by RIP RENSE
(May 29, 2008)
Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters
with Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um,
short. They are intended as a chronicle of
the decline in civility and deference, written with just the slightest
implication of humor, in this, the alleged 21st century. Names are included
when possible to protest the impudent. (Please note: LTSEWH is now a book,
with wonderful illustrations!
Buy one, you ingrates.)
LTSEWH # 1: Jolly
It’s the beard. Has to
be. I look a little like
Popeye’s Father. And Poopdeck Pappy looks a little like half the old
homeless guys---formerly known as bums---that you see going about their
mysterious bum errands on the streets of West L.A.
I was in a motel.
Specifically, The Jolly Roger Motel in Marina del Rey. I figured it for a
jolly place. Just the place for Poopdeck Pappy. Besides, I once housed the
great American a cappella group,
there, when they played McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I helped with
their career for a while, and my return visit to the Jolly Roger also had to
do with The Persuasions.
Or rather, Persuasion.
I had brought Persuasions
high tenor Ray Sanders to L.A. to do some overdubs on an album I am
co-producing, “The Persuasions---Live at McCabe’s.” Ray had just gotten off
a plane, and I was dropping him off at
The Jolly Roger. That jolly place. I accompanied him to the jolly
check-in counter, just to make sure all went jolly well.
Now, I should explain
here that Ray, an African-American, was dressed entirely in black, including
a black watch cap and a strange black headgear that also wrapped around his
neck (“to keep my voice warm,” he explained.) He looked essentially ready to
make a Youtube video denouncing Booosh. Me, I was wearing a nice Pendleton,
chinos, Reeboks. My usual high style.
“Hi,” I said, smiling at
the desk clerk. “I made a reservation for Mr. Sanders here.”
It is also important
to note the clerk’s appearance, at least for fun. He might have played
in any number of old “Mr. Moto” or “Thin Man” movies, assaying the role of
some sort of skulking, slippery Mesopotamian villain. You know, the
oleaginous ceramic artifact dealer who is outwardly charming, but has a tiny
blow-gun full of curare-dipped needles that he periodically launches into
the necks of diplomats who hold the key to world peace.
I noted with admiration
the pencil-thin beard following his olive-complexioned chin, arching up and
over his mouth. The obsidian hair, greased and combed straight back, like
Dean Martin. The widow’s peak. I’ve heard Persians describe his type of
attire as “classy.” I’d call it “early disco.” He was built like a giant
pineapple, garbed in satin. He did not smile. I repeated the statement about
the reservation, adding:
“You do have rooms
“Yeah,” he said curtly.
“We have room.”
“Well, Mr. Sanders would
like to check in, please.”
He silently gave Ray a
form to fill out, and asked for an ID.
Ray had left his ID in
New York City, and all he had was a New York state ID card which had expired
about three weeks earlier. I explained this and presented it to Ali Baba. He
tossed---tossed---it back at Ray, saying, “This expire.” Judging by his
facial expression, I figured the guy had recently been forced to eat a toad.
Raw. No toothpick.
“Right,” I said. “Look,
sir, he just got off a plane, and he’s tired. This man is a professional
singer, and I’m his manager. His group has stayed here before, which is why
I decided to put him up here, and---“
Leave? I glanced around
me. Had his ex-wife shown up? Osama?
It sunk in.
Mesopotamia Marvin had adjudged Ray and I as undesireables, miscreants,
rascals, or even. . .
he said to Ray, snarling. I mean actually snarling, with the upper teeth
And then, ladies and
gentlemen, he turned to me, yes me. Your faithful burnout veteran Los
Angeles journalist, your quixotic Internet columnist, author, bon vivant,
and sometime music producer. . .
“And you are
Well, I’ve been nearly
homeless in my life, and as W.C. Fields once said, “dogs never lose the
scent of hobo.” But hell, I’m no ordinary good-for-nothing. Why, I’m a
finalist in the L.A. Press Club competition again this year. (I always get
beat by guys writing pithy articles about serious issues.) I took
Are you kidding?”
“No! You are both
homeless! Now get out!”
At this point, the
portion of my faculties that sorts out self-preservation kicked in. I find
this happening more and more as I live in L.A., while dealing with people
who are new here. Brain electricity sizzled and popped and came up with
this: little creep from foreign country. . .little creep from foreign
country sees Pendleton, thinks it is low-class. . .little creep from foreign
country runs stupid motel, gets scammed all the time. . .little creep from
foreign country is racist asshole. . .little creep from foreign country who
runs motel probably has gun behind counter. . .
