by RIP RENSE
(March 15, 2006)
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 have been included whenever possible to ensure fullest
LTSEWH # 1: ALL YOU
NEED IS. . .
These are hard, mean, Ann
Coulter days. These are “get over it” days, and “I got mine” days, and days
of eating pig uteruses for money on television. These are days of “whatever
the market will bear” and $100 million steroid-jazzed baseball players and government
agencies standing by while people drown and starve in their homes. These are
days of bankrupting budgets for war, and cutting money for education, and
calling social security "commie." These
are days of pop music that sounds like buzzsaws and shrieking, or buzzsaws
and crying, and children “rapping” about rape, degradation and murder.
So it should not have
surprised me to see him. But it did. One of the things that makes these times
bearable is that they never fail to surprise and entertain.
I noticed him because of
a cell phone, or rather, his voice spoken into one. He was dead center in a
small restaurant, and dead uncaring about the fact that he was blurting his
important business conversation as if he were alone in his living room.
As is my usual
procedure, I turned to take a look---not to glare, or give him the
slight frown and head-shake, as that never works, and occasionally puts your
life in danger. I just wanted to inspect. I wanted to discover what manner
of overbearing, oblivious creature this might be. What permutation of
specimen of cellphonus horribilis was sharing space with me.
He had very hairy arms,
and a very hairy neck, a two-day-old beard growth (perhaps grown in one day)
and a kind of orangutan build. (No slight intended to the “man of the
jungle.”) His hair was black, receding, and his eyes were big, alert, and
trained to radiate belligerence, disdain. He sat with what either was his
daughter or his hot young chickie, I couldn’t tell.
But the coup de grace,
the punchline, the capper, the fortune inside the cookie, the payoff, the
man behind the curtain, the jack in the box, the sensational poetic touch
that made this teency moment worth reporting here. . .
Was his T-shirt.
“Love,” it said in big
black letters, “is for losers.”
LTSEWH # 2: SHRIVER
Maria I just met a
girl named Maria/And suddenly that name/ Will never be the same/ To me
Maria. . .
It wasn’t the most
romantic encounter, I’ll grant, but it was memorable. Having the First Lady
of California frozen in your headlights is an unusual experience, after all.
Not that she was in any danger, understand, despite my disapproval of her
There I was. . .
around 7 p.m., in Brentwood. Doing perhaps fifteen miles per hour, owing
to an approaching stop sign and pedestrian traffic. And there she was (cue
the music again)---Maria! Jaywalking right in front of me with her
(apparent) daughter, headed for a nearby dance class.
I should have made a
But then, Maria, the
most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria, made eye contact with me, and
either guessed what I was thinking or noticed that I had recognized her.
Yes, I had that raised-eyebrow “look, it’s a celebrity” doofus stare.
She thought better of crossing in front of me. Perhaps she had read some of
the columns I’ve written about Mister Maria.
And here I was about to
motion for her to go right ahead. I was ready with the I’m-harmless smile
and the “please cross” hand gesture. But it was all over almost as quickly
as it had begun.
Maria, I just passed a
girl named Maria. . .
LTSEWH # 3: SPACED OUT
If I am sentenced to
eternity in hell, as many of my “Christian” readers have suggested, I know
what it will look like.
It will be about five
stories tall, constructed entirely out of cement and steel, and reek of
urine. It will be filled with car exhaust at all times, and a line of
vehicles barely moving as they travel from one level to the next in search
of a parking space. . .
That does not exist.
And there will be no way
I had a little taste of
hell in Santa Monica, which, given the price of housing there, is perhaps
not an unusual experience. There I was. . .
Behind a young woman in a
Volvo. A mid-80’s Volvo, which, like most post-1980 cars, still registers as
“new” in my high-mileage brain. I would say she was driving, but that is
like saying that George W. Bush is speaking. Sounds come out, and are
perceptible as a kind of language, but the similarity ends there.
Volvo Woman was on
full parking space alert. If you have ever driven with women looking for
a parking space, you know exactly what this means. To the female psyche, a
parking space---let alone a “good” parking space---is a matter of
considerable excitement, often causing all sorts of bizarre and illegal
traffic transgressions in order to secure it. The phenomenon extends to
women as passengers, too, as they are particularly good at barking “there’s
a space” immediately after all available legal means of reaching
said space have elapsed.
Anyhow, Volvo Woman was
on a kind of alert I have not seen before. So intent, so keen, so determined
was she to find the first available space that she crept along at no faster
than a person walks. A person on crutches. Her head wobbled left and right
regularly, like a radar scanner. She seemed to live in stark fear of
slipping past an available slot, and having to (gasp) stop and back up.
