The Rip Post                                                                                              


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(Sept. 24, 2009)
          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity.
Only the names have been changed---well, actually, as few names as possible have been changed. I like to include them whenever I happen to know them, and the threat of lawsuit is not too great. Yes, that’s LTSEWH (try and pronounce it) for, um, short.

          The sidewalk was empty, as it so often is in the remains of Westwood. It was around 9 a.m., as I headed to UCLA for physical therapy to unlock my right shoulder (lost the key.) By 9:45, there would be twenty people lined up for fresh cookies at Diddy Riese, but for now it was just me and sidewalk, until. . .
          I hit the corner, where a guy was completing his crossing of Hilgard Ave. He was perhaps 30, wearing a suit, and as is the case with the majority of human population, was staring into an electronic device. Translation: he had as much knowledge of his surroundings as George W. Bush does of French cooking.
          You know, one day these devices will start controlling people, and no one will be able to tell.
          So maybe this was Suit Guy’s excuse: he no more realized there was another person in his environment than Michael Jackson knew he was kicking the bucket. (Propofol drip---that’s the way to go!) Because as I stood there, pushing the button to let Traffic Big Brother know I was waiting for the next light (pushing with sleeve covering finger, so as not to pick up lethal staph infections), Suit Guy just cut loose and. . .sneezed.
          I had been literally sprayed. Some of the droplets were. . .big.
          “Hey, man!” I yelled. “Jesus Christ! What the hell’s wrong with you!”
          I hereby apologize for linking Christ, even by implication, with such horrific lack of etiquette and hygiene. I mean, Jesus probably never sneezed once in his life, certainly not after the Resurrection. Well, ambitious young man with electronic device---wait, I should just declare a contest, here and now: Can You Guess What Sneeze Boy Did Next? First prize: an H1N1 vaccine dose. No? Okay, here’s the answer:
          Nadadamnthing! Right. Just kept walking. Didn’t turn around, didn’t apologize, didn’t say "excuse me," didn’t ask why I had not said, “Bless you.” The only “you” that he merited would have had a somewhat different verbal modifier. Didn’t even, as the odds-on favorite for his L.A.-type response would have been, give me the old finger.
          I’ve written occasionally here about “Rense luck,” and this is just a gold-vein example. There was no one, I repeat, no one else on the street. Just me and him. My getting sneezed on in that circumstance is akin to being struck by lightning, finding out that your long-lost criminal half-brother lives next door. Frankly, I would have preferred lightning. Better chances of survival. I mean, he had just given me a personal DNA sample, all over my right cheek and neck.
          Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, where were you to dress this dolt down?
          Okay, I should note that Sneeze Boy seemed to have at least made a cursory attempt to block the nasal expulsion of several billion trillion bacteria, and a bonus virus or two. He had placed his hand to his face, in a fist, which, of course, only had the effect of creating a ricochet that sent mucous and saliva caroming into moi.
          I’d like to have put my hand---in a fist---into his. . .electronic device.
          So far, no symptoms.
          I was driving.
          You know, that sentence alone should stand as the ultimate LTSEWH one can have in L.A., if not anywhere.
           Is there any other application of energy that so magnificently and efficiently incorporates ever conceivable aspect of stress and insanity?
          Well, there’s sex, I guess, but that’s another matter.
          So. . .there I was. . .
          On Barrington in West L.A., headed toward Pico. In front of me were two pick-up trucks loaded with gardening equipment. Handles and machines sprouted from the beds, as if hordes of giant metal insects had landed there and got stuck together. And the trucks were doing about. . .
          Twenty miles per hour. Side by side. Huh?
          Oh, I got it---the drivers were talking to each other. Having a little chit-chat. Perhaps discussing weather, or health care, or good taco trucks (they were both latino), or the pleasures of navigating L.A. streets at twenty miles per hour.
          It occurred to me that they had something in common with Westwood Sneeze Boy---and, come to think of it, most people in L.A.; they had no idea that any other human beings were in the vicinity. But then I noted them checking their rear-view mirrors, where no less than 30 cars were backed up. So they must have known! Unless. . .I had a horrifying thought:
          They were blind! Blind people at the wheels of pick-up trucks! Even worse: blind gardeners! Look out, deodars!
