by RIP RENSE
notes from the terrace
So it’s another afternoon here at the Terrace, the
Green Tea Terrace---the calm little pistachio
and orange joint with studying students and wayward officeworkers on breaks
and Santa Monica Big Blue Buses flashing by. All stopping for a green
On my way in, Jude the
Toothless Guy at the Corner, the unofficial greeter of Westwood, hailed me
with this curious anointment:
“So I’ll introduce you to
a guy from Ohio. They’re doing a lot of good work back there.”
Gadzooks! Yet another
sign telling me to get out of L.A..
I’m sitting at a little
round orange table, sipping a very fine Ocha latte. In front of me are three
buzzing student girlies from Hong Kong (I presume, as they are buzzing in
Cantonese), eating the latest GTT confection: hot buttered toast with
chocolate drizzle, ice cream, and a dusting of powdered green tea known as
matcha. They gradually become daffy with sugar and caffeine.
Over their heads,
outside the Terrace door, I take note a man about 75, dressed entirely
in black. Corduroy pants, socks, shoes, long sleeve button-up dress
shirt---black. Topped off by a sporty, stingy-brim black fedora-like hat. (Okay,
it has a yellow
feather.) He sits on one of those street benches with armrests in the middle
to keep homeless people from sleeping on them, and his arms are folded
across a gut the size and shape of a woman’s in late pregnancy. He is
watching me curiously. I don’t blame him.
I’m typing away, trying
to look benign and pensive, listening to the Grateful Dead on headphones.
“Playing in the Band.” Some folks trust to reason/ Others trust to might/
I don’t trust in nothin’/ But I know it come out right.
Me, I no longer trust
that “it come out right.” In fact, I junked the “everything’s going to be
okay” credo long ago, perhaps shortly after a friend of mine was murdered
with a handgun. I mean, "everything's going to be okay" can get you
through the day, or the dentist’s office, but it’s piss-poor proof against
divorce, firing, death, AIDS, diabetes, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and Rupert Murdoch. “Everything’s going to be okay?” The biggest lie
Whoops. My headphone
Grateful Dead listening has been interrupted by the GTT sound system,
which is suddenly roaring out some punishingly rhythmic recitation of an ilk
that might very soon become illegal in post-Imus America. It’s a guy called
Beany Man, I am told by an employee, and Beany Man is repeating a phrase
involving “sugah” (sugar) and “niggah” (nigger) with great enthusiasm.
Quick, notify Les Moonves.
But back to everything
is going to be okay, which brings me straight to Virginia Tech, where
despite all the indecent, insane talk of “healing” and “President” Bush’s
banal, butt-stupid, trite crap about a “loving God” taking all the brutally
murdered kids to his bosom or something, everything is very not okay, and
not due to be okay anytime soon.
See, I was awakened the
night after the shooting---that’s last night, as I sit here---around 3 by a
dream that Bush had launched a nuke or two in the name of Jesus, and
somebody had retaliated with one that had somehow taken out Tucson, with
L.A. due to go any minute. I was shouting about throwing the cats and the
computer in the car when I regained what may charitably be called
“consciousness,” and turned on the TV in search of relief. . .
It was all Virginia
Tech, all the time, of course---well, that is, except for infomercials
for Jack La Lanne’s Juice Bastard, or whatever it’s called, and how to get
rich by buying up homes people lost to banks, and of course, “Girls Gone
Wild.” I hadn’t watched any of the coverage of Virginia Tech Gone Wild
during the day. I didn’t have the stomach for seeing all the networks
packaging the deaths of 32 college kids and a professor into a nice little
melodrama. Complete with graphics, music, and cinematic titles. Massacre
on Campus, starring Katie Couric.
I was absolutely
astonished, though. Not by the dumbass newsmannequins who were already
shifting from their “shocked and saddened” voices into talk of “healing.”
Not by the anchormannequins who commented with grotesque understatement, "A
very sad day.” Not even by the fact that some pinhead killed 32 people, then
himself---hell, that’s practically a modern tradition in the United States
of Amerryguns. No, I was astonished at the comments of the kids on that
campus. Their words were not the language of trauma. Their eyes were. .
“Well, their pain has
ended,” said one little girl, casually, “but we’re going to have to live
with this pain forever.”
Eh? Where did she read
that? And um. . .I think it's a bit more "painful" to have your life ended
by a maniac than have to emotionally cope with surviving. Call me
mean, but I'm fresh out of sympathy here.
A young man:
“A couple of my friends
lost their lives. Then I heard that my professor didn’t make it.”
Lost their lives?
