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(Dec. 12, 2007)

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          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters with Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um, short. They are intended as a chronicle of the decline in civility and deference, written with just the slightest implication of humor, in this, the alleged 21st century. Names have been included whenever possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
          LTSEWH # 1: Reading Matter
          There I was. . .
          In the nice new Westwood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, working hard on a short story collection for lots of agents to reject. I had gone to the library because libraries are quiet, and people tend to do studious things in them. I also appreciate the fact that it is just yards away from the unmarked grave of the great Frank Zappa.
          But I had forgotten who I am: Rense, The Man The Cosmos Loves to Prank.
          As I sat there, hunting and pecking, I smelled something.    Something that was not lilacs. I have the sense of smell of a golden retriever.
          Sniff sniff. What was it? God! Awful. Sniff sniff. Vintage toe-jam. Drying roadkill. Sniff Sniff. It’s true I hadn’t showered that day, but. . .I smelled my shirt. Nope---rose gardens! Sniffed my armpits discreetly, which of course, is impossible. Ambrosia! Sniff sniff! Wow! Backed-up, week-old sinkwater.
          Eh? Obviously, a hippopotamus had surfaced right behind me, with a sudden need to evacuate its sinuses. That was okay. Stranger things happen in this world, like Ellen DeGeneres. Or perhaps the pig-slaves of “Dr. Who” had just slipped through a crevice in the time-space continuum, and would soon haul me before the Daleks. Or Dick Cheney.
          Having lived in L.A. much longer than is wise, I just continued typing. Sniff sniff. What was that smell?
          Now, I should point out that I had headphones on at the time---Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, nothing less---yet the Intergalactic Toad behind me had drowned out the music. Beethoven’s stupefyingly brave, poignant message, Alle Menschen werden Bruder (“All men will be brothers”) became “All men will be SNOOORRRRRKPFFFF,” which, while maybe closer to the truth, was less inspiring.
          Having lived in L.A. much longer than is wise, I. . .still just continued typing. Sniff.
          I let about a dozen of these little intrusions pass over the next five or six minutes, hoping that any of several things would happen: paramedics would arrive and haul Nose Monster away; Homeland Security would arrive and haul Nose Monster away; God would appear in the form of a very large and hungry centipede, and eat Nose Monster; or, most fantastically, a librarian would arrive and look into the matter.
          I mean, really. It wasn’t just a little blowing, folks. It was a nasal quake, 8.0, resonating to the center of the earth, or the center of the girth. For as I finally, at last, oh-so-reluctantly took the bait and turned my head slowly around, I was confronted with the sight of a woman (I think) of no more than 300 pounds. Standing. Bending over the table behind me, scribbling.
          I had a head-on collision with the smell. AIEEEEEEEE. Thank goodness it wasn’t me! No, this was the uniquely delicate scent of Humanus Longtimeus Nosoapus. Pray that Al-Qaeda never distills this stuff.
          I spoke.
          “Good God, woman. Take it to a hospital.”
          Now, when I say this creature was scribbling, I mean exactly that. She had laid out lots of notebook paper, and was making big circles all over it, with pen, as loudly as possible. Yes, I realized, it was all deliberate: the SNOOOORKPF’s, the scribbling, possibly even the smell---all an effort to annoy “normal” people. The irony of her choice of target here is enough to make one roll on the floor and froth at the mouth with laughter, but that’s another story.
          I know, I know. Pity was in order. But lately, I’ve just been fresh out, having spent it mostly on myself. Life in L.A. does that to you. Sniff. Her response?
          “Why donchoo go fuck yourself, white honky cracker ass.”
          Oh, I didn’t mention that she was black, because in today’s world, when a white person takes note of a black person’s race in an ambiguous or uncomplimentary context, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton clog up the airwaves.
          I would never have thought to mention race at all here, had she not.
          “Ah, I see,” I said. “It’s racial now, is it?”
          “Why donchoo shut your fucking white cracker ass up, white boy?”
          Understand that her end of the um, conversation, was carried on loudly enough for all in the vicinity to hear, and possibly other vicinities. Yet no one was intervening. I know---they must have been enjoying it! So hell, I opted to increase the fun of it all.
