The Rip Post


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          Ah, the scent of freshly ignited crack! Ah, the lyrical smack-addict hooker going about her vein-piercing art, inches away from a young mother and snoozing babe in papoose pouch! Ah, the poetic panorama of winos sprawled about like Renoir nudes! Ah, the indelible fragrance of freshly deposited human fecal matter!
         Ah, the great outdoors of L.A..---specifically, McArthur Park. This was National Public Lands Day, and I was there to do my altruistic, ecological duty. Never mind that it was Saturday at 8 a.m.. Never mind the middle-aged geek from L.A. Rec-Parks, chirping and bounding like a manic Peter Pan:
          (Trick question, you see.)
         Never mind that the first hour and 45 minutes of National Public Lands Day were taken up with blowhards and that wolf-faced actor from "The Pretender" talking about "how great" all the volunteers were. Never mind they talked to the volunteers like they were about sixteen years old.
Never mind that most of the volunteers were about sixteen years old.
         Never mind that a bunch of cynical old chumps like me had been conscripted by spouses or corporations into helping out. This was a lesson in volunteerism! Which, I believe, used to be called "civic duty" or "community responsibility."
         So there I was, picking my nose for the TV cameras (deliberately), listening to The Pretender tell the "great" kids how he drives a hybrid Toyota Prius, which keeps his conscience as clear as the car's emissions! If only, I thought, it could do the same for the emissions from his mouth.
         Then came some blowhards explaining that their blowhard councilman and congressman bosses couldn't be there instead, because they had "other engagements." (Probably involving sleep.) A corporate sponsor blowhard repeated "how great" everyone was, including "mentors and mentees."
         "Mentees?" I said to my female accomplice. "Isn't that an endangered species in the Florida Everglades?"
         "Shut uuuuup."
         The best part of the ceremony came when a lovely woman stood at the mike and sang Puccini's aria, "O Mio Babbino Caro" from the opera, "Gianni Schicchi." It's about a girl asking for her father's permission to marry. Wiser people than me knew what this had to do with National Public Lands Day.
         At last it was time to do "something green" for downtown's landmark park, a grand place for parading in your Sunday best, a jewel in the civic crown. . . fifty years ago, when the name was changed from Westlake to honor Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I volunteered to plant trees generously donated by Home Depot---until I saw that, gee, there were only about ten little Jacaranda saplings, and about 40 kids to manhandle them.
          I opted to pick up trash instead.
          Inhaling deeply of brisk, urine-perfumed air---I surveyed my objective: the tranquil lake of ducks and geese, stoic palms, grassy hillocks, the statues of MacArthur, Civil War General Harrison Gray Otis, sculptures leftover from the 1932 Olympics, the old boat house. . .and plunged headlong into my noble work.
         Doing something green, I quickly found, involved a hell of a lot of something brown. My, the things that resourceful winos and dope addicts use for toilet paper! Old shirts, discarded brassieres, cigarette packages, newspaper. I sang the old Richard Harris hit under my breath. I changed the words:
         McArthur Park is reeking in the dark. . .
         My bag swiftly filled with such stuff, as well as more traditional  items like styrofoam cups and plastic forks---things that will outlast cockroaches, evolutionarily speaking---plus lots of discarded Christian pamphlets about going to hell, and getting off drugs (evidently they were not working.) An innocuous old flannel shirt yielded a hidden treasure: a small mountain of freshly deposited human dung. Hey, at least it was bio-degradable!
         I suddenly noticed that um, very few other people were picking up trash---and they were keeping to the main pathways. Seems they knew something I hadn't.
         Whistling "O Mio Babbino Caro," I shrugged and soldiered on. This was General MacArthur Park, after all. I dragged my bag past a big pile of old branches, where I noticed an old sneaker sticking out. I bent down to add it to my booty---until I noticed that  it was attached to an emaciated ankle, which was attached to an emaciated body of a Latino man with a very red face.
         "Hola!" I said, conjuring high school Spanish, "Estas muerto?" ("Are you dead?")
         His eyes flew open, startled.
         "Si!" he said.
         I figured it was best not to argue.
        I plucked and picked, scooped and grabbed potato chip bags, McDonald's cups, Starbucks cups, empty lighters, unidentifiable detritus, etc. from around the decaying statue of MacArthur, who seemed to be looking across the lake at a big group of African-American and Latino citizens. They were enjoying the beautiful morning, too---by firing up crack pipes and injecting their arms with heroin. One of them offered to sell me some, as I passed by, but I don't believe in mixing work and play.
         After a while, I ran into a park ranger who said he doesn't bother the crackheads and mainliners, because he doesn't have a gun, "and they do---and they'll use 'em, too, because they don't want to go back to prison."
         Pragmatic law enforcement officer!
         Yes, it was a fine thing, cleaning up the great outdoor toilet for hookers and dope addicts and winos---I mean, the great outdoors. Cheerily saluting my cocaine-toking, booze-swilling, drug-dealing Angeleno brethren. My heart flushed with civic pride!]
        All right, to tell you the truth, it really didn't. I just couldn't stave off pesky thoughts, like. . .maybe my time would be more constructively spent by, oh, twiddling my thumbs and drooling. . .and maybe the "great" kids so enthusiastically cleaning and planting had no idea that their work was a sad, useless joke. . .and maybe the absent civic and state blowhards should clean up the dope-dealers, winos, and crackheads, instead of sending their deputies out to blow smoke about how "great" National Public Lands Day is. . .and maybe the the thing that needs cleaning is the public, not the "lands". . .and maybe we all need General MacArthur to come back and kick our asses. . .
         Anyhow, when it was time for the volunteers to stuff their faces with lots of fancy sandwiches and giant cookies in a self-congratulatory food orgy---while the homeless stared hungrily from a distance---I was left with but one thought, a paraphrase of the great general himself.
         "I shall not return."


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