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(June 17, 2010)

          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: Sidetracked
          I was walking down a sidewalk.
          Such an unproblematic proposition, eh? Such a dull, functional, pedestrian circumstance (badda-bing), hardly the stuff that should inspire anecdote, let alone story. Ah, but if you live in the United States, a country overrun with gigantic, spoiled, rich, feral adult children, it’s another matter entirely.
          What I am about to tell you is not unusual. It goes on all the time. You know, like the Gulf oil leak.
          Specifically, I was walking down Wilshire Boulevard, toward Bundy, in West Los Angeles, at about 7:30 in the evening. A bucolic time, a benign time, or what passes for one on a street inundated with roaring machines piloted by raging, texting, cell-phoning advanced apes. What’s more, the sidewalk was wide. Really wide. Ten Oprahs wide. So it is a tribute to fast food and couches that the five young men ahead of me were blocking the entire sidewalk.
          Yes, there they were, with a combined intelligence to challenge a water buffalo, I’ll wager. Oh, that’s not fair. They all looked to be college students, or grads, and the proximity to UCLA makes them likely to have been Bruins. So make that two water buffaloes.
          They wore the usual uniform of the contemporary young male. Monster T-shirts to hide In-N-Out girths, monster shorts that were almost long pants (about six inches of thick, stubby calf exposed), stupid haircuts that made them appear to have just rolled out of bed. Check that---I guess two of the guys had jeans and leather jackets on, come to think of it. You know, the cool uniform of those in search of cool things to do.
          I approached.
          They saw me.
          They did not move.
          They continued blocking the sidewalk, engaged in conversation about undoubtedly important things that so crucially engage modern male young people. Things like Kobe, breasts, eyeballing shots of vodka, breasts, apps, breasts, Kobe, and breasts.
          In order to pass, I would have had to either tightrope around a parking meter, or zig-zag my way through these pigeyed, grunting doofuses. So I stopped.
          They all looked at me. The hulk in front, fullback-sized, stared uncomprehendingly, mouth slightly open, posing a serious danger to early evening mosquitoes.
          “Well?” I said, smiling and shrugging.
          The hulk just stared. He had absolutely no idea what I was doing, or why. I might as well have been a talking tree stump. I gave up, shook my head, turned sideways and kind of awkwardly zig-zagged through them, moving on.
          And then, behind me, I heard laughter, and this:
         “What’s wrong with that dude?”
          “I don’t know.”
          “What was his problem?”
          “I don’t know.”
          So I turned around, and smiled.
          “The problem,” I said, again smiling, “is that when a pedestrian approaches, and you are blocking the sidewalk, you are supposed to, out of courtesy, move aside in order to make room for the pedestrian to pass.”
          They stared at me like I was dog crap come to life.
          “Hey, dude, there’s plenty of sidewalk,” snarled one.
           “You can walk around us,” said another.
          “You can walk in the street, asshole!” said a third.
          Bear in mind, folks, that these fine young people are perhaps thirty years younger than I am. Thirty years! Did you treat your elders so brutishly?
          Somehow, the notion of simple courtesy has eluded these Brobdingnagians, as well as the more difficult concept of sharing a planet with about six billion other humans. They have no, repeat no, sense of anything other than their most immediate animal impulses. I have encountered this behavior so frequently, in so many ways, for so many years, that I believe it to be widespread enough among “young people” to merit generalization.
          It’s enough to make me wish that the government bring back the draft.

