The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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Aug. 22, 2007

          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, just to create a particularly stupid and unpronounceable 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, and the interests of sparing The Rip Post lawsuits.
          LTSEWH # 1: The Unanswered Question
          I went out for an evening walk with my first lieutenant, Annie, and our neighbor, Syb. Both Annie and Syb are female, and I am not. I understand Yoko Ono’s ancient plea to “let your female side out” and all that, but it doesn’t work. Both of my sides are male, though I admit that my testosterone isn’t what it used to be. For instance, I no longer bark and chase cars, and the palms of my hands have gone bald.
          What this has to do with the California Lottery, I will now explain. Syb is one of those unflaggingly sunny people who believes she might win the jackpot. She also believes that there are nice people in L.A., but that’s another matter.
          Bon apetit, I say, though I have never purchased a lottery ticket. I don’t enjoy the sight of people being tricked out of their minimum wages by the state of California in a contest where the odds of winning are not as good as fornication with Oprah.
          So I watched Syb lay out dozens of lottery tickets and punch them into a tiny machine at a 7-Eleven.
          “Did you buy all those?” I asked.
          And here, dear readers, is where we near the point of this little tale of gender difference. Syb’s reply was, “Oh, these are old ones.”
          I stood there, wondering if “oh, these are old ones” had somehow answered the question about whether she had purchased all the tickets. And this is where the suspicion that this was not a simple miscommunication, but rather, a phenomenon of female brain function, entered the picture.
          I walked over to Annie and asked the same question.
          “Did Syb buy all those tickets?” I asked.
          And as sure as a colossal intergalactic cockroach crouches on the dark side of the moon, waiting to devour the earth, this is what Annie said:
          “Those are old ones.”
          See what I mean about being male? Forget all the scientific research and analysis that suggests or even illustrates how male and female brains process information differently, this little anecdote is all you will ever need.
          Somehow, both Annie and Syb felt that “those are old ones” answered the question. Had they assumed that I thought Syb had just purchased the tickets, despite the fact that I had walked in with her? Did the fact that these were old tickets somehow convey in female philosophy that they had been purchased?
          “That’s exactly what Syb said!” I declared. “Neither of you actually answered the question! You see? You are both female!”
          I felt momentarily vindicated, then wondered why, and wound up shaking my head. A distinctly male response.

art by James Ferrigno

You've read the column for years. . .
Now 230 LOL pages of LTSEWH's can be yours!


