by RIP RENSE
(Sept. 24, 2009)
Call them Less Than
Satisfying Encounters With Humanity. Only the names have
been changed---well, actually, as few names as possible have
been changed. I like to include them whenever I happen to know
them, and the threat of lawsuit is not too great. Yes, that’s
LTSEWH (try and pronounce it) for, um, short.
LTSEWH # 1: MORNING
sidewalk was empty, as it so often is in the remains
of Westwood. It was around 9 a.m., as I headed to UCLA for
physical therapy to unlock my right shoulder (lost the key.) By
9:45, there would be twenty people lined up for fresh cookies at
Diddy Riese, but for now it was just me and sidewalk, until. . .
I hit the corner, where a
guy was completing his crossing of Hilgard Ave. He was perhaps
30, wearing a suit, and as is the case
with the majority of human population, was staring into an
electronic device. Translation: he had as much knowledge of his
surroundings as George W. Bush does of French cooking.
You know, one day these
devices will start controlling people, and no one will be able
So maybe this was Suit
Guy’s excuse: he no more realized there was another person in
his environment than Michael Jackson knew he was kicking the
bucket. (Propofol drip---that’s the way to go!) Because as I
stood there, pushing the button to let Traffic Big Brother know
I was waiting for the next light (pushing with sleeve covering
finger, so as not to pick up lethal staph infections), Suit Guy
just cut loose and. . .sneezed.
I had been literally
sprayed. Some of the droplets were. . .big.
“Hey, man!” I yelled.
“Jesus Christ! What the hell’s wrong with you!”
I hereby apologize for
linking Christ, even by implication, with such horrific lack
of etiquette and hygiene. I mean, Jesus probably never sneezed
once in his life, certainly not after the Resurrection. Well,
ambitious young man with electronic device---wait, I should just
declare a contest, here and now: Can You Guess What Sneeze
Boy Did Next? First prize: an H1N1 vaccine dose. No? Okay,
here’s the answer:
Just kept walking. Didn’t turn around, didn’t apologize, didn’t
say "excuse me," didn’t ask why I had not said, “Bless you.” The
only “you” that he merited would have had a somewhat different
verbal modifier. Didn’t even, as the odds-on favorite for his
L.A.-type response would have been, give me the old finger.
I’ve written occasionally
here about “Rense luck,” and this is just a gold-vein example.
There was no one, I repeat, no one else on the street.
Just me and him. My getting sneezed on in that circumstance is akin to being struck by lightning, finding out that your
long-lost criminal half-brother lives next door. Frankly, I would have
preferred lightning. Better chances of survival. I mean, he had
just given me a personal DNA sample, all over my right cheek and
Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, where were you to dress this dolt
Okay, I should note that
Sneeze Boy seemed to have at least made a cursory attempt to
block the nasal expulsion of several billion trillion bacteria,
and a bonus virus or two. He had placed his hand to his face, in
a fist, which, of course, only had the effect of creating a
ricochet that sent mucous and saliva caroming into moi.
I’d like to have put my
hand---in a fist---into his. . .electronic device.
So far, no symptoms.
LTSEWH #2: ALL
I was driving.
You know, that sentence
alone should stand as the ultimate LTSEWH one can have in L.A.,
if not anywhere.
Is there any other
application of energy that so magnificently and efficiently
incorporates ever conceivable aspect of stress and insanity?
Well, there’s sex, I
guess, but that’s another matter.
So. . .there I was.
On Barrington in West
L.A., headed toward Pico. In front of me were two pick-up trucks
loaded with gardening equipment. Handles and machines sprouted
from the beds, as if hordes of giant metal insects
had landed there and got stuck together. And the trucks were
doing about. . .
Twenty miles per hour.
Side by side. Huh?
Oh, I got it---the
drivers were talking to each other. Having a little chit-chat.
Perhaps discussing weather, or health care, or good taco trucks
(they were both latino), or the pleasures of navigating L.A.
streets at twenty miles per hour.
It occurred to me that
they had something in common with Westwood Sneeze Boy---and,
come to think of it, most people in L.A.; they had no idea that
any other human beings were in the vicinity. But then I noted
them checking their rear-view mirrors, where no less than 30
cars were backed up. So they must have known! Unless. . .I had a horrifying thought:
They were blind! Blind
people at the wheels of pick-up trucks! Even worse: blind
gardeners! Look out, deodars!
