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Feb. 19, 2010         

          Some of you have asked why I continue to write the Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity column after so many years. Good question! You’re right---calling attention to the brutish, stupid behavior of Los Angeles humans does nothing to change it.
          I suppose there is some redeeming value in the fact that many readers report  similar and far worse LTSEWH’s, and find some commiseration in reading about my experiences as set down here. Misery, in other words, loves company. What’s more, far-fetched as it seems, some readers seem to. . .laugh.
          Then there is my feeling that I am fighting a very lonely battle in pointing out the prevailing, and what has become defining, ugliness of this city. In a town full of rah-rah “L.A. is great” politically correct propagandists masquerading as distinguished journalists, influential bloggers, important radio hosts, noble elected officials, I am the odd man out. Or the odd writer out. Anyhow, I’m odd.
          But there are many who share my disdain for what L.A. has become, and I have been told that this website is a bit of an oasis for such misanthropic souls. Nothing like ministering to the needy. So. . .
          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, just to come up with a really stupid, ungainly, impossible-to-pronounce acronym. Names are included when possible in order to fully humiliate the guilty.
          LTSEWH: Post Office Traumatic Stress Disorder
          W.C. Fields could have written this one. Or Larry David. (Remember, LTSEWH is just “Curb Your Enthusiasm” without an agent, and predated the show by a decade.)
          There I was. . .
          In the post office near Exposition and Sawtelle, which is usually a mistake. Being in any post office these days is usually a mistake, but this one is infamous for 45-minute lines served by one or two (okay, sometimes three) “customer service” workers as speedy and efficient as Laurel and Hardy. (I was going to say “as Butterfly McQueen was at birthing babies,” but that would incur charges of racism from the PC Police, seeing as many employees of this and other post offices are African-American. See how racially sensitive I am?)
THE RIP POST STORE. . .special New Year discount. . .