Still, I am a slow
learner. Instead of taking his advice to "Leave!", I instead. . .stayed. And
advised him exactly what I thought of him, in a marvelously decorative array
of extremely obscene verbiage. I should have written it down.
And he said. . .
“I call POLICE!”
I leaned on the
counter and stared at him, smiling.
“Go ahead and call the
police,” I replied evenly. “I’d enjoy that.”
He did not call
police. I had called---his bluff. It was when he moved to another
part of the counter (the gun part, I thought) that Ray and I decided to walk
away, both of us again demonstrating a wonderful proficiency with the most
vile of descriptors.
I sometimes wonder if
swearing in other languages is anywhere near as satisfying as it is in
The next motel we tried
didn’t ask for any ID.
And Ray did some jolly
LTSEWH # 2: Senior
I had a pulled muscle.
When I was young, I liked to have pulled muscles, because I incurred them
while playing basketball, or running track, or doing other athletic things
that might impress the girls. I figured that when they saw me limping
between classes, they would be dazzled by how athletic I was.
What a nut.
Anyhow, this stupid
pulled calf muscle happened while I was merely walking up a steep hill. I
repeat: walking. (Relevant poetic quotation about the injustice of
So I wrapped my leg up
with Ben-Gay and an Ace bandage and went about my business, such as it is.
No girls looked at me admiringly, or sympathetically, that was for sure. If
they glanced my way at all, it was with that look that reflexively kicks in
when they, oh, have to step over a pile of dog crap. But I didn’t take it
personally. I find that a great many younger people tend to have this kind
of facial expression at all times.
Anyhow, I was walking
back from dropping off the car for maintenance. Life is made of this kind of
idiocy---dropping off cars, buying window blinds, rushing out to
get cat litter. Very few of us get to be
George Hogg, and rescue dozens of children from Japanese and Chinese
soldiers by marching them 700 miles over death-defying mountain passes.
After dropping off the
car, and lamenting the fact that I do not get to be George Hogg, I walked to
Wilshire Boulevard. That is, I dragged one leg, much as Lon Chaney Jr. and
Tom Tryon did when they portrayed
Kharis, the living
mummy, in various cheesey 1940’s “horror movies.”
I tried gamely to hoof
it home, but had to give up after a couple of blocks, as the hitch in my
getalong got more hitched. So I gave up and did something I absolutely dread
doing---I mean I hate this more than “The Bachelor" and "The View"
combined---I waited for a bus.
I could write a whole
bunch about buses in L.A., but I’ll save that for another time. (Lucky you.)
Suffice to say that I so despise, loathe, revile, detest “rapid” transit in
L.A., that I refuse to ever, ever use it. This goes back to my late teens
and early 20’s when I had to rely on it, and I swore I would never, never
ride buses in L.A. again. There were instances---true story---where I waited
so long for a goddamn bus that never came, that I gave up and walked. Once,
from Sherman Oaks to Playa del Rey. (I was two-thirds of the way through the
Sepulveda pass when my bus finally passed me.)
Anyway, I couldn’t begin to
figure out the insanely complicated bus signs and numbers and where the evil
things went, and as a result, naturally missed three in a row that would
have taken me right home. Twenty minutes later, a big stinking lummox pulled
over and I stepped aboard, asking the driver what the fare was. And this is what
he said, folks. As sure as you are spending a small part of your life
reading The Rip Post, he really. . .said. . .this:
The killer in this story
is that this was a couple months ago, before I had even grown my
And that’s what I said to
him, followed by:
“No! I’m not a
But incidents like this
are certainly hastening me all too quickly in that direction.
LTSEWH # 3: Van Go
I was driving. In L.A.,
this is usually a mistake.
It was a short trip up
Ohio Avenue in West L.A. to my bank. I was doing the speed limit, 35.
Mistake number two.
An old beat-up van was
tailgating me. Never mind that the light ahead was red, and due to stay that
way for a long, long time. Never mind that after it changed to green,
the next light ahead was red, and due to stay that way for a long, long
The hulking, slope-browed
animal menace at the wheel of the large and heavy machine behind me didn’t
At last, I turned down
the side street to my bank. Checked the rear-view, and. . .no van! Half-way down the
block, checked again. Still no van. Phew! I wonder about the cumulative
damage to nervous systems caused by tailgaters (listening, Mayo clinic?) I slowed to turn into the
bank driveway, reflexively checking the mirror again, and. . .
