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          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH for um, short. Names have been included when possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
          There I was. . .
          Walking through the parking lot of Whole Foods in Mar Vista (it’s technically Westdale, but no one know this anymore), where the rich and revolting shop. Me being part of the “revolting” crowd.
          There was a huge jam-up, as there often is, while all the young greedbarons and elderly indolent tried to fit their Lexuses and Priuses into not-enough-spaces---all in quest of the magnificently overpriced “organic” and “natural” fare that might keep them forever young.
          I picked my way delicately through a three-way juggernaut at a T-intersection aisle, much as a cat steps daintily across a wet lawn. I made eye contact with a driver on my right, so that he might realize that, although I might not be a pleasing sight, running me over would result in deprivation of his freedom.
          I proceeded to my parked car. Suddenly. . .
          A beautifully preserved Mercedes sports coupe, circa late ‘70’s, gunned its engine and roared around the right side of the car on my right. I would have thought that not even a ferret could have slithered through that gap, but this lovely auto did just that. I stopped abruptly in order to avoid becoming roadkill. It seems that the driver had become impatient, and had thrown caution---and pedestrian safety---to the Santa Ana winds.
          I confess that this upset me a bit.
          “Slow DOWN!” I yelled into the opened driver’s side window at the vehicle’s lone occupant, a grimacing elderly woman.Her response:
          A snarling employment of the word, “you,” and its most popular antecedent, American’s favorite four-letter word.
           What could I do but return her hearty greeting?
           You expect sneezes. You expect undisguised bronchial explosions during the pianissimo passage of Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto. You expect entire atmospheres of perfume, and occasionally less olfactorily inviting emanations. You expect programs to be rustled, and purses to fall, and the occasional “music lover” unable to restrain himself/herself from humming along with a principal theme. You expect whispering, and even the occasional mutterer. You expect, God help us, cell phones.
          But you do not expect a four-act dramatic presentation in the seat beside you.
          She was young, she was glammed up, she was primed for emotional fulfillment. She was Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra General Manager Deborah Borda’s marketing dream. She was there, to paraphrase the orchestra’s asinine slogan, to “Phil her world with living music.”
          As opposed to, one must assume, dead music.
          Zubin Mehta, the orchestra’s music director of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, had returned to conduct Bruckner’s 8th symphony. For those readers who do are not familiar with the music of Anton Bruckner, suffice it to say that this is not very hummable, easily accessed stuff. It is somewhat esoteric fare, long on bombast and short on singalong. It is no more repetitious than George W. Bush.
          No matter. Girly, all coiffed and deodorized and decked out in decolotage-displaying duds, was primed for performance. They could have played Varese and she would have vavoomed. And it was quite a show, really, so compelling that it actually upstaged Zubin and Bruckner, at least for me.
          She leaned forward. She clutched her hands together, as if in prayer. She leaned back. She rocked from side to side. She moaned. She rocked forward and backward. She undulated in a kind of circular motion. She rolled her head back on her shoulders. She squeaked. She gasped. She sang. She clasped her hands together, mouth agape. She grabbed her boyfriend’s arm with both of her hands and kneaded.
          This was in the first five minutes.
          And speaking of boyfriend, well, he did a lot of speaking. He was essentially a dressed-up bag of testosterone who was putting in his time before getting his late-night reward. Paying his dues in highbrowland before getting down and dirty with Girly. He was swarthy, he was hairy, he had the requisite three-day-old beard growth to proclaim his testosteronicity to the world. And he kept talking. I mean he blurted, as if he were at home in his living room. Things like “What’s that instrument?”
           Right, maybe he had taken Borda’s smarmy characterization of Dizzy Hell---er, Disney Hall---as “L.A.’s Living Room” a little too much to heart. I mean, the poor guy was probably wondering where the peanuts and beer were.
          After about ten minutes of the Girly and Boyfriend Show had Philled my world with living idiocy, I made the mistake of shooting a quick look at Beard Boy, putting my finger to my lips, and smiling. Whoops. Let’s just say that I might as well have told Osama Bin-Laden that I had just fornicated with all his wives. I got the wild eye, all-whites-around-the-irises---the look that said, “Uh! Uh! I kill you!”
          O-kayyyyyy. . .
          So I sat back and took in the show. The one next to me.At least Beard Boy resumed his commentary sotto voce, although Girly seemed to compensate with increased histrionics. Yes, you guessed it, she began to. . .conduct. Mm-hm, her hands would occasionally whip out and perform a little air-figure. Not as interesting as Zubin, but it caught my attention.
