The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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          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: Have a heart
          I don’t know, I almost threw this one back where I found it, which was on a sidewalk in West L.A. in a neighborhood where lots of little Indio mothers walk along with passels of kids trailing like ducklings.
          What I held was an artwork, probably by one of these ducklings. It’s hardly anything to take a second look at, a work of crayon scribble on blue paper, cut out with those wonderful elementary school blunt scissors (I hope.)
          The thing was yellow in the center, with a thick red border and skinny blue outline. Superman colors! In fact, it was sort of shaped like the Superman emblem, lacking the rather crucial “S.” (Or was that a Kryptonian symbol for “Kal-el,” which was Superman’s real name?)
           So the reason I kept it, and decided to share it with the 23.7 weekly readers of this column, was its shape. I think the duckling was making a heart, or trying to, as the top has three humps instead of two. Although that would make it closer to anatomical correctness, given aortic structure.
          But it stopped me, you see, that kids are still scribbling hearts, and proudly cutting them out to give to their moms or girlfriends. I had forgotten this goes on. It is so pure and guileless as to seem almost the doing of an alien being, in this gnarled age of religious insanity, stupid wars, sociopathic consumerism, suicide bombing, corporate rape.
          I wondered if this little kid would have any heart left at 20, 30, 40. I wondered if he or she would be butchered in some war, or become one of the struggling poor, or a homeless drunk with scabbed feet. Or even worse, a television news anchor.
          The way I figure it, this duckling will never create anything nicer or more beautiful than that simple paper heart that I found crumpled, stomped, dirty on the ground in a very nasty and unforgiving time and place.
          View footnote.
          FOOTNOTE # 2: Match made in. . .
          Cheviot Hills is a sumptuous neighborhood. It’s the neighborhood equivalent of a fat bite of cake and ice cream. The gardens explode if you so much as sneeze on them. They’ve got flowers there the size of elephants.
         There are more monied districts in L.A., more splendid ones as well, but Cheviot Hills has always seemed to retain an old-L.A. hominess that is proof against its extravagance and ostentatiousness. Or at least it did for me until the other Sunday morning, when I found a slip of paper in the street fronting a house that probably sold for about $29,000 when new, and is now worth a month of Kobe’s salary.
          “Chase and Paige,” it said at the top, in cursive letters, and underneath, “May 18, 2007.”
          Wedding invite.
          “Chase and Paige?” I said to my redoubtable female advisor, interrupting our quiet post-breakfast stroll to admire local posies. “Chase and Paige?”
          Now, I admit to a particular dislike of the name, “Paige,” particularly with an “i” (long story, folks), but these were the kinds of things you expect to find floating on the top of a cappucinno. Decaf No-whip Latte, extra Chase and Paige, please.
          Chase and Paige? A match made in trust fund, leather-upholstered, white folk fantasy-name heaven. Born, raised, shaped in Cheviot Hills World, their designer-encased hinds never knowing the inside of vehicles worth less than thirty grand. Survived four daddy-paid years at USC, Chase now nearly done with law school, job waiting. Paige trying to choose between acting and child development. More Chases and Paiges on the way.         
          Ladies and gentlemen, I present. . .
          Mr. and Mrs. Honey!
          I hopefully inspected the other names on the invite, lest the bride and groom’s had been a fluke. Nope. Grant, Kirsten, Jared, Hunter, Haley. Fraternity and sorority row bulwarks. A couple of tokens, Marc and Bill, did nothing to mute my bemusement. I don’t know, I’m no one to talk about names, I guess, but sometimes I think that people would get along better if more were just named Jake and Charlie and Trudy and Mabel.
          View footnote.
          FOOTNOTE # 3: Writer’s block
          Nathan is a kid with no future. No, not because his name is Nathan, which has a perfectly dignified history redolent with patriotism and hot dogs (which in this country pretty much amounts to the same thing.) I say he has no future because of a piece of his homework folded and discarded near a west side Los Angeles elementary school.
          This was a two-sided work sheet headed “Focus on Meaning” and “Focus on Spelling”---exercises in verbal skill and knowledge. There was a fill-in-the-blank section where you insert words from a list into sentences, a matching section where you write the vocabulary word next to its proper definition, a section for filling in the missing consonants and vowels in the same vocabulary words, a “find the hidden word” puzzle.
          As near as I can tell, Nathan did well on everything. True, he wrote “seperate” in the blank for “Let’s ____ the cookies into two piles,” but hell, I still have days where I still can’t remember whether it’s an “e” or an “a,” either. So does his teacher, apparently, who marked it correct (!) And he tried to fudge the spelling of the word elsewhere, writing the “a” over the “e” (teacher marked him wrong here!), but that’s just crafty.
          In fact, Nathan did superbly on these exercises, showing an easy and accurate grasp of definition, spelling, word usage. All the makings of a writer, in other words.
          As I said, a kid with no future.
          View footnote.
