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 LTSEWH. . .
(June 8, 2005)

          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um, short. Names and other identifying characteristics have been included whenever possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
          At first I did not comprehend ex-Gov. Gray Davis’s plan to give drivers’ licenses to illegal alien residents in California, in order that they might buy insurance (ha, ha) and that the government could keep track of them.
          I thought Gray meant illegal aliens from south of the border. I now realize that Gray meant little grays. Aliens, yes, but from Metaluna, not Mexico. I see it all clearly. Gray himself hails from another galaxy, dimension, solar system. How else to explain the oversized head, the robotic, Vulcan-like demeanor?
          He was standing up for his own kind.
          It all came to me in a flash the other day as I drove down Ohio Avenue near my home. I’ve noted in recent months that most drivers no longer comprehend the large white lettering on the hexagonal red signs reading “S-T-O-P.” I now suspect it’s because extra-terrestrial eyeballs do not see the same colors as earthlings do, and that both red and white register as the same on the E.T. retina.
          Allow me to illustrate.
          There I was. . .
          Doing about 35 mph. I was a singing, dyed-in-the-wool, fabulous example of “oncoming traffic.” There was no more mistaking this than there is mistaking Schwarzenegger for a governor. I confidently approached a cross-street, with a stop sign on the right, and stop sign on the left, fairly drunk with right-of-way, a boldly chiseled living letter of the traffic law.
          Then. . .
          A car appeared on my right, rolling right through the stop sign and half-way into Ohio Avenue---the driver’s head turned toward me, with actual eye-contact established, all along.
          I slowed abruptly and stopped, chin inspecting kneecap. Ah, but this was not merely a close encounter, I now understand. It was a Close Encounter.
          For as I sat there, staring in befuddlement, the driver calmly remained, blocking my lane, waiting for the other lane to clear, in order to complete his bisection of the boulevard. Meanwhile, on my left. . .
          Another driver took a cue from driver # 1, and did exactly the same thing!
          Picture it: a car on the left, and a car on the right each deliberately rolling through stop signs, deliberately coasting half-way across a busy street, deliberately blocking fast-approaching oncoming cars clearly visible in both directions, then deliberately stopping.
          And there they deliberately remained, crippling Ohio Avenue---until, after they had halted travelers in both directions, they proceeded breezily on their ways.
          To rendezvous with the mother ship.
          LTSEWH # 2: I YAM WHAT I YAM
          I purchased four yams. Or so I thought.
          I was in one of those wholistic wholesome whole grain whole foods whole world kind of stores---the Santa Monica Co-op. The checker---I’m sorry, they must be called something like “customer service specialists” now---rang up (okay, scanned) my four yams. $5.36!
           Whole-y price-check, Batman!
          “I’m sorry,” I said, wondering why I was sorry for speaking, “Why are those yams so expensive?”
          The Customer Service Specialist, a young woman sprouting bits of metal from lip and eyebrow, responded brightly:
          “They’re garnets!”
          I stared at the large burnt-sienna colored legumes resting inside a clear plastic membrane. Garnets? No, they looked like yams to me. Was it possible. . .could it be. . .the Customer Service Specialist, like so many drivers, was also. . .an alien? Did potatoes and related root vegetables register as precious stones to her?
          “I’m sorry?” I said again, wondering why I kept saying that.
          “They’re garnets,” she chirped.
          Yes, yes, I think she had already made this claim. Was she pleased with the sound of the word? Was her earthling communication program stuck? I decided to humor her.
          “Okay, they’re garnets,” I said. “Why are they so expensive?”
          “Garnets are expensive!” she said.
          Yes, yes, they are. A quick Google check shows that rhodolite garnets, for instance, go for up to $200 apiece.
          I decided to drop the wholistic thing. I didn’t want to appear too unCo-opeartive, after all, and I really wanted the $5.36 yams.