          LTSEWH # 2: Testy Results
          I phoned my doctor’s office for test results. Or should I say my doctors’ office, as I had been examined and treated by both of them on different occasions, depending on who was on hand.
          I spoke my name and announced that I was calling for test results.
          “Who is your doctor?” said a woman on the phone, with all the warmth and compassion of a directory assistance operator.
          I explained that, in fact, both doctors had treated me, so I wasn’t sure which one was my official doctor.
          “Which doctor do you want to speak to?”
          “Neither,” I said. “I just want test results.”
          “Which doctor do you want to speak to?”
           Umm. . .hadn’t I heard this question already? I tabled an urge to start singing, "My Friend, The Witch Doctor."
          “I don’t want to speak to either of them, as I said. But Dr. (Dingus) examined me this time, although Dr. (Doofus) is my usual doctor.”
          “Which doctor do you want to speak to?”
          Did the woman have obsessive-compulsive disorder? Was she also washing her hands and turning in a circle three times? I decided that no, she was just, well. . .don’t you just love it when people are cooperative, professional, understanding, inquiring, efficient? When they take bold initiative to sort out complex problems? It just warms my heart, and makes me feel positively zingy, zesty, zippy! Proud to be alive!
          “I told you, I don’t want to speak to any doctor. I’m just calling for test results. You usually give them over the phone. As I said, I was examined by Dingus, but Doofus is my usual doctor here.”
          “I’ll have someone call you back,” she said, and hung up.
          Yessirree. It’s only your um, oh. . .life. . .in question, that’s all. Only your health. Only a test that could reveal whether you can continue waltzing about in carefree fashion, or if you need to start estate planning. No need for courtesy here, let alone doing what’s necessary to get information to you.
          You’re just the idiot on the phone who doesn’t even know who his doctor is.
          LTSEWH # 3: Party Disfavor
          Now this one happened a few years ago, but it popped to mind recently and is too good, or bad, to leave in the LTSEWH vault.
          There I was. . .
          At a party---a very rare occurrence for me in recent years, as I am enough of a party to myself as it is. But there I was, with my faithful Indian companion, Annie, at the home of a former Herald-Examiner colleague, a highly regarded critic and her brilliant psychiatrist husband.
          Improbable circumstance for the likes of a middle-aged hack in a battered Grateful Dead cap, I know, but what the hell. I can take a joke. Besides, the couple wised up and stopped inviting me to their backyard wingdings shortly thereafter, without explanation.
          I wonder if it had to do with this:
          A gray-haired guy perhaps 60 or so turned around, and found himself face-to-face with me and Annie. I began speaking to him, picking up the thread of a conversation I’d heard him having about oh, I don’t remember, ants, movies, South Pacific Island diseases. . .I made a friendly little quip, he responded, and I responded, and before we knew it. . .fledgling conversation! This, I think---but don’t hold me to it---is what people do at parties. They have conversation.
          And then he said---or rather, spat:
          “I hate conversations like this. They’re so superficial and shallow and meaningless and stupid.”
          Huh? Well, shut my mouth and slap me silly! Eh?
          “Uh. . .I agree,” I smiled, “but oh, what are you going to do?”
          I resumed trying to make polite chit-chat, out of sheer reflex, but didn’t get far. I was, truth be told, caught completely off-guard. Had this guy really just insulted the nouns and verbs out of us? Why? Why would a stranger do such a thing, and in such an innocuous setting?
          Next, this bearer of glad tidings cast a smartass sneer at me and Annie, turned his back, and walked away, presumably to speak to people who might provide him with the sort of elevated discourse he deserved.
          Annie and I looked at each other, befuddled, with the kind of feeling you get when splashed with mud by a passing truck. After a moment, we opted to sort of smilingly stroll around to the side of the house, as if we were having a perfectly splendid time---and then get the hell out of there.
          I didn’t realize it until later, but many, if not most, of the invited guests were patients of the brilliant psychiatrist host. It might have helped me to understand this. That I was attending a soiree for quasi-cuckoos.
          Ah, no wonder I was invited.
          Still, I’d have liked to have picked that guy up by his lapels and presented him with some more compelling chatter.
          LTSEWH # 4: Heavyweight Fun
          Some LTSEWH’s require no social intercourse whatsoever. Just being in the presence of certain persons is one hell of a LTSEWH. I would imagine that, say, running into Dick Cheney in the market would be the granddaddy of them all.
          There I was. . .
          At Disneyland.
          I know, I know, whaddya expect. I’m not going to get into my trip there, except to say that the hideous and fiendish rape of Uncle Walt’s quaint and cornball fantasy park by demographers and greed-barons far exceeded my expectations. And my expectations were horrific. A fine line between heaven and hell, there is. . .
          I just want to cite one little scene of many that were oh, let’s say. . .disconcerting:
          Four women, each weighing between 300 and 500 pounds, all using either walkers or electric carts to traverse the place, sitting on benches in Frontierland, enjoying a little lunch.
          McDonald’s burgers and fries.
          And you wonder why they call it The Happiest Place on Earth.
          LTSEWH # 5: Overbooked
          Call me sucker, chump, fool, dunderhead, simp, moron---it doesn’t matter. No amount of chastising will ever deter me from putting myself in positions where people might easily take advantage of me. I was trained well as a youth, you see (long story.) You can’t unring a bell.
          So when a Barnes and Noble “community representative” suggested a small publisher who might want to pick up my novel, “The Oaks,” I followed up. You never know, I told myself. Maybe this time there won’t be a liar/pompous martinet/self-important crud on the other end of the phone.
          I was right. The woman publisher was extraordinarily pleasant, conversational, and most important, keenly interested in my book. She kept me on the phone for about 45 minutes! I had the sense that she was having trouble disguising her excitement over “The Oaks,” which held a very strong local and nostalgic angle for her audience. We had a wonderful talk. She asked for a copy.
          No, I did not get my hopes up. I did not stupidly assume that this was practically a done deal. I merely thought that this prospect held a small bit of possibility.
          Like I said. . .sucker, chump. . .
          Let me ask you something. If you ask for a manuscript, are you not bound by professional standards, if not courtesy, to drop a note in response, confirming receipt? Hi, got your manuscript, thank you. Will review and get back to you. It could be a couple of months. . .Yes, I think so, too. But then, this is the 21st century, the era of “no response means ‘no’,” and e-mail with no punctuation, etc.
          I never heard a word, of course. No note, no carrier pigeon, no owl from Hogwarts. Nada thing. Well, I thought, that’s okay, nobody’s perfect, I’ll wait. . .Two months later, I began leaving polite phone messages---a total of three over three weeks.
          You guessed it: nada thing.
          Finally I simply wrote a letter asking for the book to be returned, and enclosed a check to cover mail and envelope. I backed it up with an e-mail---
          And got a response! Money talks!
          “Publisher” pleaded having been out of the country---for two weeks. Um, yeah, but what about the other six? Said she had been on a motorcycle vacation (whoop-tee-doo), liked the book, but “have not figured out how it can fit into what I am doing.”
          (Huh? Hint: you publish books. Either you um, publish it, or you don’t.)
          Finally. . .
          “I am sorry that you lost faith.”
          Lost faith. Har. Au contraire, Madame Publishaire, you merely reinforced my faith---that agents and publishers have nothing in their heads but live rats running round, tripping random synapses, occasionally munching on them.
          The book was returned, thank you, along with my very nice original letter. In the corner, Madame had scrawled a big letter representing her first name, and scribbled these words:
          “SORRY IT DIDM’T (sic) WORK OUT”
          I’m not. It didm’t seem like much of a publishing company, anyhow.
          LTSEWH # 6: Executive Decision
          I don’t know if you read about the editor at the Seattle Times who chastened his newsroom staff for bursting into spontaneous applause at the news that Karl “The Pig” Rove had left the White House. Actually, it was just a few staffers who clapped (sad to say), hardly the entire newsroom.
          Well, I have this crazy idea that newsrooms should be rollicking, haywire, wild-and-wooly collisions of personality, talent, stupidity, stained ties, and a little booze and smoke. And if the booze and smoke are no longer tolerated, at least they should be places of chaos and invention and irreverence and. . .freedom.
          Plus I subscribe to the old “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable” ethos for newspapers. But of course, that would be “biased” and not “balanced” and all that other illusory nonsense that has all but choked the life and joy out of papers everywhere. So I felt I had to drop a note to the editor---actually, he’s the “executive editor”---of the Seattle Times, who bears the frighteningly corporate name of David Boardman. I mean, Woody Allen would have named this guy. Here is my note:
          Dear Mr. Boardman,
          Your attempt to squelch free and spontaneous expression in your newsroom is another example of the self-seriousness that has infected newspapers and helped fuel their circulation decline. Your action can only stifle the spirit of your newsroom, and generate disrespect and disgust for you. The cheering for Rove’s departure was “not appropriate for a newsroom,” you write. I hope you extend this policy to cheering for world series winners, or displays of mourning in the event of the death of a national figure. Best you should weed out all emotional displays in your newsroom and have your staff sit at their desks with hands folded like good little boys and girls. I’ve always wondered what “executive editors” do, and now I know.
          Rip Rense

