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Feb. 20, 2008

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          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters with Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um, short. They are intended as a chronicle of the decline in civility and deference, written with just the slightest implication of humor, in this, the alleged 21st century. Names are included when possible to protest the impudent.

          LTSEWH # 1: Going Postal
          I saw the mailman---okay, letter carrier---coming, so I postponed getting in the car.
          “Hi,” I said, smiling. “Thought I’d wait for the mail first.”
          Letter Carrier did not smile in response. Did not even acknowledge me. He walked past, opened my gate, opened the mailboxes, proceeded to stuff sliced dead trees imprinted with ads for discount sanitary napkins inside, and said this:
          “Did you get my note?”
          Note? Huh? I’d never even seen this guy before, and he was talking of leaving me notes?
          “Uh. . .no.”
          “I left you a note last week.”
          “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t get one.”
          “What unit are you in?”
          At this point, I guess I should note that Carrier looked fresh from the exercise yard at Folsom. He was big, he was burly, he was unshaven, and he wore a watch cap. Without the untucked USPS shirt, this might have been El Spooky of the Sawtelo Boys. Norman Rockwell fare, not.
          I told him the unit number.
          “Your name’s not on the box. I left you a note telling you to put your name on the box!”
          “Sorry. I didn’t get the note. Okay, I’ll add my name to the box.”
          “The boxes must have the names of all occupants!”
          “Okay, I’ll add the name.”
          “I’m doing things RIGHT.”
          Under the Jeopardy category, “Hostility,” his “answer” would have been: “He threatens to ‘go postal.’”
          “Well,” I said, not terribly enjoying this little authoritarian encounter with a thug drone, “in fifteen years at this address, and many letter carriers, not one has ever asked me to put my name on the box, my friend. And I’ve never seen you before.”
          “I’m new. They weren’t doing things RIGHT. I AM. I took a package back that was addressed to you because your name was not on the box today.”
          “You what? You took it back? That’s ridiculous!”
          Carrier looked at me. Rage competing with glory.
          “Oh, that’s ridiculous, is it!”
          “Yeah, that’s ridiculous! You’re delivering my other mail here, but you hold back the package because my name isn’t on the box. That’s absolutely ridiculous!”
          “You people move in and out of these apartments all the time, MY FRIEND.”
          Ah, a little sarcasm to go with the insult, rudeness, and threat. Good old United States Postal Service!
          “These aren’t apartments, they’re condos, and I’ve been here for fifteen years, as I’ve told you. Most of the other residents have been here for many years.”
          “If you don’t put your name on the box, I won’t deliver your packages.”
          “I already told you I’d put the name on the box.”
          I want to now explain to readers the astonishing feat I was pulling off. It was a feat so wildly, unimaginatively tremendous, so magnificent, so death-defyingly transcendant, that I can scarcely convey the wonderment and magic entailed. Here is the feat: I managed to restrain myself from calling this fine federal employee at least two dozen profane names that stood at the great racing gate in my brain, champing at the bit, lurching and rearing, desperate to run. Instead, I said:
          “Now, can I meet you at your truck and get my package?"
          Nice of me!
          “Sure,” he said, stuffing the remaining unwanted crap into the four slots with all the delicacy of a creature with hoofs. “It’ll be a while before I get there, though.”
          Oh, he just loved saying that, didn’t he. Instead, I asked him to deliver it.
          To my utter astonishment, Letter Carrier later actually fulfilled that task.
          Maybe he was afraid of violating parole.

