by RIP RENSE
Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters
With Humanity, or LTSEWH, just to create a
ridiculously unpronouncable acronym. All names have been included whenever
possible in order to ensure fullest humiliation, though in some cases the
more hapless have been spared out of compassion.
LTSEWH # 1: Honky bastard
Well, you know, I thought
that cars were equipped with horns for a reason, and I thought the reason
was for something other than conveying the sonic equivalent of “I don’t
think very highly of you!” (or less civilized complaints, which I’m told are
quite prevalent in modern USA.)
Silly me, I thought horns were safety devices. Employable as a warning to
others, in order to avert accidents, injury, death.
Ha. Ho. Hee.
Horns are affronts, I now
understand. They are insults, degradation, assault, provocations, attacks.
They are intended only to let others know that you consider them on the
order of gnat dung. (Do gnats generate dung?) Horns say to the elderly, you
are a brittle-boned mass of irrelevancy! They say to housewives, you have no
individuality! They say: white boy/nigger/spic/chink/wop/nip/bitch/punk/ho
And they proclaim to
strapping young sons of privilege that most potent of all swipes:
I criticize you!
This, you see, is the
worst thing you can apparently do to a strapping young son (or daughter) of
privilege. Criticize them, that is. Why, it’s practically a curtailment of
their very freedom!
There I was. . .
In a parking structure in
Westwood, near UCLA, a school where extremely wealthy young people spend a
lot of time downing titanic amounts of alcohol, consume cocktails of drugs
that would have frightened
Timothy Leary (okay, at least Ken Kesey), run the
streets in their
underwear once a year, throw up a good deal, and, I have it
on authority, sometimes study.
Now, this parking
structure is particularly beastly, which puts it in close company with
swimming in a vat of sewage. I mean, I’d rather get a prostate exam than be
temporarily imprisoned inside of a cement monolith behind dozens of other
people temporarily imprisoned inside of a cement monolith. (Well, it’s a
The problem with this
structure---wait a second, shouldn’t they have nicer names than structure?
Okay, the problem with this parking wonderland is that the area for turning
at the end of each aisle, in order to ascend or descend to the next level,
is wide enough for no more than five Oprah Winfreys, walking abreast. Which
is to say, barely enough for two cars to pass each other.
So I verrrrry
carefully make that turn. This puts me in roughly one percent of the local
population. Most everyone else drives through parking wonderlands as if they
are late for their own funeral.
As did Strapping Young
Son of Privilege.
He was zoom-zooming (just
like the commercials taught him) through cement purgatory as if he was
testing a new rocket-car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was when he
whipped around the corner in front of me that I made my mistake. I wasn’t
thinking. My hand just automatically went to the horn. Thirty-five years of
driving practice will instill that reflex, especially when confronted by an
SUV hurtling head-on, about to make you early for your own funeral.
Even so, I merely tapped
a warning. A single, paltry, delicate, obsequious. . .
Shame on me. Who in the
hell do I think I am? Why, I’m practically a brittle-boned mass of
irrelevancy! I don’t even call sneakers “trainers!” And I never say “cool,"
at least not since about 1972.
Now, understand there was no eye contact here, no gesture, no third finger,
no shaken fist, no ape-wail voice erupting “F--- you!” Just. . .
Oh, how dare I show such
insolence to a SYSOP! And he meant to make me feel my transgression, too. He
slammed on the Samsonian brakes of his massive vehicle, and began. .
.backing. . .after me! Backing. Yes, with the ape-wail voice erupting “F--- youuuuuu!” Eventually, oncoming traffic forced him to stop
chasing me in
reverse, and I proceeded downward to pay five or six bucks for the pleasure
of using parking wonderland.
Then I pulled out on to
the street---bucolic with strollers, shoppers, diners, movie theaters, late
afternoon melted sunshine. . .and. . .
Yes, it was SYSOP,
emerging from the structure in my rear-view mirror, on foot. Folks, he had
parked his SUV on the fourth level or above, then had obviously sprinted
down the stairs and dashed on to the street in a desperate attempt to catch
me, and let me know how presumptuous I had been for criticizing him. And get
He was running down the
middle of the street. Running after my car. Like a mad dog.