           LTSEWH # 3: MADAME DUDU
          Every day she appears on my block: pink velour athletic suit, cascading hair turned blonde with only the best chemicals, face a vague mask of lost youth arranged by only the most expensive stitching, cell phone vacuum-sealed to ear and voice declaiming half a dialogue audible for any stay-at-homes bored with Oprah or Matt and Katie.
          And three Lhasa Apso doggies on three leashes, dust-mopping their way along.
          “Oh my GOD! No! I can’t believe this. . .Well, I should hope SO. . .That’s COOL. . .” Etc.
They have meddled in things that Man was not meant to meddle in. The Christian Right will be after them shortly, I’m sure, calling their practice an affront to God, or at least capitalism (which, of course, is a fine distinction.)

          And every day, Madame stops while the little dust mops deposit their not-so-cute legacies of daily walkies on someone’s front lawn or garden. Then she goes on her pink velour buttocks-lifted way.
          Until, that is, one neighborhood resident confronted her a couple weeks back with a plastic bag. I watched delightedly from the balcony:
          Resident: “Here’s a plastic bag! You’re supposed to pick up your dogs’ s---!”
          Madame Dudu: “Oh, but EVERYONE lets their dogs s--- here!”
          Ah, yes, all the best canines deposit their excrement here, lady---you should feel privileged that my champion Lhasa Apsos have decided to favor your terrain. . .
          I monitored the little strip of grass in the ensuing couple of weeks to see if the distinctive exotic Apso tootsie rolls stopped appearing, but. . .no. Madame would not dare stoop, literally and figuratively, to collecting little Froo-Froo and Boo-Boo and Floy-Floy’s yams. Er, garnets.
          So I took matters into my own hands, so to speak. I grabbed all the little Lhasa Crapso, put it into a plastic bag, and left it on Madame’s doorstep (I know because she parks her white T-Bird---what else?---in the garage there) with a note, reading, in part:
          “Your dogs’ fecal matter is hereby returned to you in this plastic bag. In the future, it will be returned to you without using a plastic bag.”
          Of course, it’s probably all my mistake. She is probably a four-headed creature from Nigoviggo, somewhere near Space Quadrant 569.1, where such deposits are high art.
          I was in yet another wholistic whole earth whole wheat whole grain whole store the other day, with the well-known and rather curious whole name, Whole Foods.
          As opposed to, I always automatically wonder, Partial Foods?
          At Whole Foods, they have Merry Fish Merchants. Yes, they shout and sing and act robust and hardy, as if perhaps they have just docked their Merry Fish Boat outside the store, and hauled in their robust and hardy catch with robust and calloused hands.
          “We have GREEAAAT King Salmon, folks! Today, fresh! And Chilean Sea Bass, Snapper like you’ve never tasted. . .” Blah blah blah. (Then they drive home to their apartments and have a couple of Merry beers over “Fear Factor.”)
          Anyhow, I asked for my usual “one pound of salmon, please,” and got the usual response, as slab of said fish was weighed:
          “Little over a pound okay?”
          Yes, this is the most frequently spoken Merry phrase of the Merry Fish Merchants: “Little over (requested weight) okay?”
          I watch in wonder as this question is asked, and customer after customer nods or smiles or says “sure,” then receives more than they have requested. Sometimes a lot more. In my case, it was a Merry one-third of a pound over, which amounted to a Merry buck or two for the Merry Fish Merchants.
          “No,” I said. “Not okay. I’d like a pound, please, or even a little less.”
          “Yes sir!”
          And I was handed a package of salmon weighing about a pound and a fifth.
          Which I promptly deposited in the cereal aisle, among the whole wheat and whole rice and whole bran.
          Where the Merry Fish Merchants were wholly free to fish it out.
          LTSEWH # 5: FREE TICKET
          I understand, grasp, and fully embrace the concept of purchasing tickets. I think it is a good system, tried and true, and I congratulate the human who first thought up this smart, essential concept (probably in China 5,000 years ago, like everything else.)
