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(Aug. 16, 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 humiliation.
          LTSEWH # 1: PUSHY GUY
          He was in a wheelchair. He had one leg. The existing leg was crusted with grime, the three or four remaining toes on the bare foot calloused from propelling the chair. Nondescript striped shirt, tattered khakis, and of all things preposterous, a. . .vest.
          He sat unmoving on a streetcorner in Westwood, as UCLA students and working women dressed brightly as Christmas packages passed blithely by. The sun blared. Hordes of Asian kids chattered in native tongues, 18-year-old “co-eds” smoked stupidly, clad in T-shirts reading “I’m Stubborn,” “I Slept With Your Boyfriend,” and “Lick---Don’t Bite.”
          Taking note of his Thorazine tan and yellowed eyeballs, I spoke.
          “Need a push, Mack?”
          He answered, cigarette twitching between his lips.
          “Yeah!” he rasped. “Up to the corner.”
          It was a block’s worth of sloping incline, and he was too played out, too gaunt, probably too near death, to wheel the rest of the way. I grabbed the handgrips, glancing down at the greasy brown nest of hair. A rather startling fact hit me: this guy was younger than I am. Perhaps mid-40’s.
          We didn’t speak. What would we say? Your remaining toes look good? Oh, thanks. As I approached the corner, he asked me to go inside a drug store and buy him an “energy drink---I forget what it’s called---but it’s the only one in a red bottle.”
          An energy drink? This guy needed a transfusion.
          “Yeah, sure.”
          What the hell, I figured they wouldn’t even let him in. I pictured all those computer-colored commercials for “energy drinks” with Goliath-sized guys sweating green and red droplets. Maybe they could adjust their ad campaigns:
          Hey, veterans, amputees, and homeless people! Got AIDS? Schizophrenia? Diabetes? Tired from pushing that wheelchair around the city with one leg? Need a quick boost?
          I scanned the shelves and found the only energy drink that was red, paid a buck, and took it out to wheelchair boy.
          “Not that one! That’ll make me pee all day!”
          It’s Rense, chump of chumps! Let’s waste his time! Get ‘im!
          I took it back and asked for my buck back. I had been outside the store for as many as ten full seconds.
          “Hi, again,” I said to the girly behind the counter. “I bought the wrong stuff. Can I get a refund?”
          “I can’t do that, sir,” she said. “You took it outside the store.”
          “What? Yeah, but I was outside for ten seconds. I was buying it for a homeless guy, and he doesn’t want it. Look---it’s unopened. It’s a pop-top. Hasn’t been tampered with.”
          “I can’t give you no money,” she said. I ditched a response to ask if she could give me any money, and spoke to a supervisor. Same song and dance.
          “Thank you,” I said, “for behaving like robots. I appreciate it.”
          Outside, wheelchair boy assailed me anew:
          “Where’s my drink?”
          “You’re on your own now, pal,” I said. “I’m out a buck.”
          And out of energy.
          LTSEWH # 2: CROSS WALKER
          I could write a book about traffic LTSEWH’s alone, but who the hell wants to hear other people’s traffic horror stories? Well, at least for a moment, I hope you do. Anyhow, I was walking, not driving.
          There I was. . .
          Crossing busy Veteran Avenue at Ohio in West Los Angeles, heading west. I was a study in pedestrian law obedience, etiquette, grace. I did exactly as trained so many years ago by more experienced walkers: do not proceed when the light is red; proceed when the light turns the color of clover in summer and/or the little lyrical “walking man” appears. It’s complicated, I know, but I pride myself in following these rules with precision, confidence, excellence.
          I even embellish by looking right and left and behind me, to be extra-safe---and in a positively exemplary move, I check for bicyclists racing up the sidewalk from the rear at high speed, yelling “on your right!” I’ve nearly been killed by cyclists yelling “on your right!” as it generally prompts me to jump to the right.
          So. . .
          I stepped off the curb, proceeded about half-way across the first lane---and abruptly realized there was one variable I had neglected. That of the out-of-state jackass shaved-head punk in red convertible making a hard left immediately after the light turns green---before the through-traffic can move. Right at me.
          He spotted me just as his foot slammed the accelerator, and just before I did a Road-Runner across the intersection. He stopped. I stared. He was diagonal, in mid-turn, blocking a huge line of oncoming traffic. He motioned for me to move across, with a look of disgust.