          LTSEWH # 2: Sidetracked II
          I was walking down a sidewalk.
          Wait a second, haven’t you already read this one?
          Nope. Different sidewalk. Same insanity.
          It was around 4 p.m., which is to say, the sun was still out. Despite the predictions of physicists and the Pentagon, and the conjecture of conspiracy theorists, there is yet no way to achieve invisibility. Although these entities might want to commission a study of me, given my sidewalk experiences in Los Angeles. Perhaps the gray in my beard somehow picks up the gray in the sidewalk, creating a sort of psychological blind spot that. . .nah.
          There I was, and there they were up ahead: three chattering women. Now, chattering women are to be forgiven to a certain extent for obliviousness, for I’ve noticed that once women get to chattering, the rest of the world becomes about as important as fly dung. The same thing often happens when they see designer names on clothing, and Oprah. Oh, at this juncture, let me say this for some of my Female-American readers:
          Sexist bastard!
          Anyhow, they were chattering and clucking and making those singsong, stretched-out vowel sounds that ladies often do when they are either greeting one another or saying goodbye. In this case, I think it was the early stages of goodbye, which, as any objective observer knows, can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour.
          One of the (prosperous looking) ladies stood on the sidewalk with a baby in stroller. Another stood on one side of a black SUV the size of Mt. Rushmore. Another was on the other side of the SUV. They all seemed to be speaking simultaneously, but that, I know, is an illusion, as ladies just speak faster than men. I believe it has been scientifically proven, and has something to do with their brains---I mean mouths---being smaller.
          I apologize for having no memory of the exact content of their exchange. But it was loud, and busy. An intergalactic, superintelligent grasshopper would evaluate the scene, and conclude that it was some sort of elaborate ritual, and that would be right.
          I approached. The ladies---healthy West Side types undoubtedly fresh from Yoga, or Zumba, or Botox---all looked at me, or at least turned their heads in my direction with their eyes open. I smiled and tipped my hat, as I do for ladies. Old chauvinist relic that I am. They did not smile and tip their hats in return. Of course, they had no hats, so that part was okay.
          Yet as I drew nearer, I noticed that the Mommy in front of me made no effort to move aside, or move her stroller out of the way of the. . .
          Oncoming pedestrian.
          She just kept speaking in a barking voice that would have carried very well in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, without amplification. She was saying something like this (dramatic reenactment):
          “I don’t know. Sherry said around 3 o’clock. I knowwwwwww. Can you believe it!”
          Because I have this stupid reflex about being polite to females, unless they are texting while driving, I walked around both stroller and Mommy, which necessitated my stepping into healthy grass growing in the strip beside the street. And as I passed by, Mommy continued “speaking”. . .
          Right into the side of my face. Right into my ear.
          As if I was not even there.
          You won’t believe me, but it made my ear ring. And I’ve been to a hell of a lot of Grateful Dead concerts that did not do that.
          I turned around after passing by, looked at Mommy, looked at the other two.
Nobody noticed my turning around. Nobody seemed to have noticed that I had passed by at all.
          And again, because some misguided parent figure instilled in me long ago the reflex of being courteous to women, I did not say these words:
          “What the fuck is wrong with you goddamn bitches? Can’t you take time out from your pinhead conversation to get out of the way of a fucking pedestrian? You fucking brainless assholes.”
          Next time.

           LTSEWH # 3: Nice Ash
          The car remained stopped, despite the light having changed to green.
          Well, this often happens, as people are busy with such demanding pursuits as texting, putting on make-up, talking on cell phones, urinating into specially designed receptacles, aiming imperious fingers at their iPads, and, as I actually saw one morning in West L.A., eating breakfast.
          What’s so strange about that, you wonder? What’s so strange about driving with an Egg McMuffin in your hand, or a piece of toast, or a cup of coffee? Well, sorry to say, not much. But I maintain that it is indeed strange to see a car make a right turn as you cross in a crosswalk, while the driver is. . .
          Cutting up eggs and bacon on a plate with a knife and fork.
          With both hands.
          And I mean silver, not plastic.
          Yes, I did see this. She was driving with her knees, plate in lap, having some nice eggs and bacon. I slapped her car as it went by, hard with both hands, but I’m sure she was used to having her car slapped, and seemed to not care.
          But back to the car in front of me that remained stopped, despite the light having changed to green. I did not hit the horn, as I prefer to wait about five seconds first, to see if the driver notices the subtle change in transportation flow and traffic signal hue. I waited. . .
          And then the driver’s side door opened. Ah, I thought, she must be having some engine trouble with her nice new white BMW.
          She was having trouble with her ash tray. To be specific, it was full, and needed emptying. She seemed to think that it needed emptying in the street, and so that’s what she did. A small cloud of ashes blew into the air, and a few butts bounced around on the asphalt, then her door closed, and she was off again.
          All set for another round of completely unnecessary ingestion of smoke from tobacco sticks containing 4,000 chemicals, including 400 toxins and 43 known carcinogens. Until her ash tray fills up all over again and she dumps it out on another street, where the non-biodegradable cigarette butts can be swept into storm drains leading to Ballona Creek leading to the blue Pacific leading to the stomachs of whales, dolphins, turtles, and sea birds.
          Well, what the hell. Oil’s going to get them, anyway.

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