          I have to congratulate her. That symphony is about 90 minutes long, and stretches of it bore me into panicked daydreaming. It does have some very winning moments, notably the remarkable adagio (precursor of Mahler slow movements), and some stunning fortissimos that showcased the boffo L.A. Phil brass section, but it is not an easy work to apprehend.
          Girly stuck with it. I could sense that her stamina was lagging here and there, and that she might have had the occasional doubt about Philling her world with this particular living music, but every time the orchestra increased volume a little, or a timpani was hammered, she revived. What a trouper! If she did not actually experience full-blown, crashing orgasms during the piece, she sure fooled me.
          And perhaps later, her boyfriend.
          LTSEWH # 3: EXHAUSTION
          Driving in L.A. descends daily to greater depths of depravity, brutishness, savagery, insanity. Other than that, it’s okay.
          I was cruising up Bundy Drive around 10:30 at night in moderate traffic. I was, of course, at the wheel of my old, beat-up Ratmobile, which elicits both overt and subconscious condemnation by those riding in grander vehicles.
          In other words, no matter my speed, I am constantly passed and cut off. It’s tribal.
          On this night, I noticed a brand new Jaguar (I believe that is pronounced Jehg-yoo-are) about two car lengths behind, manned by a woman. I noticed this because she kept speeding up to my bumper, then backing off two or three car lengths, then speeding up. I figured the driver had ingested no more than two vodka martinis.
          Now, please bear with some mundane setting here. It’s worth it. Bundy narrows to one lane at night, because the right lane fills with parked cars. This happens at a particular point, and without fail, every time the narrowing occurs, drivers get into all sorts of unnecessary snits.    Inevitably, someone speeds up at the last second and tries to cut in front of someone else, or several cars stop in order to avoid hitting the parked vehicles, and remain stuck there while dozens of cars pass by, refusing to allow merging.
          You get the stupid picture.
          Jehg-yoo-are was of the cut-at-the-last-second ilk. I saw it coming. The thing is, I would have taken the path of least resistance and slowed to let Dumbass in, had she managed to try while there was still room. But she had waited until the merger point had entirely passed. What’s more, she waited until there was no room in front of me to allow a car to merge.
          That’s correct, she was driving where there was no lane, between me and parked cars, trying to force me into oncoming traffic. She was asserting her vehicular superiority over the Ratmobile. If her car could speak, it would have said, “out of my way, serf" with an upper-class twit British accent.
          I had three choices: 1) Risk a head-on collision, 2) Drive her into parked cars and hope that she experience a painless death, 3) Stop my car and allow her in.
          I refused to even consider option number three. Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t think the fact that her putting my life in danger merited any sort of accommodation. So I maintained my speed.
          So did she!
          Then I pulled fully back into my lane, which forced New Jaguarwoman (no plates, even) just inches away vehicular intercourse with the parked cars.
          She slowed down, and dropped back.
          Phew, I thought.
          I thought too soon.
          She appeared on my left, attempting to corral me into the parked cars.
          Folks, I kid you not. There was zero provocation for any of this.
          It went on for about a mile. First she would hang on my bumper, then zoom up on the right, forcing me part way into oncoming traffic, then back on the left, forcing me to nearly slice off about a dozen rear-view mirrors.
          I could not believe it. I still cannot believe it. But here’s the part that I find most unbelievable of all:
          Eventually, Bundy opened up to two lanes, and Dumbass roared triumphantly past me on the right. If you think I was a bit upset by this whole episode; if you imagine my patience was tried a bit, or that I was just ever-so-slightly perturbed, you would be reasonable in this suspicion. For when she stopped in front of me at the inevitable red light---rendering utterly absurd her attempts to have passed me---I rolled down the window and invoked all manner of colorful expressions in inquiring into her driving habits. Perhaps some of my readers in Australia or New Zealand listened in.
          The punchline: Jaguarwoman leaned out her window and yelled “I don’t like the exhaust your car is emitting.”
          Yes. Really. She had gone insane, putting her life and mine in grave danger, because she did not like the particular scent of my car. Never mind that it had just passed the smog test.
          I hadn’t the slightest idea what to say.
          I still don’t.
           “Could I have a tall decaf iced Americano, please?”
           “Do you want that with water?”
           I confess that this question left me puzzled. I realize that Starbucks offers all sorts of permutations of coffee drinks, most well beyond my imagination and well above my plebian taste. I tried hard to fathom it: coffee, with or without water. What could it mean? I knew the question made sense in the wonderful world of Starbucksland, but it was beyond my aging Americano understanding.