Yet the only way she
might have missed an empty space at that speed was if a dimensional space
warp opened and transported her car to Arcturus.
I hung back politely for
the first level, or maybe the first two levels. But as it became apparent
that this structure was probably filled entirely to the top, and that I was
likely doomed to cover all its mysterious levels at an ant-crawl---then
reverse my path at the same (lack of ) speed simply in order to escape, I’d
I tapped the horn.
So I became a wee bit
“ARE YOU RETARDED?” I
inquired, my head hanging out the window, my hand slamming the horn.
Volvo Woman looked in
her rear-view mirror in amazement, shook her head, then continued what
might charitably described as “moving.” I peered carefully behind her car,
to see if there might be a slime trail. Time-lapse photography would have
revealed great forward progress.
I took the head shake not to
mean “no, I’m not retarded,” but rather disgust at my outburst. What could I
do? In hell, there is no recourse. So I crept along, level after level (why
are they called “levels” when they are not level?) praying that Volvo Woman
might contentedly park.
It occurred to me that I
was privileged, really. After all, most human beings in all of history have
never even had a chance to see an automobile, let alone drive one inside of
a structure of concrete and steel. I was having a very modern, highly
sophisticated experience involving complex technology. It had taken millions
of years of evolution to grow the intelligence required to create my
particular situation at that moment. 21st Century Man, I was!
Yet this was insufficient
balm, and I finally just leaned on the horn and more or less forced my way
around her, zipped up to the roof no faster than Bill Clinton zips his fly,
and headed back down. On the way out, I saw Woman pulling slowly into a
just-vacated space---what a glorious moment for her!---and on about the
second level, I stumbled across quite an array of more available slots.
“Aren’t you going to
park?” asked my female superior.
“Not a chance. I’d rather
find a space on the street miles away, and if that’s impossible, I’d rather
just go home.”
And therein lies the
difference between men and women.
LTSEWH # 4: CHARITABLE
Try and do something nice. . .
I regularly donate nice
clothes and used appliances to the National Council of Jewish Thrift Women,
or the National Jewish Women of Thrift Council, or something like that. I
understand that they do a lot of great work, plus they give me a decent
write-off. Over the years, I’ve donated thousands of bucks worth of stuff.
But I’m through with ‘em!
Every last National Thrift one of them.
“You haff to do it ZEES
This was the sentence
sternly spoken to me by the plump older woman handling incoming donations. I had
brought two bags of clothes containing some nice shirts, carefully folded,
and two fine corduroy jackets. Parting with them had been sentimentally
difficult, but I was in the mood to clean closets, and I comforted myself
with the realization that this place would put them to good service.
I had filled out the
form with my name and address as I have done for the past ten
years---with the unit number on one line, and “Los Angeles, California” and
the zip on the line below that.
“Sir! You can’t write
like thees! You haff done it WRONG. You haff to do it ZEES vay!”
She crossed out my
clearly printed “Los Angeles, Calif.” and the zip, and wrote on the line
above, “L.A. CA” and the zip. Except that her writing was so screwy that it
looked like scat-singing.
Look, had she said so
much as “Good morning,” it might have averted the impending disaster. But
no. No “good morning,” no “how are you, sir?” and no “thank you for you
donation.” And certainly not a “Sir, if you could please fill out the form
with the city on line two, that would be helpful.” Just a quasi-shouted
order, actually scolding me for the way I had filled out the form. I
tried to allow for the fact that she was perhaps from a less friendly
country, although that was hard to imagine, here in Limbaugh Land.
“Look, ma’am, I'm sorry,
but I’ll never
remember your instructions. I only donate every few months. So there’s no
point in telling me, okay?”
“No! You HAFF to do it
(Cue Peter Pan on
the Disneyland ride: “Okay, everybody, herrrre weeee GO!”)
“Look, just don’t mess
with me, okay? I’m bringing you nice clothes. Don’t give me a goddamn
lecture on how to fill out the form. I’ve been filling out the form this way
for ten years. I will not remember your instructions.”
“Sir! Sir! You HAFF--- “
That was it. I took
the opportunity to attempt to confirm the stereotype of The Ugly
American, and I must say I succeeded spectacularly. It’s easy, really. You
just liberally invoke the most beloved and descriptive of all words in the
“Look! Don’t f--- with
me! I’m bringing you f---ing clothes! You don’t even f---ing thank me! You
just f--- with me! Why are you doing this? Are you insane? Or are you
normally just a stupid rude f---ing ass----?”
Her eyes bulged, and then
narrowed. I could read the busy little you-haff-to-do-it brain.
Ah, he is one of these Ugly Americans!