Right on my bumper. He
had perhaps dimension-hopped, materializing like Dr. Who’s telephone box.
That’s all I could figure. Anyhow, I pulled into the parking lot, where
about eight cars were backed up. Huh? Seems they were waiting for spaces on
the other side, nearer the ATM---never mind that there were six or seven
slots immediately at hand. That extra 50 feet of walking is a bastard.
I zipped into one of
the nearby spaces---and Van pulled in right next to me. And I do mean
right next. This despite the fact there was plenty of room, and in fact, several other
spaces with no cars on either side of them in the vicinity. Slope Brow must
have really liked me. He certainly enjoyed being close to me. Very close.
Because I found this a bit odd, I stayed in the car and waited to see if: a)
he knew me, and wanted to say hi, b) he had decided that I represent
everything un-American, and wanted to beat the snot out of me, c) had some
hot stereo equipment in the back to sell.
Brow had left
himself barely enough room to squeeze out of his noble vehicle without his door hitting my car.
Which is just what happened. I was so baffled by it all, I just sat and stared. I
mean, why had he tailgated me? How had he suddenly appeared behind me again,
after having disappeared? Why was he parking right next to me, with so many
other choices? Why had he left himself no room? Why was his door hitting my
There are some things in
life I am apparently not meant to understand, like math and Van Man. For he
spoke to me, and this is what he said.
“You’re over the line!”
He was right. The parking
space lines on each side were long horseshoe shaped double-lines, and my
tires were covering the innermost of the two lines.
You know, there are times
when you engage in conversation with people, and then there are times when
you just stare at them as if you are “all in” with a pair of deuces.
After he walked to the
bank, I moved my car to a distant and remote part of the lot, bought some
paint and painted it in green and pink polka-dots, lined the windows with
dingleballs, wrote “Here Comes Sancho!” in the window in nice white cursive
letters, then switched my license plates so he could never find me again.
LTSEWH # 4: Last
There are times when
things get so absurd that you just have to laugh, damn the consequences.
Like. . .well, almost all the time. Hmm. . .this could be the secret to happiness!
And sometimes, laughing
isn’t quite enough. One must be even more creative, just for the sake of oh,
poetic justice. Or something.
There I was. . .
Walking up Arizona Street
in Santa Monica, just past the funeral home where I once accidentally walked
in on an old friend of mine. She didn’t notice, though, as she was dead,
laid out for family and friends. I was an hour early, and had no idea that
the “memorial service” included my old pal’s cold corpse.
So I tend to quicken my
steps whenever I pass this joint. Flower shops have never smelled good to me
I stood there with that
dopey pedestrian look---that look that says "You wonder why I'm walking in
this awful car-infested place, and frankly, so do I"---on the corner of a
four-way light, waiting for the little green walking man. Now, I can
understand the word, “walk,” but apparently, a great many people in L.A. no
longer do, so they use the little green walking man. Blind people in my
neighborhood know to walk just by the change in the sounds of the traffic.
God help them.
Well, little green walking man
appeared and I stepped off the curb. As expected, the car that had been
waiting next to me for several minutes to make a right turn. . .began making
that right turn. Yup, right into me. Renseburger, medium-rare, coming right
up. But this wasn’t all. At the same time, an SUV was running the red
light, through the intersection, and was also barreling straight toward my
Got the picture? The
little green man told me it was safe to walk, but you can never trust
his little green ass. He doesn’t know
shit from Shinola about crossing
a street. And there I was, with two vehicles coming at me from two different
directions, roughly nine o'clock and 12 o'clock, both accelerating.
I guess it would be sort
of distinctive to be run over by two cars instead of just one. An only-in-L.A. kind of demise.
But as I said, there are
times when things are so absurd, so out-of-orbit ridiculous, you just can't take them seriously. I mean,
look, the light was red, but the jackass in the SUV ran it anyhow.
Perhaps he was in a hurry to his yoga class or “lotus therapy” session. The
driver of the car (Lexus?) making the right turn had two full minutes to see me standing
right beside him, waiting for the light to change. But he was on the phone.
This was way too stupid to be
upsetting. I figured, hey, if you guys really want to run over a pedestrian
so badly, have at!
So I stopped, turned,
faced both cars, and. . .
