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(Sept. 27, 2006)

          You find them everywhere. Blowing down sidewalks, crumpled up in bushes, rumpled and stained in curbside gutters. Bits and pieces of daily lives, discarded or lost, there at your feet. Each one a chapter from a story, somewhere in the middle of a human book. Call them city footnotes. . .
          Footnote # 1: What a card
          It was lying flat on the diesel-soot powdered concrete outside the Federal Building in Westwood. My eyes bulged. Before me was a major scandal, a breach of national security so terrific as to warrant headlines. It was a small two-by-three-inch card---a badge, actually---for the United States Counter Terrorist Unit, Los Angeles division.
          And it was blank. Just an insignia, clearance number N5286J, and a bar code. With spaces for a name, code, and signature. I didn’t know what the “code” was supposed to be, but I figured somebody could fudge something.
          What was this? Was the Department of Homeland Security so insecure as to leave blank I.D.’s in the street? Had Condoleezza Rice accidentally dropped it? Would they let her back in the White House?
          My mind raced. What if somebody dangerous found it---more dangerous, even, than Mel Gibson---and wanted to infiltrate the federal Counter Terrorist Unit? You know, like Osama Bin-Laden? After all, he’s living in Westwood, going to movie previews, picking up UCLA coeds. He could have stumbled across this as easily as I had.
          So I did my patriotic duty and picked the card up, ready to turn it in to nearby FBI headquarters. But then---what if the FBI didn’t believe my story? What if they thought I had somehow stolen it? Or forged it? What if they decided to um, detain me? I mean, I hate rap music, and I have no interest in nude dogpiles or posing for novelty photos with female G.I.’s.
          I turned the card over. Perhaps it would yield even more important information.
          It did!
          There was a logo for something called “Twenty Four,” presumably a new movie---from Twentieth Century Fox. There was also a website URL, Yes, the card was just a little promo gimmick.
          PR people. The truest terrorists.
          Hmm. . .not so sure this was a real responsible idea, printing a fake terrorism cop I.D. card as a gag. You never know who might want to pose as a law enforcement official protecting the country.
          Like Michael Chertoff, for instance.
          (View footnote.)
          City Footnote # 2: Street Language
          It’s just possible that you find this sort of thing in various other cities, given the fact that most bi-peds, and perhaps a few quadra-peds, now think they are undiscovered writers. But I tend to think that L.A. is the place where script pages most often literally flutter down the street. This town is one big cutting room floor.
          The four pages in question, 73-76, were creased and dirtied up near Wilshire and Federal. They concerned Ryan, Kendra, and Doug, three undoubtedly strapping young people burgeoning with robust glandular secretions, who say things like “hey, it’s cool” and “that’s awesome,” and have idle and pointless exchanges about things like Kobe beef. (That’s Kobe, Japan, not Bryant.) Kendra and Ryan are vegetarians.
          In other words, it was a perfect portrait of self-indulgent, vapid, spoiled, au courant young Americans. Unwittingly.
          And everything in these pages was grade AA, top-quality USDA-inspected trite, from the trendy 21st century names (anyone actually know anyone named “Kendra?”) to Ryan talking to himself as he knocks on Kendra’s door: “Showtime. Moment of truth. Eyes on the prize.”
          What’s more, the script’s directions were written in common vernacular such as “Kendra starts really f---ing with him,” and “Pissed, Ryan drives down the street,” ensuring that young auteurs have no trouble understanding character motivation.
          In the end, Ryan, who drives a Porsche, ends up on the short end of the stick while Kendra and Doug head out on a date in Doug’s “classic red Mercedes.” Get it? They are people of taste and individuality! Kendra is not taken in by macho flash! She needs a man with style.
          Coming soon to a theater near you.
          (View footnote.)
          City Footnote # 3: Kushy Job
          A postcard-sized flyer, discarded in the vicinity of a table where they were being handed out to passers-by in West Los Angeles:
          “Pacific Support Services. . .Discrete (sic). . .1 800 GOT KUSH.”
          Kush? What was Kush? The only possible definition that came to mind suggested that this “support” might have involved the um, comfort afforded by intimate contact with the opposite camp. What the hell, I wondered, were hookers passing out flyers now?
          I turned it over.
          “Medicinal Marijuana Recommendations. . .$15 off w/flyer.”
          Dope. Pot. Muggles.Grass.Weed. Four-twenty. Boo. Tea. Ganga. Blunt. Skunkweed. Bowl. I’ve heard a lot of slang for marijuana, but I’ve never heard of kush.
          If I suffered from any of the following, the card said, I could get all the kush I want: anxiety, arthritis, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, chronic nausea, cancer, glaucoma, insomnia, migraines, sports injuries, auto accidents.
          Hell, I’m a cinch. I’m a walking personification of anxiety. An old girlfriend used to call me “the exposed nerve.” Chronic pain? You bet. Every time I hear any member of the Bush administration speak. Insomnia? Only when I can’t sleep. Sports injuries? I pulled a muscle doing tai-chi the other day. . .wonder if that counts. And I had a car accident once in 1981.
