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Sept. 17, 2009

Had a little time to kill (before it kills me) prior to a physical therapy appointment the other morning, so I bought a newspaper, because you still can. Well, what passes for a newspaper. I spent 82 cents (gasp) for the new L.A. Times. Right, the thinner version, with the new giant logo at the top of page one, and the giant ad at the bottom.
          Buying it made me feel sort of like I had just successfully cloned a triceratops.
          Parked myself at a table outside a closed yogurt place, under the glare of a Korean guy inside (yes, he was Korean, as I’d heard him speak before), took a sip of mint tea, and laid out the rag. The sun was shining, there in the remains of Westwood---where Diddy Reese Cookies and Stan's Donuts are the only enduring businesses, and theaters are going the way of. . .newspapers.
          I glanced at the lead story, and let me tell you, the headline was exciting. Get your nitro pills out, folks, here it is:
          “Southland’s vital signs improving.”
          Told you. Is your heart racing? Sweat beads collecting? Now that’s a thrill-and-a-half of headline writing flair.
          Aside from being every bit as interesting as a trip to Lomita, the story turned out to be a lie. Typical L.A. Times head-in-the-sand boring recitation of meaningless statistics lie. Vital signs improving? Har. This place was long ago raped and murdered by developers in cahoots with so-called government, and the stench of the corpse is suffocating. The “economic recovery” touted in the story? Mortician’s make-up.
          Ah, so what else did page one of my local 82-cent ostrich have to tell me?
          “Mexico,” it said, is “under siege.” This was the standing headline, apparently, for a series of articles about problems in Mexico. This one told me that Mexicali has very little violence, but is very, very hot. Wow! There’s something to talk about with my cats over the water cooler. Well, The Times believes that Mexico is local news, you see, and such important local news that it belongs on page one. Silly me, always thinking that L.A. news belongs on page one, and that Mexico is a foreign country.
          I glanced at a photo at the top of the page, which illustrated a story that was not on page one. (Huh?) It was jauntily captioned “A Vocal Local” (give that rhyming writer a lollipop!) and showed a beefy middle-aged guy at a microphone, yelling at the L.A. City Council. He was, it turns out, president of the local Service Employees International Union. It was not news that someone was yelling at the City Council. Lots of people do this, and it never does any good.
          But the photo was every bit as scintillating as Burbank City Council shots we used to run on front page of the old Valley News and Green Sheet, in the ‘70’s. You know, fat guy stands at microphone with sour look on face.
          Let’s see, I thought, what’s in “Column One?” That’s often interesting enough.  Scanned the headline, “Films in a land with no cinema.” Why, I thought, it must be about Westwood! At last, the Times was putting local news on page one!
          But. . .no.
          This turned out to be about Saudi Arabian filmmakers who “focus on oppression but must take their finished work to other countries” for screening. Gosh. I mean, this seemed a perfectly interesting story if you are a Saudi, or in Saudi Arabia, but I confess that my interest in Saudi Arabia is not quite as great as my interest in several million other things. Including how and why the city of Los Angeles continues to allow developers to rape and murder neighborhood after neighborhood. I wondered why the Times has never done anything to defend the city from destruction, gridlock, density, but I didn’t wonder too long.
          Then there was this urgent headline, in all caps: “HEALTH LIMITS PROMPT BACKLASH.” Now, this had me worried. Oh, no, I thought, not a “backlash!” Imagine such a thing in the world. Golly! Not. . .disagreement! The other headlines had already led me to bite my nails down to the quick. And um, which “health limits” might these be, I wondered? I mean, I have health limits, especially in my right shoulder, which is why I was waiting for a physical therapy appointment in the remains of Westwood. My health limits have certainly prompted a “backlash”---from me. I get real mad because I have to sell my stick shift and can no longer pick up slightly heavy objects. Like eggs.
          Well, it turned out that people whose heads make for very good dustcatchers are angry at the idea of illegal immigrants paying for their own health care. I yawned. Insanity would be an improvement over the so-called “discourse” concerning this topic.
One thing about this article, though, was just miraculous. I would never have guessed the actual topic of the story from the headline if I lived to be as old as Larry King and Barbara Walters combined. But that’s often the case with The Times and other papers. I sort of treat it like a game: guess what the newspaper article is really about!
          There was one piece left on page one, one last chance for the page to redeem itself with something of substance, interest. Even diversion. But the headline was, well, just a little. . .vague:
          “What’s gotten into us?”
          Gad, I thought, another “us” story. My reaction every time I read the words “us” or “we” in a newspaper or magazine is, “What in the hell makes you think you are speaking for me, you presumptuous dork.” Sorry to disillusion you, folks, but there is no “us” out there, in the land of Self and Oprah. It's every dork for himself. Or herself. Then I read the deck (lesser headline), which said, “Theories abound after a spate of high-profile outbursts.”
          Now that was a riveter. I mean, knock me down with a feather. Imagine such a thing: “theories abound!” Why such a shocker wasn’t plastered across the top of the page in a banner headline is beyond me. And “outbursts?” My God, not that! I figured to never get into a game of lowball poker with this headline writer. Could these words have been any less specific, more underwhelming?
          Well, the poor reporter, it seems, had been ordered to compile grunts, shrieks, profanity-ridden rants made by famous jackasses in recent weeks, and “analyze” the “phenomenon.” I hope they are paying Reporter well. I’d rather hose down urine-stenched stairs in parking structures than have to write this crap.
          Yes, you are way ahead of me---Reporter had interviewed a “sociologist,” and an “etiquette authority,” and so on.