          But no, they were driving much too straight for blindness. I mean, I once saw the Five Blind Boys of Alabama leaving the Wadsworth Theater in a nice Caddy that was careening all over the road. (Really.)
          Now, if these guys were just giving each other quick directions, it would not have been problematic. If they were just exchanging a quick chimichanga recipe, no sweat. But this was not the case. They were just having a grand old time, yacking, maybe about futbol or the upcoming “Central American Independence Day” celebrations in Los Angeles. (Gee, I didn’t know that Central America was a country.)
          And this went on. And on. Block. After block. Until many of the cars behind me were blasting their horns. But Los Jardineros cared not a pupusa. They were laughing, smiling, gesturing, nodding, paying no attention to the cacaphony of indignation behind them. Really. Eventually I added my own harmony to the chorus of horns. John Cage would have enjoyed the arrhythmia of it all.
          No response.
          At long last, the jardinero on the left came to his turnoff, and made a slow, arching turn to the izquierdo. A line of cars just exploded down his lane, like corpuscles into heart-stented artery. Whoosh! Naturally, I was still stuck behind jardinero numero dos, who, curiously enough, continued driving at twenty miles per hour. With his eyes on me in the rear-view, and laughter on his face.
          Yes, laughter.
          Now if you think this unfavorably disposes me toward persons from particular ethnic groups, if not countries, who most likely work for cash and pay no taxes. . .if you think an incident like this would bring out such irrational, prejudiced, dismissive feelings of disdain. . .
          I’ll leave that conclusion to you.
          I rationalized: this must be how they do things in Mexico, or wherever these guys are from. But that lasted about as long as it took for me to remember---hard as it has become in L.A.---that this is not Mexico.
          I realized I was now being baited, so I simply laid on my horn. I enjoyed making the fellow smile, you see. The more I honked, the more happy he became. I am here in this world, after all, to engender happiness, am I not? Eventually I felt I had been charitable enough, and that jardinero seemed very contented indeed, so I changed lanes to the left to pass him. And, as I expected, he. . .
          Cut right in front of me. Sharply. Still smiling.
          Oh, the merry laborer and his capricious sense of play! Oh, the trafficacious wonderment of it all! Well, I would play, too! I downshifted and, as they say, “burned rubber,” and whipped around his Ford Big Ass on the right, and cut him off.
          Then I joined in his mirthful spirit, and smiled and laughed in my own rear-view mirror. I wanted him to know that I regarded him as an equal, a virtual colleague in driving élan and citizenly joie de’vivre.
          But at that point, I really needed to head home and put my fist through a wall, so I waved to jardinero---the jaunty one-fingered wave---and took my car up to a screaming 37 miles per hour.
          Leaving him on his way to cut grass with fume-spewing noise-pollution machinery, and crop beautiful jacarandas to death, and all those other invaluable things that he undoubtedly contributes to our fair city.
          Readers will find it highly amusing to know that I recently joined “UNITED AGAINST RACISM,” a cause promoted on Facebook.
          Joining a “cause” on Facebook, I figure, is a lot like trying to impregnate someone after a vasectomy, but what the hell. I’ve always opposed racism, and never more than since I became a victim of it, myself. You’ve read about this in past Riposte masterpieces, where I note that jobs have been openly denied to me because I am a “white male.” This very term was actually used by one editor who had groomed me for a columnist position over two years and 100 guest columns for the L.A. Times, then dumped me over my skin color and testicles. 
          Affirmative Action? It affirmed my ass right out of action. The job I had been groomed for was filled by an African-American female who, truth be told, could not out-write me if I had to type with my toes, falling-down drunk and blindfolded. But the quality of one’s work has long been almost incidental in suicidal, social experimentational America.
           And then, you know, I really find all this inane anger at Obama emanating from mostly dumbass white Americans to be repulsive in the extreme. That “You lie!” outburst in Congress was equivalent to “Lynch him!” I have serious problems with Obama (though I regard him as a slice of paradise after Bush/Cheney) but his being half-black is not among them.
          So on an impulse, I lent my name to this “cause.”
