. Golly! Not. . .disagreement!
The other headlines had already led me to bite my nails down to
the quick. And um, which “health limits” might these
be, I wondered? I mean, I have health limits, especially in my
right shoulder, which is why I was waiting for a physical
therapy appointment in the remains of Westwood. My health limits
have certainly prompted a “backlash”---from me. I get real mad
because I have to sell my stick shift and can no longer pick up
slightly heavy objects. Like eggs.
Well, it turned out
that people whose heads make for very good dustcatchers are
angry at the idea of illegal immigrants paying for their own
health care. I yawned. Insanity would be an improvement over the
so-called “discourse” concerning this topic.
One thing about this
article, though, was just miraculous. I would never have
guessed the actual topic of the story from the headline if I
lived to be as old as Larry King and Barbara Walters combined.
But that’s often the case with The Times and other papers. I
sort of treat it like a game: guess what the newspaper
article is really about!
There was one piece left
on page one, one last chance for the page to redeem itself with
something of substance, interest. Even diversion. But the
headline was, well, just a little. . .vague:
“What’s gotten into us?”
Gad, I thought, another
“us” story. My reaction every time I read the words “us” or “we”
in a newspaper or magazine is, “What in the hell makes you think
you are speaking for me, you presumptuous dork.” Sorry to
disillusion you, folks, but there is no “us” out there, in the
land of Self and Oprah. It's every dork for himself. Or herself.
Then I read the deck (lesser headline), which said, “Theories
abound after a spate of high-profile outbursts.”
Now that was a
riveter. I mean, knock me down with a feather. Imagine such
a thing: “theories abound!” Why such a shocker wasn’t plastered
across the top of the page in a banner headline is beyond me.
And “outbursts?” My God, not that! I figured to never get into a
game of lowball poker with this headline writer. Could these
words have been any less specific, more underwhelming?
Well, the poor reporter,
it seems, had been ordered to compile grunts, shrieks,
profanity-ridden rants made by famous jackasses in recent weeks,
and “analyze” the “phenomenon.” I hope they are paying Reporter
well. I’d rather hose down urine-stenched stairs in parking
structures than have to write this crap.
Yes, you are way ahead of
me---Reporter had interviewed a “sociologist,” and an “etiquette
authority,” and so on.
Just pour the cement
around my ankles now, and take me down to the Santa Monica Pier.
Articles like this suck out the remains of my brain and feed
them to sea gulls. They paralyze me with a combination of
disinterest and incredulity that the press is still working the
old “why is this happening/ask a sociologist” angle. Here’s a
question for you: Has any such article ever answered these
questions? Do they need answering? No, they are “discuss the
issue” articles, and they are every bit as useful as featherless
I’ll say this, though:
next time I need my Ambien prescription renewed, I’ll just buy
Okay, I tried reading the
piece, at least a little. Reporter had obviously worked hard. So
why did Joe Wilson shout “liar” at Obama? Why did Serena
Williams threaten to shove a ball down a line judge's throat? Why
did Kanye West insultingly interrupt Taylor Swift, which I think
is a kind of bird, while receiving some idiotic award? This is
what the article “explored."
Psst, hey. Do you
really want to know? Because if you do, I can tell you. Plug
your ears, kiddies, here we go: these people, as is the case
with so many people, are assholes. (Pardon my French.) That’s
why. And this society and its jabbering, deranged, venal media
exalts and celebrates. . .assholes, and asshole behavior.
It's asshole simple.
I next took in the ad at
the bottom of the page, that big tradition-breaking,
pride-swallowing, money-maker no-no that even the New York Times
is doing now. “Steak Sale!” it said, adding “40 percent off” at
Without a doubt, this was
the most important information on the page.
You might not believe
what happened next, but I swear it’s the truth. Yes, I opened up
the paper and turned the pages. My brother long ago
suggested that I am a masochist, and the fact that I listened to
him proves his case. (Of course, he’s a lawyer, so. . .) Still,
I had some hope that there might have been something important
or substantial to read inside. Just the odds alone. . .
