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Apr. 23, 2009

          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, just to confound people with a ridiculous acronym. Names are never changed unless noted, to ensure fullest fame.
          LTSEWH # 1: Doctored Up
          So my stomach turned into a digestion circus a few years ago, and I’ll spare you the boring details except to say that I sometimes felt as if my midsection had been through the Thrilla in Manila.
          I had tests, I took evil drugs, I snorted Rolaids. I talked and talked to doctors who smiled and nodded as if I were insane. One little fellow actually told me “eat whatever you want” after probing me with a big hose. I did, and promptly doubled over in pain for two days. Maybe he was only pretending to be a doctor, having a little fun with me, I don’t know.
          Eventually I stopped seeing doctors entirely and just ate nothing but bean burritos for about a year. No spice, no sauce, just refried beans and tortilla. And a little avocado, to be daring. What fun that was! I can’t say it made me easy to be around, but then, I never have been easy to be around.
          Last fall, I was talking to a friend of a friend who also has a fake stomach, and she said this:
          “Dr. Soraya Ross, in Beverly Hills! She’s terrific! She answers alllllll your questions, and she really, really listens to you. She even answers e-mail! I hope you go to her!”
          Well, Friend of Friend had healed up after treatments by Dr. Ross in Beverly Hills, so I decided to give her a try. Never mind that attitude-wise, I now have much in common with Winky the Criminal Cat when he goes to the vet. I mean, really, why should I have reservations about doctors after years of being ignored, subjected to tests I never needed, prescribed nuclear antibiotics every time I sneezed, given drug samples later banned by the FDA, led to believe (in one instance) that I had internal bleeding and possibly cancer (the doctor later revised this, saying the test results could also be due to my eating broccoli), and being subjected to what I believe was outright sexual sadism by a Santa Monica urologist (story for another column, maybe), and on and on.
          Oh, well, here’s one good one I can’t resist: the fine physician who years ago wanted to biopsy my prostate. After another (superior) doctor said I needed no biopsy, I phoned doctor number one to cancel the appointment. He was very displeased, and tried to talk me out of it. I wouldn’t budge. (Who wants a goddamn Erector Set stuck up their ass?) He then said that he was “very worried” about me. Right. The day a doctor worries about a patient is the day dogs bark backwards and retract their tails. I thanked him, but held my ground. Then came the punchline:
          “But I’ve already rented the machine!”
          I kid you not. He said that. I had prevented a doctor from making a lot of money off me by giving me an unnecessary, extremely painful and invasive test. Shame on me!
          But back to Dr. Ross.
          My first problem was that every time I hear her name, I want to sing the old Dr. Ross dog food jingle. Woof! Feed ‘em Dr. Ross dog food/ Do him a favor/ It’s got more meat and it’s got more flavor/ It’s got more meat to make us feel the way we should/ Dr. Ross dog food is doggone good!/ Woof! But that’s my problem.
          My second problem was that she had offices in Beverly Hills. I have a suspicion about people who live or work in Beverly Hills. I suspect they might place a lot of importance on wealth. But I put my snobbery aside, and made the appointment with the doctor who “answers alllllll your questions, and really listens to you,” etc.
          Upon arrival, I was escorted into a New Agey room with pillows, incense, exotic music, Nubians slowly caressing the air with palm fronds. Well, maybe I exaggerate. Suffice to say it was pleasantly appointed, and nothing like a clinic. There entered not the doctor, but a “nurse practitioner,” which I think is a nurse who hasn’t practiced enough, and she interviewed me at great length. She was a pretty blonde with what I think was a Swedish accent, and very healthy, very long, largely exposed legs. I was feeling a little better already.
