by RIP RENSE
(Sept. 27, 2006)
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
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
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.
There was a logo for
something called “Twenty Four,” presumably a new movie---from Twentieth
Century Fox. There was also a website URL,
www.foxjapan.com. Yes, the card was just a little promo gimmick.
PR people. The truest
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,
City Footnote # 2:
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
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
In other words, it was a
perfect portrait of self-indulgent, vapid, spoiled, au courant young
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
City Footnote # 3:
A postcard-sized flyer,
discarded in the vicinity of a table where they were being handed out to
passers-by in West Los Angeles:
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
I turned it over.
Recommendations. . .$15 off w/flyer.”
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.
City footnote # 4:
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
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.
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.
City footnote # 6:
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
“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.
BACK TO PAGE ONE