          “Do I want that with water? Are you kidding?”
          “No, sir. Do you want that with water?”
          “ALL coffee comes with water, doesn’t it? All coffee that I know is, in fact, made with water. Am I on the wrong side of the mirror here?"
          My incomprehension marked me for a weirdo. The last comment seemed to inspire fear. Starbucks Boy stared at me uneasily.
          “No,” he said---I swear he said this---“not all coffee comes with water.”
          My friends, there are days when it is best to just hide. Days when you almost believe in God, because only a Supreme Practical Joker could pull this kind of crap on you as you meekly and unobtrusively attempt to get through another punishing day.
          “Not all coffee comes with water? Um. . .what are you talking about?”
          A second Starbucks employee was now watching the scene. Soon the Starbucks Police would arrive, from the Department of Starbucks Security.
          Starbucks Boy didn’t know how to proceed. He looked embarrassed, flummoxed. A wave of compassion spread over me.
          “Look,” I said. “I just have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. It’s not your fault. I’m old. Can you please explain it to me? It’s all my fault.”
          He looked a little relieved as he said, “No problem sir. We don’t have iced decaf, so we use Americano, and we can add ice to it.”
           Yup, sure, yes, uh-huh, mm-hmm, and otherwise affirmative. Roger that, big guy.
          “Okay,” I said.
          And in a moment, he handed me---I swear to Juan Valdez this is true---a plastic Starbucks cup with about an inch of coffee in the bottom, ice cubes to the brim. Really.
          I smiled.
          “Uh. . .what is this?”
          “Iced decaf Americano.”
          Somewhere in the musty, cobwebby recesses of my brain, a couple of rusty old gears moaned, creaked, grunted, and turned a click or two.
          “Oh. So the Americano is usually served as a shot? And that’s why you asked me if I wanted water? Because I can also have you add water to the shot and fill the glass all the way up?”
          He nodded enthusiastically. There was Starbucks hope for me yet.
           “Yes, sir.”
          I put my hand to my forehead, closed my eyes, hung my head, and tried to shake all the absurdity out.
          “Okay, pal. Then please, I’d like a tall iced decaf Americano---with water.”
           “Coming right up, sir.”
           LTSEWH # 5: MUSEUM PIECE
           I realize that in the marketplace you encounter exactly two types of service: rehearsed robotic recitation of phrases, such as “finding everything all right” and “thank you for shopping at Ralphs”; and unsmiling, uncomprehending, minimalism.
          But sometimes I just can’t stand it.
          Like the day I walked up to the box office of the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown L.A.. There was an attractive young woman behind the opened window, or at least I assumed she was a woman and not a piece of stunt-art.
         I walked up. I tried in vain to make eye contact. I presented a two-for-one discount. I got my tickets.
          She had said nothing.
          I walked away, then thought better of it, turned around, and let fly:
          “Look,” I said. “I have just patronized your establishment. I have just given you money. I have driven twenty minutes to see your exhibit. Can’t you even say, ‘hello?’ Can’t you say, ‘Welcome to MOMA?’ Or even a simply ‘thank you?’ Can’t you make eye contact?”
           I almost added Letterman’s wonderful line for such occasions,      “Are you feral?” but was still trying to be marginally civil.
          “I DID speak to you,” came her angry response.
          What was that archaic expression? The customer is always right? The little minx was arguing about it. And then---
          “It’s HARD to hear inside here.”
           I was so deeply moved by the enormity of her plight, by the suffering inherent in her demanding and highly specified occupation, that I put my hands together in supplication.
          “Oh, please, please forgive me,” I said. “I’m SO sorry that you have so much trouble performing your difficult job! Oh, forgive me, please!”
          When I later vainly asked that a supervisor speak to her, I was told by a polite young MOMA employee that they would “speak to her about injecting more positivity into her work.”
          Gadzooks! New Age-ism had entered into the proceedings! Again, I went completely out-of-control. The Department of Museum of Modern Art Security Police were due at any moment.
          “I don’t care about POSITIVITY! I’m looking for common courtesy! I’m looking for HUMAN. She sat there like a goddamn ape, going uh uh!
          Then I went to the exhibit, which consisted of illustrated panels by a man exponentially more misanthropic even than me, a man whose insight into human behavior was hilariously, bawdily, brilliantly realized in comic books in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s---the great R. Crumb.
          Sanity, at last.
          For more LTSEWH’s, watch this space.

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