          Blondie asked me lots and lots of detailed questions about my stomach, diet, etc. Questions I had answered before to other, decidedly less attractive health care professionals. I recall saying that I had “chronic acid, and a ‘pre-ulcer’ condition” (let me tell you: if that was a “pre-ulcer,” I’d hate to know what the real thing is like), and that I really, really wanted to know why I had this problem, what caused it, and what I could do to cure it, seeing as I already had taken tons of prescription antacid “proton pump inhibitor” medication, visited witch doctors, buried dead black cats in graveyards at midnight. She nodded. I took this to mean comprehension. The last thing I wanted, I added, was to go through another round of the same old expensive tests. . .and then be told what I already knew.
          That Nurse Practitioner was so nice. The interview almost felt like chit-chat. I mean, I had her laughing and chuckling a lot, really enjoying her job. I’m like that. I want people to be happy. I have what Oprah calls the “disease to please.” Of course, Oprah has the “disease to smoke crack and get real fat,” so I win that one.
          Anyhow, Blondie yucked it up over my little jokes. Like when she asked if I felt stressed or depressed, I think I said, “Yes, but only when alive.” And when she then suggested---I’m serious, folks---that maybe I should “get a pet” to relieve this condition, I said, “I have two cats who hate each other, sleep in separate rooms, and make inordinate demands on my good will. One throws up all the time and has cost me hundreds of dollars in carpet cleaning. Got any more ideas?”
          That was fun. I figured that if the Nurse Practitioner was this enjoyable, Dr. Ross must be quite something. And she was. Judging by her resume, she is one superb physician, a top specialist in her field. I was allowing myself to feel that maybe, just maybe, Dr. Ross---oops, feed ‘em Dr. Ross dog food, do him a favor, it’s got more meat and it’s---
          She came in, and the song entered my head. I couldn’t help it. And she was definitely nice, seemingly down-to-earth, convivial. She looked over Nurse Practitioner’s report---sure saved her the trouble of interviewing boring old patients!--- asked me a few quick questions, then took me into another room and---sigh---“digitally examined” me. Doctors really like to do this, I guess. Any excuse will do: chronic stomach acid, Mardis Gras, whatever.
          Her parting words were “The next time I see you will be when I perform the endoscopy and colonoscopy.”
          “Lucky you!” I said.
          She laughed.
          And that was, in fact, the last time I ever saw her---the morning I was prepped and waiting for her to stick lots of hoses into my orifices while I was temporarily deep-sixed, in suspended animation, traversing the ethers with ghosts, deep sleepers, and Rosacrucians. Really. I was on the table, feeling myself starting to go under, when Dr. Ross entered the room, shouting:
          “Is your name Rip Rense? Do you live at (address)? Why did The Beatles fire Pete Best?”
          Yeah, I made up the last question, but for all the absurdity of the legally required moment, she might as well have asked it.
          Eventually I came to, listening to health tekkies discussing the stock market, sounding like distant gods. When one said he was at a loss to explain the economic crash, I sought to let them know that I was really awake and mentally sharp. I said, “There was an old lady who swallowed a horse/ she died, of course.” But no one laughed. They ascribed it to anesthesia, not knowing that I talk this way all the time.
          Well, this is too long a story. Sorry.
          Dr. Ross (woof!) had done a bunch of biopsies (which I could feel! Yow!), and hosed me but good, top to bottom. A couple weeks later, Nurse Practitioner called with the exciting results: everything was negative, and "you have acid reflux.”
          The snake eats itself.
          I explained that I knew this going into the office in the first place, and that the whole reason I went to Dr.Ross was that I had hoped to find out why I have acid reflux, what causes it, and why years of antacid medication and special “ulcer diet” had not allowed me to heal. If memory serves, Practitioner said something about how the doctor would prescribe something for me if I wanted, blah blah. Guess she forgot that I’d already taken an avalanche of pills. Or maybe her mind was on getting me a pet.
          So I wrote to Dr. Ross, because after all, I was told that she answers all e-mail. And by golly, she wrote back! Wow! Imagine that: a doctor answering patient e-mail. Very commendable, indeed! Well, she did give me a little information about my condition, though nothing I didn't already know, and she answered my question, “Will I ever get better” with a “Yes.” But regarding my other questions as to cause, persistence, or any further inquiries, she suggested that I. . .snare drum crescendo here. . .