But no, they were
driving much too straight for blindness. I mean, I once saw
the Five Blind Boys of Alabama leaving the Wadsworth Theater in
a nice Caddy that was careening all over the road. (Really.)
Now, if these guys were
just giving each other quick directions, it would not have
been problematic. If they were just exchanging a quick chimichanga
recipe, no sweat. But this was not the case. They were just
having a grand old time, yacking, maybe about futbol or
the upcoming “Central American Independence Day” celebrations in
Los Angeles. (Gee, I didn’t know that Central America was a
And this went on. And on.
Block. After block. Until many of the cars behind me were
blasting their horns. But Los Jardineros cared not a
pupusa. They were laughing, smiling, gesturing, nodding,
paying no attention to the cacaphony of indignation behind them.
Really. Eventually I added my own harmony to the chorus of
horns. John Cage would have enjoyed the arrhythmia of it all.
At long last, the
jardinero on the left came to his turnoff, and made a slow,
arching turn to the izquierdo. A line of cars just
exploded down his lane, like corpuscles into heart-stented
artery. Whoosh! Naturally, I was still stuck behind jardinero
numero dos, who, curiously enough, continued driving at
twenty miles per hour. With his eyes on me in the rear-view, and
laughter on his face.
Now if you think this
unfavorably disposes me toward persons from particular ethnic
groups, if not countries, who most likely work for cash and pay
no taxes. . .if you think an incident like this would bring out
such irrational, prejudiced, dismissive feelings of disdain. . .
I’ll leave that
conclusion to you.
I rationalized: this
must be how they do things in Mexico, or wherever these guys
are from. But that lasted about as long as it took for me to
remember---hard as it has become in L.A.---that this is not
I realized I was now
being baited, so I simply laid on my horn. I enjoyed making the
fellow smile, you see. The more I honked, the more happy he
became. I am here in this world, after all, to engender
happiness, am I not? Eventually I felt I had been charitable
enough, and that jardinero seemed very contented indeed,
so I changed lanes to the left to pass him. And, as I expected,
he. . .
Cut right in front of me.
Sharply. Still smiling.
Oh, the merry laborer and
his capricious sense of play! Oh, the trafficacious wonderment
of it all! Well, I would play, too! I downshifted and, as they
say, “burned rubber,” and whipped around his Ford Big Ass on the
right, and cut him off.
Then I joined in his
mirthful spirit, and smiled and laughed in my own rear-view
mirror. I wanted him to know that I regarded him as an equal, a
virtual colleague in driving élan and citizenly joie de’vivre.
But at that point, I
really needed to head home and put my fist through a wall, so I
waved to jardinero---the jaunty one-fingered wave---and
took my car up to a screaming 37 miles per hour.
Leaving him on his way to
cut grass with fume-spewing noise-pollution machinery, and crop beautiful jacarandas to death, and all
those other invaluable things that he undoubtedly contributes to
our fair city.
LTSEWH # 3: WITH
FRIENDS LIKE THESE
Readers will find it
highly amusing to know that I recently joined “UNITED AGAINST
RACISM,” a cause promoted on Facebook.
Joining a “cause” on
Facebook, I figure, is a lot like trying to impregnate someone
after a vasectomy, but what the hell. I’ve always opposed
racism, and never more than since I became a victim of it,
myself. You’ve read about this in past Riposte masterpieces,
where I note that jobs have been openly denied to me because I
am a “white male.” This very term was actually used by one
editor who had groomed me for a columnist position over two
years and 100 guest columns for the L.A. Times, then dumped me
over my skin color and testicles.
Affirmative Action? It
affirmed my ass right out of action. The job I had been groomed
for was filled by an African-American female who, truth be told,
could not out-write me if I had to type with my toes,
falling-down drunk and blindfolded. But the quality of one’s work has long been
almost incidental in suicidal, social experimentational America.
And then, you know,
I really find all this inane anger at Obama emanating from mostly dumbass
white Americans to be repulsive in the extreme. That “You lie!”
outburst in Congress was equivalent to “Lynch him!” I have
serious problems with Obama (though I regard him as a slice of
paradise after Bush/Cheney) but his being half-black is not
So on an impulse, I lent
my name to this “cause.”