          LTSEWH # 2: Going More Postal
          I had a package to mail---just a large envelope---but I didn’t dare leave it downstairs for El Spooky to pick up. Might wind up in a storm drain. Or maybe he’d eat it.
          So I drove to the good ol’ West L.A. post office, with all its merry postal workers always so eager to joyfully greet and assist. Oh, sure, they look as lively as roadkill, but you can’t fool me. I know their hearts are singing!
          I put a half hour in the meter, as sometimes the lines are just a wee bit long.
          Entering this shimmering Emerald City of federal government efficiency and courtesy, my breath drew in. It often does these days, but that’s another story. Now, you readers are already wondering, “Rip, why were you surprised?” But you see, unlike you, I have this inextinguishable instinctive hope that everything that is going so apoplectically, backasswardly wrong in the world will one morning just straighten out, like some kind of gargantuan spasmodic reflex. I was born this way.
          As I was saying, my breath drew in. Before me were not enough people in line to fill the Rose Bowl, but that’s the nicest thing I could say. Each person seemed to clutch only a dozen packages each, and with the usual two (out of six or seven) windows open for service, I figured on no more than a 45-minute wait.
          And a parking ticket when I emerged.
          Never you mind, I told myself in my head, just hie thyself over to the nifty leetle machine where you can weigh and post packages without the slightest human intercourse! I slipped through the crowd and, and. . .
          Five people stood in line for the machine! Five. Several with bags---I mean big shopping bags---full of things to mail. One bag, by my reckoning, contained ten large envelopes. At about two minutes per machine transaction, that guy alone was 20 minutes.
          What was it, the last day on earth to mail things? I walked out.
          But. . .but. . .I had a package to send. What to do? I know---buy a chocolate bar! Chocolate, as many discriminating and thoughtful people know, is the only good reason to remain alive.
          I put more money in the meter, and bought a nice Italian chocolate bar from a nice Italian deli, then gradually returned to the nice American post office.
          Three people in line for the machine. Only one with a shopping bag full of envelopes.
          Now, I come from a country that is deader than delicacy. It was a place where people---I know you will find this very hard to believe---did not always think exclusively and assiduously of themselves. Really. Like Dr. Who, I often feel that I am the last of their kind. Which is to say, if I had ten *^%*$$! Packages and I knew how long the machine took, and I saw that the guy behind me had one *&*&&^^^$$! package, I would turn around, and say, “Hey, go ahead.”
          Not on planet Earth in the 21st century.
          Ten minutes later, I posted my package.
          And realized, for the first time, that the (*(**$$&#!!! machine only offers mailing options that are twice as expensive as those offered by the merry human postal workers.

          LTSEWH # 3: Go Park Yourself
          I apologize for inflicting banal car anecdotes on you, but you see, when you live in L.A., life is little more than a collection of banal car anecdotes.
          And really, complaining about people’s driving habits in L.A. is like complaining that sewers smell bad. Although I would like to add, I’d rather smell a bad sewer than have to drive in L.A. traffic. Really.
          There I was. . .
          Dropping off my female assistant for a medical test. She wanted to be dropped off on the street, but I insisted on pulling into the parking area, and delivering her to the door of the medical building. This required that I then proceed to a parking kiosk, explain to a guard that I was just turning around, and have the guard raise a gate to let me in, and a gate to let me out. No sweat. Happens all the time.
          I explained. Guard smiled and told me to take a ticket. Guard raised gate. I proceeded to make my u-turn, noting that a large Buick or Cadillac or Ford Fatass had suddenly risen on my right, out of a steep parking garage driveway---reminding me instantly of giant ants rising out of their underground desert warren in “Them!”
          The Fatass waited, as instructed by a large red sign with the English word, “Stop,” on it. The Fatass also waited, because a car was making a u-turn in front. The car being mine. Except there wasn’t enough room to make the u-turn, so I had to change into a three-point job instead. I was accomplishing this as quickly as possible, as a courtesy to the Fatass, but it was not good enough.
          Get this: Fatass decided that she---the driver was a middle-aged broad with a foofy hairdo---was going to cut behind me before I could back up from my three-point turn! Never mind that the lane was barely wide enough to permit her to pass. She was on her way.
          Not for long.
          My stupid Corolla is a stick, you see, and this enables me to, quite preposterously, burn rubber and screech like the end of the world, or at least Patagonia. Which I promptly did---backwards.
          Right at Fatass. She stopped. It was either that, or eat Corolla.
          I then safely and quietly completed my three-point turn, proceeded to the guard kiosk, then turned around and shouted:
          “You just couldn’t wait, could you? Couldn’t wait those five or ten seconds, could you? What in the hell is wrong with you?”
          Foofy old broad shouted back at me, of course, but what she said caused me to time-travel:
          “Oh, shut up!”
          Yes, those words plunged my brain into a swirl of chemistry that dredged up subconscious feelings, images, emotions not felt in decades. . .not since impossibly new and sunny days on playgrounds full of impossibly new and sunny faces. . .First grade?
          Oh, shut up? Oh, shut up? Now this was funny, of course, but as I said, I live in L.A., and life in L.A. is just a series of traffic experiences. There is etiquette to observe, and when someone does something as stupid and puny as this woman did, one is required (I think by law) to respond with profanity.
          Which I promptly did, prompting her to promptly respond with another, “Oh, shut up!”
          I let her have the last word. I found her quaintness rather endearing, and besides, she’d given me a trip back to first grade.

