by RIP RENSE
Apr. 23, 2009
Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or
LTSEWH, just to confound people with a ridiculous acronym. Names are
never changed unless noted, to ensure fullest fame.
LTSEWH # 1:
So my stomach turned into
a digestion circus a few years ago, and I’ll spare you the boring details
except to say that I sometimes felt as if my midsection had been through the
Thrilla in Manila.
I had tests, I took evil
drugs, I snorted Rolaids. I talked and talked to doctors who smiled and
nodded as if I were insane. One little fellow actually told me “eat whatever
you want” after probing me with a big hose. I did, and promptly doubled over
in pain for two days. Maybe he was only pretending to be a doctor, having a
little fun with me, I don’t know.
Eventually I stopped
seeing doctors entirely and just ate nothing but bean burritos for about a
year. No spice, no sauce, just refried beans and tortilla. And a little
avocado, to be daring. What fun that was! I can’t say it made me easy to be
around, but then, I never have been easy to be around.
Last fall, I was talking
to a friend of a friend who also has a fake stomach, and she said this:
“Dr. Soraya Ross, in
Beverly Hills! She’s terrific! She answers alllllll your questions,
and she really, really listens to you. She even answers e-mail! I hope you
go to her!”
Well, Friend of Friend
had healed up after treatments by Dr. Ross in Beverly Hills, so I
decided to give her a try. Never mind that attitude-wise, I now have much in
common with Winky the Criminal Cat when he
goes to the vet. I mean, really, why should I have reservations about
doctors after years of being ignored, subjected to tests I never needed,
prescribed nuclear antibiotics every time I sneezed, given drug samples
later banned by the FDA, led to believe (in one instance) that I had
internal bleeding and possibly cancer (the doctor later revised this, saying
the test results could also be due to my eating broccoli), and being
subjected to what I believe was outright sexual sadism by a Santa Monica
urologist (story for another column, maybe), and on and on.
Oh, well, here’s one good
one I can’t resist: the fine physician who years ago wanted to biopsy my
prostate. After another (superior) doctor said I needed no biopsy, I phoned
doctor number one to cancel the appointment. He was very displeased, and
tried to talk me out of it. I wouldn’t budge. (Who wants a goddamn Erector
Set stuck up their ass?) He then said that he was “very worried” about me.
Right. The day a doctor worries about a patient is the day dogs bark
backwards and retract their tails. I thanked him, but held my ground. Then
came the punchline:
“But I’ve already rented
I kid you not. He said
that. I had prevented a doctor from making a lot of money off me by giving
me an unnecessary, extremely painful and invasive test. Shame on me!
But back to Dr. Ross.
My first problem was that
every time I hear her name, I want to sing the old Dr. Ross dog food
jingle. Woof! Feed ‘em Dr. Ross dog food/ Do him a favor/ It’s got more
meat and it’s got more flavor/ It’s got more meat to make us feel the way we
should/ Dr. Ross dog food is doggone good!/ Woof! But that’s my problem.
My second problem was
that she had offices in Beverly Hills. I have a suspicion about people who
live or work in Beverly Hills. I suspect they might place a lot of
importance on wealth. But I put my snobbery aside, and made the appointment
with the doctor who “answers alllllll your questions, and really
listens to you,” etc.
Upon arrival, I was
escorted into a New Agey room with pillows, incense, exotic music,
Nubians slowly caressing the air with palm fronds. Well, maybe I exaggerate.
Suffice to say it was pleasantly appointed, and nothing like a clinic. There
entered not the doctor, but a “nurse practitioner,” which I think is a nurse
who hasn’t practiced enough, and she interviewed me at great length. She was
a pretty blonde with what I think was a Swedish accent, and very healthy,
very long, largely exposed legs. I was feeling a little better already.