          Make an appointment!
          (Er. . .hadn’t I already done that?)
          And did I make that appointment? Sure I did. And Barack Obama lost the election to George Bush in a landslide, and Bo, the White House dog, craps gold.
          Feed ‘em Dr. Ross dog food, do him a favor. . .
          LTSEWH # 2: Wrong turn
          It was L.A., I was in a car. Need I say more?
          I was turning left off of Texas Avenue on to Federal on the west side, high noon. I had to wait a long time for traffic to clear. Not as long as it takes for plastic to biodegrade, but long enough to make me wonder if life was worth living. Finally. . .
I turned. No sweat. Zoom. Checked the rear-view mirror. No one behind. Wide open for about 150 yards to the red light at Wilshire. I accelerated to 35 in the right lane.       Suddenly. . .
          He was right on my bumper. Thisclose. Obviously, some people have transporter beams, and are keeping it quiet. Where he came from, I don’t know, unless he was excreted by a giant invisible intergalactic grasshopper squatting over Federal Avenue. And he was mad. Mad that I was not going faster than 35, in a 35 zone, never mind that there were only about 100 yards between me and the red light at Wilshire.
          Yes, that’s right. He. . .
          Whipped around me! He’d show me.
          His gold Camry wobbled as he put his foot all the way down on the accelerator, in an attempt to pass me on the left. No turn signal, of course. Folks, call me, oh, stupid. Chide me for not getting with the deranged L.A. driving program, which has everyone flooring it to a sudden stop at every red light and stop sign. Check that, nobody stops at stop signs anymore.
          Look, I did not want this guy to suddenly cut in front of me at the last second before a red light. It was just too goddamn insane, let alone unsafe. So I accelerated to about 40, but it did no good. Maybe, I thought, there was information here unavailable to me. Maybe Camry Man had to get to that red light and stop before I did because he had OCD. Maybe a bad hemorrhoid was troubling him. Maybe he thought I was the devil, and he wanted Satan behind him. He took it up to perhaps 50, so I decelerated and let him go, the dumbass.
          Get this.
          As I coasted up slowly behind him at the red light, he stuck his head out the window and began shouting at me. Really. And then, he. . .
          Got out of his car. Really. He stepped out of his Camry and stood beside it, in the street, yelling at me, at the top of his lungs. There were many other cars around, full of people staring in fear and wonder. The driver turned out to be a rather distinguished looking African-American gentleman with a long beard, somewhat gray. All I could make out of his tirade was this phrase:
          “You should be ASHAMED!”
          Well, I am ashamed. I’m ashamed of many things. Of living in L.A., where people generally comport themselves with the decorum and restraint of rabid goats. Ashamed of living in a country where countless millions think Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are avatars of righteousness and insight. Ashamed of the human race for reproducing with no regard to consequence. Ashamed of a society that places excessive importance on the shape of the human hindquarters. Ashamed of “American Idol.” But I was not ashamed of my driving.
          Ashamed? Perhaps I should have listened more closely to his speech. Perhaps there were, um, sociological statements that I missed.
          I didn’t react. It was too entertaining. I wondered what he might do next, but not for long, because he suddenly got back into his car. And then. . .got out again! Really! Shouting things that were mercifully drowned out by cross-traffic. Guess he forgot to add a point or two.
          Hey, when confronted with a nut, act nuttier. So I leaned out my window, pointed, and channeled the voice of Satan, saying, roughly, this:
          Then I threw in some predictable profanities.
          Camry Man got back into his car and screeched around the corner, ignoring the   “No Right Turn on Red” sign.
          It was L.A., I was in a car. Need I say more?
          LTSEWH # 3: Garden Variety Idiot
          It was evening, and I was watering the garden. Well, the “garden.” This is a small strip of land and a couple of large planters outside the condo downstairs. I have labored with the dedication of Luther Burbank to make things grow there.