And promptly started
receiving spam at my home e-mail address. Huh? I
wrote to the (very nice) guy heading the (good) cause, one Greg
Jones. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the verbatim e-mail exchange, which took place over five
days. Correct. Five full-grown American-type 21st century days:
Please take me off the
spam e-mail list ASAP. I could not find an "unsubscribe" option.
My address is (censored.) I am inundated with spam, and did not
expect any for supporting this good cause. I appreciate your
(sic) Could you do us a
favor Rip and tell us exactly what kind of spam you are
receiving from us. Would be appreciated. We did send a message
out today to all members saying that we're getting close to
2,000 members. But we are interested in what you mean by
'inundated'. If you have received more than the one message
today from us than we may have been hacked and need to know so
that we can report it. Your assistance would be appreciated.
Thank You. Greg Jones.
And. . .
I didn't mean that you
are inundating me with spam. Apologies for the confusion. I am
generally inundated with spam, and am trying to eliminate it.
Thank you. ---Rip Rense
Thanks for clearing
that up Rip. I never want anyone to think that we're out to spam
folks. We have the greatest respect for our members and friends
and truly appreciate your joining in this very important cause.
Your Friend Greg
My friend? Greg was my
friend? Well, I need friends, but. . .funny, I couldn't
bring Greg's face to mind. Hmm. Maybe that was because I'd never
met him! Astounding how Facebook has destroyed the meaning of
"friend." As if you can be “friends” with
someone you’ve never met, played poker with, or been sneezed on
by. (Apologies to Lingo Czar for that grammar.)
You're doing great work,
obviously, and apologies for any inconvenience.
problem at all Rip. Thanks Again, Greg.
Such civility and
good will should be recognized with trips to the White House,
medals, hookers. . .
But the next day, there
it was, as sure as Larry King says "dese" and "doze." More
“UNITED AGAINST RACISM” spam. SPAM spam spam spam, SPAM span
spam spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Please take me off the
e-mail list. As I said, I get tons of spam from many sources. I
did not ask to be put on the United Against Racism e-mail list.
Please remove me. I'd do it myself, but you do not provide that
option anywhere that I can find. Thank you.
Hi Rip: Got this from
FB Help Page "How To Leave Cause"
You can leave a cause by
clicking on “Leave Cause" under the main cause image. Keep In
I refrained from
writing, “You know Greg, you are not my friend. I do not
want to keep in touch with you. What’s more, I have never
been in touch with you in the first place, aside from this
stupid spam thing. Just take me off the goddamn spam e-mail list, before I
notify Homeland Security and Animal Regulation. Your friend,
Instead I wrote this:
Yes, I saw that. I have
no f---ing clue what it means. "How to Leave Cause." Huh? Is
that English? I tried to do it, and it was useless. Can't you
PLEASE remove me from the list? I've asked over and over again
now. You're the Big Cheese, right? So you should be able to
effect this small favor for someone who at least has lent his
name to the cause, right?????????
I think there may be
problems with FB Cause. If it is saying that YOU can leave cause
by clicking "leave cause" under the logo...then I don't
understand why that wouldn't work. I don't see a way on our end
to click to have you leave the cause. I looked it up under
help...and got what I sent to you. If it's not there...then
contact FB and ask why not. There's nothing else I can do. Greg.
Yes, this is just what I
wanted. I could think of no more useful application of my
allotted time on earth than to write to a faceless entity called
“Facebook,” asking for help in how to use their ridiculous
program to remove my name from a spam-list on something called
“UNITED AGAINST RACISM.” Somebody needs to start a “cause”
called “UNITED AGAINST IDIOCY AND THEFT OF LIFE.”
I wrote back:
Thanks, Greg. I am
completely baffled. So this is a Facebook matter? Somehow,
Facebook is sending e-mails to my home address? How is that
possible? How weird. Okay, I'll try it again. What a pain in the
ass this is. This is the last time I ever agree to support any
cause on-line. Sorry to take your time. Best, Rip
And, yes, dear reader,
you are reaching the end of this Jeremiad of an exchange.