Blondie asked me lots and
lots of detailed questions about my stomach, diet, etc. Questions I had
answered before to other, decidedly less attractive health care
professionals. I recall saying that I had “chronic acid, and a ‘pre-ulcer’
condition” (let me tell you: if that was a “pre-ulcer,” I’d hate to know
what the real thing is like), and that I really, really wanted to know why I
had this problem, what caused it, and what I could do to cure it, seeing as
I already had taken tons of prescription antacid “proton pump inhibitor”
medication, visited witch doctors, buried dead black cats in graveyards at
midnight. She nodded. I took this to mean comprehension. The last thing I
wanted, I added, was to go through another round of the same old expensive tests. . .and then be told
what I already knew.
That Nurse Practitioner
was so nice. The interview almost felt like chit-chat. I mean, I had her
laughing and chuckling a lot, really enjoying her job. I’m like that. I want
people to be happy. I have what Oprah calls the “disease to please.” Of
course, Oprah has the “disease to smoke crack and get real fat,” so I win
Anyhow, Blondie yucked
it up over my little jokes. Like when she asked if I felt stressed or
depressed, I think I said, “Yes, but only when alive.” And when she then
suggested---I’m serious, folks---that maybe I should “get a pet” to relieve
this condition, I said, “I have two cats who hate each other, sleep in
separate rooms, and make inordinate demands on my good will. One throws up
all the time and has cost me hundreds of dollars in carpet cleaning. Got any
That was fun. I figured
that if the Nurse Practitioner was this enjoyable, Dr. Ross must be quite
something. And she was. Judging by her resume, she is one superb physician,
a top specialist in her field. I was allowing myself to feel that maybe,
just maybe, Dr. Ross---oops, feed ‘em Dr. Ross dog food, do him a favor,
it’s got more meat and it’s---
She came in, and the song
entered my head. I couldn’t help it. And she was definitely nice, seemingly
down-to-earth, convivial. She looked over Nurse Practitioner’s report---sure
saved her the trouble of interviewing boring old patients!--- asked me a few
quick questions, then took me into another room and---sigh---“digitally
examined” me. Doctors really like to do this, I guess. Any excuse will do:
chronic stomach acid, Mardis Gras, whatever.
Her parting words were
“The next time I see you will be when I perform the endoscopy and
“Lucky you!” I said.
And that was, in fact,
the last time I ever saw her---the morning I was prepped and waiting for
her to stick lots of hoses into my orifices while I was temporarily deep-sixed,
in suspended animation, traversing the ethers with ghosts, deep sleepers,
and Rosacrucians. Really. I was on the table, feeling myself starting to go
under, when Dr. Ross entered the room, shouting:
“Is your name Rip Rense?
Do you live at (address)? Why did The Beatles fire Pete Best?”
Yeah, I made up the last
question, but for all the absurdity of the legally required moment, she
might as well have asked it.
Eventually I came to,
listening to health tekkies discussing the stock market, sounding like
distant gods. When one said he was at a loss to explain the economic crash, I sought
to let them know that I was really awake and mentally sharp. I said, “There
was an old lady who swallowed a horse/ she died, of course.” But no one
laughed. They ascribed it to anesthesia, not knowing that I talk this way
all the time.
Well, this is too long a
Dr. Ross (woof!)
had done a bunch of biopsies (which I could feel! Yow!), and hosed me but
good, top to bottom. A couple weeks later, Nurse Practitioner called with
the exciting results: everything was negative, and "you have acid reflux.”
The snake eats itself.
I explained that I
knew this going into the office in the first place, and that the whole
reason I went to Dr.Ross was that I had hoped to find out why I have acid
what causes it, and why years of antacid medication and special “ulcer diet”
had not allowed me to heal. If memory serves, Practitioner said something about how
the doctor would prescribe something for me if I wanted, blah blah.
Guess she forgot that I’d already taken an avalanche of pills. Or maybe her
mind was on getting me a pet.
So I wrote to Dr.
Ross, because after all, I was told that she answers all e-mail. And by
golly, she wrote back! Wow! Imagine that: a doctor answering patient e-mail.
