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LTSEWH (yet again!)
Mar. 10, 2010         
          Because of the nearly year-long drought in Less Than Satisfying Encounter With Humanity columns, and because of the popularity of the past two weeks’ worth, and because I just can’t get interested in writing about any of the cripplingly stupid, inane, futile “issues of the day,” hey, kids, here’s yet another. . .
          Oh, but before I proceed, let me note that although people continue to send e-mail praising the columns, no one bothers to buy the goddamn LTSEWH book, which is discounted to the point where I enough money on each sale to buy a nice can of organic kidney beans. Ingrates! Freeloaders! Hypocrites! You’re all a bunch of LTSEWH’s!
          Okay, I feel better.
          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 # 1: Whole Fools
          Why call it “Whole Foods,” really? Why not just call it “Half-Wits?” That would be closer to truth in advertising.
          There I was. . .
          In the Whole Foods men’s room, at Barrington and National. I appreciate the market having a men’s room, as it is axiomatic that any time I have to shop for anything, it is just a matter of minutes before I have to depressurize the bladder. Been this way most of my life. It’s the only thing I don’t miss about record stores.
          But the Whole Foods men’s room invariably is wholly unpleasant. Sticky, urine-blotted, crumpled paper towels on the floor, and a stench that you don’t generally want to associate with food, whole or partial. I’ve noticed this for years, but at last decided to mention it to a Whole Foodie. So I did.


          “I realize this might not be a very pleasant matter, but I’d appreciate if you’d hear me out,” I said to a young woman with a pleasant expression that quickly turned to discomfort at my statement. I could read her mind. Uh-oh. . .what kind of freak is this?
          I explained the situation clearly, and suggested that the state of the bathroom could reflect on the general state of cleanliness in the market. She thanked me very politely, and said she would take it up with management right away.
          I would have felt some vague sense of satisfaction were it not for the fact that the problem should never have existed in the first place.
          Two days later, I visited the same Whole Foods, and sure enough, after plopping about eight cans of organic cat food (did you know that “natural flavors” in most foods is MSG in some form or other?) into a basket, I had to. . .go. Never fails. Opened the door to the Whole Bathroom, and found it. . .stuffy, smelly, and the floor blotted with urine. Sigh. Well, I expected that.
          Just didn’t expect to see a Whole Foods clerk come in, use the urinal, zip up, and go back out into the store. Minus that little inconvenient post-pee sidetrip to sink and soap. Good, good, I thought to myself, and mentally thanked him because it reminded me to get more Veggie Wash.

          LTSEWH # 2: Whole Fools, part two
          I was wretchedly unloading my dozen or so items at the checkout stand next to the one where the checker---or “tabulation specialist,” or “checkout therapist,” or “grocery engineer”---had just sneezed three times. I had bananas, eggs, oat milk, carrots, and the aforementioned eight cans of cat food.
          “Will this be ‘to go?’” said the checker, a perfectly nice looking young woman of perhaps 28. Now, I long ago gave up reacting to the absurdity of being asked if my groceries were “to go,” as I realize the Whole Foods employees are required to ask this. If you answer, “no,” then you are taxed more. I can’t imagine anyone ever answering “no,” of course, which---you’re way ahead of me---renders the question moot, but you know, why bother to fathom such idiocy?
          So I always just say “yes,” and have done with it. Except on this day. For some reason, my inner smartass (really not very inner) got the better of me. I mean, I was unloading cat food when she asked the question!
           “No,” I said. “I’m going to eat all the cat food here.”
          Uh-oh. Checker, who probably has to put up with smartass reactions to the question all day, was ready with her perky little passive-aggressive schtick.
          “Well, then, I’m going to have to tax you more. Is that all right?”
          “Oh, sure,” I said, returning her “aren't I being cute?” smile.
          I proceeded to peer over my glasses like some old grandfather in order to enter my PIN number for a card purchase.
          “Would you care to make a donation to. . .”
          I didn’t hear the organization. Maybe it was Chile relief, maybe it was spaying and neutering television "news reporters." I didn’t care.
          “No,” I said. “I need someone to donate to me.”
          (Can’t keep that smartass down.)
          “Well, I’m charging you $1.75 extra in tax, seeing as this is not ‘to go,’” she said, smiling. “Is that all right?”
          “Oh, sure, take as much as you like,” I said, praying to every god I could readily bring to mind that this “playful exchange” would stop before Obama’s term is up.
          No such luck.
          “Well,” she chirped, “I thought you needed donations!”
          Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad, Shiva, Manitou all failed me.
          “I’ll tell you, dear, I just don’t care anymore. Tax me all you want.”
          I showed her my teeth. What a snappy customer/employee pair we were, with all our mutual kidding and repartee! And then---I don’t know what got into me---I opened myself up for even more intense exposure to the kind of human exchange that does to my spirit what the pods did to human bodies in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
          “There’s something I want to mention, and I hope you don’t mind. But one of your clerks just visited the men’s room when I was in there, and when he finished zipping up, he just went back to work. Maybe you can see to it that employees are encouraged to wash their hands.”
          “Well,” she said, grimacing a little, “You should tell our customer service people, and they’ll want to know.”
          I smiled, though my smile muscles protested.
          “I really don’t want to be bothered to do that. That's why I’m telling you, you see, in order that you might want to let your manager know.”
          She then asked which clerk was the offender, but I really didn’t want to say. The clerk did not look the type to take such things lightly. Had about a 22-inch neck.
          “I think he went outside to work on stock,” I said, and left it at that.
          “You see the man in the white shirt and glasses? He’s our customer service person. You should tell him.”
          Path of least resistance finally overruled smartass, and I said, “Okay,” and just left the store.
          I was so proud of myself for not saying, “How goddamn hard is it for you to tell the goddamn customer service person yourself, you goddamn pinhead! Aren't you here to serve goddamn customers?”
          It wasn’t until long after I had thrown out my receipt that it suddenly hit me that she probably hadn’t been kidding about charging me that extra $1.75 tax because I said I was going to eat my cat food at the store.