          On this day, though. . .hallelujah! The line was about five deep, which is perhaps the only nice thing about the month of January, the Monday Morning of the year. People are so sick of the post office after the holidays that they try to stay away as much as possible in the weeks thereafter.
          I waited “only” about fifteen minutes before reaching the front, but. . .
          I am Rense, and in Renseland, the planets are aligned like scattered pool balls. My astrological sign is “The Jackass.” God has filed me under “Comedy.” The law requires that idiots and brutes toy with me. There is a sign on my back. It reads: "Rense. Get him." Haven't seen my goat in at least 30 years.
          A “helpful” postal service employee appeared beside me, smiling. Bad sign. It's become a bad sign anytime anyone smiles at you anymore. It generally means somebody wants something, or is about to pull an Assegai.
          I would say this post office employee looked nice, but I detected an underlying air of authority, if not imperiousness, about her. An implied inflexibility, much as one finds in meter maids, and Hillary Clinton. So I stood there as innocuously as possible, a calculatedly benign look on my face, holding five small envelopes containing promo copies of a CD I had produced. Trying to convey normal, law-abiding customer who is kind to children and animals and is not mailing a bomb to a former employer.
          “How are you paying for those?” she said.
          Huh? How am I paying for those? Uh. . .with blood, with my life, my sweat, my heart, my dignity. . .Uh. . .Huh?
          "Are you paying with cash?"
          Oh. Instead of responding, “What the hell concern is it of yours,” which is what I should have said, I politely explained that I was using a card.
          “Debit or credit?” said postal employee.
          I wanted to say, “I’m sorry. Have we been introduced? My name is Rip. I enjoy Tai Chi and Puccini, and I tip waitresses excessively. What about you? And why are you asking me these questions? Would you like my bank account number, too? My PIN code?”
          Instead, I just said, “Debit.” Chanting path of least resistance in my head.
          “Can your card be also used as a credit card?”
          Yes, lady, and a can opener, dog whistle, and miracle fabric softener.
          “I don’t know, ma'am. Sometimes a purchase is rung up as credit, and it seems to work.”
          “I see. Because you can use the machine, but if you do it as a debit, you have to process each package individually.”
          It took me a second to figure out that "the machine" did not refer to a Jack La Lanne Juicer or Kobe Bryant. It took another second to figure out what she was trying to tell me.
          “Yes. Yes, I realize that. That’s why I’m standing in line. The machine takes too long when you have several packages. So you’re telling me that if I use it as a credit card, the machine will process the packages cumulatively?”
          “Thank you. I’ll remember that.”
          Like I was going to leave the front of the line, after taking advantage of that fabulous January discount 15-minute wait, and walk to a machine? I felt like George Costanza finding a good parking space.
          Seeing that I had not taken the hint, I guess, Employee pressed on with her interrogation.
          “Where are your packages going?”
          Now, esteemed readers, I must confess that I was very tired from a night of no sleep. So tired, really, that I just didn’t have the energy to be my normal, endearing self, in which case I would have responded something like, “Why are you asking me all these questions? Am I not allowed to stand in line and be waited on by a customer service person?” Or, more preferably, “None of your goddamn business.” Instead, I sighed and told her that the packages were all domestic, except one, which was going to Australia.
          Uh-oh. . .
          “Did you fill out your customs form?” she said, eyebrows raised.
          I had figured on doing that at the window, you see, while the other four packages were being weighed, stamped, and the clerk recited, “Is there any reason why this man and this woman should not---“ I mean, “Anything hazardous, fragile, liquid, lethal, smelly, dangerous to children under twelve, homosexuals, or chihuahuas?” I had it all planned out, see. No time wasted.
          But any such explanation, I knew, would go nowhere with Line Nazi, so I said nothing. She handed me a customs form---“our new one,” she said, I thought proudly---and suggested I step to the counter to fill it out, where there was a pen. This was all clearly witnessed and overheard by the young blonde woman standing immediately behind me.
          I dumbly stepped to the counter, took 30 seconds to fill out the form, was about to sign it, when I heard the magic words, “May I help the next customer in line?”
          Me! That was me! In bitchy, nasty, surly, murderous Los Angeles, this invitation is so warm as to pass for “I love you!” I turned to step to the open customer service clerk, and. . .
          Blondie, who had been right behind me, whisked to that window so quickly that I was reminded of old “Flash” comic books, where The Flash moves so fast that you only see two or three freeze-frames of him, and a blur. I was stunned. I just stood there, staring.
          You see, I come from an orientation of something that used to be called “common courtesy,” which is about as common today as common sense. This would have required Blondie to defer to me, the next person in line, who had just filled out a short form while waiting for the next clerk. After having waited fifteen minutes already.
          Before I could open my sleep-deprived, about-to-gape mouth to say, “Excuse me, Miss, I was next in line,” Blondie was well into nicey-poo titter and transaction with the window clerk. Packages were already on the scale.
          I returned morosely to the front of the line. I spoke anew to Line Nazi, who was interrogating other innocent customers.
          “I can’t believe it. I can't believe how rude people have become. I just can’t believe it.”
          “What’s the problem, sir?”
          She hadn’t noticed?
          “Well, that woman just rushed up to the window, knowing full well that I was next in line.”
          I felt embarrassed to have even spoken such words. No, not embarrassed. Humiliated, shocked, gasp-sputter-astonished. L.A. had succeeded in doing something that only happens in The Twilight Zone and Facebook: it had turned me into a twelve-year-old again! I was first, teacher! She took cuts! Was I really complaining about this? Well, yes, I was, and what's more, I felt justified in doing so.
          And here, folks, is the W.C. Fieldsian payoff, the stuff that is “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” bread and butter. Line Nazi spoke these exact words:
          “But you weren’t ready!”
          Aieeeee! The snake eats itself!
          But. You. Weren't. Ready.
          Paging Joseph Heller.
