The Rip Post




LTSEWH & crackers. . .
(May 14, 2003)
        Call them "Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity," or LTSEWH for, um, short. Only some of the names are occasionally omitted to spare the particularly wretched from public humiliation.
        LTSEWH # 1: Phoney Call
        "Hello? Hello?"
         Nothing on the other end of the line but silence. As always, it took a moment to realize that I had once again been suckered by a computer. It was the see-if-someone-answers silence.

        The lurking human suddenly cut in.
        "Hello, may I speak to Rip Rense?"
        It was a faraway voice, unfamiliar, and obscenely friendly. The solicitous phone solicitor.
        There was only one possible response:
        "No, you may not, you---"
        I had questioned this perfect stranger's relationship to his mother. What got into me? Then I hung up.
        The phone rang regularly for several hours, with a fax beep on the other end.
        LTSEWH # 2: Crackers
        Now, my closeness to crackers might be considered more slang than literal, but the fact is, I really like them. Their dependable crunch and unpretentious flavor are without peer. Good ol' crackers! I also really like to take vigorous walks. Recently, on a whim, I combined the two!
        There I was, striding through a quaint Santa Monica sidestreet on a gorgeous afternoon, reaching into a small box of saltines as I went. Crunch, step, crunch, step, crunch, step. You get the carefree picture.
       An aside: allow me to point out that I do not appear terribly reputable on said walks. Whatever chance I have of being invited to a White House dinner would vanish if Laura Bush got a gander at me. Denim and cordouroy define my sartorial elan, with a cavalier dash of mild beard growth. What's more, there is another aspect of my presentation that not only suggests homelessness and joblessness, but Republicanlessness. In other words, I don't look real likely to donate to Focus on the Family.
        Top it all off with a Grateful Dead baseball cap, and. . .can you say Bolshevik?
        No one would ever suspect that this all disguises a fair-minded, patriotic, clear-thinking writer of repute, esteemed by millions! Okay, dozens.
        The driver of the SUV certainly suspected no such thing. She was blonde, manicured, coiffured, dressed to the nines (or maybe tens), and her black SUV gleamed like polished obsidian. Her elevated driver's perch put her far above the street, literally and symbolically. I probably registered somewhere between "detritus" and "roadkill."
        Naturally, she tried to run me over.
        It happend at a four-way stop intersection. One large male-occupied SUV crossed in front of me, having the clear momentum and right of way. Then I took my turn and stepped into the crosswalk---but wait! Ann Coulter's bastard daughter roared right behind SUV Man, and she was not going to hang around, polishing her nails, as I crossed. I made brief, cautionary eye contact, reaching the half-way point---but she simply floored her magnificent 21st century 12 mpg machine right at me!
       Aside two: this was at the height of the Iraq attack, and the peace protests. I put up my hands and waved, to make sure she hadn't mistaken me for Arianna Huffington. Then I saw the flames shooting from the irises of her eyeballs. Yup, she had a dirty homeless hippie lefty creep in her sights.
        Like a good lefty, I protested. I stopped, to see if she might follow suit. (Yes, I am nuts enough to play chicken with an SUV.) Fortunately, neo-Coulter's politics were not so intractable that she went ahead and killed me, stopping about five feet short of my ragged old tennis shoes.