Didn’t make it? Huh? Wait a second, this wasn’t a flu epidemic. This
was killing. You know, hearts stop beating? Brains shut down? Pupils dilate,
bladder and bowels release? These kids didn’t lose their lives. Their
lives were stolen. Bullets ripped into skulls and took out big chunks of
brains, and beauty and aspiration. No, guess that prof didn’t exactly “make
it.” Here he thought he was going to do a little imparting of knowledge, but
golly gosh, wouldn’t you know it? He was interrupted by someone with a 9
Hate when that happens.
Another girl spoke
wistfully of a much-loved student known as “Stack,” saying that she had just
come from a memorial service for him, where people talked about how loud he
was---“but not in a negative way,” she quickly added. She wasn’t far from
Umm. . .memorial
service? Er. . .How many hours had passed since Stack had been executed
while protecting a girl student in the dorm where he was resident advisor?
Six or seven? Eight? I don’t know about you, but I’d still be ever so
slightly. . .catatonic. . .at that point. Yet this kid was speaking
sweetly into the camera, as if old Stack had nodded off in his rocker.
Okay, memorial service over, now I’ve got to study for finals. . .
Better, I think, that
these kids sound like Beany Man, who is now chanting unintelligibly, angrily,
madly, like a monk on speed, against a nuked-up drum track and a
sampled chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”
We shall overcome?
Not as long as young people are leeched of all sane emotion by a popular
culture that trains them to accept violent death complacently, we won’t.
What is going on with these kids? I’ll tell you what: they have been raised
with extreme violence, torture, cruelty, and death. And that’s just Saturday
morning cartoons. Not one of the interviewees I saw on ABC at 3 a.m. used
the words, “killed,” “murdered,” “shot to death.” It was all “lost their
lives,” and “passed.”
Passed! Yeah, a Glock-propelled
bullet will sure make you. . .pass.
Look, it’s obvious that
these young adults, and perhaps most Americans, accept this sort of
“passing” as natural as a stroke at 90. And no wonder, given Gulf War I and
Oklahoma City and 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib and Lebanon
and X-Boxes. But the acceptance of it makes my knees knock, anyway. As did
the statement hours after the shootings by some jerkwater White House
“official” about how “people should obey gun laws.”
Sure, and they shouldn’t
jaywalk or spit on the sidewalk.
I look again out the
window of the Green Tea Terrace, where Crossfires and Escalades and VW bugs and Mustangs
zip by, piloted by glamorously attired people who are, as America’s
spiritual leader, Dr. Phil, counsels, “starring in your own movie!” And
students stroll past, clad in hundreds of dollars' worth of designer
clothing, smoking cigarettes, laughing, jeans painted on, cleavage
I suddenly notice that
the Man in Black on the bench outside is gone. Maybe, I think, he was in
mourning. Maybe, I think, we should all wear black now. All the time.
WE GET E-MAIL:
Thanks for another great piece about our
wonderfully brain-dead society.it
really hits home the way you so aptly describe your observations of our
collective decline. I really enjoy your refreshingly intelligent web
well as your brother Jeff's. As a 50-something who grew up in the LA
(the last 20 years in north San Diego County), like you, I 've seen so
things turn absolutely and irrepairably rotten that *I thought* would be
getting progressively better as we aged and our so-called "baby-boomer"
generation would change things for the better. How wrong I was! Somehow
we've forgotten ALL of the lessons we learned from the '60s on, and
the worst elements of our culture take over. It's amazing how our kids
my three, thankfully) have become self-absorbed zombies completely
normal human behaviors, as they have become a sad byproduct of our
and insane bottom-line-driven society. Sure, there are good people out
there, the people I have surrounded myself with in addition to my
family for instance, but you know what I mean. Where in the fuck are we
going to end up in 20 more years? It seems to me that our culture has a
history of cycling back and forth between moments of lucidity and years
years of sheer idiocy. Just when we see light at the end of the tunnel,
dirty, stinking diesel frieght train comes roaring out! I even opted to
change my career path from company management back to working "in the
trenches" on night shift so I don't have to deal with the daily drama
witness to the tap dancing of greed-driven liars and self-promoting
back-stabbing buffoons. What a great country! Like the old joke saying:
karma ran over our dogma.we deserve the bed we've made for ourselves.
And to quote our beloved Grateful Dead (I was very happy to see that you
appreciate the Dead's music and Garcia/Hunter and Weir/Barlow's
"I'm not always right, but I've never been wrong.It never turns out the
it does in the song". How true of the last six years people like us have
been correctly trying to convince people how bad the Bush "people" are
the end of this current "song" may not be very nice at all.
Keep up the good work!
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