I threw in a couple of “f--- you’s” for good measure, and went on my f---ing
way. As I drove off, she came outside and said something to me, and my guess
is that it was not “Haff a nice day.”
Which left me wondering:
who had the lesser TSEWH?
LTSEWH # 5: STAIR-OUT
Attention, Pentagon: if
you are short on troops to manage Iraq, you might want to check out the army
of ushers at Disney Hall. They don’t seem to have much to do, and there sure
are a lot of them. They’re all young, impressionable, healthy, too---and
what’s more, they are tough and do not question orders. I can attest to it.
There I was. . .
Trying to take in the
pre-concert lecture before a recent L.A. Philharmonic performance. It was
Sunday, it was breezy, and I had been in a nice Sunday breezy mood. Stand
around, listen to the nice lecture, then head inside and listen to some nice
Except there was nowhere
to stand, let alone sit. I had crowded into the access-way leading to the
lecture area, and was actually helping to block the path. I took note of a
couple of Disney Imperial Guards taking note of me. Figuring I should help
keep access clear for safety reasons, I sought an alternative.
Yes, there was a
great, sweeping staircase leading up into some undefinable area of Frank
Gehry’s stupid building, and there was not a single human-type-person on it.
Well, except for one: an elderly gent who was about three steps up, leaning
on a wall, watching the lecture beyond it.
Great vantage point,
thought I! Great way to get out of the way, thought I!
So I joined the elderly
fellow, who promptly left the scene (my breath?). I leaned on the wall
and began taking in the lecture.
For about five seconds.
She appeared in the
corner of my eye. An Imperial Guardswoman. A Gehry Ghurka. She was looking
at me with great seriousness in her approximately-20-year-old eyeballs, motioning me
to come to her. I had stirrings of memories of teachers calling me off the
playground at recess. . .
She said something I
“Sir, you can’t stand on
Of course, she was quite
wrong. I was living proof that I could stand on the stairs. I could have
even walked right up them, if I had so chosen. I could have sat on them,
tap-danced on them (if I took some lessons), rolled down them naked, crawled
on them, writhed on them, stood and declaimed on them. . .
“Because we have to keep
the stairs clear.”
Folks, I was burned
out from my encounter with the National Council of You Haff To Do It
Zees Way Woman. I didn’t want any more trouble. I simply turned and gestured
incredulously at the. . .
Empty staircase. Wide and
lonesome as the lone prairie. At least twenty feet across. There wasn’t so
much as an endangered species on the goddamn thing. Of course, the poor
child had her orders, and who was I to disobey?
As I stepped off, she
said the magic words:
Not as sorry as I was.
LTSEWH # 6: TRUCK YOU
Several days each week, I
walk a couple of miles into Westwood, which necessitates crossing four
dangerous freeway on-and-offramps. I sometimes stand on the curb, watching ten,
fifteen, 30 cars refuse to stop for the pedestrian. That pedestrian
being me. Just for sport, I sometimes smile and give them all the raised
third finger. Some drivers laugh, some return my hearty salute.
The other night it was
wet and slick with rain. I was to cross two lanes. I waited until all
traffic cleared completely, and there were no oncoming vehicles insight. I
stepped off the curb.
Just as soon as I did
this, a small red truck appeared in the distance, as if it had materialized
out of the ethers. Well, I reasoned, it’s far away and I can get across
without a problem. Yet as I walked, the mysterious truck neared with amazing
speed---enough so that by the time I was half-way across, it was within
How, I wondered, had it
covered ground so quickly? Where had it come from? Did Satan drive?
Now, nine out of ten
people would have kept walking, assuming the obvious: that the driver
had seen them, as there was plenty of light, and pedestrians have the right
of way in California (plus I was wearing light colored clothes.) But I
And sure enough, the
driver blasted right by, five feet in front of me, doing about 40, never
having even slightly slowed down.
Now, I sometimes get
angry, and other times I “make a statement” in order to alert someone so they
might be more careful. Seriously. I figured that if I yelled at this guy, it
might save someone’s life later in the evening. So as he passed, I leaned
forward and hollered in his partly opened window a rather indelicate
message, the nature of which I will leave to the reader to glean.
You guessed it.
Red truck, though well
into the on-ramp, slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt. And proceeded
to back down the on-ramp toward Wilshire Boulevard, and me.
Yessirree, he was going
to teach me a lesson!
How dare I attempt to
cross a street in front of him, when he had important things on his mind,
and important places to go.
Because I know many
American citizens to carry guns, and to have difficulty with reading and
writing and reasoning, I moved quickly on, and red truck reversed direction
and went on his way.
Guess he showed me!
For more LTSEWH's,
watch this space.
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