by RIP RENSE
(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
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
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.
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:
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
“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
“Hi, again,” I said to
the girly behind the counter. “I bought the wrong stuff. Can I get a
“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
LTSEWH # 2: CROSS
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,
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
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
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.
LTSEWH # 3: RECYCLING
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,
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
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
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
“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
“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:
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.”
“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
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
The voice repeated the
“Who are you?”
“Huh? My name is Chris
Doody (can’t recall the real name, thank goodness.) Is this a
“And you are with what
“Bingoboogie Equity. I
thought this was a homeowner’s association. I’m trying to reach a
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.
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.
“And your company again,
“Thank you. And your
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
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.
BACK TO PAGE ONE