The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, just to create a ridiculously unpronouncable acronym. All names have been included whenever possible in order to ensure fullest humiliation, though in some cases the more hapless have been spared out of compassion.
          LTSEWH # 1: Honky bastard
          Well, you know, I thought that cars were equipped with horns for a reason, and I thought the reason was for something other than conveying the sonic equivalent of “I don’t think very highly of you!” (or less civilized complaints, which I’m told are quite prevalent in modern USA.)
          Silly me, I thought horns were safety devices. Employable as a warning to others, in order to avert accidents, injury, death.
          Ha. Ho. Hee.
          Horns are affronts, I now understand. They are insults, degradation, assault, provocations, attacks. They are intended only to let others know that you consider them on the order of gnat dung. (Do gnats generate dung?) Horns say to the elderly, you are a brittle-boned mass of irrelevancy! They say to housewives, you have no individuality! They say: white boy/nigger/spic/chink/wop/nip/bitch/punk/ho take-your-slur- choice.
          And they proclaim to strapping young sons of privilege that most potent of all swipes:
          I criticize you!
          This, you see, is the worst thing you can apparently do to a strapping young son (or daughter) of privilege. Criticize them, that is. Why, it’s practically a curtailment of their very freedom!
          There I was. . .
          In a parking structure in Westwood, near UCLA, a school where extremely wealthy young people spend a lot of time downing titanic amounts of alcohol, consume cocktails of drugs that would have frightened Timothy Leary (okay, at least Ken Kesey), run the streets in their underwear once a year, throw up a good deal, and, I have it on authority, sometimes study.


          Now, this parking structure is particularly beastly, which puts it in close company with swimming in a vat of sewage. I mean, I’d rather get a prostate exam than be temporarily imprisoned inside of a cement monolith behind dozens of other people temporarily imprisoned inside of a cement monolith. (Well, it’s a push.)
          The problem with this structure---wait a second, shouldn’t they have nicer names than structure? Okay, the problem with this parking wonderland is that the area for turning at the end of each aisle, in order to ascend or descend to the next level, is wide enough for no more than five Oprah Winfreys, walking abreast. Which is to say, barely enough for two cars to pass each other.
          So I verrrrry carefully make that turn. This puts me in roughly one percent of the local population. Most everyone else drives through parking wonderlands as if they are late for their own funeral.
          As did Strapping Young Son of Privilege.
          He was zoom-zooming (just like the commercials taught him) through cement purgatory as if he was testing a new rocket-car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was when he whipped around the corner in front of me that I made my mistake. I wasn’t thinking. My hand just automatically went to the horn. Thirty-five years of driving practice will instill that reflex, especially when confronted by an SUV hurtling head-on, about to make you early for your own funeral.
          Even so, I merely tapped a warning. A single, paltry, delicate, obsequious. . .
          Shame on me. Who in the hell do I think I am? Why, I’m practically a brittle-boned mass of irrelevancy! I don’t even call sneakers “trainers!” And I never say “cool," at least not since about 1972. Now, understand there was no eye contact here, no gesture, no third finger, no shaken fist, no ape-wail voice erupting “F--- you!” Just. . .
          Oh, how dare I show such insolence to a SYSOP! And he meant to make me feel my transgression, too. He slammed on the Samsonian brakes of his massive vehicle, and began. . .backing. . .after me! Backing. Yes, with the ape-wail voice erupting “F--- youuuuuu!” Eventually, oncoming traffic forced him to stop chasing me in reverse, and I proceeded downward to pay five or six bucks for the pleasure of using parking wonderland.
          Then I pulled out on to the street---bucolic with strollers, shoppers, diners, movie theaters, late afternoon melted sunshine. . .and. . .
          “F---- youuuuuuuuuuu!”
          Yes, it was SYSOP, emerging from the structure in my rear-view mirror, on foot. Folks, he had parked his SUV on the fourth level or above, then had obviously sprinted down the stairs and dashed on to the street in a desperate attempt to catch me, and let me know how presumptuous I had been for criticizing him. And get this:
          He was running down the middle of the street. Running after my car. Like a mad dog.