          I offered a response that was competitive in vitriol, profanity, but devoid of racism (though admittedly tinged with misogyny.) And ending with a flourish: “What are you doing, coming in here and destroying people’s peace, you racist asshole!”
          Writing professionally for 34 years makes you eloquent.
          The rest is comparatively dull. I asked a librarian to get the security guard, who was absent. (I later found him standing in the children’s section, engrossed in a kids’ book.) Madame SNOORKPF heard my request, packed her precious belongings into a little basket on wheels, then shuffled her gigantic girth out---but not before once more calling me a “skinny white cracker-ass.”
          Seeing as I need to lose about ten pounds, I took it as a compliment.
Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity.
The Illustrated Book.

          LTSEWH # 2: Bad Language
          I was crossing a street in Santa Monica, which is always a rewarding experience. For one thing, I really enjoy the tweeting “walk” signals for the blind---oh, I mean "visually impaired"---that go “KOO-koo, KOO-koo, KOO-koo.” They always remind me of Laurel and Hardy.
          And then, the crosswalks are always full of such interesting young people, all in quest of all manner of instant gratification, with their delicate banter, colorful cigarettes, killer pit bulls, etc. I especially enjoy all the visiting Japanese students, who dress like goblins from anime hell.
          On this occasion, two fine young people passed me on the left. They were short, slightly built American males, sucking down cigarette smoke as if it were fresh mountain air. I would guess their ages as somewhere between 12 and 25. They wore very expensive tattered rags, and pants that were belted well below their tiny buttocks. Say, just above the knees. Half their hair had been cut to stick straight up, and half to fall over the right side of their faces. This, of course, was all an expression of individuality. I know this because I’ve seen countless other young people dressing the same way, and they always talk about how it is an expression of individuality. But it was not their appearance that shocked. It was their conversation:
          “Didja see that sign, ‘Post No Bills?’ Hahahahahaha. That’s old-fashioned kinda grammar! Hahahahahaha. ‘Post No Bills!’ ‘Post No Bills!’ Hahahahahaha! They couldn’t just say ‘Don’t Put Any Signs Up.’ Hahahahahaha! That’s the way people USED to talk! It’s old-fashioned grammar! Hahahahahaha!”
          “It’s like a sign saying, ‘Do Not Take Money From Me’ instead of ‘Don’t Rob Me!’ Hahahahahahahahaha!”
          I suppose I could contemplate the circumstances that produced such absolutely terrifying ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, but that would mean thinking about the broken government, and the bankrupt popular culture, and the brain-deadening mass media, and demographic dumbing down of everything, and the worship of celebrities, and the exalting of fashion, and the underfunding of teachers and schools, and the preoccupation with self, and the general disdain for just about everything and everyone.
          And that would be too depressing.
          LTSEWH # 3: Kiddie Car
          No LTSEWH column would really be complete with a driving tale.
          There I was. . .
          Deliberately cruising up less traveled sidestreets to avoid traffic on Westwood Boulevard, heading into Westwood. It was a Friday night, and lots of people were driving to Westwood for movies, restaurants, human sacrifices.
          I was, too, with my redoubtable female assistant, and couple of guests in the back seat.
          Up ahead, in this district of tiny 1940’s-era homes selling for no more than a million bucks, I took note of an SUV parked---parked---in the oncoming traffic lane. People do this now. They just park in the street, sometimes sitting in their mighty vehicles to finish cell phone chats, do a little thinking, nose-picking---and sometimes actually getting out and just leaving their cars, no flashers, no explanation, no nothing.
          I slowed way, way down as I went past. A woman had just gotten into the SUV, you see, and there was no telling if she had seen me, heard me, or had any intention of seeing or hearing anything before she began driving, no doubt with cell phone on ear.
          As I proceeded to slide between the SUV on the left, and the parked cars on the right, a small boy of perhaps three years ran directly in front of me. Zip. Darted between parked cars right into my path, apparently running to say goodbye to Mommy in the SUV. Nearly his last goodbye.
          Had I not already exercised caution and slowed down, the little boy would now be underground, or in a little vase. Which is to say, had it been almost anyone else in L.A. driving that street that night, the kid would now be frolicking in the Elysian Fields. I slammed on the brakes, slammed the horn, and did not slam the kid, stopping right beside the SUV. I admit it: I was furious. I rolled down the window and shouted at Mommy.
