The Rip Post                         Riposte Extra!



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        Call them Less than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, for short. A chronicle of the decay of civility, sanity, and synapses in this, the 21st Century. All business names have been included when possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
        LTSEWH # 1: Towering idiocy
        I was in Tower Records---why, I'm not certain, given that 99 percent of the stock is aimed at 12-year-olds with piercings and tattoos. Or adults who would like to be twelve-year-olds with piercings and tattoos. But I have an old, sentimental attachment to Tower, and I feel sorry for its stores being destroyed by Internet downloading. Anyway. . .
        My better half---my far, far superior half, that is---had purchased an old Country Joe and the Fish album to replace one I had recently given away. (Damn good, too---"Electric Music For the Mind and Body.")
         A "clerk" behind the counter presently emerged from some sort of protracted mental preoccupation--- perhaps trying to remember why he was in Tower Records, too---finally noticing us.
        "Helb the nexxpurson," he recited, with the scintillation of a directory assistance operator.
        We nexxpursons stepped forward. Clerk was somewhere between 18 and 25, with a pubescent fuzz-growth on the chin and a large silver ring impaling the lower lip. His hair had been combed, perhaps, once or twice back before the century changed.
Lip Ring and Cheetah looked as if they were hallucinating. Cheetah betrayed just a hint of a smile, but it disappeared quickly as thoughts of "does he have a gun?" likely entered her poor head.
        He spoke not a word, did Clerk, merely
processing  the CD and some cassettes blanker than his eyeballs. Then he announced the desired sum, and my superior half handed over a credit card.
        "Seeyur I.D.," said Clerk.
        Said I.D. was duly proferred. Clerk's greasy hand snatched it up, and he bent forward, squinting at the details like he was looking for someone on "America's Most Wanted."
        Then he. . .tossed. . .the I.D. and credit card
back at my superior half. Tossed, ladies and gentlemen.
        "Wannabag," he droned. We politely declined, and my superior half said "thank you," to which Clerk said. . .nothing at all.
        I confess to temporarily losing all grip on reality at this point, tenuous as it is. I can't help it---I'm getting old, and I was raised in a quaint time when businesses were polite, and clerks thanked customers. Plus, well, I just don't like it when my superior half is treated rudely, especially by a sullen, pop culture-poisoned child. I had a brief fantasy of grabbing hold of Clerk's lip-ring, yanking him down to counter level, Clint Eastwood-like, and saying "Do you feel lucky, punk?", but instead settled for a speech.
        "Please!" I said. "Please!"
        That's correct, I stood grandly and addressed Clerk---and second Female Clerk, who looked slightly more sentient than Clerk, which would put her squarely in the realm of lesser apes. Several startled customers stared. I smiled and gestured broadly, my tones Stentorian, as the cliché goes.
        "Please! Please. . .and. . .thank you! Please. . .and thank you! Always remember! Please. . .and thank you! This is called. . .courtesy!"
        I showed everyone my teeth, so as to prove my absolute harmlessness.
        Lip Ring and Cheetah looked as if they were hallucinating. Cheetah betrayed just a hint of a smile, but it disappeared quickly as thoughts of "does he have a gun?" likely entered her poor head.
        "And please, never---never---toss a credit card back to a customer! It really isn't nice!"
       At this point, patient readers, the Tower Records manager appeared, and---owing to the vast education that has landed him this lofty position in society---spoke an actual sentence:
        "Yeah, but hey, what about that wrist action?" he said, and shot me a look that I would describe as other than conciliatory.
        Oh, the wit of it! Oh, the parry of it! Oh, he had cut me to the quick! Yes, he had valiantly defended his noble, dignified employees in the face of grotesque insult emanating from a cranky old bastard who couldn't even claim a single piercing or tattoo! And who had just purchased a (gasp) Country Joe and the Fish album!
        I have this amazing knack for conveying thought without speaking. It's interesting---I do this quite unintentionally most of the time. I'm a terrible poker player, for example. But in this case, I quite deliberately told Manager that I thought he would have a bright future in this world, if this world was run entirely by gerbils---and, well, I did this entirely with my face! The trick is in revealing every possible tooth in your mouth, crinkling up your eyes, and holding this pose for several prolonged seconds, jackass-like.
        Manager's response was as I had planned. At first, he thought I might have been amused by his deft comic mind, but then he cannily suspected the possibility of sarcasm---and at last, yes, concluded that sarcasm and contempt were very, very much at hand. He glared.  I walked out.
        Guess I'll buy from from now on.
        LTSEWH # 2: Getting the Kinko's Out
        It was foolish of me, of course---pure folly. Why on earth would I expect efficiency from Kinko's? I mean, just look at the name of the place! Why would I expect to do something simply and quickly, pay and leave? Any idiot knows that Kinko's just doesn't work this way. It's full of kinks! One must visit many different clerks for many different purposes, and wait mysterious amounts of time to accomplish, say, ordering a business card.
        Or, in my case, a T-shirt.