          A word of description: this kid was in his early twenties, about six-three-or-four as most of the current crop seems to be, and no more physically imposing than any major league baseball player. About 220 pounds of natural muscle sculpted by years of fun and play.
          He wore the requisite UCLA SYSOP garb, like a good little consumer: $150 designer “trainers,” giant “shorts” that hung past his knees, hooded sweatshirt, cool sunglasses.
          Running down the middle of the street.
          “F--- youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!”
          I drove slowly away, watching him grow smaller behind me. Though not as small as he is destined to become.
          And I didn’t use my horn once on the way home.
          LTSEWH # 2: Bread Boxed
          I was sick. I was under orders to eat toast. When I think of toast, I think of white toast, probably because I grew up eating white toast. Besides, it seemed bland enough that I might possibly keep it down.
          I found the bread section in Whole Fools, er Foods.
          Now, correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think I am visible, and I think I am a customer. I don’t think I am a can of peas, or a scuff on the floor. But as I stood there, scanning the multitudes of bread loaves made of things I’d never heard of (what in hell is “kamut?”), searching for that all-but extinct loaf of white bread, a Whole Fools employee um. . .
          Stepped in front of me.
          Right in front of me.
          And began stocking the bread section. Not so much as an “excuse me,” “get out of the way,” or “go f--- yourself.” I was boxed out. Kobe couldn’t have set a better screen (not that he ever does.)
          The thing is, there was barely any room to step in front of me. I had to take a step back, while Employee stashed a few loaves on the shelf, then moved out of the way. Ah, I thought, maybe it was just a one-shot deal. Right, and Dick Cheney has a cute smile. No, Employee was back faster than Oprah eats, stashing more loaves. Right in front of me.
          This happened four or five more times, as I stood there. I couldn’t believe it. Did he know that I was seeking something as unfashionable, as politically incorrect, as white bread? Was he punishing me? Had Al Sharpton sent him? What was going on?
          The answer lies somewhere in a morass involving the fact that Whole Fools seems to hire weirdos and heavily tattooed ex-gang members, and that young people grow up being told that they are all very special individuals, and that mass media has long lampooned and derided as trite most displays of courtesy and deference, and that people don’t get out of each other’s way on sidewalks anymore, and that menial work is beneath all geniuses, and perhaps the preponderance of hormones and antibiotics in beef.
          Anyhow, the toast tasted really good, and I kept it down.
          LTSEWH # 3: Testy exchange
          I was in a lab at the medical building next to Santa Monica Hospital. For those of you who have been in this lab, you need read no further. No one has ever had a SEWH in that place. For the rest of you. . .
          I had been dispatched to pick up a testing kit of an ilk that is just too degrading to categorize here. But that’s all I had to do---pick up the kit.
          The waiting room was full of people covered in cobwebs. I could tell they were alive, though, because they looked seriously disgusted. The sliding glass office window was open, and no clerk said “May I help you?” I sat and waited, and looked seriously disgusted, too. (This isn't hard for me.) After ten minutes of a silence that monks would envy, I asked a guy next to me if anyone was in the office. He grimaced and said they were “busy---heh, heh,” and suggested I sign in. I did, waited another five minutes, then I stood up, stuck my head in the office window, and yelled, “Is anyone working?”
          “Just a moment. We’ll be right with you.” A female voice from somewhere within.
          I sat down, eyed the grimacing guy, and said, “Heh, heh.”
          At last I was summoned by a white-coated woman who made no eye contact with me.
          “Go in that room and sit in that chair,” she said.
          “But I’m just picking up a testing kit. I don’t need to have any tests done here.”
          “You still have to sit in the chair,” she commanded. “We have to get you in the system.”
          I did not contest this. I did not want to know what the ironclad relationship might be between sitting in a chair previously occupied by dozens of sick people and “getting me in the system.” I sat.
          And I sat. In between sitting, I sat, and then, when I wasn’t sitting, I sat some more. When I wasn’t sitting, that is. While I was sitting, the white-coated woman “technician” was chatting. To a young fellow in a white coat. He sort of lazed about the room, doing nothing in particular, carrying on a nice conversation with the woman.