          “Your child just ran in front of my car! Your child just ran right in front of my car! I almost killed him! Why don’t you watch your goddamn kid!”
          She screamed back at me. The usual lyrical patter, suggesting I experience intimate knowledge of my own physiognomy. In her defense, she had a Persian accent, and apparently thought I was yelling at her for parking in the street.
          This, folks, is what you call a “comedy of errors.”
          Now, charging across the lawn of one of the million-dollar 1940’s crackerboxes, fierce and hairy, came Daddy.
          He had also decided that I was yelling at Mommy for parking in the street, and he was not going to stand by and let somebody insult his woman! He rushed right up to my window and tried repeatedly to break it with the sides of his fists.
          I figured at this point that the likelihood of straightening out this international incident was not great, so I hit the gas. Luckily, no kid ran in front of me.
Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity.
The Illustrated Book.

          LTSEWH # 4: Dirty Shower
          I don’t know what to say about this, exactly. It causes too many synapses to misfire.
          It was a table full of werewolves---okay, not really---it was a “bridal shower,” or what passes for one in the 21st Century. It was in a private room at a precious English tea place called Tudor House in Santa Monica, on a Saturday afternoon. About 20 women sat at a long table covered with delicate, floral-patterened English china, against a backdrop of delicate, floral-pattered wallpaper.
          These were the only delicate things in the room.
          All the women were tall, lean, Caucasoid, young, with faces painted and hair styled and dyed in “glamorous” ways that young women deem appropriate. This is to say, they looked like aggressive, hungry clowns. Most were blonde, if not originally, in their mid-20’s. All were wearing cleavage-revealing party-type dresses. All were displaying lots and lots of big white mastication devices.
          For those who don’t understand the intrinsic horror of this scene, let me say that these were mainstream gimmegimme types, good little American consumer “ladies” whose priorities boil down to: marry rich. Their eyes were somehow fixed, spark-less, as if they don’t see the world around them, so intent are they on roping a chump---er, provider.
          And to think these biology-deranged predators are the product of millions of years of evolution! In fact, they are conclusive evidence of evolution. God would never have “intelligently designed” such covetous beasts.
          As I passed, glancing in the room, I saw Bridezilla opening her gifts. I paused to watch, much as I pause to stare at car accidents, infomercials and “Designing Women.” I observed two boxes being opened, the first containing sheer red lacy quasi-underpants that would have embarrassed Mae West, and the second containing a see-through black undergarment that would have worked very well as an eyepatch. It had no rear, of course, but would have easily covered up most of the average pudendum. Of a midget.
          Now, I understand about fertility rites in all world cultures---you know, like Easter---but even primitive tribes who parade the bride around naked on a bed of palm leaves, and have a boiled root feast for her impending defloration, exhibit more dignity than these Amerigirlies.
          Naturally, they all horse-laughed and made lewd remarks as the celebrated bride-to-be held the little vaginal eyepatch aloft. Oh, tee-hee. Understand, of course, that all were admiring these items. These were not “gag gifts,” although the joke is certainly on somebody. Probably me.
          I wonder why these women, and I use that term advisedly, don’t just wear T-shirts that say, “I am my (sex organ).” But then, I guess I’d better not wonder too much here, as I don’t want to give them any ideas.
Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity.
The Illustrated Book.

          LTSEWH # 5: Tit Offensive
          What was I saying about dignity? Oh, I’m sorry. Many readers probably don’t know this word. Dignity refers to a mode of comportment suggesting self-respect, as well as respect for others. People used to actually aspire to have dignity in this country, back before Nixon and disco.
          So why should it surprise me to encounter persons who have replaced self-respect with self-adulation? Why should it surprise me to find persons who define themselves not by their thinking, character, behavior, but---as with Bridezilla---their sexually defining body parts? Haven’t I learned anything from watching Maury and Tyra Banks? It’s the American Way.
          It shouldn’t surprise, but it does. And there was Little Miss Surprise---or, Mrs., I guess---pushing a stroller with baby, and walking a toddler. Proof of the value of eyepatch-sized panties! On a typical L.A. street where nice old houses and apartment buildings are being replaced by ugly gargantuan condo hives (that lately are not selling---hooray!)