          Get me a pipe!
          The card promised me that it is legal to own, grow, and smoke medical marijuana “as long as you do it properly.” No problem. Whenever I smoked, back in the stone age (har), I have always done so properly, unfailingly saying “may I have the joint, please,” and “thank you for passing me your pipe.” I did nothing if not observe stoner etiquette. So I’m okay there.
          “Qualifying is simple,” the card further advised, “and our experienced physicians are more than happy to help you.” Yes, I’ll bet they’re more than happy.
          Finally, I was told that to get my kush, all I had to do was “please bring your documentation you have with you.”
          Must be good stuff.
          (View footnote.)
          City footnote # 4: Unilo
          The Unihi Education Foundation Alumni Newsletter for July 2006, found on the street outside, not surprisingly, Unihi. University High School in West Los Angeles, for the out-of-towners who comprise the bulk of the L.A. populace.
          This was a remarkable publication in that it revealed an impressive loyalty to this venerable high school, with classes dating to the ‘30’s still actively participating in various events, from the All-Alumni Picnic and Car Show to scholarship funds, etc. There were also senior photos of two celebrity grads, James “Mr. Streisand” Brolin, and Nancy Sinatra, both class of ’58. Turns out that Nancy’s dad once sang at a Unihi assembly (!)
          The lead story in the newsletter was about one Charles Brewer Fiscus, class of ’44, who has given the school $50,000 for the aid of teachers and supplies. Now that’s loyalty. It made me wonder about Uni, and recall an occasion I had to walk through the administration building of the school a couple years ago, just before morning classes.
          The volume of chatter was beyond feeding time at the zoo. Shouting was a starting point. The hallway was a rushing river of hormones and pheramones and obedient young consumer clones. Heads were shaved, jewels imbedded or suspended from earlobes and navels. Jeans revealed female hind cleavage, girls’ tops were just an excuse to cover the minimally required amount of breast to remain legal. Male pantlegs were big enough for three or four limbs, and the pants were hoisted no higher than Cantinflas level (that’s where the belt comes just below the buttocks.) The language was plenty good for any decent toilet stall door. Among the dignified and expressive vocabulary being grunted and yelled: the beloved “f—k,” and, of course, “nigger.” The latter spoken was exclusively by African-America students, with “mah” in front.
          Somehow, I don’t think Mr. Fiscus’s contribution is going to have much impact.
          (View footnote.)
          City footnote # 5: Song of the earth
          Every now and then I see something that is so disarmingly guileless, so astonishingly benign, that I am speechless. It doesn’t happen often, let me assure you. In a typical day I expect to encounter: jabbering, drooling insane people on sidewalks, urine-reeking mental patients, automobiles manned like murder weapons, pop music that sounds good for slaughtering babies, newsstands full of magazines shamelessly preaching self-love and cheap sex, TV programs built on voyeurism, hero-worship of anyone famous for any reason, best-selling books by incredibly rich egomaniacs talking about how they have “no fear,” phone menus that take far more time than a live human operator would, employees who say “finding everything all right?” while they cannot find their own asses, and. . .you get the idea.
          So when I saw this little piece of paper in the dirt next to Cloverfield Park in Santa Monica one afternoon, I stopped in my tracks. I could have almost cried at its innocence, purity, lack of anything remotely manipulative, let alone demographically contrived. I mean, in a world of X-Boxes and preening no-talent American Idols, this was practically an archaeological find from a gentler bygone era.
          It was just a page of sheet music, headed “Guitar/Piano Lesson 1,” with a simplified tune at the bottom, a tune so sweet, so haunting, so old-fashioned, that I can scarcely believe kids are learning it anymore.
          “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”
          The old gray goose ain’t the only thing that’s dead these days.
          (View footnote.)
          City footnote # 6: Unsolicited advice
          Now, I don’t know if this one really counts, because I “found” it in a restaurant, along with a lot of other handouts near the front door. But it is such an unusual item, and the fact that it was offered in the unlikely venue of Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo, I think, make this a find. And seeing as it was on a low table near my feet, I’d say it passes for a city footnote.
          It was, simply, a list of daily advice of the ilk that gets passed around on-line. . .
          “Don’t waste time grieving our past mistakes.
          “Learn from them and move on.”
          “Learn to show cheerfulness, even when you don’t feel like it.”
          And. . .
          “No matter how dire the situation, keep your cool. . .Don’t burn bridges, you’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river. . .Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. . .Never underestimate the power to change yourself. . .Be willing to lose a battle in order to win the war. . .”
          Finally. . .
          “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
          “Spend less time worrying who’s right, and more time deciding what’s right.”
          Whoever wrote this thing is a goddamn sadist.
          For more city footnotes, watch this space.
          (View footnote.)

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