Very commendable, indeed! Well, she did give me a little information about
my condition, though nothing I didn't already know, and she answered my question, “Will I ever get better” with a
“Yes.” But regarding my other questions as to cause, persistence, or any
further inquiries, she suggested that I. . .snare drum crescendo here. . .
Make an appointment!
(Er. . .hadn’t I already
And did I make that
appointment? Sure I did. And Barack Obama lost the election to George Bush
in a landslide, and Bo, the White House dog, craps gold.
Feed ‘em Dr. Ross
dog food, do him a favor. . .
LTSEWH # 2: Wrong
It was L.A., I was in a
car. Need I say more?
I was turning left off of
Texas Avenue on to Federal on the west side, high noon. I had to wait a
long time for traffic to clear. Not as long as it takes for plastic to
biodegrade, but long enough to make me wonder if life was worth living.
Finally. . .
I turned. No sweat. Zoom. Checked the rear-view mirror. No one
behind. Wide open for about 150 yards to the red light at Wilshire. I
accelerated to 35 in the right lane.
Suddenly. . .
He was right on my
bumper. Thisclose. Obviously, some people have transporter beams, and
are keeping it quiet. Where he came from, I don’t know, unless he was
excreted by a giant invisible intergalactic grasshopper squatting over
Federal Avenue. And he was mad. Mad that I was not going faster than 35, in
a 35 zone, never mind that there were only about 100 yards between me and
the red light at Wilshire.
Yes, that’s right. He. .
Whipped around me! He’d
His gold Camry wobbled
as he put his foot all the way down on the accelerator, in an attempt to
pass me on the left. No turn signal, of course. Folks, call me, oh, stupid.
Chide me for not getting with the deranged L.A. driving program, which has
everyone flooring it to a sudden stop at every red light and stop sign.
Check that, nobody stops at stop signs anymore.
Look, I did not want this
guy to suddenly cut in front of me at the last second before a red light. It
was just too goddamn insane, let alone unsafe. So I accelerated to about 40,
but it did no good. Maybe, I thought, there was information here unavailable
to me. Maybe Camry Man had to get to that red light and stop before I did
because he had OCD. Maybe a bad hemorrhoid was troubling him. Maybe he
thought I was the devil, and he wanted Satan behind him. He took it up to
perhaps 50, so I decelerated and let him go, the dumbass.
As I coasted up slowly
behind him at the red light, he stuck his head out the window and began
shouting at me. Really. And then, he. . .
Got out of his car.
Really. He stepped out of his Camry and stood beside it, in the street,
yelling at me, at the top of his lungs. There were many other cars around,
full of people staring in fear and wonder. The driver turned out to be a
rather distinguished looking African-American gentleman with a long beard,
somewhat gray. All I could make out of his tirade was this phrase:
“You should be ASHAMED!”
Well, I am ashamed.
I’m ashamed of many things. Of living in L.A., where people generally
comport themselves with the decorum and restraint of rabid goats. Ashamed of
living in a country where countless millions think Rush Limbaugh and Glenn
Beck are avatars of righteousness and insight. Ashamed of the human race for
reproducing with no regard to consequence. Ashamed of a society that places
excessive importance on the shape of the human hindquarters. Ashamed of
“American Idol.” But I was not ashamed of my driving.
Ashamed? Perhaps I
should have listened more closely to his speech. Perhaps there were, um,
sociological statements that I missed.
I didn’t react. It was
too entertaining. I wondered what he might do next, but not for long,
because he suddenly got back into his car. And then. . .got out again!
Really! Shouting things that were mercifully drowned out by cross-traffic. Guess he
forgot to add a point or two.
Hey, when confronted with
a nut, act nuttier. So I leaned out my window, pointed, and channeled the
voice of Satan, saying, roughly, this:
“YOU ARE WRONG! YOU ARE
WRONG! YOU ARE WRONG!”
Then I threw in some
Camry Man got back into
his car and screeched around the corner, ignoring the “No Right
Turn on Red” sign.