Did a nice soft-shoe,
with a little suave arm action, to boot.
Showed them my teeth.
And by golly, they
stopped without so much as a honk, or even the lusty old L.A. all-purpose hail, “Fuck
Guess they knew good
hoofing when they saw it.
LTSEWH # 5: Dowdy
But back to the
I took my beard out for a
walk the other day. I do this frequently, as a form of exercise (for my
body, not the beard.) After all, bus drivers think I’m a “senior," and
walking is senior exercise. I have mapped out a nice “course” in the very
pretty neighborhood above Wilshire Boulevard, where I full-steam along for
about an hour, most every day. In my usual elegant ensemble: chinos,
Pendleton, Reeboks, baseball cap.
There are beautiful homes
to look at, and wonder how much cocaine their occupants have to sell in
order to live in such fine places, and fabulous late-spring/early summer
gardens resplendent with wildflowers, succulents, cedars, petunias, rosemary hedges,
honeysuckle, New Zealand tea bushes. I mean, the roses are as big as Oprah’s
head. Literally and figuratively. And there are wandering cats who ask to
have their heads scratched, and very serious joggers who blow by you with
stern expressions, and moms-with-strollers who eye you with smiling teeth
and wary eyes, and occasionally even someone who smiles and says “good
morning.” At the pinnacle of the “course,” there is a view of the ocean on
the west, and downtown on the east. Not bad.
So I huff-and-puff it at
a good clip, stretching first to make sure I don’t pull my “senior” calf
There I was. . .
Loping uphill past a
mailman---er, letter carrier---delivering mail. She smiled at me, and I
handed her a letter I had been carrying in case I ran into a mail---letter
carrier. A pleasant exchange, a neighborly, functional transaction straight
out of Norman Rockwell. I allowed myself the momentary illusion that
everything still worked fine in America, that people were still agreeable,
that mail---er, letter carriers---were cheerful and flexible, that morning
walks in neighborhoods were benign and even bucolic.
Straight ahead, just a
few yards distant, there stood a gentleman---a. . .neighbor! Out in his
pleasantly landscaped front yard, opening his good, old-fashioned mailbox to
retrieve the day’s slew of recyclable paper. He was about my age, I figured,
what with silvering hair, still trim physique, and he looked---I don’t know
how else to say it---successful. A TV writer, perhaps, or more likely, a
producer of some sort. . .
But for current purposes,
just a lyrical, classic, unpretentious howdy-neighbor. Like me!
As the sidewalk curved in
front of his home, I glanced up. Proximity alone called for a salutation. He
was just five feet away, inspecting his mail, glancing at me. I smiled
and tipped my hat brim.
“How ya doin’?” I said.
And Neighbor returned my
greeting with a hearty hello. Yet it was a kind of odd hearty hello. Almost
too hearty. And then, when I was about twenty feet past, the other shoe
“And just keep on
walking!” he boomed.
Huh? Was it a joke? A
comment on my fast pace? I was stumped. Turned my head and smiled and said
something stupid, like “Can’t stop.”
Then it hit me.
Oh, what a chump I am.
Suckered myself once again into thinking this was 1955. Or ’65. Or ’45, ’35,
It seems I had been once
again taken for a creep, a bad guy, someone who didn’t belong in such a fine
neighborhood as this. Possibly even someone who was. . .
Yes, that was it.
Possible Producer had scanned me, scoped me, and labeled me some
sort of “loser” human grunge/sludge who was not welcome near his grand home,
or in his oh-so-prosperous north-of-Wilshire hedge-fund dealing world. My “How ya doin’?” had
obviously been a cover, a con, a pose to try to convince oblivious citizens
that I was no threat to anything other than the occasional ants beneath my
feet. While I surreptitiously sized them up for burglary, robbery, murder.
I’d blame it on the beard
again, folks, but really, I blame it on other things. Such as Reagan, Nixon,
capitalism gone amok, a venal and amoral media that purveys hatred and
ugliness for profit, hysterical “pundits” on 24/7, shouting inanities and
insanities, commentators every bit as gentle as
Grendel, criminal gangsters
exalted as stars of culture, governments and senators and mayors and
councils that never do anything right, people who are consumed only with
profit and possessions. . .
And in the end, the kind
of dufuses who stand in their front yards and insult innocuous passers-by.
On my next walk, think
I’ll bring a few old tomatoes.
BACK TO PAGE ONE