by RIP RENSE
Feb. 19, 2010
you have asked why I continue to write the Less Than
Satisfying Encounters With Humanity column after so many
years. Good question! You’re right---calling attention to the
brutish, stupid behavior of Los Angeles humans does nothing to
I suppose there is some
redeeming value in the fact that many readers report
similar and far worse LTSEWH’s, and find some commiseration in
reading about my experiences as set down here. Misery, in other
words, loves company. What’s more, far-fetched as it seems, some
readers seem to. . .laugh.
Then there is my feeling
that I am fighting a very lonely battle in pointing out the
prevailing, and what has become defining, ugliness of this city.
In a town full of rah-rah “L.A. is great” politically correct
propagandists masquerading as distinguished journalists,
influential bloggers, important radio hosts, noble elected
officials, I am the odd man out. Or the odd writer out. Anyhow,
But there are many who
share my disdain for what L.A. has become, and I have been told
that this website is a bit of an oasis for such misanthropic
souls. Nothing like ministering to the needy. So. . .
Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or
LTSEWH, just to come up with a really stupid, ungainly,
impossible-to-pronounce acronym. Names are included when
possible in order to fully humiliate the guilty.
Office Traumatic Stress Disorder
W.C. Fields could have
written this one. Or Larry David. (Remember, LTSEWH is just
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” without an agent, and predated the show
by a decade.)
There I was. . .
In the post office near
Exposition and Sawtelle, which is usually a mistake. Being in
any post office these days is usually a mistake, but this one is
infamous for 45-minute lines served by one or two (okay,
sometimes three) “customer service” workers as speedy and
efficient as Laurel and Hardy. (I was going to say “as Butterfly
McQueen was at birthing babies,” but that would incur charges of
racism from the PC Police, seeing as many employees of this and
other post offices are African-American. See how racially
sensitive I am?)
LTSEWH---THE ILLUSTRATED BOOK. . .ON SALE NOW
RIP POST STORE. . .special New Year discount. . .
On this day, though. .
.hallelujah! The line was about five deep, which is perhaps the
only nice thing about the month of January, the Monday Morning
of the year. People are so sick of the post office after the
holidays that they try to stay away as much as possible in the
I waited “only” about
fifteen minutes before reaching the front, but. . .
I am Rense, and in
Renseland, the planets are aligned like scattered pool
balls. My astrological sign is “The Jackass.” God has filed me
under “Comedy.” The law requires that idiots and brutes toy with
me. There is a sign on my back. It reads: "Rense.
Get him." Haven't seen my goat in at least 30 years.
A “helpful” postal
service employee appeared beside me, smiling. Bad sign. It's
become a bad sign anytime anyone smiles at you anymore.
It generally means somebody wants something, or is about to pull an
I would say this post
office employee looked nice, but I detected an underlying air of
authority, if not imperiousness, about her. An implied
inflexibility, much as one finds
in meter maids, and Hillary Clinton. So I stood there as
innocuously as possible, a calculatedly benign look on my face,
holding five small envelopes containing promo copies of a
CD I had produced. Trying to convey normal,
law-abiding customer who is kind to children and animals and is
not mailing a bomb to a former employer.
“How are you paying for
those?” she said.
Huh? How am I paying for
those? Uh. . .with blood, with my life, my sweat, my heart, my
dignity. . .Uh. . .Huh?
"Are you paying with
Oh. Instead of
responding, “What the hell concern is it of yours,” which is what I should
have said, I politely explained that I was using a card.
“Debit or credit?” said
I wanted to say, “I’m
sorry. Have we been introduced? My name is Rip. I enjoy Tai
Chi and Puccini, and I tip waitresses excessively. What about
you? And why are you asking me these questions? Would you like
my bank account number, too? My PIN code?”
Instead, I just said, “Debit.”
Chanting path of least resistance in my head.
“Can your card be also
used as a credit card?”
Yes, lady, and a can
opener, dog whistle, and miracle fabric softener.
“I don’t know, ma'am.
Sometimes a purchase is rung up as credit, and it seems to
“I see. Because you can
use the machine, but if you do it as a debit, you have to
process each package individually.”
It took me a second to
figure out that "the machine" did not refer to a Jack La Lanne
Juicer or Kobe Bryant. It took another second to figure out what
she was trying to tell me.
“Yes. Yes, I realize that.
That’s why I’m standing in line. The machine takes too long when
you have several packages. So you’re telling me that if I
use it as a credit card, the machine will process the packages
“Thank you. I’ll remember
Like I was going to
leave the front of the line, after taking advantage of that
fabulous January discount 15-minute wait, and walk to a machine?