It was L.A., I was in a
car. Need I say more?
LTSEWH # 3: Garden
It was evening, and I was
watering the garden. Well, the “garden.” This is a small strip of land and a
couple of large planters outside the condo downstairs. I have labored with
the dedication of Luther Burbank to make things grow there.
It has taken years, and
backbreaking (literally, if you count compressed lower spine) labor. I have
had to contend with white flies, cement-like soil that would not support
anaerobic microbes, plant theft, years of deliberate defilement of plants
carried out by a neighborhood psycho (no doubt reading this, and hatching a
new attack), the occasional homeless person’s defecation (or Psycho’s), and
at least one neighbor who wanted everything obsessively trimmed and
controlled (I like nature to have its way, my small statement of anarchy.)
The horticultural results
would not win any contests, but in the spring, the “garden” is somewhat
lush. There I was. . .
With the hose, soaking
the plants. Pure Southern California David Hockney emptiness. I do this about
every two weeks, sometimes three, having planted things that don’t require a
lot of moisture. Drought-resistant fare, such as New Zealand tea plants,
fuchsias, and the ubiquitous fountain grass (yech), jasmine, lantana. Only
the camellias and something with a name I can never remember need regular
And yet. . .
I step outside my door,
and they attack. There’s Rense! Get ‘im! It’s not just a matter of
not being able to drive a mile without having near-catastrophic car wrecks,
or walking to the market without some idiot playing chicken with you on a
sidewalk. I can’t even go outside my own door and peacefully water the
goddamn garden without some jackass giving me grief.
She was 35 or 40, she
was blonde, she was in tight jeans, she drove a black BMW parked on the
street. She was with another lithe, taut blondie, and they were arm in arm
as they walked to the almighty Beamer. Blondie # 1 turned her head toward
me, in the darkness, and spoke:
“We have a WATER SHORTAGE
in Los Angeles!”
Oh. My. God. A
sanctimonious West Side liberal in an $80,000 car. A presumptuous,
sanctimonious West Side liberal in an $80,000 car.
Allow me to disabuse
those readers and fans of LTSEWH (the column, and the
book) who have concluded that I am a wild man, prone to outsized, garish
response to perceived injustices. I told myself, “Path of least resistance.”
Translation: do not call this woman a “f---ing salamander,” and invite her
to stuff the BMW up. . .never mind.
“Are you speaking to
me?” I asked.
“I’m speaking to myself!”
What’s the carbon
footprint of that Beamer?
“Well, nothing to worry
about. I water once every two weeks.”
And that was it. Proud of
(P.S. If Garden Psycho is
reading, we might have a little surprise for you next time you come around.)
LTSEWH # 4:
“Hello, Mr.(wife’s last
“No. . .Who are you?”
“I’m calling for Los
Angeles Opera, and. . .”
“Ah, yes. Listen,
ma’am, you sound like a lovely person, and I’m sorry you have the job of
phoning people at home to ask them for money, but I must tell you that I
have asked L.A. Opera many, many times to stop calling here. You call here
more often than anyone else---really! I have asked many, many, many
times that you take my name off your call list, and I have been told an
equal number of times that you have done this. This was either a lie, or
your system does not work, and I suspect the former. Now we enjoy opera, and
L.A. Opera, and we will continue to attend operas as budget permits, which
it really doesn't, but nothing, I repeat, nothing, that you can say in a
phone call is going to induce me to spend one dime more than I can afford to
spend on opera tickets. Period. It won’t work. So you must stop calling. It
is a waste of your time, and my patience. In fact, if anything, it will have
quite the opposite effect, and serve to discourage me from wanting to
patronize L.A. Opera in the future. Now, you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
If the reader has
gleaned that I was taking unnatural pleasure in keeping this woman on
the phone and forcing her to listen to my spiel, instead of vice-versa, the
reader is possessed with Sherlock Holmesian intuition. I continued.