          Lest you think my last comment was gratuitously snide, I’ve known a few “executive editors” at two newspapers, and as near as I can tell, they never did anything but write memos for reporters to laugh at.
          Anyhow, The Board Man. . .wrote back! That’s correct! The ego of these guys! Engaging in tit-for-tat with unknown people in distant cities! It absolutely bears out my previous impression of “executive editors.” This one had nothing more important to do than write to Rense! (That’s pretty sad.) Here is his response:
          Our circulation is up, actually. . .Sent from my BlackBerry  Wireless Handheld.
          Yup, he took the time and trouble to respond from his Blackberry, even.
          And if you think I responded, you probably did not vote for George W. Bush.
          I wrote, simply:
          No reflection on you.
          Well, wouldn’t you know it? There was all sorts of hubbub and foofera on the web about Boardman the next day: at Editor and Publisher, and Romanesko. Why? Because the executive editor had done exactly what executive editors do best: he had written a long memo! The kind of big, flatulent, puffy, sickeningly precious memo that only executive editors can write. E&P and Romanesko reproduced it in full, so people like me can have more fun in their day. Here is a sample:
          "A good newsroom is a sacred and magical place.”
          If you think I took the opportunity to write another note to The Board Man, then you probably have no trouble tying your shoes. Here is my response:
          "A good newsroom is a sacred and magical place."---David Boardman.
          Wow. Now what was I telling you about self-seriousness, Dave? This quote makes one wonder: do you have animal sacrifices in your newsroom these days? Baptisms? Do you perform the Mysterious Chinese Linking Rings trick? Saw women in half?
          Rip Rense