Wow. Fact is we're
having problems with the cause page. Keeps saying they're
working on it....try back in a few days. Very weird. But they
say that under the UAR logo it should say 'click to leave
cause'. It should be there. I don't get it.
At least he was candid!
Yes, I had tried clicking on
“How to Leave Cause” until I feared for repetitive stress
syndrome on my left index finger, but the only cause I was
allowed to leave was my own. And then, suddenly, the imps and
sprites of Facebook decided they had enjoyed enough sport at my
expense, and. . .it worked! I "left cause!" Not since that lunar module rocket
fired to correct course and return the Apollo 13 astronauts to
earth has there been such relief! I clicked. It said to pick a
reason for leaving, which I did, and I have received no more
unwanted e-mail. Yet.
But why in the hell
should I have to give a reason? What is this, elementary school?
Dear Miss Facebook, Rip
cannot continue with your cause today because he has a sore
throat and his dog ate his homework and then vomited all over
the computer screen, which at the time was full of Facebook
‘friends’ he had never met. Thank you.
LTSEWH # 4:
Now, most people who need
a piece of plywood just measure the space where it will be
needed, go out and buy it, then bring it home and affix. Voila!
But most such people have extremely hairy, muscled arms, well
laced with scar tissue brought about by many years of sawing,
hammering, grinding, screwing (shame on you), drilling, and
other Real Man activity.
I’ve never been a Real
Man. I just play one on television. Well, what transpires with
me when I try to do Real Man work might well make for good
television. I out-Laurel Hardy, or out-Hardy Laurel, or
something like that. I am all Three Stooges. On acid. I mean,
would this have happened to you?
I measured a spot on the
back balcony for large piece of plywood, to ensure a bit more
privacy, and up the chances that I will never, ever have to see
my next door neighbor again. (An awful tale too LTSEWH to
relate, at least for now.)
I drove to
redoubtable, enduring Anawalt Lumber in West L.A., musing
over the fact that I used to work with a woman descendant of the
company, Sasha, who I believe was dance critic at the old L.A.
Herald-Examiner. One way or another, Anawalts seemed destined to
A nice fellow named Pedro
cut a piece to the desired size, and when I picked it up, I
realized I would have to immediately head home and do my lower
back exercises. It was no heavier than Michael Moore.
“Sorry! I didn’t realize
it would be this heavy. Don’t you have anything thinner?”
Pedro suggested I use
three-eighths of an inch instead of three-quarters, and I said
nothing about having first asked for the “thinnest” plywood he
had. So he cut another piece, which was easy to pick up, and
informed me that it was only $16, while the other piece had cost
Do you feel the spirit of
Laurel and Hardy?
“Oh. Okay, well, I’ll go
back to the office and get a refund, and come back with the
“Oh, but I can’t use the
other one now.”
Sigh. There was no way to
sell a piece of plywood that was already cut? Right. Far more
difficult, even, than enacting national health care reform.
Never mind that there was a bin full of odd-sized pieces for
sale right in front of me. But I know when I’m cut down to size.
“Right. Okay. . .Well,
let me just take this new piece, and call it even.”
“Okay. Call it even.”
I could think of a few
other things to have called it, including theft, but I rather liked Pedro. He
was, after all, a Real Man.
So I walked off with my
$25 $16 piece of plywood, and quickly found that no matter which
doors and windows I opened, and no matter how much I twisted and
grunted, the plywood did not go willingly inside a Toyota.
“Pedro,” I said. “Let me
come back tonight and pick it up with a different car, okay?”
So now we were up to
having lost nine bucks on the deal, and invested two trips to the
lumber place (so far.) When I got home, my wife kindly advised by phone
that the Toyota had a latch that would lower the back seat,
expanding room into the trunk. She
is, you see, a Real Man, and knows about these things. Hell, she
can even change a belt on a vacuum cleaner.
castrated, I went out to the car, and. . .no latch. Phoned her
back. Yes, she said, there is a latch, right on top of the back
set. Went back out. No latch. Went back in, refrained from
throwing phone through window when I informed her that there
no latch. Yes, there is, she said. Went back out. No latch.
Opened the trunk to see again if maybe there was a way to get
the plywood in there, if I just removed some items, and. .
.hey, a latch! In the trunk! Huh?
Why an engineer would put
a back seat release-latch inside the trunk is a matter best
understood by Real Men.