          And promptly started receiving spam at my home e-mail address. Huh? I wrote to the (very nice) guy heading the (good) cause, one Greg Jones. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the verbatim e-mail exchange, which took place over five days. Correct. Five full-grown American-type 21st century days:
          Dear Greg,
          Please take me off the spam e-mail list ASAP. I could not find an "unsubscribe" option. My address is (censored.) I am inundated with spam, and did not expect any for supporting this good cause. I appreciate your understanding.

          (sic) Could you do us a favor Rip and tell us exactly what kind of spam you are receiving from us. Would be appreciated. We did send a message out today to all members saying that we're getting close to 2,000 members. But we are interested in what you mean by 'inundated'. If you have received more than the one message today from us than we may have been hacked and need to know so that we can report it. Your assistance would be appreciated. Thank You. Greg Jones.
           And. . .
          Dear Greg,
          I didn't mean that you are inundating me with spam. Apologies for the confusion. I am generally inundated with spam, and am trying to eliminate it. Thank you. ---Rip Rense

          Thanks for clearing that up Rip. I never want anyone to think that we're out to spam folks. We have the greatest respect for our members and friends and truly appreciate your joining in this very important cause. Your Friend Greg
          My friend? Greg was my friend? Well, I need friends, but. . .funny, I couldn't bring Greg's face to mind. Hmm. Maybe that was because I'd never met him! Astounding how Facebook has destroyed the meaning of "friend." As if you can be “friends” with someone you’ve never met, played poker with, or been sneezed on by. (Apologies to Lingo Czar for that grammar.)
          Dear Greg,
          You're doing great work, obviously, and apologies for any inconvenience.

          No problem at all Rip. Thanks Again, Greg.
 Such civility and good will should be recognized with trips to the White House, medals, hookers. . .
          But the next day, there it was, as sure as Larry King says "dese" and "doze." More “UNITED AGAINST RACISM” spam. SPAM spam spam spam, SPAM span spam spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
          Dear Greg,
          Please take me off the e-mail list. As I said, I get tons of spam from many sources. I did not ask to be put on the United Against Racism e-mail list. Please remove me. I'd do it myself, but you do not provide that option anywhere that I can find. Thank you.

          Hi Rip: Got this from FB Help Page "How To Leave Cause"
          You can leave a cause by clicking on “Leave Cause" under the main cause image. Keep In Touch. Greg.

          I refrained from writing, “You know Greg, you are not my friend. I do not want to keep in touch with you. What’s more, I have never been in touch with you in the first place, aside from this stupid spam thing. Just take me off the goddamn spam e-mail list, before I notify Homeland Security and Animal Regulation. Your friend, Rip.”
          Admirable restraint! Instead I wrote this:
          Dear Greg,
          Yes, I saw that. I have no f---ing clue what it means. "How to Leave Cause." Huh? Is that English? I tried to do it, and it was useless. Can't you PLEASE remove me from the list? I've asked over and over again now. You're the Big Cheese, right? So you should be able to effect this small favor for someone who at least has lent his name to the cause, right?????????

          I think there may be problems with FB Cause. If it is saying that YOU can leave cause by clicking "leave cause" under the logo...then I don't understand why that wouldn't work. I don't see a way on our end to click to have you leave the cause. I looked it up under help...and got what I sent to you. If it's not there...then contact FB and ask why not. There's nothing else I can do. Greg.
         Yes, this is just what I wanted. I could think of no more useful application of my allotted time on earth than to write to a faceless entity called “Facebook,” asking for help in how to use their ridiculous program to remove my name from a spam-list on something called “UNITED AGAINST RACISM.” Somebody needs to start a “cause” called “UNITED AGAINST IDIOCY AND THEFT OF LIFE.”
          I wrote back:
          Thanks, Greg. I am completely baffled. So this is a Facebook matter? Somehow, Facebook is sending e-mails to my home address? How is that possible? How weird. Okay, I'll try it again. What a pain in the ass this is. This is the last time I ever agree to support any cause on-line. Sorry to take your time. Best, Rip
          And, yes, dear reader, you are reaching the end of this Jeremiad of an exchange.
          Final response:
          Wow. Fact is we're having problems with the cause page. Keeps saying they're working on it....try back in a few days. Very weird. But they say that under the UAR logo it should say 'click to leave cause'. It should be there. I don't get it.