I felt like George Costanza finding a good parking space.
that I had not taken the hint, I guess, Employee pressed on with
“Where are your packages
Now, esteemed readers,
I must confess that I was very tired from a night of no
sleep. So tired, really, that I just didn’t have the energy to
be my normal, endearing self, in which case I would have
responded something like, “Why are you asking me all these
questions? Am I not allowed to stand in line and be waited on by
a customer service person?” Or, more preferably, “None of your
goddamn business.” Instead, I sighed and
told her that the packages were all domestic, except one, which
was going to Australia.
Uh-oh. . .
“Did you fill out your
customs form?” she said, eyebrows raised.
I had figured on doing
that at the window, you see, while the other four packages were
being weighed, stamped, and the clerk recited, “Is there any
reason why this man and this woman should not---“ I mean,
“Anything hazardous, fragile, liquid, lethal, smelly, dangerous to
children under twelve, homosexuals, or chihuahuas?” I had it all
planned out, see. No time wasted.
But any such explanation,
I knew, would go nowhere with Line Nazi, so I said nothing.
She handed me a customs form---“our new one,” she said,
I thought proudly---and suggested I step to the counter to fill it
out, where there was a pen. This was all clearly witnessed and
overheard by the young blonde woman standing immediately behind
I dumbly stepped to the
counter, took 30 seconds to fill out the form, was about to sign it, when I heard
the magic words, “May I help the next customer in line?”
Me! That was me! In
bitchy, nasty, surly, murderous Los Angeles, this
invitation is so warm as to pass for “I love you!” I turned to
step to the open customer service clerk, and. . .
Blondie, who had been
right behind me, whisked to that window so quickly that I was
reminded of old “Flash” comic books, where The Flash moves so
fast that you only see two or three freeze-frames of him, and a
blur. I was stunned. I just stood there, staring.
You see, I come from an
orientation of something that used to be called “common
courtesy,” which is about as common today as common sense.
This would have required Blondie to defer to me, the next
person in line, who had just filled out a short form while
waiting for the next clerk. After having waited fifteen minutes
Before I could open my
sleep-deprived, about-to-gape mouth to say, “Excuse me, Miss, I
was next in line,” Blondie was well into nicey-poo titter and
transaction with the window clerk. Packages were already on the scale.
I returned morosely to
the front of the line. I spoke anew to Line Nazi, who was interrogating other
“I can’t believe it. I
can't believe how rude people have become. I just can’t
“What’s the problem,
She hadn’t noticed?
“Well, that woman just
rushed up to the window, knowing full well that I was next in
I felt embarrassed to
have even spoken such words. No, not embarrassed. Humiliated,
shocked, gasp-sputter-astonished. L.A. had succeeded in doing
something that only happens in The Twilight Zone and Facebook:
it had turned me into a twelve-year-old again! I was first,
She took cuts! Was I really complaining about this? Well,
yes, I was, and what's more, I felt justified in doing so.
And here, folks,
is the W.C. Fieldsian payoff, the stuff that is “Curb
Your Enthusiasm’s” bread and butter. Line Nazi spoke these exact words:
“But you weren’t ready!”
Aieeeee! The snake eats
But. You. Weren't. Ready.
Paging Joseph Heller.
This Sherlock Holmes of
the postal world, this Hercule Poirrot of stamps and letters,
this Miss Marple of mail, had ferreted out through extensive
questioning my foul crime of not having filled out a customs
form for one package! Well done! Good thing she is being paid
that massive government salary! She had discovered this, yes,
then tried, convicted, and sentenced me to Post Office Purgatory---the counter---to
fill out the form. Where, unbenownst to me, she had also
punished me for not having filled out the form by cancelling my
place in line!
The words echoed in my
"But you weren't ready!"
Oh, I had been ready.
Very, very ready. So ready that my bodily fluids were all apop
and jazzed with "ready" adrenalin. My whole being, my entire
focus, my very raison d'etre was to as quickly and efficiently
as possible get to that window clerk, have vacuous smiley-smiley
chit-chat, mail my packages, and then leave an unctous "Thank
you" despite the fact that I had brought business to them.
Hey, folks, ever see
that Fields movie, “Man on the Flying Trapeze,” where a cop
pulls him over to give him a ticket, then leaves him in a no
parking zone, where another cop promptly appears to give him another
parking ticket before he can leave, followed by another cop who gives him another parking ticket before he can leave?