          Just pour the cement around my ankles now, and take me down to the Santa Monica Pier. Articles like this suck out the remains of my brain and feed them to sea gulls. They paralyze me with a combination of disinterest and incredulity that the press is still working the old “why is this happening/ask a sociologist” angle. Here’s a question for you: Has any such article ever answered these questions? Do they need answering? No, they are “discuss the issue” articles, and they are every bit as useful as featherless ducks.
          I’ll say this, though: next time I need my Ambien prescription renewed, I’ll just buy the Times.
          Okay, I tried reading the piece, at least a little. Reporter had obviously worked hard. So why did Joe Wilson shout “liar” at Obama? Why did Serena Williams threaten to shove a ball down a line judge's throat? Why did Kanye West insultingly interrupt Taylor Swift, which I think is a kind of bird, while receiving some idiotic award? This is what the article “explored."
          Psst, hey. Do you really want to know? Because if you do, I can tell you. Plug your ears, kiddies, here we go: these people, as is the case with so many people, are assholes. (Pardon my French.) That’s why. And this society and its jabbering, deranged, venal media exalts and celebrates. . .assholes, and asshole behavior.
          It's asshole simple.
          I next took in the ad at the bottom of the page, that big tradition-breaking, pride-swallowing, money-maker no-no that even the New York Times is doing now. “Steak Sale!” it said, adding “40 percent off” at Bristol Farms.
          Without a doubt, this was the most important information on the page.
          You might not believe what happened next, but I swear it’s the truth. Yes, I opened up the paper and turned the pages. My brother long ago suggested that I am a masochist, and the fact that I listened to him proves his case. (Of course, he’s a lawyer, so. . .) Still, I had some hope that there might have been something important or substantial to read inside. Just the odds alone. . .
          Well, there was Steve Lopez, a crackerjack newspaper columnist, as far as I’m concerned, writing about exploding water mains and DWP bills. It was a good column, I’m sure, but my curiosity had been so sapped by my page one experience, that it would take more than Lopez to make me actually read something. “Ridley-Thomas ties under scrutiny?” Spare me! The councilman’s insufferably pompous declamations are all I need to know about him. Human as elephant seal. “Pipes Failure Puzzle Engineers” looked like it had comedy potential, but when I read Councilwoman Jan Perry saying “We have to get to the cause. People can get hurt,” the comedy was just too subtle for me.
          Finally, my “reading” of the morning paper devolved, as it usually does, into page-flipping. Michael Jackson’s celebrity skin-cutter suing another of Jacko’s docs for slander? Well, I can watch “Animal Planet” if I want to see hyenas on an antelope corpse. Page A9, I noted with some interest, had a great shot of a young woman in leopard skin underwear and stockings (Macy’s ad), which would have driven me to sexual insanity at the age of 13. But such things largely bypass what’s left of my hormones, and I could only lament the vacuous and vaguely contemptuous look on her  face. I guess it was coincidence that the page also seemed to feature the latest sex crime stories, including the resignation of the GM of Building and Safety, under investigation for drugging women and trying out his big collection of sex toys on them. Guess this was too local and gosh, downright astonishing, for the Times to put on page one.
          I flipped and flipped. “Early Retirement Decision Delayed.” “House Admonishes Wilson.” “Obama praises ‘a great senator.’” “Two Pound Live Maine Lobster”---wait, that was an ad. "Obama praises two-pound live Maine lobster"---now, I'd have read that. But it all blurred together. I mean, did I give a rat’s ass that “Ex Puerto-Rican Radicals Work to Keep the Cause Alive?” “War Crimes in Gaza reported?” (What else is new?) The obits, at least, were okay. I know I’ve seen the late actor, Zakes Mokae, somewhere, and liked him, but can’t remember where. The San Diego folk singer, Sam Hinton, seemed like a fine fellow who engendered some good. Hell, that belonged on page one, too. Better than “HEALTH LIMITS PROMPT BACKLASH." (Don't they teach anything in journalism schools anymore?)
          I skipped the editorials. There is nothing as inconsequential as a newspaper editorial, unless it is a four-way stop on any street in L.A.. These gray blocks of type are always studied and serious chin-stroking appraisals of things that. . .never change. Certainly not because of newspaper editorials, anyhow.
          On op-ed, Tim Rutten had written about the nutjobs plaguing Obama and the country, but I didn’t read it because it’s depressing and no amount of writing about it will make the nutjobs stop being nutty. It’s their job. I read parts of David E. Lehrer’s piece about how the murder of a black security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum does not signal a “wave of hate targeting Jews,” as was claimed by the Anti-Defamation League. Can of worms? Can of snakes.
          I would have read the sports, but I no longer know any of the Dodgers, and can’t muster much interest in people who earn tens of millions of dollars for taking female hormones and hitting a ball.
          I made a last-ditch attempt with Calendar and was---amazing as this will seem---glad to see an article about David Lynch’s paintings having a show. I didn’t read it, understand, just was glad to see it. I remembered how I was once going to interview Lynch back when no one had heard of him outside of his comic strip, “The Angriest Dog in the World,” but how my “editor” nixed the interview because he was too “off the wall.”
          Editors. They should never be put in charge of newspapers.
          That was it for me. Time for physical therapy, and none too soon. The Times had reminded me of what a hopeless mess this so-called city has become, and reminded me that the last newspaper to try and do something about it was the Herald-Examiner in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. I walked past Diddy Riese, which was preparing to open, and told myself I could have a cookie after therapy. Or two. Up ahead, near the corner of Broxton and Le Conte, a middle-aged guy was playing a solemn, mournful improvisation on a silver flugelhorn.
          I tipped him a buck.

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