          It has taken years, and backbreaking (literally, if you count compressed lower spine) labor. I have had to contend with white flies, cement-like soil that would not support anaerobic microbes, plant theft, years of deliberate defilement of plants carried out by a neighborhood psycho (no doubt reading this, and hatching a new attack), the occasional homeless person’s defecation (or Psycho’s), and at least one neighbor who wanted everything obsessively trimmed and controlled (I like nature to have its way, my small statement of anarchy.)
          The horticultural results would not win any contests, but in the spring, the “garden” is somewhat lush. There I was. . .
          With the hose, soaking the plants. Pure Southern California David Hockney emptiness. I do this about every two weeks, sometimes three, having planted things that don’t require a lot of moisture. Drought-resistant fare, such as New Zealand tea plants, fuchsias, and the ubiquitous fountain grass (yech), jasmine, lantana. Only the camellias and something with a name I can never remember need regular H2O.
          And yet. . .
          I step outside my door, and they attack. There’s Rense! Get ‘im! It’s not just a matter of not being able to drive a mile without having near-catastrophic car wrecks, or walking to the market without some idiot playing chicken with you on a sidewalk. I can’t even go outside my own door and peacefully water the goddamn garden without some jackass giving me grief.
          She was 35 or 40, she was blonde, she was in tight jeans, she drove a black BMW parked on the street. She was with another lithe, taut blondie, and they were arm in arm as they walked to the almighty Beamer. Blondie # 1 turned her head toward me, in the darkness, and spoke:
          “We have a WATER SHORTAGE in Los Angeles!”
          Oh. My. God. A sanctimonious West Side liberal in an $80,000 car. A presumptuous, sanctimonious West Side liberal in an $80,000 car.
          Allow me to disabuse those readers and fans of LTSEWH (the column, and the book) who have concluded that I am a wild man, prone to outsized, garish response to perceived injustices. I told myself, “Path of least resistance.” Translation: do not call this woman a “f---ing salamander,” and invite her to stuff the BMW up. . .never mind.
          “Are you speaking to me?” I asked.
          “I’m speaking to myself!” she sang.
          Be yatch.
          What’s the carbon footprint of that Beamer?
          Deep breath.
          “Well, nothing to worry about. I water once every two weeks.”
          And that was it. Proud of me?
          (P.S. If Garden Psycho is reading, we might have a little surprise for you next time you come around.)
          LTSEWH # 4: Operatic Operator
          “Hello, Mr.(wife’s last name)?”
          “No. . .Who are you?”
          “I’m calling for Los Angeles Opera, and. . .”
          “Ah, yes. Listen, ma’am, you sound like a lovely person, and I’m sorry you have the job of phoning people at home to ask them for money, but I must tell you that I have asked L.A. Opera many, many times to stop calling here. You call here more often than anyone else---really! I have asked many, many, many times that you take my name off your call list, and I have been told an equal number of times that you have done this. This was either a lie, or your system does not work, and I suspect the former. Now we enjoy opera, and L.A. Opera, and we will continue to attend operas as budget permits, which it really doesn't, but nothing, I repeat, nothing, that you can say in a phone call is going to induce me to spend one dime more than I can afford to spend on opera tickets. Period. It won’t work. So you must stop calling. It is a waste of your time, and my patience. In fact, if anything, it will have quite the opposite effect, and serve to discourage me from wanting to patronize L.A. Opera in the future. Now, you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
          If the reader has gleaned that I was taking unnatural pleasure in keeping this woman on the phone and forcing her to listen to my spiel, instead of vice-versa, the reader is possessed with Sherlock Holmesian intuition. I continued.