Well, there was Steve
Lopez, a crackerjack newspaper columnist, as far as I’m
concerned, writing about exploding water mains and DWP bills. It
was a good column, I’m sure, but my curiosity had been so sapped
by my page one experience, that it would take more than Lopez to
make me actually read something. “Ridley-Thomas ties under scrutiny?”
Spare me! The councilman’s insufferably pompous declamations are
all I need to know about him. Human as elephant seal. “Pipes
Failure Puzzle Engineers” looked like it had comedy potential,
but when I read Councilwoman Jan Perry saying “We have to get to
the cause. People can get hurt,” the comedy was just too subtle
Finally, my “reading”
of the morning paper devolved, as it usually does, into
page-flipping. Michael Jackson’s celebrity skin-cutter suing
another of Jacko’s docs for slander? Well, I can watch “Animal
Planet” if I want to see hyenas on an antelope corpse. Page A9,
I noted with some interest, had a great shot of a young woman in
leopard skin underwear and stockings (Macy’s ad), which would
have driven me to sexual insanity at the age of 13. But such
things largely bypass what’s left of my hormones, and I could
only lament the vacuous and vaguely contemptuous look on her
face. I guess it was coincidence that the page also seemed to
feature the latest sex crime stories, including the resignation
of the GM of Building and Safety, under investigation for
drugging women and trying out his big collection of sex toys on
them. Guess this was too local and gosh, downright astonishing, for the Times to
put on page one.
I flipped and flipped.
“Early Retirement Decision Delayed.” “House Admonishes Wilson.”
“Obama praises ‘a great senator.’” “Two Pound Live Maine
Lobster”---wait, that was an ad. "Obama praises two-pound live
Maine lobster"---now, I'd have read that. But it all blurred
together. I mean, did I give a rat’s ass that “Ex Puerto-Rican
Radicals Work to Keep the Cause Alive?” “War Crimes in Gaza
reported?” (What else is new?) The obits, at least, were okay. I
know I’ve seen the late actor, Zakes Mokae, somewhere, and liked
him, but can’t remember where. The San Diego folk singer, Sam
Hinton, seemed like a fine fellow who engendered some good.
Hell, that belonged on page one, too. Better than “HEALTH LIMITS
PROMPT BACKLASH." (Don't they teach anything in journalism
I skipped the editorials.
There is nothing as inconsequential as a newspaper editorial,
unless it is a four-way stop on any street in L.A.. These gray
blocks of type are always studied and serious chin-stroking
appraisals of things that. . .never change. Certainly not
because of newspaper editorials, anyhow.
On op-ed, Tim Rutten
had written about the nutjobs plaguing Obama and the
country, but I didn’t read it because it’s depressing and no
amount of writing about it will make the nutjobs stop being
nutty. It’s their job. I read parts of David E. Lehrer’s piece
about how the murder of a black security guard at the Holocaust
Memorial Museum does not signal a “wave of hate targeting Jews,”
as was claimed by the Anti-Defamation League. Can of worms? Can
I would have read the
sports, but I no longer know any of the Dodgers, and can’t
muster much interest in people who earn tens of millions of
dollars for taking female hormones and hitting a ball.
I made a last-ditch
attempt with Calendar and was---amazing as this will seem---glad
to see an article about David Lynch’s paintings having a show. I
didn’t read it, understand, just was glad to see it. I remembered
how I was once going to interview Lynch back when no one had heard of
him outside of his comic strip, “The Angriest Dog in the World,”
but how my “editor” nixed the interview because he was too “off
Editors. They should
never be put in charge of newspapers.
That was it for me. Time
for physical therapy, and none too soon. The Times had reminded
me of what a hopeless mess this so-called city has become, and
reminded me that the last newspaper to try and do something
about it was the Herald-Examiner in the late ‘70’s and early
‘80’s. I walked past Diddy Riese, which was preparing to open,
and told myself I could have a cookie after therapy. Or two. Up ahead,
near the corner of Broxton and Le Conte, a middle-aged guy was
playing a solemn, mournful improvisation on a silver
I tipped him a buck.