          In Spanish, of course. Nine out of ten times you are in a doctor’s office, hospital, or lab, the language is Spanish. And they nattered on for a good ten minutes while I sat in Disease Chair. I don’t speak fluent Spanish, but I could pick up enough to know they were not discussing urine samples.
          Now you might not believe this, but I hate getting angry. And for every time I show impatience or temper, there are ten or twenty that I don’t. And that’s just before noon. So I waited to see if the natterers would finish their talk of what she did over the weekend, etc., and what so-and-so said about so-and-so. But I had enough when he asked her what she had for dinner, and she responded, “Only a salad.”
          “Would somebody tell me what is going on, please?” I said.
          The fellow looked at me with some surprise. Woman tekkie kept her back to me, sitting at a computer, and. . .did not reply.
          “Uhh. . .We’re getting you into the system, very carefully, step-by-step so we don’t make mistakes,” said the guy.
          Oh, si. Y mi mama es Barbara Bush.
          “Ten minutes is a long time to wait to pick up a testing kit. How much longer is it going to be?”
          Male tekkie looked sheepishly at Woman tekkie, and I guess God was smiling on me, because she actually replied---but still without turning around.
          “Not much longer.”
          “Right. How MUCH longer?”
          When I raised my voice, that seemed to get through. Had I not known that these were compassionate health care professionals with only my best interests at heart, I would have mused about how funny it is that engaging in primordial displays of threat was necessary to make them do their goddamned trabajo.
          For the guy suddenly left the room, and Woman Tekkie suddenly began typing furiously, and I was suddenly out of there with my test in hand in less than five minutes.
          But she still never once made eye contact with me.
          LTSEWH # 4: Go Park Yourself
          I was parking in front of my home. You’d think this would not be a difficult thing to accomplish. You’d think it would be devoid of conversation, let alone politics, let alone complex emotional and psychological matters. You’d also think the dumb bastards in charge of L.A. government would have put light rail in this town 40 years ago.
          There is room for two cars in front of my place, without going into the red zone. Because there is a particularly jackassy “parking engineer,” or whatever they’re called, who must be 75 years old, and just relishes giving nitpicky tickets, I am very wary of not having so much as a centimeter in the red.
          Naturally, someone had taken up both spaces. When I finished swearing, and was considering going out to buy a can of red paint to splash on the offending car, I noticed that. . .the driver was still in it! Just sitting there! So I pulled slowly in front of her, got out of my car, slowly, and walked slowly toward her, waving and smiling. Slowly.
          “Hi!” I said, stopping about fifteen feet away. “Would you mind backing up about ten feet so I can get in this space, please?”
          People, the look on my face alone would have earned me a Boy Scout merit badge. I was more obsequious than Crispin Glover in “Back to the Future.” The woman rolled down the window of her old Volvo, and snarled:
          “I just had a big FIGHT with somebody about this!”
          Yessir, nothing like a sane conversation with a stranger over a parking space. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t end up on the evening news. “Parking Space Slaughter!”
          I backed up, showing her as many teeth as was physically possible. I suddenly noticed that she uh, seemed to be. . .living. . .in the car.
          “Oh, sorry! No fight from me!”
          “Well. . .Okay. You’re polite, so I’ll back up!” she said.
          Hey, homeless in a Volvo. That’s stylin’.
          LTSEWH # 5: Chinga-chi
          I know parks are for everyone. I embrace the concept heartily. It is a pleasure to see a crazy-quilt of families having picnics, circled by chubby joggers and hard-cut athletes in training, amid baseball diamonds popping with fly balls and soccer fields willy-nilly with flailing legs.
          Although I must confess that I think soccer is the stupidest game ever invented, next to Yahtzee. I mean, here’s how it started: “Okay, we got a ball. . .now. . .you try to get it past me, and I’ll try and get it past you---only we won’t use our hands!”
          But I digress.