          “But while I have you, I must tell you that I will continue to attend L.A. Opera despite the absurd and degrading production of your “Ring” cycle, truly a despicable creation. Though I will more carefully investigate the directors of your various operas in the future, before committing funds to anything by Achim Freyer, or, for that matter, the fraud that is Robert Wilson. I recall that he took Madame Butterfly and turned it into Kabuki, and what was it? Oh, Parsifal, that’s right. He dressed everyone in Parsifal up in giant futons so they all looked like Gumby, and had them strike poses that a chiropractor wouldn’t dream up, and. . .”
          I might not have embellished quite this much, but it was close. And I heard her sigh! I suspect this was not in appreciation of my descriptive panache.
           “So I am telling you to stop, stop, stop phoning here and asking for money, or reminding us of this-or-that production. Stop. It won’t work. It’s annoying as can be.     Thank you very much for listening.”
          A pause.
          “I understand your feelings, sir, and I apologize. . .but I must tell you that the deadline for renewing your subscription is today.”
          Instead of threatening to come down there and clobber her with one of Wotan’s light sabers, I just hung up.
          P.S. L.A. Opera, be warned. You don’t know who you are dealing with here. I am, remember, the “Lone Booer” of the “Ring” cycle made famous by L.A. Times music houseman, er, critic, Mark Swed. There is no telling what I might do next season.
          LTSEWH # 5: Wrong Turn II
          It’s L.A., I was walking. Need I say more?
          As is well known, pedestrians in Los Angeles are like penguins in Cairo. Its goes like this:
          “What’s that doing there, Mommy?”
          “Why, it’s walking, dear. It’s a human being. That’s what they look like when they are not in their cars.”
          “Gosh! It’s funny looking.”
          “It’s called a ‘pedestrian,’ dear.”
          “Hahahahaha! Why does he walk? Is he poor?”
          “He might be a little oh, mentally challenged, honey. Or one of the homeless.”
          I was standing on the corner of Main Street and Pico in Santa Monica, waiting to cross north past the Santa Monica Civic. It was about 3 p.m., and I was midway through my twice weekly ten-mile cardio stroll. There were four other people waiting for the light to change, to cross Pico.
          On the right was a white BMW convertible, top up. Stopped at the red light. As soon as the light turned to green, and all five pedestrians stepped off the curb, yes, you guessed it . . .
          The BMW promptly turned right. Fast. The driver made the turn wide, so as not to kill us, but he was, as I had said to that African-American gentleman, “wrong, wrong, wrong.” So as he passed a few feet from my tootsies, window down, I sought to redress him for his lawbreaking ways:
          “Asshole!” I said, with a nice, guttural flourish that one would expect from an insane pedestrian.
           Well, perhaps the driver was related to the African-American gentleman, because he stopped his car, right in the middle of Pico, with a screech, stuck his head out the window, twisted it back toward me, and began shrieking---I mean shrieking---
Well, you know what he shrieked. Every American’s favorite term of reduction, ending in “you.”
          I saw that no, he was not related to the African-American gentleman, unless by adoption, for he was Asian-American, with one of those stupid spiky $100 cool haircuts, and cool $100 sunglasses. Other than that, he was hot. And he wouldn’t stop shrieking those two words at me. Over and over again.
          When confronted with a nut, get nuttier.
          “You are wrong! You are wrong! You are wrong!” I shouted, pointing at him. I really enjoy saying this, as I think it seriously confuses the territorial imperative-driven testicularity of these confrontations. It also gives me an odd sensation of authority.
          Well, this only caused his rage to spike, but it was at that point that I was gifted with an act of fabulous solidarity by my fellow man. And woman.
          The young guy who was also crossing the street behind me began shouting back at BMW Boy, as if the “F--- you” had bounced off a mirror. And his voice was even louder. Then the two teenaged girls behind me began shouting the same thing, along with “Asshole!”
          Outnumbered to the point where self-preservation (or embarrassment) kicked in, BMW Boy roared off.
          These days, in L.A., this is what passes for beauty.
          For more LTSEWH’s, watch this space---or. . .buy LTSEWH, THE ILLUSTRATED BOOK. CHEAP!

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