A word of description:
this kid was in his early twenties, about six-three-or-four as most of the
current crop seems to be, and no more physically imposing than any major
league baseball player. About 220 pounds of natural muscle sculpted by years
of fun and play.
He wore the requisite
UCLA SYSOP garb, like a good little
consumer: $150 designer “trainers,” giant “shorts” that hung past his
knees, hooded sweatshirt, cool sunglasses.
Running down the middle
of the street.
I drove slowly away,
watching him grow smaller behind me. Though not as small as he is destined
And I didn’t use my horn
once on the way home.
LTSEWH # 2: Bread Boxed
I was sick. I was under
orders to eat toast. When I think of toast, I think of white toast, probably
because I grew up eating white toast. Besides, it seemed bland enough that I
might possibly keep it down.
I found the bread section
in Whole Fools, er Foods.
Now, correct me if I’m
mistaken, but I think I am visible, and I think I am a customer. I don’t think
I am a can of peas, or a scuff on the floor. But as I stood there, scanning
the multitudes of bread loaves made of things I’d never heard of (what in
hell is “kamut?”), searching for that all-but extinct loaf of white bread, a
Whole Fools employee um. . .
Stepped in front of me.
Right in front of me.
And began stocking the
bread section. Not so much as an “excuse me,” “get out of the way,” or “go
f--- yourself.” I was boxed out. Kobe couldn’t have set a better screen (not
that he ever does.)
The thing is, there was barely any
room to step in front of me. I had to take a step back, while Employee stashed a
few loaves on the shelf, then moved out of the way. Ah, I thought, maybe it was
deal. Right, and
Dick Cheney has a cute smile. No, Employee
was back faster than
Oprah eats, stashing more loaves. Right in front of me.
This happened four or
five more times, as I stood there. I couldn’t believe it. Did he know that I
was seeking something as unfashionable, as politically incorrect, as
white bread? Was he punishing me? Had Al Sharpton sent him? What was going
The answer lies somewhere
in a morass involving the fact that Whole Fools seems to hire weirdos and
heavily tattooed ex-gang members, and that young people grow up being told
that they are all very special individuals, and that mass media has long
lampooned and derided as trite most displays of courtesy and deference, and
that people don’t get out of each other’s way on sidewalks anymore, and that
menial work is beneath all geniuses, and perhaps the preponderance of
hormones and antibiotics in
Anyhow, the toast tasted
really good, and I kept it down.
LTSEWH # 3: Testy
I was in a lab at the
medical building next to Santa Monica Hospital. For those of you who have
been in this lab, you need read no further. No one has ever had a SEWH in
that place. For the rest of you. . .
I had been dispatched to
pick up a testing kit of an ilk that is just too degrading to categorize
here. But that’s all I had to do---pick up the kit.
The waiting room was full
of people covered in cobwebs. I could tell they were alive, though, because
they looked seriously disgusted. The sliding glass office window was open, and no clerk
said “May I help you?” I sat and waited, and looked seriously disgusted, too.
(This isn't hard for me.) After
ten minutes of a silence that monks would envy, I asked a guy next to me if
anyone was in the office. He grimaced and said they were “busy---heh, heh,”
and suggested I sign in. I did, waited another five minutes, then I stood
up, stuck my head in the office window, and yelled, “Is anyone working?”
“Just a moment. We’ll be
right with you.” A female voice from somewhere within.
I sat down, eyed the
grimacing guy, and said, “Heh, heh.”
At last I was summoned by
a white-coated woman who made no eye contact with me.
“Go in that room and sit
in that chair,” she said.
“But I’m just picking up
a testing kit. I don’t need to have any tests done here.”
“You still have to sit in
the chair,” she commanded. “We have to get you in the system.”
I did not contest this. I
did not want to know what the ironclad relationship might be between sitting
in a chair previously occupied by dozens of sick people and “getting me in
the system.” I sat.
And I sat. In between
sitting, I sat, and then, when I wasn’t sitting, I sat some more. When I
wasn’t sitting, that is.