          LTSEWH # 4: Go Park Yourself Again
          I’ve been having some niggling health troubles the require that I eat a restricted diet for a while. Probably the result of life built almost entirely of traffic experiences. So for the past few days, I’ve been having my one repast of the day, mid-afternoon, at Koo Koo Roo.
          By the way, scientists have proven that pronouncing the name of this establishment aloud can reduce one’s I.Q.’s by as many as thirty points.
          I don’t really enjoy eating at this joint, but it’s fairly “healthy,” as such places go, and I have not had sufficient energy yet to cook for myself. Viruses are brutes these days.
          There is a Koo Koo Roo a couple miles away, at Wilshire and 20th, in Santa Monica, so the virus and I cruised down there to shovel down some protein and vegetables. I arrived around 3, yet did not place my order until 3:25. No, it was not crowded at all. Nice and empty. Just mid-afternoon misanthropes like me.
          Allow a little narrative here, strictly for your amusement. This is, after all, what I am here for: to amuse you.
          I pulled into the parking lot behind Koo Koo Roo. No Koo Koo Spaces. Not only that, but the lot was full of cars parked higgledy-piggledy, with quasi-hysterical parking valets running around, jabbering in espanol. Koo Koo Valet Parking? Couldn’t be. . .
          Well, no problem. I’d park in an adjoining lot where there are always plenty of spaces, at least at night. But. . .by the glorious light of Koo Koo Day, I could see millions of signs in this lot promising to tow my car to Koo Koo Hell if I so much as idled in the vicinity.
          No problem. I’d park on the street. I quickly pulled into a nearby metered space. Whoops. “No Parking Tuesday between 2 and 4 p.m.” Hmm. No problem, I’d park in an unmetered space. Whoops. “No Parking Tuesday between 3 and 5 p.m.” Hmm. No problem, I’d go around the block and maybe spaces would open up behind Koo Koo Roo. Five minutes later. . .nope, no spaces. And still valet parking circus. No problem, I’d park on Wilshire. Of course, pulling out on to Wilshire from an alley proved easier than shoving my head down a toilet, but not by much. Hmm. No problem, I’d---whoops, no spaces on Wilshire, for blocks and blocks. Well, no problem, I’d go the other way. Whoops, no spaces on the other side of Wilshire, for blocks and blocks. Hmm. No problem, I’d park on another side street. Whoops. All the meters were only 20 minutes! No Problem. I’d park on yet another side street. “No Parking Daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m./No Parking Tuesday 2 to 4 p.m./No Parking at All Times Permit 4 Excepted/No Parking if you are a middle-aged white male/No Parking Except by Permission of Dick Cheney.” Whoops. Whoops. Koo Koo Whoops. Roo Koo Whoops Koo Whoops! Whoop whoop whoop! No problem, I’d check behind Koo Koo Roo again. I stopped, hailing a valet, and suddenly, three cars backed up behind me, spilling out on to 20th Street. They honked.
          “Excuse me,” I said to the valet, “Where do I park for Koo Koo Roo?”
          “I new here, senor. Parking dono.”
          “Can I park in the adjoining lot, with all the signs threatening to tow me?”
          “I new here, senor.”
          “Okay! Thank you very much!”
          Koo Koo Rooked! Koo Koo Fooked!
          I had, as I saw it, several choices. It’s good to take stock of your choices, especially when you think you have none. One, I could drive to Culver City, where there is a nice gun store that would probably issue me a revolver fairly cheaply and quickly, and then I could drive to the beach, crank up The Beatles, and shoot myself. Well, I was too tired for more driving, and besides, I wanted to eat. Eating is more fun than shooting yourself in the head. I imagine. Two, I could drive around the block some more, just for the lyrical futility of it. It’s so L.A.! Maybe I’d have one of those marvelous L.A. epiphanies, like all those hipster new-in-town writers talk about in their puerile narcissistic little “essays” on the Times op-ed. Three, I could park in the adjoining lot with the millions of signs threatening to tow my car away and feed it to buzzards if I dared to so much as stop.
          I opted for three. I figured they could have the car. I was hungry. And maybe I would happen upon them trying to tow it, so I could impress them with my waning command of English.
          At last, to my enormous glory and hallelujah, I entered the hall of brutally murdered poultry greased up with spicy red sauce, and overcooked, stomach-shredding salted and peppered vegetables. Yes, I was actually inside Koo Koo Roo! I was going to gnaw the seared flesh off the breasts of dead chickens, and shoot misanthropic glances at the other misanthropes gnawing on other dead bird flesh!
          But it wasn’t enough. After placing my order, I don’t know what came over me. I just found myself babbling at the poor girl behind the counter that I’d just spent about 25 minutes of my life trying to find a space to park. To my credit, I did not cry.
          “Oh no, sweetie!” she said.
          Now, I damn near did cry at that point. She called me “sweetie!” I can’t remember the last person who called me “sweetie!” Sure wasn’t my former wife.
          “You should have just used our valet parking out back! It’s free!”
          The stripped gears in my brain that would have normally generated some caustic comment about the absurdity of having to be valet parked at a Koo Koo Roo sputtered slightly, then died.
          “Oh,” I said. “Thank you. I’ll do that next time.”
          “Yeah, sweetie. I’ll have your order right up, okay? Have a nice afternoon!”
          Right. How Koo-Koo-could I not?
          For more LTSEWH's, watch this space, or click here

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