          Little Mrs. S. looked to be in her mid-20’s. She was petite, blonde (if not originally), and looked very, very happy. Was the source of her happiness her children? Perhaps. But there was more direct evidence on display here. She was, in fact, proclaiming to the world one reason---or two---that she feels joy in life. There it was, right on her T-shirt:
          “I LOVE MY LITTLE TA-TA’S!”
          Yes, she was proud of her tiny, protuberant milk glands. She was so proud of them, that she wanted the whole world to know. She wanted the world to know that despite the fact that her two baby nourishment apparatuses/male erotic fixation zones had been automatically, genetically and biologically designed---she was proud of them.
          What was I saying about shirts that say, “I am my (sex organ)?”
          As usual, I’m behind the curve. Er, curves.
          LTSEWH # 6: Sidewalk Story
          Many LTSEWH’s, such as the preceding one, require no interaction whatsoever. One can merely open one’s eyes, or eye, or half of one eye, and have an LTSEWH.
          In this case, it required only the act of walking serenely down a sidewalk in Santa Monica on a Sunday morning. All was uncrowded, quiet, and Monet had mixed the colors of sky and sun.
          Of course, this meant that circumstances were ripe, pregnant, fecund for a LTSEWH. And it happened.
          A fellow crossed the street a few steps ahead, and ambled along in front of me. He was particularly sad. Not the usual seedy “homeless” hustler trying to hook you with eye contact and “help me get something to eat?” (Translation: drink or smoke.)
          No, this guy was the genuine wretched article: pathos personified. He could have been 30 or 60, and a lifetime of booze and malnutrition had rendered him thin, leathery. He had a “homeless tan,” which had an ironic way of making him look almost healthy.
          The real killer was that the guy had made an effort to clean up. Ill-fitting second-hand khaki pants were held up by a too-large belt that left about a foot overlap, flapping, and an ill-fitting second-hand print shirt was tucked in. His brown hair was greased and combed, and I had the idea that he was trying hard to pass for a regular citizen. Human optimism is punishing.
The capper: there was what would pass for a spring in his old alky gait. This man was going somewhere. He had purpose. He also had a big, fat twenty-dollar bill hanging out of his right hand, held at the top edge by thumb and fingertips.
          Ah! You could put it all together easily enough: someone had given the poor bastard a twenty---hey, it’s Christmas---and he was so amazed and happy that he couldn’t wait to drink it. He knew where there was a bar that would be open at 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and he had cleaned up for it so he wouldn't be turned away. He was heading there fast. He sure as hell wasn’t going Christmas shopping.
          As the alky quick-stepped along, a young woman came striding out of a parking garage and fell in just behind him. She was tall, indisputably beautiful, and had the glow of good health and privilege. Her strides were athletic, her long hair bounced and swung with fearlessness. She had just parked her probable BMW/Lexus/Mustang/whatever and was headed for a yoga class. This you could tell by the rolled up mat under her arm---the ubiquitous badge of trendy, prosperous West Side-ness.
          The piece d’ resistance: a lighted cigarette between two fingers of her free arm, swinging as purposefully as the gait of Alky.
          Oh, the banality of it all. The bitter, cartoonish contrast. The failed man who had nothing but a twenty to get snockered with, assaulting what little health he had, and the girl who had everything, abusing the body that she was also. . .trying to improve with yoga. Her obliviousness. His eager plunge into oblivion.
          The arrogance of youth. . .the futility of life. . .A bill dangling from an old brown hand. . .A cigarette from young, svelte, feminine fingers. . .Cruelty, promise, stupidity, resignation, all mixed up. . .
          I tried to view the whole thing detachedly, bemusedly. Another little passing essay in human foible. But I couldn't. I wanted to yank that cigarette away from Yoga Girl, stomp on it, and give her a swift kick in the. . .mat. Or force her to spend the day listening to Alky.
          Not that either would do the slightest bit of good.

          For more LTSEWH'S, watch this space---or. . .just buy yourself the brand-new LTSEWH---The Illustrated Book, with drawings by the great James Ferrigno. . .HERE. The Rip Post is free all-year round. . .now you can give something back. Support The Rip Post---buy LTSEWH---The Illustrated Book. LOL or your money back.
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