          L.A. is kind of a magical place, in that traffic can suddenly throw disparate personalities together who might not ever otherwise meet in this life! And such was the case now. Because jackass shave-head and I were quite unexpectedly in close proximity---in a traffic relationship, you might say---and because his plates were from elsewhere, I took it upon myself to offer some information about local law. I felt it was my privilege as an Angeleno, if not my duty. I pointed to the oncoming traffic that he was blocking, and explained the situation:
          “You’re supposed to wait,” I said.
          Poor Jackass. It was bad enough to have come to the city of his dreams, only to embarrass himself with poor driving decisions. But to now be lectured by a lowly pedestrian---and a middle-aged, graying, irrelevant guy with one of those ancient, stupid pony-tails, to boot! A freak! Well. A punk can only take so much.
          Out came the good old, trusty American multi-purpose dismissive; the two-word phrase ending in “you” meant to indicate an appraisal of utter worthlessness. He delivered it with aplomb, too, and in a voice that I imagine he hopes will one day fill soundstages.
          Ladies and gentlemen, I reacted in inspired fashion, if I do say so, myself. I normally will simply return such greetings in the spirit delivered, but on this day I behaved in a fashion that was completely surprising, out-of-character. I don’t know where it came from. As he completed his turn, just shaving the backs of my Reeboks, I turned my head in his direction, bent forward, aimed my hindquarters squarely at his dazzling red convertible, stuck out my tongue and produced a razzberry (orally) loud enough to compete with a passing UPS truck. If there had been one.
          It must have been the long-simmering subliminal influence of the great old Monty Python dismissive, “I fart in your general direction.”
          To my enormous delight, I caught a look of sheer befuddlement on Jackass’s face.
          I hope he is now adequately warned: L.A. is full of crazy people.
          Readers of this column have perhaps gleaned that I do not enjoy the company of “literary” agents. And on the rare occasions when I am in their company, even telephonically or e-mail-wise, they do not succeed in engendering companionability.
          There I was. . .
          In the lowly, groveling position that writers generally maintain: bent over. Figuratively. That is, “here’s-my-manuscript-please-read-it-and-please-get-it-published-oh-mighty-all-powerful-agent-as-I’m-just-a-wretched-writer.”
          I had sent all 650 pages (count ‘em!) of my wonderful upcoming novel, “The Oaks” to a prominent and successful L.A.-based agent, who shall be known here as Miss Mousey. Now, Miss Mousey has represented a number of books by accomplished and skilled manipulators of language. Why in hell I thought I might number myself among them is another matter. I keep forgetting---I am Rense, chump of chumps. People see me coming, and they automatically start thinking of ways to tamper with my abundant good nature.
          Bear in mind that Miss Mousey had actually asked to see this manuscript, and that I send it directly to her cubbyhole---er, home. This gave me the silly idea that I might get a prompt reply. (Pardon me while I laugh at myself. HAHAHAHAHA. Okay, that’s better.)
          Two months later, I dropped Miss Mousey an e-mail meekly asking if the manuscript had even arrived. After all, the damn copy had cost me $50, after a protracted six-hour LTSEWH with Kinko’s that I have since blocked from my memory (you readers lucked out!)
          Miss Mousey, to her credit, sent a prompt and merry e-mail to let me know that it had arrived, but that she had been traveling in Antarctica or the Lesser Antilles or something, and that she would get to it soon.
          Boy, did she!
          Just a couple days later the e-mail arrived with the customary line about “I’m sorry this is not the response you would have liked.” Her chief complaint was that one major character---an ambitious young career woman---was “negative every time you encounter her” or words to that effect. Well, what could I say? This was a negative character. I don’t recall Madame LaFarge being particularly endearing.
          Just because I am a troublemaker at heart, I pointed out that in fact, the character behaves nicely, or even arouses sympathy, at several junctures in the book. As expected, I was told that this did not matter. I then wrote a follow-up note, apologizing for forgetting to include a stamped return envelope, and asked if she wouldn’t mind mailing the manuscript back if I would send her a check in advance to cover the cost. The response:
          “Hmm. It’s already in the recycling trash can. Do you want me to fish it out?”
          Dear readers, if you are reading between the lines and finding the reading unpleasant, we are reading the same page.
          Hmm. Why did she have to ask such a question? Hmm. Why did she have to let me know she had promptly thrown the book away? Hmm. Why did she have to use the words, "fish it out," as if it was buried under all manner of crud? Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.