          At least he was candid! Yes, I had tried clicking on “How to Leave Cause” until I feared for repetitive stress syndrome on my left index finger, but the only cause I was allowed to leave was my own. And then, suddenly, the imps and sprites of Facebook decided they had enjoyed enough sport at my expense, and. . .it worked! I "left cause!" Not since that lunar module rocket fired to correct course and return the Apollo 13 astronauts to earth has there been such relief! I clicked. It said to pick a reason for leaving, which I did, and I have received no more unwanted e-mail. Yet.
          But why in the hell should I have to give a reason? What is this, elementary school?
          Dear Miss Facebook, Rip cannot continue with your cause today because he has a sore throat and his dog ate his homework and then vomited all over the computer screen, which at the time was full of Facebook ‘friends’ he had never met. Thank you.

          Now, most people who need a piece of plywood just measure the space where it will be needed, go out and buy it, then bring it home and affix. Voila! But most such people have extremely hairy, muscled arms, well laced with scar tissue brought about by many years of sawing, hammering, grinding, screwing (shame on you), drilling, and other Real Man activity.
          I’ve never been a Real Man. I just play one on television. Well, what transpires with me when I try to do Real Man work might well make for good television. I out-Laurel Hardy, or out-Hardy Laurel, or something like that. I am all Three Stooges. On acid. I mean, would this have happened to you?
          I measured a spot on the back balcony for large piece of plywood, to ensure a bit more privacy, and up the chances that I will never, ever have to see my next door neighbor again. (An awful tale too LTSEWH to relate, at least for now.)
          I drove to redoubtable, enduring Anawalt Lumber in West L.A., musing over the fact that I used to work with a woman descendant of the company, Sasha, who I believe was dance critic at the old L.A. Herald-Examiner. One way or another, Anawalts seemed destined to eat trees.
          A nice fellow named Pedro cut a piece to the desired size, and when I picked it up, I realized I would have to immediately head home and do my lower back exercises. It was no heavier than Michael Moore.
          “Sorry! I didn’t realize it would be this heavy. Don’t you have anything thinner?”
          Pedro suggested I use three-eighths of an inch instead of three-quarters, and I said nothing about having first asked for the “thinnest” plywood he had. So he cut another piece, which was easy to pick up, and informed me that it was only $16, while the other piece had cost $25.
          Do you feel the spirit of Laurel and Hardy?
          “Oh. Okay, well, I’ll go back to the office and get a refund, and come back with the receipt.”
          “Oh, but I can’t use the other one now.”
          Sigh. There was no way to sell a piece of plywood that was already cut? Right. Far more difficult, even, than enacting national health care reform. Never mind that there was a bin full of odd-sized pieces for sale right in front of me. But I know when I’m cut down to size.
          “Right. Okay. . .Well, let me just take this new piece, and call it even.”
          “Okay. Call it even.”
          I could think of a few other things to have called it, including theft, but I rather liked Pedro. He was, after all, a Real Man.
          So I walked off with my $25 $16 piece of plywood, and quickly found that no matter which doors and windows I opened, and no matter how much I twisted and grunted, the plywood did not go willingly inside a Toyota.
          “Pedro,” I said. “Let me come back tonight and pick it up with a different car, okay?”
          So now we were up to having lost nine bucks on the deal, and invested two trips to the lumber place (so far.) When I got home, my wife kindly advised by phone that the Toyota had a latch that would lower the back seat, expanding room into the trunk. She is, you see, a Real Man, and knows about these things. Hell, she can even change a belt on a vacuum cleaner.
          Feeling increasingly castrated, I went out to the car, and. . .no latch. Phoned her back. Yes, she said, there is a latch, right on top of the back set. Went back out. No latch. Went back in, refrained from throwing phone through window when I informed her that there really was no latch. Yes, there is, she said. Went back out. No latch. Gasp. Opened the trunk to see again if maybe there was a way to get the plywood in there, if I just removed some items, and. . .hey, a latch! In the trunk! Huh?
          Why an engineer would put a back seat release-latch inside the trunk is a matter best understood by Real Men.