So, ever resilient, ever
determined, ever courageous, I drove back to Anawalt, back to
Pedro, and promptly turned into Stan Laurel again when. . .the
plywood still would not fit, even in the expanded trunk. (Undoubtedly,
the reader has already gleaned a solution that did not occur to
me.) Drove home, during which time I was only nearly hit by
people pulling away from curbs without looking or signaling
Ate lots of watermelon.
Watched Turner Classics. I’m very good at these things.
That night, I did
manage to pick up the plywood and bring it home, thanks to
my Real Man wife, who figured out that it would be easier to cut
it in half (!). (Scream here.) I felt much too
persecuted and world weary at that point to pursue things further, so I just went to bed and
dreamed of building elaborate houses, single-handedly, with
But I must digress, which
is redundant here, and explain another little absence of testicularity in my overall handimannishness. I had informed
Wife that I intended to make holes in the plywood, through which
I would string wire, by using hammer and nails.
“Uh, why don’t you just
buy a drill?” she said gently.
“Because I don’t
want to spend a hundred bucks!”
“But it would be so
“No. I don’t want to
spend a hundred bucks!”
hours after this scintillating, rational conversation, I had
managed to bang twelve *^&%$$!! holes in the plywood using three
sets of progressively larger nails, each one violently knocked
in, then violently pried out using more torque than is allowed
to the human back by federal law. And not an insignificant
amount of decorative verbiage involving many references to
vulgar things, people, and behavior.
And I was as drenched as
if I’d just run half a practice with the Lakers.
“Okay,” I said quietly.
“Let’s go to OSH and get a goddamned drill.”
She was nice enough to
Seventy bucks and an hour
later, we returned, drill in hand. But as far as I was
concerned, it might as well have been a mandrill. It needed to
be (fanfare) “charged up.” Two hours. That was it. No
more plywood patience for the day. Time for watermelon.
This LTSEWH really
should have chapters. If it did, I might call the next one,
“Unfit For Service,” Or "Real Men Don't Throw Fits."
The next morning I
managed to wire up the first piece of plywood with my non-Real
Man arms, and paint it beige. This gave me a degree of
satisfaction too embarrassing to describe here. Then I picked up
the second piece, put it into position, and found. . .
Can the reader imagine
what transpired? No, I was not laughed at by gardeners, and no one
sneezed in my face (see LTSEWH's above), and no spam e-mail from
“UNITED AGAINST RACISM” appeared, hovering in space before me.
Though that would have surprised me less.
Oh, I had measured
correctly---it’s just that the Real Man who measured the balcony
before he built this building had done everything on a mildly
Alice-In-Wonderland scale, as if he had just eyeballed instead
of tape-measured. The building is, in other words, subtly Geary-esque.
The front bathroom could have been angled by M.C. Escher. So. .
I needed to cut an inch
off of the piece. An inch? No sweat for a Real Man, who would
have enough tools to build or take apart a Ferrari. Me? I had a
screwdriver and a hammer.
“Why don’t you take it
back to Anawalt and have them cut it for you?” said my
outrageously pragmatic wife.
“No. I’ve made enough
trips there. I don’t want to see Pedro anymore.”
So I got a tree-trimming
saw from the garage, and managed to cut a half-inch into the
plywood without tearing a deep gash in my left forearm that
would promptly turn into lethal staph infection, gangrene, and
hell do they call it "ply" wood?
Undaunted, I thought
myself ingenious as I got the mandrill out and drilled about
thirty holes down the side, thinking I could then chisel a chunk
all off with a hammer and screwdriver.
Do you wonder why I
scored a “50” on a “mechanical reasoning” aptitude test in high
So I drove to OSH and
spent $20 on a good handsaw, returned, and managed to cut
exactly one more inch into the plywood without tearing a deep
gash in my left forearm that would promptly turn into lethal
staph infection, gangrene, and beriberi. Ply trees must be almost impossible to chop down.
I figured that going back
to Anawalt was easier than suicide, and certainly less stressful
on the body, so I made trip number four. Pedro wasn’t around,
but after explaining everything carefully to Lorenzo, somebody
else cut an inch off one of the pieces, and I was ready to rock
‘n’ roll, or waltz, or at least cha-cha. Back home to balcony, back home
to wire cutters and wire and paint and finally. . .