          LTSEWH # 3: Lightweight Jerk
          I use the exercise and weight machines at the YMCA in vain hopes of getting “into shape” again before I die. This has so far translated into a back injury and knee injury that now just about prevent me from being able to use the exercise and weight machines at the YMCA in vain hopes of getting into shape before I die.
          The snake eats itself!
          Nevertheless, there I was. . .
          In the weight room, gamely, valiantly, almost heroically doing reps on various machines. It was mid-afternoon, the room was almost empty, and the air conditioning was, as usual, turned up to full-blast by delicate women who are terrified of sweating. Ensuring that all muscles and ligaments freeze up and border on tearing and pulling at all times.
          I moved to the “sit up” machine, kicked the weight up to 120, and proceeded to do my three or four sets of ten or twelve, depending on my energy level. About ten or fifteen seconds' rest between sets. While doing the first set, I became aware of a presence in my periphery, close by. A humanoid form, standing, facing me, perhaps three feet away. I didn’t think anything of it, at first, but when I finished my first set and paused, the form commanded my attention.
          “Can I cut in?”
          I looked up, startled. It was a hulking red-headed guy about 60, red-faced, glasses, with an unfriendly look on his face.
          Cut in? Huh? I’d just sat down at the thing. I looked at him, perplexed, then went back to my second set of reps. Or not quite.
          “Can I cut in?” he said louder, insistently.
          Can I cut in? Can I cut in? Was this a dance? I looked at the guy again. Impolite, aggressive, too close to me for comfort, vaguely threatening. Had he said,        “Pardon me, sir, but can I share the machine and alternate reps with you,” I would have responded, “Well, I’m just taking about a ten second break between my reps, and will be finished here in three or four minutes.” But this did not happen.
          I shook my head.
          And I went back to my second set of reps. Or not quite.
          “You HAVE to let me cut in! It’s the rule!”
          Folks, I know what you are thinking. How does this stuff always happen to Rense? He must make these things up. The man is a human jackass magnet.
          At this point, I shifted into a mode I am not proud of, but one which I find necessary on occasion, for reasons of self-defense. The guy was sort of looming, see. He was, to use the parlance of modern athletics, “in my face.” He would not take “no” for an answer. The entire goddamn weight room was empty except for two other people. Empty machines beckoned, their metallic arms extended, calling. But Bozo had to use the machine I was on, at that moment in cosmic time, in all the universe.
          There are times when one is left with no recourse but to rear up on hind legs, bare teeth, and growl.
          “Fuck you!” I said. “Get the fuck away from me!”
          All in all, I thought, rather restrained.
          Redboy turned even redder, and the whites showed all around his eyes. He was colorful, I'll give him that.
         “You have to let me in! It’s the rule!” he screamed, and then lunged at me, putting his face about a foot from mine, invoking a word that would be considered especially inappropriate by the Young Man’s Christian Association.
          Fine, I thought. Jackass looked about 25 pounds overweight. If I was lucky, I figured, he would drop dead of a heart attack, and I could finish my reps. But no.
          My best defense for incredible anecdotes like this is that. . .I could not make this stuff up. It’s just too ridiculous to be believable.
          Anyhow, Blood Pressure left to go tell his mommy, and I finished my reps, doing a couple extra sets because I was, by then, absolutely deranged with adrenalin.
          Hmm. Maybe he was actually a motivational trainer.

