by RIP RENSE
LTSEWH. . .
Call them Less than Satisfying Encounters With
Humanity, or LTSEWH, for short. A chronicle of the decay of civility, sanity, and
synapses in this, the 21st Century. All business names have been included when possible to
ensure fullest humiliation.
LTSEWH # 1: Towering idiocy
I was in Tower Records---why, I'm not certain,
given that 99 percent of the stock is aimed at 12-year-olds with piercings and tattoos. Or
adults who would like to be twelve-year-olds with piercings and tattoos. But I have an
old, sentimental attachment to Tower, and I feel sorry for its stores being destroyed by
Internet downloading. Anyway. . .
My better half---my far, far superior half,
that is---had purchased an old Country Joe and the Fish album to replace one I had
recently given away. (Damn good, too---"Electric Music For the Mind and Body.")
A "clerk" behind the counter
presently emerged from some sort of protracted mental preoccupation--- perhaps trying to
remember why he was in Tower Records, too---finally noticing us.
"Helb the nexxpurson," he
recited, with the scintillation of a directory assistance operator.
We nexxpursons stepped forward. Clerk
was somewhere between 18 and 25, with a pubescent fuzz-growth on the chin and a large
silver ring impaling the lower lip. His hair had been combed, perhaps, once or twice back
before the century changed.
Lip Ring and Cheetah looked as if they were hallucinating. Cheetah betrayed just
a hint of a smile, but it disappeared quickly as thoughts of "does he have a
gun?" likely entered her poor head.
He spoke not a word, did
processing the CD and some cassettes blanker than his eyeballs. Then he announced
the desired sum, and my superior half handed over a credit card.
"Seeyur I.D.," said Clerk.
Said I.D. was duly proferred. Clerk's greasy
hand snatched it up, and he bent forward, squinting at the details like he was looking for
someone on "America's Most Wanted."
Then he. . .tossed. . .the
I.D. and credit card
back at my superior half. Tossed, ladies and gentlemen.
"Wannabag," he droned. We
politely declined, and my superior half said "thank you," to which Clerk said. .
.nothing at all.
I confess to temporarily losing all grip on
reality at this point, tenuous as it is. I can't help it---I'm getting old, and I was
raised in a quaint time when businesses were polite, and clerks thanked customers. Plus,
well, I just don't like it when my superior half is treated rudely, especially by
a sullen, pop culture-poisoned child. I had a brief fantasy of grabbing hold of Clerk's
lip-ring, yanking him down to counter level, Clint Eastwood-like, and saying "Do you
feel lucky, punk?", but instead settled for a speech.
"Please!" I said. "Please!"
That's correct, I stood grandly
and addressed Clerk---and second Female Clerk, who looked slightly more sentient than
Clerk, which would put her squarely in the realm of lesser apes. Several startled
customers stared. I smiled and gestured broadly, my tones Stentorian, as the cliché goes.
"Please! Please. . .and. . .thank
you! Please. . .and thank you! Always remember! Please. . .and thank you!
This is called. . .courtesy!"
I showed everyone my teeth, so as to prove my
Lip Ring and Cheetah looked as
if they were hallucinating. Cheetah betrayed just a hint of a smile, but it disappeared
quickly as thoughts of "does he have a gun?" likely entered her poor head.
"And please, never---never---toss
a credit card back to a customer! It really isn't nice!"
At this point, patient readers, the Tower Records
manager appeared, and---owing to the vast education that has landed him this lofty
position in society---spoke an actual sentence:
"Yeah, but hey, what about that wrist
action?" he said, and shot me a look that I would describe as other than
Oh, the wit of it! Oh, the parry
of it! Oh, he had cut me to the quick! Yes, he had valiantly defended his noble, dignified
employees in the face of grotesque insult emanating from a cranky old bastard who couldn't
even claim a single piercing or tattoo! And who had just purchased a (gasp) Country
Joe and the Fish album!
I have this amazing knack for conveying thought
without speaking. It's interesting---I do this quite unintentionally most of the time. I'm
a terrible poker player, for example. But in this case, I quite deliberately told Manager
that I thought he would have a bright future in this world, if this world was run entirely
by gerbils---and, well, I did this entirely with my face! The trick is in revealing every
possible tooth in your mouth, crinkling up your eyes, and holding this pose for several
prolonged seconds, jackass-like.
Manager's response was as I
had planned. At first, he thought I might have been amused by his deft comic mind, but
then he cannily suspected the possibility of sarcasm---and at last, yes, concluded that
sarcasm and contempt were very, very much at hand. He glared. I walked out.
Guess I'll buy from Amazon.com from now on.
LTSEWH # 2: Getting the Kinko's Out
It was foolish of me, of course---pure folly.
Why on earth would I expect efficiency from Kinko's? I mean, just look at the name of the
place! Why would I expect to do something simply and quickly, pay and leave? Any idiot
knows that Kinko's just doesn't work this way. It's full of kinks! One must visit many
different clerks for many different purposes, and wait mysterious amounts of time to
accomplish, say, ordering a business card.
Or, in my case, a T-shirt.