          FOOTNOTE # 4: Tale from the gutter
          A rather cantankerous old editor of mine, Larry Fowler, used to huff, “You can throw a brick and hit a reporter.” To his credit, he never did this, although not a few of his reporters might have enjoyed throwing a brick at him.
          Well, paraphrasing the late Mr. Fowler’s use of this global-warming-proof cliché, you can throw a brick and hit a screenwriter. Or a would-be screenwriter. And although this is notoriously true in L.A., my guess is that the phenomenon has spread to Milwaukee, Independence, and most any place where people supplement their clerk jobs at Borders by selling things on eBay.
           The odds of getting a screenplay produced, of course, are almost as good as Bush learning to say “nuclear.”
          Yet this has not stopped brave screenwriter Ray, whose e-mail name is, interestingly, “screenwriterray.” He is at it, tap-tapping on his keyboard and e-mailing ideas far and wide, or at least to someone named Rita. One of his treatments fluttered at my feet recently, having been sprayed into partial blur by a lawn sprinkler.
            It concerned a blonde who was married rather problematically to a Los Angeles doctor. Two markets nailed already! Anyhow, Blondie heads north to Los Olivos, where she encounters a “surfer dude” who calls her a “stubborn little bitch,” and soon enough entices her into a Jacuzzi after a couple of glasses of Bailey’s Irish Crème (yech), a Simon and Garfunkel concert on DVD, and a joint.
          (Ah, it’s a love story!)
          Turns out the “dude” owns two Corvettes, which seems to really impress her, as it should any self-respecting American draft animal---er, woman. A few sample lines: “Maybe he was a drug dealer. . .Their marriage had become stagnant. . .He liked women but wanted to keep things light. . .Getting laid was dangerous in this aids (sic) generation. . .You don’t need a bathing suit. . .”
           Now perhaps I am not entirely fair to screenwriterray’s prowess as a storyteller, as about one-third of the right side of each Xeroxed page was missing, but I think I caught the gist of the saga, which was entitled (murmuring, portentous, mildly psychotic cellos here):
          “Rendezvous With Fate.”
          (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Okay, I’m all right now.)
          Well, I’m not sure what else to say about screenwriterray, except that the laugh is probably on me, as women tend to eat up this kind of stuff, and the treatment will probably be picked up for a few more grand than I am making with this column.
          By the way, while you can throw a brick and hit a reporter, it is very hard to throw a brick and hit a good reporter.
          View footnote.
          FOOTNOTE # 5: Boss ladies
          I once briefly dated an editor of mine (not Larry Fowler), which was not the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, I’m sorry to say. Well, this editor apparently had notions of becoming Mr. and Mrs. Honey, which was as far from my mind as a roll in the hay was near. Besides, alcohol played a big role in our temporary rapport, so I figured this was just good, clean, wholesome, All-American fun.
          Besides, I was young. Enough excuses for you?
          Anyhow, I learned a bitter lesson from the experience. Never dreaming that the editor was in any way disappointed by the fact that I had not professed undying love and promptly proposed marriage, I later asked if I could use her as a reference for a job. This was perhaps six months after I had so callously used her for my prurient, drunken gratification.
          “Sure,” she said. “I’d be happy to let you use me as a reference,” she said.
          Now that was sporting, I thought. A real professional. No grudges.
          What a little surprise it was, then, when the editor of the newspaper where I aspired to work told me, “We’ve never seen better clips (articles), frankly, than yours, but we’re a bit worried that you might be a pain in the ass.”
          Well, I freely admit to having been a pain in the ass to any and all stodgy, unimaginative, authoritarian, incompetent, phoney, power-mad bosses by doing such outrageous things as fighting for clarity in my copy, but that’s another story.
            It turned out that the first editor---call her Mabel---had um, dissed me. She gave my writing full marks, but added, “I got along with him fine, but I can’t speak for other people.”
          Wow! Hell hath no fury! Did it cost me the job? In a way. The editor went on to research my life like Homeland Security and the CIA combined. It lasted weeks and weeks! I had to supply another batch of references, and the editor spent as much as two hours on the phone with them, discussing me! In the end, they offered me the job, but I turned them down (despite better pay and more vacation!) because I figured their interview “technique” didn’t bode well for future editing experiences. One peep outta me, and I would be branded a "pain in the ass."
          Which is a long and roundabout way of saying that I found a letter of reference near the Veterans Administration written by Executive VP Mallory (last name omitted here) for James the Moving Guy. Mallory went on and on about what a fabulous, courteous, dedicated worker James has been on the numerous occasions over many years where she required a mover---in both her working and private life.
          I figure James the Moving Guy must have been a lot smarter than me, or less drunk.
          Wait a second. I read Mallory's last line, which was about how she only knew James “within this specific and limited capacity.”
          Whoah! That sounded a lot like, “I can’t speak for other people.”
          James, you cad!
          View footnote.
          For more City Footnotes, watch this space.

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