          I go to the park to do tai-chi. Yes, the verrrrry slow Chinese martial arts-based exercise that looks very relaxing, but is actually very demanding. Other people do tai-chi, and other martial arts exercises in the park, so I don’t usually fetch a second glance. There I was. . .
          Starting my set on a nice grassy spot uninhabited by anyone except a couple of squirrels and mommies-with-babies, when he showed up. Man with long yellow rope. Long yellow rope that soon turned into some sort of outline for a small playing field, shortly to be occupied by about twenty shrieking tykes.
          I moved. There I was. . .
          Half-way through my “set,” concentrating pretty effectively, when he showed up. Young athletic fellow with dreadlocks and soccer ball. Now, I was far from any athletic field, on an uneven area that I chose strictly because I could not see it as conducive to man interacting with ball.
          He kicked, he twisted, he leaped, he torqued. Please understand that there was a vast empty area nearby, large enough for Bush's head, but Soccer Boy chose to bounce his ball about twenty feet away from me. So that the ball rolled to my feet not once, not twice, but three times.
          Look, I’m no mystic. I’m not good at getting my psyche into the ethers when I do tai-chi. But a ball rolling at your feet pretty well makes me think of. . .a ball rolling at your feet. And if you think Soccer Boy did not so much as grunt an apology, you are very canny! I moved.
          To another area, next to an old firehouse converted to day care center. A spot where no one could set up a playing field, or have enough room to do stupid things with a soccer ball. It was part of a larger, uneven space wholly uninviting to athleticism, and very welcoming to kids who might want to toddle or climb short trees.
          There I was. . .
          Resuming my set, doing my best to ignore deafening jets taking off at Santa Monica Airport, blasting me with jet fuel fumes. Ahhoooooommmmmm. Ahhoooooommmm.
          “Chingate, puta!”
          “No, f--- you, puta!”
          Ah, the merry sounds of latino soccer players! Hear them curse every other word! See them swagger around, grabbing their testicles and shaking them at each other. See them sneer, and snicker, and call one another “whore.” What jolly good folk they are!
          Yes, about six of these guys began playing el futbol right next to me, where there was no athletic field, no room for much other than. . .Yahtzee.
          LTSEWH # 6: Phoney baloney
          Stupid of me for not understanding that cell phones have rearranged all traffic laws! Shame on me for not adapting to the new cell phone/driving etiquette! What a brittle-boned mass of irrelevancy I am!
          And here I thought I should never, ever back out of my driveway into the street until it was clear! Ha! Ho! Hee!
          I had backed tentatively into the gutter, you see, my head turned around in “waiting for the all-clear” mod, when an SUV crept slowly, slowly down the street, and. . .stopped. Just short of blocking me from backing out. Huh?
          What was the driver doing, I wondered. Was there a cat crossing in front of him? A flea? Did he want my space? If so, didn’t he know that it was private?
          I leaned my head back and made eye contact. Well, such as you can to someone in sunglasses.
          Then I saw it. The cell phone on his ear. The moving jaw. And his hand---waving me out.
          But this was. . .wrong. It was against all traffic laws, if not laws of physical science. Why should I back out when he was stopped for no apparent reason in the middle of the street? What was he doing? What would Stephen Hawking think?
          I waved for him to go ahead and pass. He waved me out again.
          Sigh. I weighed my options. I could sit there and grow cobwebs, except for my waving arm, or I could go ahead and back out. I chose the latter, and of course, just as I did so, a car came up behind the SUV at normal speed, honked, and whipped around him. Had I not been watching, I would have backed into insurance paradise. I jammed on the brakes, and waved furiously at SUV Boy to get the hell out of the way. He just smiled.
          I don’t carry a gun, unlike most L.A. drivers, so I backed out, which was not easy, as he was partly obstructing my path. Then I drove off.
          And as I did so, SUV Boy continued creeping slowly down the street, cell phone on his ear.
          Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he just wanted to pause to enjoy chatting on his phone, and had stopped in the middle of the street to do so.
          The wonders of anti-depressants.
          For more LTSEWH’s, watch this space. And. . .coming soon. . .LTSEWH, the illustrated book!

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