         I shrugged at her, as if to say, "what the hell are you doing?" This prompted a display that invited sexism back into the word, "hysteria." She peeled her lips back and said what I presumed were vile things. She flailed her arms.
         Well, I don't know what came over me. After all, I was still alive, thanks to this woman's forgiving heart---but, as I said, I like crackers. And it just so happened that at that moment, I had a gigantic mouthful. Must have been five or six of them in there.
        How convenient!
        I launched all over the front of her shiny obsidian SUV hood. A big pile of half-masticated unknown white material. Coulter Doppleganger took off like a bat out of hell. Which  is, of course, her ultimate destination.
        Good ol' crackers!
        LTSEWH # 3: Fine dining
        "How IS everything?"
        "Fine. Very good, thank you."
        "YOU'RE very WELcome!"
        Hey, he was doing a good job. He'd taken our order correctly, he'd brought the repast promptly, he'd refrained from small talk, and he'd only said that the desserts "are to die for" one time. This was tip country. But then. . .
        "How IS everything?"
        "Fine. Very good, thank you."
        "YOU'RE very WELcome!"
        Hadn't he just asked us that, my friends and I, three minutes ago? Ah, well, just being conscientious. We resumed our conversation, ingesting some splendid pasta dishes, on a calm, mid-Sunday afternoon. The restaurant was small, and we were the sole customers. The talk was as good as the food---or at least, I thought so, as I was doing most of it.
        "How IS everything?"
        "Fine. Very good, thank you."
        "YOU'RE very WELcome!"
        Eh? The waiter was a young fellow, late-20's, and seemed an earnest chap. But. . .couldn't he see that we were all chowing down, merrily yapping, yucking? That our water glasses were full? Oh, well, I resumed my anecdote---no, wait, I didn't. Having incipient senility, I had been thrown off course by the waiter's inquiry. What, I asked, was I just talking about? My good companions reminded me, and we were back on anecdotal track.
        "How IS everything?"
        "Fine. Very good, thank you."
        Now my friends were chiming in, too, smiling as if to reassure the poor fellow that things really, honestly, definitely were. . .fine.
        "YOU'RE very WELcome!"
        It was when I found myself wondering about the difference in degree between "you're welcome" and "YOU'RE very WELcome" that I knew all was conversationally lost. This was a manic border collie with three sheep.
        It was the seventh or eighth "How IS everything" that made me just concentrate on eating and getting the hell out of there. I was actually considering killing the pain with dessert, but then he said it was "to die for" again.
        LTSEWH # 4: Money in the bank
        I opened a bank account a few months back. As this is a novel experience for a freelance writer, I guess I got a little excited, and didn't pay close attention. I thought the guy said I would receive monthly statements, but when none came after 90 days, I got worried. I mean, I had enough money in there to buy a couple dozen pieces of apple pie. A la mode, even. I phoned the bank and explained.
        "So I just want to verify that my account exists, really."
        A nice female voice asked the exact date I opened the account, which, of course, I didn't remember.
        "Then you'll have to phone customer service, sir."
        "Uh, but this is the bank where I opened the account. Why should I phone someone who doesn't work at this branch?"
        "That's just the way we do it, sir. But they will be able to help you."
        "Thank you."
        I waded up to my ears in a smelly phone menu bog for about five minutes, before a "customer service representative" pulled me gasping to shore. I explained the matter again, clear as a church bell on Sunday.
        "When did you open the account, sir?"
       I had just told her that I didn't know the exact date, but I was glad to repeat this information.
        "What is the account number, sir?"
        I had just told her that I didn't know the account number, but I was glad to repeat this information.
        She asked for my social security number, which I supplied, and then. . .
        "I'm sorry, sir, but I will require more information in order to assist you."
        "More information? You have my social security. What more do you need?"
        "When exactly did you open the account, sir?"
        "Uh. . .I've already told you---twice---that I don't recall. It was about three months ago."

        "I'll need the exact date, sir."
        "I don't have the exact date!"
        "And what is the account number?"
        "I've already told you---twice---that I don't know."
        "Well, we can't give out any information---"
        "Wait a second! I don't want 'information!' I just want to know if my account exists! Just tell me yes or no! I'm worried that you've lost my money!"
        "I understand that, sir, but---"
        "No, I don't think you do! If you did, you would tell me if my account exists!"
        "Sir, this is to protect you from identity theft---"
        "Don't! Don't protect me! You want to protect me? Tell me if you have my money!"
        "Sir, can you tell me the exact date you opened the account?"
       Well, for those readers who haven't fallen asleep, the supervisor went into a long, canned "how may we assist you today" spiel, but I cut him off and explained the whole deal. He told me the solution was simple: that I should just drive to my bank and show them my ID.
        "Jesus H. Christ!" I said. "Why didn't your trained seal tell me that, instead of acting like a damned robot!"
         P.S. I strolled into the bank, and they recognized me right away. Never had to show any ID at all. Yup, now that's identity theft protection!
        For more LTSEWH's, watch this space.