          “This one is pretty dog-eared,” she hmm added, and explained that agents usually do not like dog-eared manuscripts.
          Hell, agents usually don’t like any manuscripts. And any agent who makes his or her mind up based on the tidiness of a manuscript should be grading third grade papers for a living. But more to the point, why was it “pretty dog-eared?” Hmm.
          Well, Miss Mousey did mail it back, but not before receiving and cashing my check for $4.47 (!). And what was really interesting was that yes, the first 20 or 30 pages were a little bit dog-eared---
While the rest of the 650 were spiffy, clean as a whistle (why are whistles clean?) Absolutely unmolested by fingers, eyes, brain!
          The moral of the story: never send a book that contains a “negative” characterization of an ambitious career woman. . .to an ambitious career woman.
          LTSEWH # 4: WRONG NUMBER
          “I don’t know---oatmeal.”
          I had just picked up the ringing phone, and those were the words I heard on the other end. Someone was having a conversation while dialing and waiting. My picking up my own phone had rudely interrupted. I spoke.
          “Yes! Oatmeal!” I said.
          “Huh? Is this the Lemco Corporation?” A brusque female voice.
          “Hello. What number are you trying to reach?”
          “I want the Lemco Corporation.”
          “Yes. What number are you trying to reach, please?”
          That’s how it is these days. People feel no need to identify themselves, explain themselves, let alone apologize for inconveniencing others. I don’t know, it’s like somebody poisoned the food supply with Purina Monkey Chow.
          I got lucky this time, though. I “star-69’ed” her, and for once, did not get the recording about how “this call was marked private, or was from out of the area. . .” It rang! But my elation was momentarily stunted when I encountered a different recording. The number “would not accept calls from unknown numbers,” a friendly voice told me, but added that if I identified myself at the beep, perhaps the party would accept me!
          Beep! I spoke:
          “Lemco Corporation.”
          Faster than you can say, “Oatmeal,” the brusque female voice was back.
          “Hello?” she said expectantly, blissful visions of actually having reached the coveted Lemco Corporation glowing in her cranium.
          “When you phone someone, and get a wrong number, it would be very nice if you explain the number you are trying to reach, and then apologize for inconveniencing the wrong party.”
          There followed what is popularly known as “stunned silence.”    
          “I did!”
          “No, you did not. You hung up without a word.”
          “Well, then, I’m SORRY!” she said, with no more sarcasm than Rodney Dangerfield, and hung up.
          People. Better to deal with a bowl of oatmeal.
          LTSEWH # 5: RIGHT NUMBER
          The phone rang. I hate when it does that.
          “This is Bingoboogie Equity (can’t recall the real name, thank goodness.) What are your homeowner dues?”
          The voice repeated the above information.
          “Who are you?”
          “Huh? My name is Chris Doody (can’t recall the real name, thank goodness.) Is this a homeowner’s association?”
          “And you are with what company?”
          “Bingoboogie Equity. I thought this was a homeowner’s association. I’m trying to reach a homeowner’s association.”
          “Uh-huh. Regarding?”
          There followed what is popularly known as “stunned silence.” Then---
          “REGARDING?” It was as if he had never heard the word before.
          “Yes, that’s right. REGARDING.”
          A three-syllable English gerund meaning “pertaining to,” you jackass.
          “I’m calling about the sale of unit one in your building. Are the homeowner’s dues $160 or $260?”
          “Okay, now I understand. Let me have your name again and I will take a message.”
          A pause, after which he spoke his name as if he were reciting it to a capturing army.
          “Chris. Doody.”
          “And your company again, please?”
          “Bingoboogie Equity.”
          “Thank you. And your number?”
          He gave it to me with a kind of grudging incredulity. I did not ask for his rank or serial number.
          “I’ll pass this along.”
          “You’ll pass it along?”
          “That’s correct. Thank you.”
          That’s how it is these days. People feel no need to identify themselves, explain themselves, let alone apologize for inconveniencing others. I don’t know, it’s like somebody poisoned the food supply with Purina Monkey Chow.
          Is there an echo in here?
          For more LTSEWH’s, watch this space.
And watch for LTSEWH---the book! Twelve years of LTSEWH's---fully illustrated by James "Dr. Wazoo" Ferrigno. Coming later this year exclusively from The Rip Post.
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