While I was sitting, the white-coated woman “technician” was chatting. To a
young fellow in a white coat. He sort of lazed about the room, doing nothing
in particular, carrying on a nice conversation with the woman.
In Spanish, of course.
Nine out of ten times you are in a doctor’s office, hospital, or lab, the
language is Spanish. And they nattered on for a good ten minutes while I sat
in Disease Chair. I don’t speak fluent Spanish, but I could pick up enough
to know they were not discussing
Now you might not believe
this, but I hate getting angry. And for every time I show impatience or
temper, there are ten or twenty that I don’t. And that’s just before noon.
So I waited to see if the natterers would finish their talk of what she did
over the weekend, etc., and what so-and-so said about so-and-so. But I had
enough when he asked her what she had for dinner, and she responded, “Only a
“Would somebody tell me what is going on, please?”
The fellow looked at me
with some surprise. Woman tekkie kept her back to me, sitting at a computer,
and. . .did not reply.
“Uhh. . .We’re getting
you into the system, very carefully, step-by-step so we don’t make
mistakes,” said the guy.
Oh, si. Y mi mama es Barbara Bush.
“Ten minutes is a long
time to wait to pick up a testing kit. How much longer is it going to be?”
Male tekkie looked
sheepishly at Woman tekkie, and I guess
God was smiling on me, because she
actually replied---but still without turning around.
“Not much longer.”
“Right. How MUCH longer?”
When I raised my
voice, that seemed to get through. Had I not known that these were compassionate
health care professionals with only my best interests at heart, I would have
mused about how funny it is that engaging in primordial displays of threat
was necessary to make them do their goddamned trabajo.
For the guy suddenly left
the room, and Woman Tekkie suddenly began typing furiously, and I was
suddenly out of there with my test in hand in less than five minutes.
But she still never once
made eye contact with me.
LTSEWH # 4: Go Park
I was parking in front of
my home. You’d think this would not be a difficult thing to accomplish.
You’d think it would be devoid of conversation, let alone politics, let
alone complex emotional and psychological matters. You’d also think the dumb
bastards in charge of L.A. government would have put light rail in this town
40 years ago.
There is room for two
cars in front of my place, without going into the red zone. Because there is
a particularly jackassy “parking engineer,” or whatever they’re called, who
must be 75 years old, and just relishes giving nitpicky tickets, I am very
wary of not having so much as a centimeter in the red.
Naturally, someone had
taken up both spaces. When I finished swearing, and was considering going
out to buy a can of red paint to splash on the offending car, I noticed
that. . .the driver was still in it! Just sitting there! So I pulled slowly
in front of her, got out of my car, slowly, and walked slowly toward her,
waving and smiling. Slowly.
“Hi!” I said, stopping
about fifteen feet away. “Would you mind backing up about ten feet so I can
get in this space, please?”
People, the look on my
face alone would have earned me a Boy Scout merit badge. I was more
obsequious than Crispin Glover in “Back to the Future.” The woman rolled
down the window of her old Volvo, and snarled:
“I just had a big FIGHT
with somebody about this!”
Yessir, nothing like a
sane conversation with a stranger over a parking space. I guess I’m lucky I
didn’t end up on the evening news. “Parking Space Slaughter!”
I backed up, showing her
as many teeth as was physically possible. I suddenly noticed that she uh,
seemed to be. . .living. . .in the car.
“Oh, sorry! No fight from
“Well. . .Okay. You’re
polite, so I’ll back up!” she said.
Hey, homeless in a Volvo.
LTSEWH # 5: Chinga-chi
I know parks are for
everyone. I embrace the concept heartily. It is a pleasure to see a
crazy-quilt of families having picnics, circled by chubby joggers and
hard-cut athletes in training, amid baseball diamonds popping with fly balls
and soccer fields willy-nilly with flailing legs.
Although I must confess
that I think soccer is the stupidest game ever invented, next to
mean, here’s how it started: “Okay, we got a ball. . .now. . .you try to get
it past me, and I’ll try and get it past you---only we won’t use our hands!”
But I digress.