          So, ever resilient, ever determined, ever courageous, I drove back to Anawalt, back to Pedro, and promptly turned into Stan Laurel again when. . .the plywood still would not fit, even in the expanded trunk. (Undoubtedly, the reader has already gleaned a solution that did not occur to me.) Drove home, during which time I was only nearly hit by people pulling away from curbs without looking or signaling three times.
          Ate lots of watermelon. Watched Turner Classics. I’m very good at these things.
          That night, I did manage to pick up the plywood and bring it home, thanks to my Real Man wife, who figured out that it would be easier to cut it in half (!). (Scream here.) I felt much too persecuted and world weary at that point to pursue things further, so I just went to bed and dreamed of building elaborate houses, single-handedly, with aplomb.
          But I must digress, which is redundant here, and explain another little absence of testicularity in my overall handimannishness. I had informed Wife that I intended to make holes in the plywood, through which I would string wire, by using hammer and nails.
          “Uh, why don’t you just buy a drill?” she said gently.
           “Because I don’t want to spend a hundred bucks!”
           “But it would be so much easier.”
          “No. I don’t want to spend a hundred bucks!”
           Approximately two hours after this scintillating, rational conversation, I had managed to bang twelve *^&%$$!! holes in the plywood using three sets of progressively larger nails, each one violently knocked in, then violently pried out using more torque than is allowed to the human back by federal law. And not an insignificant amount of decorative verbiage involving many references to vulgar things, people, and behavior.
          And I was as drenched as if I’d just run half a practice with the Lakers.
          “Okay,” I said quietly. “Let’s go to OSH and get a goddamned drill.”
          She was nice enough to say nothing.
          Seventy bucks and an hour later, we returned, drill in hand. But as far as I was concerned, it might as well have been a mandrill. It needed to be (fanfare) “charged up.” Two hours. That was it. No more plywood patience for the day. Time for watermelon.
          (Interlude music here.)
          This LTSEWH really should have chapters. If it did, I might call the next one, “Unfit For Service,” Or "Real Men Don't Throw Fits."
           The next morning I managed to wire up the first piece of plywood with my non-Real Man arms, and paint it beige. This gave me a degree of satisfaction too embarrassing to describe here. Then I picked up the second piece, put it into position, and found. . .
          Can the reader imagine what transpired? No, I was not laughed at by gardeners, and no one sneezed in my face (see LTSEWH's above), and no spam e-mail from “UNITED AGAINST RACISM” appeared, hovering in space before me. Though that would have surprised me less.
          The plywood.
          (Appropriate background music here.)
          Oh, I had measured correctly---it’s just that the Real Man who measured the balcony before he built this building had done everything on a mildly Alice-In-Wonderland scale, as if he had just eyeballed instead of tape-measured. The building is, in other words, subtly Geary-esque. The front bathroom could have been angled by M.C. Escher. So. . .
          I needed to cut an inch off of the piece. An inch? No sweat for a Real Man, who would have enough tools to build or take apart a Ferrari. Me? I had a screwdriver and a hammer.
          “Why don’t you take it back to Anawalt and have them cut it for you?” said my outrageously pragmatic wife.
          “No. I’ve made enough trips there. I don’t want to see Pedro anymore.”
          So I got a tree-trimming saw from the garage, and managed to cut a half-inch into the plywood without tearing a deep gash in my left forearm that would promptly turn into lethal staph infection, gangrene, and beriberi.
          Why in hell do they call it "ply" wood?
          Undaunted, I thought myself ingenious as I got the mandrill out and drilled about thirty holes down the side, thinking I could then chisel a chunk all off with a hammer and screwdriver.
          Do you wonder why I scored a “50” on a “mechanical reasoning” aptitude test in high school?
          So I drove to OSH and spent $20 on a good handsaw, returned, and managed to cut exactly one more inch into the plywood without tearing a deep gash in my left forearm that would promptly turn into lethal staph infection, gangrene, and beriberi. Ply trees must be almost impossible to chop down.
          I figured that going back to Anawalt was easier than suicide, and certainly less stressful on the body, so I made trip number four. Pedro wasn’t around, but after explaining everything carefully to Lorenzo, somebody else cut an inch off one of the pieces, and I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll, or waltz, or at least cha-cha. Back home to balcony, back home to wire cutters and wire and paint and finally. . .