“Of course I was ready!”
I hissed at Miss Helpful. “I stood her for fifteen god-damned
minutes, being ready. I had only to fill out the customs form, which I would have
done while my other four packages were being processed. Don't be ridiculous. I’m so sick of goddamned rude assholes. And
me my place in line.”
The swearing did it. Line
Nazi looked fearful, and moved away from me, lest (you knew this
was coming) I go postal! I figured I was seconds away from being
hustled away by Homeland Security. Or Oprah. Or KPCC.
Let me be boring here, or
should I say, more boring. When you are in line, whether you are
filling out something or just standing there, thinking about
hamburgers and sex, you are. . .in line. You have next-window rights. The person behind you in line knows
this, unless he or she is brain-impaired, and defers to you. If you are not finished filling out
your form, that person might---might---take the next available window,
after checking with you. Miss Helpful
should have seen to it that this protocol was followed.
Nope. Not in the land
of the free and home of the depraved. Porcine Blondie, who
was about 28, saw her chance and grabbed it---sure as SUV’s with
"I Got Mine" plate frames make left turns directly in front of
oncoming traffic because of such weighty 21st century L.A. ethos
as “go for it dude” and “What’s wrong---I didn’t hit you!”
I had a choice. Let the
go, or say something. The something I wanted to say was not
socially acceptable, so I opted for these words, as I walked to
the next available clerk:
“Excuse me,” I said
gently to Blondie's back. “I was next in line, which you knew, but you rushed up
and grabbed this window, which was very rude.”
Uh-oh again. Yes,
I live dangerously!
“Sir! I am not rude!
You weren’t ready!”
(Larry David, my price
for this anecdote is $500.)
“I was ready.”
“You should have said
“It was not my job to say
something. It was your job to defer to the next person in line
before grabbing the window.”
I walked away.
“Sir! Sir! I was not
being rude, and---“
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,
don’t argue with me, woman.”
You could have scraped
the sheer contempt off that sentence and made a dozen sandwiches
with it. And then, as I arrived at
long last at the coveted, glorious, miraculous, shining,
pulsating Exposition Post
Office customer service window:
“How are you today, sir?”
said the clerk.
I swear. She really said
that. She had a front-row seat at the Line Dance, had heard
every word, and. . .asked me how I was!
“Not well, not well,” I muttered,
sotto voce. “I am fucking fed up with rude fucking assholes.”
Blondie The Flash also
apparently had superhero hearing, for she turned to me and said
loud enough for the entire lobby to hear:
“Sir! You are
unbelievable! My God!”
Sigh. I was just too
tired to take any more bait. I spoke my next sentence in a voice
detectable only by dogs and L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed.
“You can just kiss my ass.”
And rabbit-ears heard
that, too, launching into a diatribe directed at anyone
listening about how I am low, deranged, consort with the devil,
and probably chew my hangnails. (I do.)
Because I still cling to
this silly notion that if you register a complaint with an
institution, that institution might take action to avert certain
problematic situations in the future, I told the clerk
everything that had transpired with the postal employee Line
Monitor Chief Investigating Detective, topping it off with this remarkably polite
“So if she’s there to
make things more efficient, she is not doing her job properly.
She caused a problem where there was none, cost me my place in
line, and has left several people upset."
You might not believe
what happened next, but there is nothing I can do about that. I have no
witnesses, outside of the imps, elves, and leprechauns hiding in
the ethers, and under stamps, but the postal clerk really said
“Oh, you don’t have to
tell me how screwed up the post office is. You have no
idea how bad it is. It’s horrible. It’s just really
Promote that woman to
Of course, if this
were "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I would later run into
Blondie. She would turn out to be my dental hygienist, or
anesthesiologist, or an agent to whom I had just submitted a
I haven't seen her again,
but there's still time.
For more LTSEWH's
watch this space.
"Some of you have asked why I continue to write the Less Than
Encounters With Humanity column after so many years. "
Screw 'em. This is my favorite comic-relief feature on Internet,
print, or in any other outlet of human expression. I haven't
lived in Los
Angeles for years and apparently I still need the therapy.
When I type 'riprense.com' into my Internet-browser's URL window
I always hope
to see that unique acronym and am somewhat disappointed to see
classical music references which I, alas, do not comprehend.
My dear man,
You have won yourself a new fan.
I've seen your comments on Facebook, but having read your column
nearly spit out my morning coffee several times, I have become a
Thank you for your observations, keen and biting wit, and pithy
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