          It’s clever, really: you pay a fee, and are issued a unique kind of receipt which grants you special status---to enter a special room or experience a special event or sit in a courtroom with a special person, like Michael Jackson. Sometimes this receipt might be used for other purposes, such as claiming a prize, or claiming a chance to claim a prize, etc.
          What’s more, tickets are a part of the popular culture---cherished, hoarded, fetishized, collected, treasured. Used Beatles tickets? A small fortune. I still lament the loss of the alphabetized tickets at Disneyland. (For that matter, I lament the loss of Disneyland, long since taken over by aliens from the planet, Venal.)
          All in all, it’s a bulwark barter system, taken for granted as a part of everyday existence.
          Except by the good people at the wonderful Museum of Radio and Television, which is based in Beverly Hills (which does not yet require tickets to gain entry.) These folks have turned the ticket concept on its ear, and although concepts do not have ears, if they did, the Museum of Radio and Television people would have turned this one on its.
          Or something like that.
          Yes, they have flouted 5,000 years of Chinese history (or the history of whichever culture invented the ticket.) They have meddled in things that Man was not meant to meddle in. The Christian Right will be after them shortly, I’m sure, calling their practice an affront to God, or at least capitalism (which, of course, is a fine distinction.) “President” Bush will soon be declaring that he is morally opposed to the Museum of Radio and Television’s ticket practices, and Paul Krugman will devote pithy columns in response.
          The Museum folk, you see, are issuing tickets without charging.
          No, no---this is not to be confused with “free tickets.” A free ticket is a wonderful, joyous thing, especially when it is redeemable for pie.
          This is a ticket that you are required to obtain without purchase.
          Think about that a second.
          You are required to go to a counter, have a ticket issued to you, in order to access the Museum of Radio and Television, otherwise you may not enter. And it is free.
          Of course, that means that it is not free. You must spend a minute or two (or longer, depending on the line) of your life negotiating a free transaction in order to enter a free museum.
          I did this the other day, in order to see a video history of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. You might think the ticket arrangement was a stunt done in the absurdist spirit of Monty Python, but no. The irony is lost on the Museum. It would have made a good Python sketch, though:
          “Museum’s free!” (John Cleese.)
          “Awl-roight!” (Michael Palin.)
          “Get your ticket first.”
          “But you said it was free.”
          “Free with a ticket!”
          “Well, then it’s not free!”
          “Yes it is.”
          “Well, then, I’ll just go in.”
          “Ah-ah, you can’t go into the free museum without a free ticket, or we’ll kill you.”
          “Kill me?”
          “I mean. . .prosecute you for trespassing.”
          “But you said ‘kill me.’”
          “No I didn’t.”
          “Yes you did.”
          “No, I said we would require you to dance the cha-cha, with an aardvark on your head, while reciting Lenin backwards.”
          “No you didn’t.”

          This exchange was really not so far away from the one I had. I was late for the Python screening, so I merely walked through the lobby and up the stairs to the theater.
          Ah, yes, the familiar tense voice of an impotent human charged with authority. Several people turned to see what crime Sir was committing.
          “Do you have a ticket?”
          “You have to get a ticket.”
          “But it’s free.”
          “You still have to get a ticket, sir.”
          “But that’s stupid! Why do I need a ticket if it’s free?”
          “You’ll have to take that up with the people at the front desk.”
          Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it had turned into a veiled threat, and “you’ll have to take that up with” order. What would they have done had I just gone into the theater, I wondered. Phoned the Ministry of Silly Walks?
          I chose the path of least resistance and got my ticket. But I couldn’t resist asking:
          “Why do I need a ticket if it’s free?”
          “It’s our only way to keep track of how many people are here,” said an officious, concerned looking woman. "I hope you don't mind."
          "I do," I said.
          I resisted an impulse to add, “what about a clicker?” or “what about a turnstile?” or “what about all the trees?” and just went in to watch Monty Python.
          For a dose of sanity.

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