          Plywood privacy!
          Two days, four trips, one drill, one saw, one set of drill bits, undetermined gas, unnecessary driving, $200. 
          Unreal, man.
          I went to hell the other day. Oh, yes, I know, many of you believe I went to hell long ago, and that’s fine. Enjoy! But Buddhists’ idea of hell is a jail, and I got stuck in the jail that is Los Angeles. I was thrown into a clink made of cars and ethnocentricity, and just barely found a way out.
          I had decided to take my wonderful wife and two wonderful old friends downtown to the wonderful C&K Greek Deli, at Pico and Normandie, which remains wonderful despite prices that are no longer wonderful, and portions that have been cut so much that you wonder why you still pay your wonderful money for them. The answer: I’d still rather sit in that happy place on a Sunday afternoon and read the paper than anywhere else.
          Never got there.
          Noting the traffic choking up ahead, about two blocks from the C&K, I turned down a sidestreet and tried approaching from the rear.
          Never got there, either.
          Instead, I was shunted to neighborhoods I did not want to visit, and streets I did not intend to traverse, by a series of sawhorses and traffic cops that sprung up like toadstools in dew. And to my right and left, moving in the opposite direction, was a sight that I dread more than Oprah with a knife and fork: hundreds of cars backed up, stopped dead as Britney Spears’ brain.
          Out came the question of the day:
          “What in the hell is going on?”
          I should have just stopped at “hell.” That’s what was going on.
          Pico, to my right, was a parking lot lined with strange blue and white balloons and bunting. Streets to my left were equally coagulated with incredulous, white-eyeballed drivers, as I headed further and further in exactly the direction I did not want to go. This went on for fifteen minutes of my life that I'd preferred to have spent any of several trillion other ways. And then, as downtown’s corporate atrocity skyline loomed ever nearer, I noted with sudden horror that ahead of me, the main thoroughfare. . .
          Was also blocked off!
          I heard the voice of Moe Howard in my head. Or was it Shemp?
          “Trapped! Trapped like rats!”
          Because I had a car full of friends with gentle sensibilities, I had to refrain from letting off steam in my usual lyrical fashion. This was as easily accomplished as cold fusion. Which was a good metaphor for what was going on in my insides. I turned left because it was the only direction available, and when Wilshire eventually appeared in the distance, like an illusory oasis. . .
          Closed, too!
          Now I was scared.
          This was a damn Twilight Zone. L.A. was imploding on me. The city had come to life, and decided that all my years of insult had been enough. It was taking revenge. It was directing cars, and traffic cops, and sawhorses, to close in on me and eventually crush me and my car like a frat boy crushes a Bud can on his forehead. Sweating, I did the only thing I could, which was to turn around and head west on any available street---which in this case turned out to be named James M. Woods.
          Normally, I would have mused, “Wonder who he was,” but now could only think that Rod Serling had changed all the streets to strange names of obscure people. Gone were Wilshire, 3rd, Melrose, Beverly. . .
          Yet Woods proved rather cooperative, and let me slip along at slow speed, block by block, mile by mile, until, after about 20 more minutes, I could see that Wilshire on the right was apparently moving again. 
          I felt like one of those Obama fanatics. “Hope!” I shouted, at least in my head.
          I continued in this fashion, hands gripping the wheel till the blood fled my knuckles, until I was permitted to somehow escape the tightening motorized noose--- but not before hailing a traffic cop and asking what in the gridlock was going on. Homicide investigation? Suspect on the loose? Quinceanera?
          “It’s Central American Independence Day!” he shouted.
          “Central America isn’t a country,” said my wife.
          “No, it isn’t,” I said. “But it seems the central city of L.A. is now compelled to celebrate it, anyhow."
          "You know," said one of my  passengers, who is 83. "When I grew up in the Bronx, there were Jewish neighborhoods, and Italian neighborhoods, and Polish neighborhoods. . ."
          "But," said her friend, who came from similar era and location, "They all wanted to assimilate into this country. That's not what is happening here."
          I nodded, and hit the gas. I wondered how far back it was to North America.
          For more LTSEWH's, watch this space. Or buy the book.

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© 2009 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.