I had this stupid idea, you see,
that when I would later try to trick people into buying my novel at the Times Festival of
Books---no more dubious an undertaking than, say, catching fish with my teeth---I would
wear a funny T-shirt! It would say, "NON-CELEBRITY AUTHOR." People would be so thrilled
by my joke that they would abandon long lines to purchase books by Jackie Collins, Elmore
Leonard, and Arianna Huffington, and clamor instead for my magnificent novel, The Last Byline.
"Do you still do T-shirts here?" I
asked a young fellow who I guess hailed from, oh, Micronesia.
"Yes, we do," he said happily.
"Great!" I said. "I just
need one shirt with two words in big block letters on the front. Can you do
"Yes, we can. What are the words?"
I wrote them down.
This was far too good to be
true, and I knew it. Still, I asked the price---which required that Micronesia consult
with someone else, which he did, and promptly returned with the information:
"Fifteen dollars. Twenty-five if it's
front and back."
"Great!" I said. "Let's do
"Oh, it would be cheaper if you set the
"Uhh. . .that's fine. Where do I do
"Out there," he said, and pointed
vaguely into the Kinko's universe, a black hole of strange machines and people
staring at them with hollow, hopeless eyes.
"Uhh. . .where. . .out there?"
"You'll have to ask for help at
Imagining all those people bailing out of
Jackie Collins' line and heading straight for "NON- CELEBRITY AUTHOR," I
obeyed, and walked over to "Customer Service." Where there were neither
customers nor service. I stood, waiting brightly, scanning the room for Kinkoperson.
Nobody. Just a translucently pale, lanky blonde woman with black tattoos crawling out of
her jeans and up her abdomen, and a look in her eye that challenged the prospect of
measurable brain waves. Did I smell embalming fluid?
Oh, but wait---someone was helping
Blondie! Ah, that must be Kinkoperson, I thought, and resolved to wait further. Which I
did. And then I waited further. In between waiting further, I waited further. Blondie and
Kinkoperson silently stood over a copy machine, both seemingly in its evil spell.
Ten minutes elapsed. Kinkoperson, a chunky
young woman who possibly hailed from Borneo, or Antarctica, or Santa Monica, never so much
as winked at me or waved, let alone chirped a reassuring "I'll be with you in a
I returned to Micronesia.
"Hi," I smiled. "What do you
suppose are the odds of a human being coming to my assistance out here?"
I repeated the question, prompting this
"The odds," he smiled back, "are
probably pretty good."
"Mm-hm! Good! How soon might said human
I briefly considered grunting and scratching what is left of my
testicles, as a possibly more effective means of communicating. . .
At that point there was a most
exciting development: Blondie and Borneo had moved over to the "Customer
Service" counter and were. . .transacting business! Yes! Exchanging money! Their
mysterious task had ended! I sauntered within range, and as Blondie picked up her package
and headed home to her crypt, I waited for Borneo to speak those glorious words, "May
I help you, sir?"
Borneo glanced at me, more or less the way a
deathly bored caged animal glances at a human staring in through the bars. It seemed she
hadn't the vaguest clue as to what the relationship might be between my presence, the
"Customer Service" counter, and her job.
Just then a rabbit-eyed little female of
perhaps 20 appeared next to me, never inquiring as to what I was doing there, and enlisted
Borneo's ready help in faxing.
"Um, pardon me," I
interrupted, smiling, "I believe I was here before you. I've been hanging
around for about ten minutes, if you wouldn' t mind."
Ladies, and gentlemen, as sure as my moustache
is nearly white, rabbit-eyed woman said, and I quote:
"I have to fax something."
Sigh. Sigh again. More sigh.
At this moment, Borneo finally realized that I
was not a decorative manifestation of molecules and oxygen.
"Are you waiting for a confirmation?"
Ah, this was an interesting question!
Yes, in a way, I suppose I was. I was waiting for confirmation of my very existence, there
in Kinko's, but I dared not say this, for fear of her summoning the proper authorities to
deal with a maniac. I then realized she had assumed I was using the fax machine.
"No," I said. "I need to get a
T-shirt made, and I was sent here to set the type for it."
Her eyes bugged out.
"A T-shirt! We don't do T-shirts
I briefly considered grunting and
scratching what is left of my testicles, as a possibly more effective means of
communicating, but I worried that this might be deemed anti-social. Or perhaps seductive.
"The gentleman behind the counter said
that you do, and he sent me here to get the type set."
"Oh, you have to go over there," she
said, and pointed. . .back to the guy behind the counter!
"No, no---I just came from there,
you see. He sent me to you."
"A T-shirt?" she said again.
I know when I'm licked. I know
when the human race has crapped out. I know when all semblance of efficiency and courtesy
in the world have gone the way of real sugar in Coca-Cola. I know when civilization is
imploding right before my eyes.
"Never mind," I declaimed grandly.
"It's okay! Not to worry! I'll leave. Let's just forget it, okay? Obviously, the
right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing here! This is an old expression,
incidentally, meant to convey the impression of general confusion and inefficiency, and
this is just what I expect from Kinko's. So. . .thank you anyway, and have a good
(And yes, at the Festival of
Books, everyone lined up for Jackie Collins and Elmore Leonard.)
For more LTESEWH's, watch this space.
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