Two days, four trips, one
drill, one saw, one set of drill bits, undetermined gas,
unnecessary driving, $200.
LTSEWH # 5: CENTRAL
I went to hell the other
day. Oh, yes, I know, many of you believe I went to hell long
ago, and that’s fine. Enjoy! But Buddhists’ idea of hell is a
jail, and I got stuck in the jail that is Los Angeles. I was
thrown into a clink made of cars and ethnocentricity, and just
barely found a way out.
I had decided to take my
wonderful wife and two wonderful old friends downtown to the
wonderful C&K Greek Deli, at Pico and Normandie, which remains
wonderful despite prices that are no longer wonderful, and
portions that have been cut so much that you wonder why you
still pay your wonderful money for them. The answer: I’d still
rather sit in that happy place on a Sunday afternoon and read
the paper than anywhere else.
Never got there.
Noting the traffic
choking up ahead, about two blocks from the C&K, I turned down a
sidestreet and tried approaching from the rear.
Never got there, either.
Instead, I was shunted
to neighborhoods I did not want to visit, and streets I did
not intend to traverse, by a series of sawhorses and traffic
cops that sprung up like toadstools in dew. And to my right and
left, moving in the opposite direction, was a sight that I dread
more than Oprah with a knife and fork: hundreds of cars backed
up, stopped dead as Britney Spears’ brain.
Out came the question of
“What in the hell is
I should have just
stopped at “hell.” That’s what was going on.
Pico, to my right, was a
parking lot lined with strange blue and white balloons and
bunting. Streets to my left were equally coagulated with
incredulous, white-eyeballed drivers, as I headed further and further in
exactly the direction I did not want to go. This went on for
fifteen minutes of my life that I'd preferred to have spent any
of several trillion other ways. And then, as downtown’s
corporate atrocity skyline loomed ever nearer, I noted with
sudden horror that ahead of me, the main thoroughfare. . .
Was also blocked off!
I heard the voice of Moe
Howard in my head. Or was it Shemp?
“Trapped! Trapped like
Because I had a car
full of friends with gentle sensibilities, I had to refrain
from letting off steam in my usual lyrical fashion. This was as
easily accomplished as cold fusion. Which was a good metaphor
for what was going on in my insides. I turned left because it was
the only direction available, and when Wilshire eventually
appeared in the distance, like an illusory oasis. . .
Now I was scared.
This was a damn Twilight
Zone. L.A. was imploding on me. The city had come to life, and
decided that all my years of insult had been enough. It was
taking revenge. It was directing cars, and traffic cops, and
sawhorses, to close in on me and eventually crush me and my car
like a frat boy crushes a Bud can on his forehead. Sweating, I
did the only thing I could, which was to turn around and head
west on any available street---which in this case turned out to
be named James M. Woods.
Normally, I would have
mused, “Wonder who he was,” but now could only think that Rod
Serling had changed all the streets to strange names of obscure
people. Gone were Wilshire, 3rd, Melrose, Beverly. . .
Yet Woods proved rather
cooperative, and let me slip along at slow speed, block by
block, mile by mile, until, after about 20 more minutes, I could
see that Wilshire on the right was apparently moving again.
I felt like one of those
Obama fanatics. “Hope!” I shouted, at least in my head.
I continued in this
fashion, hands gripping the wheel till the blood fled my
knuckles, until I was permitted to somehow escape the tightening
motorized noose--- but not before hailing a traffic cop and
asking what in the gridlock was going on. Homicide
investigation? Suspect on the loose? Quinceanera?
“It’s Central American
Independence Day!” he shouted.
“Central America isn’t a
country,” said my wife.
“No, it isn’t,” I said.
“But it seems the central city of L.A. is now compelled to
celebrate it, anyhow."
"You know," said one of
my passengers, who is 83. "When I grew up in the Bronx,
there were Jewish neighborhoods, and Italian neighborhoods, and
Polish neighborhoods. . ."
"But," said her friend,
who came from similar era and location, "They all wanted to
assimilate into this country. That's not what is happening
I nodded, and hit the
gas. I wondered how far back it was to North America.
For more LTSEWH's,
watch this space. Or buy the book.