I go to the park to do
tai-chi. Yes, the verrrrry slow Chinese martial arts-based exercise that
looks very relaxing, but is actually very demanding. Other people do
tai-chi, and other martial arts exercises in the park, so I don’t usually
fetch a second glance. There I was. . .
Starting my set on a nice
grassy spot uninhabited by anyone except a couple of squirrels and
mommies-with-babies, when he showed up. Man with long yellow rope. Long
yellow rope that soon turned into some sort of outline for a small playing
field, shortly to be occupied by about twenty shrieking tykes.
I moved. There I was. . .
Half-way through my
“set,” concentrating pretty effectively, when he showed up. Young athletic
fellow with dreadlocks and soccer ball. Now, I was far from any athletic
field, on an uneven area that I chose strictly because I could not see it as
conducive to man interacting with ball.
He kicked, he twisted, he
leaped, he torqued. Please understand that there was a vast empty area
nearby, large enough for Bush's head, but
Soccer Boy chose to bounce his ball about twenty feet away from me. So that
rolled to my feet not once, not twice, but three times.
Look, I’m no mystic. I’m not good at
getting my psyche into the ethers when I do
tai-chi. But a ball rolling at your feet pretty well makes me think of. . .a
ball rolling at your feet. And if you think Soccer Boy did not so much as
grunt an apology, you are very canny! I moved.
To another area, next to
an old firehouse converted to day care center. A spot where no one could set
up a playing field, or have enough room to do stupid things with a soccer
ball. It was part of a larger, uneven space wholly uninviting to athleticism, and
very welcoming to kids who might want to toddle or climb short trees.
There I was. . .
Resuming my set, doing my
best to ignore deafening jets taking off at Santa Monica Airport, blasting
me with jet fuel fumes. Ahhoooooommmmmm. Ahhoooooommmm.
“No, f--- you, puta!”
Ah, the merry sounds of latino soccer players! Hear them curse every other word! See them
swagger around, grabbing their
testicles and shaking them at each other. See
them sneer, and snicker, and call one another “whore.” What jolly good folk they
Yes, about six of
these guys began playing el futbol right next to me, where there was no
athletic field, no room for much other than. . .Yahtzee.
LTSEWH # 6: Phoney
Stupid of me for not
understanding that cell phones have rearranged all traffic laws! Shame on me
for not adapting to the new cell phone/driving etiquette! What a
brittle-boned mass of irrelevancy I am!
And here I thought I
should never, ever back out of my driveway into the street until it was
clear! Ha! Ho! Hee!
I had backed
tentatively into the
gutter, you see, my head turned around in “waiting for the all-clear” mod,
when an SUV crept slowly, slowly down the street, and. . .stopped. Just short
of blocking me from backing out. Huh?
What was the driver
doing, I wondered. Was there a cat crossing in front of him? A
flea? Did he
want my space? If so, didn’t he know that it was private?
I leaned my head back and
made eye contact. Well, such as you can to someone in sunglasses.
Then I saw it. The cell
phone on his ear. The moving jaw. And his hand---waving me out.
But this was. . .wrong.
It was against all traffic laws, if not laws of physical science. Why should
I back out when he was stopped for no apparent reason in the middle of the
street? What was he doing? What would Stephen Hawking think?
I waved for him to go
ahead and pass. He waved me out again.
Sigh. I weighed my
options. I could sit there and grow cobwebs, except for my waving arm, or I
could go ahead and back out. I chose the latter, and of course, just as I
did so, a car came up behind the SUV at normal speed, honked, and whipped
around him. Had I not been watching, I would have backed into insurance
paradise. I jammed on the brakes, and waved furiously at SUV Boy to get the
hell out of the way. He just smiled.
I don’t carry a gun,
unlike most L.A. drivers, so I backed out, which was not easy, as he was
partly obstructing my path. Then I drove off.
And as I did so, SUV Boy
continued creeping slowly down the street, cell phone on his ear.
Yes, ladies and
gentlemen, he just wanted to pause to enjoy chatting on his phone,
and had stopped in the middle of the street to do so.
The wonders of
For more LTSEWH’s, watch
this space. And. . .coming soon. . .LTSEWH, the illustrated book!
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