          This Sherlock Holmes of the postal world, this Hercule Poirrot of stamps and letters, this Miss Marple of mail, had ferreted out through extensive questioning my foul crime of not having filled out a customs form for one package! Well done! Good thing she is being paid that massive government salary! She had discovered this, yes, then tried, convicted, and sentenced me to Post Office Purgatory---the counter---to fill out the form. Where, unbenownst to me, she had also punished me for not having filled out the form by cancelling my place in line!
          The words echoed in my head: 
          "But you weren't ready!"
          Oh, I had been ready. Very, very ready. So ready that my bodily fluids were all apop and jazzed with "ready" adrenalin. My whole being, my entire focus, my very raison d'etre was to as quickly and efficiently as possible get to that window clerk, have vacuous smiley-smiley chit-chat, mail my packages, and then leave an unctous "Thank you" despite the fact that I had brought business to them.
          Hey, folks, ever see that Fields movie, “Man on the Flying Trapeze,” where a cop pulls him over to give him a ticket, then leaves him in a no parking zone, where another cop promptly appears to give him another parking ticket before he can leave, followed by another cop who gives him another parking ticket before he can leave?
          “Of course I was ready!” I hissed at Miss Helpful. “I stood her for fifteen god-damned minutes, being ready. I had only to fill out the customs form, which I would have done while my other four packages were being processed. Don't be ridiculous. I’m so sick of goddamned rude assholes. And you cost me my place in line.”
          The swearing did it. Line Nazi looked fearful, and moved away from me, lest (you knew this was coming) I go postal! I figured I was seconds away from being hustled away by Homeland Security. Or Oprah. Or KPCC.
          Let me be boring here, or should I say, more boring. When you are in line, whether you are filling out something or just standing there, thinking about hamburgers and sex, you are. . .in line. You have next-window rights. The person behind you in line knows this, unless he or she is brain-impaired, and defers to you. If you are not finished filling out your form, that person might---might---take the next available window, after checking with you. Miss Helpful should have seen to it that this protocol was followed.
          Nope. Not in the land of the free and home of the depraved. Porcine Blondie, who was about 28, saw her chance and grabbed it---sure as SUV’s with "I Got Mine" plate frames make left turns directly in front of oncoming traffic because of such weighty 21st century L.A. ethos as “go for it dude” and “What’s wrong---I didn’t hit you!”
          I had a choice. Let the whole thing go, or say something. The something I wanted to say was not socially acceptable, so I opted for these words, as I walked to the next available clerk:
          “Excuse me,” I said gently to Blondie's back. “I was next in line, which you knew, but you rushed up and grabbed this window, which was very rude.”
          Uh-oh again. Yes, I live dangerously!
          “Sir! I am not rude! You weren’t ready!”
          (Larry David, my price for this anecdote is $500.)
          “I was ready.”
          “You should have said something!”
          “It was not my job to say something. It was your job to defer to the next person in line before grabbing the window.”
          I walked away.
          “Sir! Sir! I was not being rude, and---“
          “Oh, for Christ’s sake, don’t argue with me, woman.”
          You could have scraped the sheer contempt off that sentence and made a dozen sandwiches with it. And then, as I arrived at long last at the coveted, glorious, miraculous, shining, pulsating Exposition Post Office customer service window:
          “How are you today, sir?” said the clerk.
          I swear. She really said that. She had a front-row seat at the Line Dance, had heard every word, and. . .asked me how I was! 
          “Not well, not well,” I muttered, sotto voce. “I am fucking fed up with rude fucking assholes.”
          Blondie The Flash also apparently had superhero hearing, for she turned to me and said loud enough for the entire lobby to hear:
          “Sir! You are unbelievable! My God!
          Sigh. I was just too tired to take any more bait. I spoke my next sentence in a voice detectable only by dogs and L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed.
         “You can just kiss my ass.”
          And rabbit-ears heard that, too, launching into a diatribe directed at anyone listening about how I am low, deranged, consort with the devil, and probably chew my hangnails. (I do.)
          Because I still cling to this silly notion that if you register a complaint with an institution, that institution might take action to avert certain problematic situations in the future, I told the clerk everything that had transpired with the postal employee Line Monitor Chief Investigating Detective, topping it off with this remarkably polite statement:
          “So if she’s there to make things more efficient, she is not doing her job properly. She caused a problem where there was none, cost me my place in line, and has left several people upset."
          You might not believe what happened next, but there is nothing I can do about that. I have no witnesses, outside of the imps, elves, and leprechauns hiding in the ethers, and under stamps, but the postal clerk really said this:
          “Oh, you don’t have to tell me how screwed up the post office is. You have no idea how bad it is. It’s horrible. It’s just really horrible.”
          Promote that woman to Postmaster General!
          Of course, if this were "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I would later run into Porcine Blondie. She would turn out to be my dental hygienist, or anesthesiologist, or an agent to whom I had just submitted a manuscript.
          I haven't seen her again, but there's still time.
          For more LTSEWH's watch this space.

cdavis writes:

"Some of you have asked why I continue to write the Less Than Satisfying
Encounters With Humanity column after so many years. "

Screw 'em. This is my favorite comic-relief feature on Internet, TV, radio,
print, or in any other outlet of human expression. I haven't lived in Los
Angeles for years and apparently I still need the therapy.

When I type '' into my Internet-browser's URL window I always hope
to see that unique acronym and am somewhat disappointed to see opera or
classical music references which I, alas, do not comprehend.


Susanne writes:

My dear man,

You have won yourself a new fan.

I've seen your comments on Facebook, but having read your column and
nearly spit out my morning coffee several times, I have become a bona
fide admirer.

Thank you for your observations, keen and biting wit, and pithy turns
of phrase.

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