          LTSEWH # 4: Stop Sigh
          No LTSEWH column would be complete without a traffic anecdote. Every time you go out in this city, even a couple of short blocks, you are subjected to enormous danger and near collisions. That’s a given. This generally has to do with sloppiness, stupidity, people in a hurry, people on cell phones, people having sex while they are driving, etc.
          But not usually with sheer, slavering madness.
          There I was. . .
          Stopped at a four-way stop sign. I rolled to the stop, I stopped, I looked left, I looked right. There was no traffic. I learned how to do this in high school.
          Just at that split second, a car pulled up on my right at high speed, and stopped. As the car stopped, I was proceeding into the intersection. In other words, although I am old, gray, irrelevant, useless, I was making an effort to fit into society by driving normally. Not even Stevie Wonder would have questioned that I was at the intersection several seconds before the car on my right arrived and stopped, and that I moved into the intersection with full legal, ethical, moral, Biblical rights.
          It was, as people are wont to say, a “no-brainer.” An expression of delightful double meaning.
          The guy who had pulled up on my right, who had seen me stopped there well before he had stopped, who had seen me begin to pull into the intersection as per my Constitutional rights, did not compute all this information to mean that he should wait until I crossed the intersection. He just whipped out, making a left turn right in front of me---deliberately---seeking to make me slam on the brakes and get out of his way.
          I promise you---promise you, readers---that I was not, repeat not, being pokey. There had been no “who’s going first” eye contact. No hesitation on my part. No false start on his, then a false start on mine. None of that. I had simply pulled up, stopped, looked right and left, and proceeded as per what was clearly my turn---by a good two seconds.
          Jackass burned rubber in front of me and my impotently honking horn, glaring, and sped down the block no faster than a cat with a can tied on its tail. (Terrible thing to do.)
          I tell you, it just ruined my day. I mean it. Why can you no longer leave your house without being subjected to such brutish affronts, if not outright attacks, by wild beasts passing themselves off as civilized humans? Why?

          LTSEWH # 5: Sidewalkswipe
          The sidewalk was as wide and spacious as the inside of Sarah Palin’s head, as empty as Larry King’s testicles.
          It was the kind of morning that might have made Gordon MacRae burst into song, the kind of morning that flower and birds conspire to make into a thing of such delicacy, such lyricism, as to make one weep. And in a touch of absolute blissfulness, there was no traffic.
          I was out for a walk. Jazz up the metabolism so I could go home and sit at the computer for three or four hours and work on artherosclerosis. I swung my arms, I lengthened my stride, I encouraged the beads of sweat on my head to join forces and soak the silly baseball cap on my head that reads, “Persevering Through Relentless Absurdity.”
          Which was exactly what I was about to do.
          He appeared up ahead, about fifty yards, in a sort of pink-and-red sweat ensemble. Not a sweat suit, a sweat ensemble. Easily cost $150. He was stocky the way old guys get, and his 65-ish-to-70-ish physique was in good shape. He was obviously a denizen of this upscale north-of-Wilshire neighborhood (I live south of Wilshire, with the Sotel Boys.)
          And wow, was he proud of himself. Huffing, puffing, swinging those arms, standing utterly ramrod straight, silver hair combed back in better waves than ever break at Santa Monica, and yes, showing his teeth. Right, I don’t know, either. He was just that, oh, effervescent, I guess.
          Naturally, I moved to the right side of the sidewalk. I do this out of archaic and stupid reflexes involving courtesy.
          Naturally, he did not move to the left.
          I was the weak one, you see. I had deferred to him. What’s more, I was not walking ramrod-straight, or showing my teeth. I seldom feel effervescent, you see. This happens when you spend your life doing superb work and making exactly no money for it, and constantly run into pompous jokers in pink sweatsuits living in two-million-dollar mansions.
          You know what’s coming. One of his big, vigorously swinging oh-what-a-beautiful-morning arms hit me in the shoulder and upper arm as he passed.
Couldn’t be bothered to move to one side of the sidewalk, you see.
          I considered my options:
          “Hey, asshole!”
          “Excuse me, sir, why didn’t you move to one side?”
          Nah. He’d just laugh.
          “Nice pink sweatsuit, cutie pie!”
          Definitely not. Might be gay.
          So I just kept walking.
          Persevering through relentless absurdity.
          The flowers suddenly didn’t look so great.

          For more LTSEWH's, watch this space---or buy the damn book!

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