          The Board Man did not write back. He had better things to do, at last!
          LTSEWH # 7: Pedestrian encounter
          I’ve reported this sort of circumstance before, but it’s so remarkable that I must do it again:
          Males walking toward each other on an L.A. sidewalk. Male # 1: me. Males #2 and 3: younger fellows of foreign (possibly Middle East) extraction, judging from appearance and accent. Sidewalk: wide. Wide enough for males to pass one another without collision.
          Yet neither Males # 2 or 3 move aside to allow Male # 1 to pass. Seeing this, Male # 1 does not move aside, either, as he already occupied only about two-thirds of the right side of the sidewalk. Male # 2 plows directly into Male # 1’s shoulder (or vice-versa, if you prefer), and both spin sideways as a result. Male # 2 merely keeps on walking, as if nothing unusual has  happened.
          Territorial imperative lives! Uh! Uh! Hail the return of Cro-Magnon man! He wins!
          LTSEWH # 8: Turn, Turn, Turn
          I pulled slightly into a T-intersection, in order to see around parked cars in either direction and prevent a premature dispatching to the ethers of my physical self. All cars do this at this intersection. It is as necessary for making a safe left turn as red ties are to Washington, D.C..
          I noted a car coming on the left, and waited for it to pass. An older Mustang, with an older Mustang driver. He was not signaling. He was not slowing down. He was not in the left turn lane. I therefore made the extraordinarily dangerous assumption that he was not planning to turn left (in front of me.) So I crept out, ever so slowly, a little further, anticipating my left turn-to-come. But---
          He suddenly whipped left directly in front of me, did Mustang Man, with no warning, and as he passed he snarled, shouted, and gave me the favorite salute of modern, evolved humanity: the raised third finger. I hit the brakes to avoid collision, and being similarly evolved, I returned his jolly gesture. For fun, I screwed up my face to affect the ambience of, oh, Moe Howard.
          Mustang Man did not appreciate this.
          To the extent that he next performed the Big Insanity that so many do in L.A.. He. . .turned around, and began chasing me.
          Oh, joy.
          Because I did not know Mustang Man, and do know that many, many people carry guns in their cars, I engaged in evasive action. Mustang Man roared past me and attempted to cut me off by swerving in front of me and stopping.
          But I have been in this situation before---it really is an L.A. sport---so as soon as he passed me, I simply performed a grand U-turn at about 40 miles per hour, and headed the other way. Mustang Man promptly darted through a parking lot and down an alley to give chase, but I was in a Prius, and as Al Gore’s son knows, they go a hundred miles per hour. I settled for 45 or 50, made a couple of turns, and lost him.
          Just another genteel encounter between neighbors in placid, pastoral Southern California.
          For more LTSEWH's, watch this space.

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