“But while I have you, I
must tell you that I will continue to attend L.A. Opera despite the absurd
and degrading production of your “Ring” cycle,
truly a despicable creation. Though I will more carefully investigate the
directors of your various operas in the future, before committing funds to
anything by Achim Freyer, or, for that matter, the
fraud that is Robert Wilson. I recall that he took Madame Butterfly and
turned it into Kabuki, and what was it? Oh, Parsifal, that’s right. He
dressed everyone in Parsifal up in giant futons so they all looked like
Gumby, and had them strike poses that a chiropractor wouldn’t dream up, and.
I might not have
embellished quite this much, but it was close. And I heard her sigh! I
suspect this was not in appreciation of my descriptive panache.
“So I am telling
you to stop, stop, stop phoning here and asking for money, or
reminding us of this-or-that production. Stop. It won’t work. It’s annoying
as can be. Thank you very much for listening.”
“I understand your
feelings, sir, and I apologize. . .but I must tell you that the deadline for
renewing your subscription is today.”
Instead of threatening to
come down there and clobber her with one of Wotan’s light sabers, I just
P.S. L.A. Opera, be
warned. You don’t know who you are dealing with here. I am, remember, the “Lone
Booer” of the “Ring” cycle made famous by L.A. Times music houseman, er,
critic, Mark Swed. There is no telling what I might do next season.
LTSEWH # 5: Wrong
It’s L.A., I was walking.
Need I say more?
As is well known,
pedestrians in Los Angeles are like penguins in Cairo. Its goes like this:
“What’s that doing there,
“Why, it’s walking, dear.
It’s a human being. That’s what they look like when they are not in their
“Gosh! It’s funny
“It’s called a
“Hahahahaha! Why does he
walk? Is he poor?”
“He might be a little oh,
mentally challenged, honey. Or one of the homeless.”
I was standing on the
corner of Main Street and Pico in Santa Monica, waiting to cross north past
the Santa Monica Civic. It was about 3 p.m., and I was midway through my
twice weekly ten-mile cardio stroll. There were four other people waiting
for the light to change, to cross Pico.
On the right was a white
BMW convertible, top up. Stopped at the red light. As soon as the light
turned to green, and all five pedestrians stepped off the curb, yes, you
guessed it . . .
The BMW promptly
turned right. Fast. The driver made the turn wide, so as not to kill us,
but he was, as I had said to that African-American gentleman, “wrong, wrong,
wrong.” So as he passed a few feet from my tootsies, window down, I sought
to redress him for his lawbreaking ways:
“Asshole!” I said, with a
nice, guttural flourish that one would expect from an insane pedestrian.
Well, perhaps the
driver was related to the African-American gentleman, because he stopped
his car, right in the middle of Pico, with a screech, stuck his head out
the window, twisted it back toward me, and began shrieking---I mean
Well, you know what he shrieked. Every American’s favorite term of
reduction, ending in “you.”
I saw that no, he was not
related to the African-American gentleman, unless by adoption, for he was
Asian-American, with one of those stupid spiky $100 cool haircuts, and cool
$100 sunglasses. Other than that, he was hot. And he wouldn’t stop shrieking
those two words at me. Over and over again.
When confronted with a
nut, get nuttier.
“You are wrong! You
are wrong! You are wrong!” I shouted, pointing at him. I really enjoy
saying this, as I think it seriously confuses the territorial
imperative-driven testicularity of these confrontations. It also gives me an
odd sensation of authority.
Well, this only caused
his rage to spike, but it was at that point that I was gifted with an act of
fabulous solidarity by my fellow man. And woman.
The young guy who was
also crossing the street behind me began shouting back at BMW Boy, as if the
“F--- you” had bounced off a mirror. And his voice was even louder. Then the
two teenaged girls behind me began shouting the same thing, along with
Outnumbered to the point
where self-preservation (or embarrassment) kicked in, BMW Boy roared off.
These days, in L.A., this
is what passes for beauty.
For more LTSEWH’s,
watch this space---or. . .buy LTSEWH, THE ILLUSTRATED