        I had this stupid idea, you see, that when I would later try to trick people into buying my novel at the Times Festival of Books---no more dubious an undertaking than, say, catching fish with my teeth---I would wear a funny T-shirt! It would say, "NON-CELEBRITY AUTHOR." People would be so thrilled by my joke that they would abandon long lines to purchase books by Jackie Collins, Elmore Leonard, and Arianna Huffington, and clamor instead for my magnificent novel, The Last Byline.
        "Do you still do T-shirts here?" I asked a young fellow who I guess hailed from, oh, Micronesia.
        "Yes, we do," he said happily.
        "Great!" I said. "I just need one shirt with two words in big block letters on the front. Can you do that?"
        "Yes, we can. What are the words?"
        I wrote them down.
        This was far too good to be true, and I knew it. Still, I asked the price---which required that Micronesia consult with someone else, which he did, and promptly returned with the information:
        "Fifteen dollars. Twenty-five if it's front and back."
        "Great!" I said. "Let's do it."
        "Oh, it would be cheaper if you set the type yourself."
        "Uhh. . .that's fine. Where do I do that?"
        "Out there," he said, and pointed vaguely into the  Kinko's universe, a black hole of strange machines and people staring at them with hollow, hopeless eyes.
        "Uhh. . .where. . .out there?"
       "You'll have to ask for help at 'Customer Service.'"
        Imagining all those people bailing out of Jackie Collins' line and heading straight for "NON- CELEBRITY AUTHOR,"  I obeyed, and walked over to "Customer Service." Where there were neither customers nor service. I stood, waiting brightly, scanning the room for Kinkoperson. Nobody. Just a translucently pale, lanky blonde woman with black tattoos crawling out of her jeans and up her abdomen, and a look in her eye that challenged the prospect of measurable brain waves. Did I smell embalming fluid?
        Oh, but wait---someone was helping Blondie! Ah, that must be Kinkoperson, I thought, and resolved to wait further. Which I did. And then I waited further. In between waiting further, I waited further. Blondie and Kinkoperson silently stood over a copy machine, both seemingly in its evil spell.
        Ten minutes elapsed. Kinkoperson, a chunky young woman who possibly hailed from Borneo, or Antarctica, or Santa Monica, never so much as winked at me or waved, let alone chirped a reassuring "I'll be with you in a minute, sir."
        I returned to Micronesia.
        "Hi," I smiled. "What do you suppose are the odds of a human being coming to my assistance out here?"
        I repeated the question, prompting this interesting answer:
        "The odds," he smiled back, "are probably pretty good."
        "Mm-hm! Good! How soon might said human appear?"
I briefly considered grunting and scratching what is left of my testicles, as a possibly more effective means of communicating. . .
        At that point there was a
most exciting development: Blondie and Borneo had moved over to the "Customer Service" counter and were. . .transacting business! Yes! Exchanging money! Their mysterious task had ended! I sauntered within range, and as Blondie picked up her package and headed home to her crypt, I waited for Borneo to speak those glorious words, "May I help you, sir?"
        Nothing doing.
        Borneo glanced at me, more or less the way a deathly bored caged animal glances at a human staring in through the bars. It seemed she hadn't the vaguest clue as to what the relationship might be between my presence, the "Customer Service" counter, and her job.
        Just then a rabbit-eyed little female of perhaps 20 appeared next to me, never inquiring as to what I was doing there, and enlisted Borneo's ready help in faxing.
        "Um, pardon me," I interrupted, smiling, "I believe I was here before you. I've been hanging around for about ten minutes, if you wouldn' t mind."
        Ladies, and gentlemen, as sure as my moustache is nearly white, rabbit-eyed woman said, and I quote:
        "I have to fax something."
        Sigh. Sigh again. More sigh.
        At this moment, Borneo finally realized that I was not a decorative manifestation of molecules and oxygen.
        "Are you waiting for a confirmation?"
        Ah, this was an interesting question! Yes, in a way, I suppose I was. I was waiting for confirmation of my very existence, there in Kinko's, but I dared not say this, for fear of her summoning the proper authorities to deal with a maniac. I then realized she had assumed I was using the fax machine.
        "No," I said. "I need to get a T-shirt made, and I was sent here to set the type for it."
        Her eyes bugged out.
        "A T-shirt?"
        "A T-shirt! We don't do T-shirts no more."
       I briefly considered grunting and scratching what is left of my testicles, as a possibly more effective means of communicating, but I worried that this might be deemed anti-social. Or perhaps seductive.
        "The gentleman behind the counter said that you do, and he sent me here to get the type set."
        "Oh, you have to go over there," she said, and pointed. . .back to the guy behind the counter!
        "No, no---I just came from there, you see. He sent me to you."
        "A T-shirt?" she said again.
        I know when I'm licked. I know when the human race has crapped out. I know when all semblance of efficiency and courtesy in the world have gone the way of real sugar in Coca-Cola. I know when civilization is imploding right before my eyes.
        "Never mind," I declaimed grandly. "It's okay! Not to worry! I'll leave. Let's just forget it, okay? Obviously, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing here! This is an old expression, incidentally, meant to convey the impression of general confusion and inefficiency, and this is just what I expect from Kinko's. So. . .thank you anyway, and have a good day."
        (And yes, at the Festival of Books, everyone lined up for Jackie Collins and Elmore Leonard.)
        For more LTESEWH's, watch this space.

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