The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


riposte2.jpg (10253 bytes)

(March 15, 2006)

          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: ALL YOU NEED IS. . .
          These are hard, mean, Ann Coulter days. These are “get over it” days, and “I got mine” days, and days of eating pig uteruses for money on television. These are days of “whatever the market will bear” and $100 million steroid-jazzed baseball players and government agencies standing by while people drown and starve in their homes. These are days of bankrupting budgets for war, and cutting money for education, and calling social security "commie." These are days of pop music that sounds like buzzsaws and shrieking, or buzzsaws and crying, and children “rapping” about rape, degradation and murder.
          So it should not have surprised me to see him. But it did. One of the things that makes these times bearable is that they never fail to surprise and entertain.
          I noticed him because of a cell phone, or rather, his voice spoken into one. He was dead center in a small restaurant, and dead uncaring about the fact that he was blurting his important business conversation as if he were alone in his living room.
          As is my usual procedure, I turned to take a look---not to glare, or give him the slight frown and head-shake, as that never works, and occasionally puts your life in danger. I just wanted to inspect. I wanted to discover what manner of overbearing, oblivious creature this might be. What permutation of specimen of cellphonus horribilis was sharing space with me.
          He had very hairy arms, and a very hairy neck, a two-day-old beard growth (perhaps grown in one day) and a kind of orangutan build. (No slight intended to the “man of the jungle.”) His hair was black, receding, and his eyes were big, alert, and trained to radiate belligerence, disdain. He sat with what either was his daughter or his hot young chickie, I couldn’t tell.
          But the coup de grace, the punchline, the capper, the fortune inside the cookie, the payoff, the man behind the curtain, the jack in the box, the sensational poetic touch that made this teency moment worth reporting here. . .
          Was his T-shirt.
          “Love,” it said in big black letters, “is for losers.”
          Maria I just met a girl named Maria/And suddenly that name/ Will never be the same/ To me Maria. . .
          It wasn’t the most romantic encounter, I’ll grant, but it was memorable. Having the First Lady of California frozen in your headlights is an unusual experience, after all. Not that she was in any danger, understand, despite my disapproval of her buffoon husband.
          There I was. . .
          Put-putting along, around 7 p.m., in Brentwood. Doing perhaps fifteen miles per hour, owing to an approaching stop sign and pedestrian traffic. And there she was (cue the music again)---Maria! Jaywalking right in front of me with her (apparent) daughter, headed for a nearby dance class.
          I should have made a citizen’s arrest!
          But then, Maria, the most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria, made eye contact with me, and either guessed what I was thinking or noticed that I had recognized her. Yes, I had that raised-eyebrow “look, it’s a celebrity” doofus stare. She thought better of crossing in front of me. Perhaps she had read some of the columns I’ve written about Mister Maria.
          And here I was about to motion for her to go right ahead. I was ready with the I’m-harmless smile and the “please cross” hand gesture. But it was all over almost as quickly as it had begun.
          Maria, I just passed a girl named Maria. . .
          LTSEWH # 3: SPACED OUT
          If I am sentenced to eternity in hell, as many of my “Christian” readers have suggested, I know what it will look like.
          It will be about five stories tall, constructed entirely out of cement and steel, and reek of urine. It will be filled with car exhaust at all times, and a line of vehicles barely moving as they travel from one level to the next in search of a parking space. . .
          That does not exist.
          And there will be no way out.
          I had a little taste of hell in Santa Monica, which, given the price of housing there, is perhaps not an unusual experience. There I was. . .
          Behind a young woman in a Volvo. A mid-80’s Volvo, which, like most post-1980 cars, still registers as “new” in my high-mileage brain. I would say she was driving, but that is like saying that George W. Bush is speaking. Sounds come out, and are perceptible as a kind of language, but the similarity ends there.
          Volvo Woman was on full parking space alert. If you have ever driven with women looking for a parking space, you know exactly what this means. To the female psyche, a parking space---let alone a “good” parking space---is a matter of considerable excitement, often causing all sorts of bizarre and illegal traffic transgressions in order to secure it. The phenomenon extends to women as passengers, too, as they are particularly good at barking “there’s a space” immediately after all available legal means of reaching said space have elapsed.
          Anyhow, Volvo Woman was on a kind of alert I have not seen before. So intent, so keen, so determined was she to find the first available space that she crept along at no faster than a person walks. A person on crutches. Her head wobbled left and right regularly, like a radar scanner. She seemed to live in stark fear of slipping past an available slot, and having to (gasp) stop and back up.
          Yet the only way she might have missed an empty space at that speed was if a dimensional space warp opened and transported her car to Arcturus.
          I hung back politely for the first level, or maybe the first two levels. But as it became apparent that this structure was probably filled entirely to the top, and that I was likely doomed to cover all its mysterious levels at an ant-crawl---then reverse my path at the same (lack of ) speed simply in order to escape, I’d had enough.
          I tapped the horn.
          No response.
          So I became a wee bit more emphatic.
          “ARE YOU RETARDED?” I inquired, my head hanging out the window, my hand slamming the horn.
          Volvo Woman looked in her rear-view mirror in amazement, shook her head, then continued what might charitably described as “moving.” I peered carefully behind her car, to see if there might be a slime trail. Time-lapse photography would have revealed great forward progress.
         I took the head shake not to mean “no, I’m not retarded,” but rather disgust at my outburst. What could I do? In hell, there is no recourse. So I crept along, level after level (why are they called “levels” when they are not level?) praying that Volvo Woman might contentedly park.
          It occurred to me that I was privileged, really. After all, most human beings in all of history have never even had a chance to see an automobile, let alone drive one inside of a structure of concrete and steel. I was having a very modern, highly sophisticated experience involving complex technology. It had taken millions of years of evolution to grow the intelligence required to create my particular situation at that moment. 21st Century Man, I was!
          Yet this was insufficient balm, and I finally just leaned on the horn and more or less forced my way around her, zipped up to the roof no faster than Bill Clinton zips his fly, and headed back down. On the way out, I saw Woman pulling slowly into a just-vacated space---what a glorious moment for her!---and on about the second level, I stumbled across quite an array of more available slots.
          “Aren’t you going to park?” asked my female superior.
          “Not a chance. I’d rather find a space on the street miles away, and if that’s impossible, I’d rather just go home.”
          And therein lies the difference between men and women.
         Try and do something nice. . .
          I regularly donate nice clothes and used appliances to the National Council of Jewish Thrift Women, or the National Jewish Women of Thrift Council, or something like that. I understand that they do a lot of great work, plus they give me a decent write-off. Over the years, I’ve donated thousands of bucks worth of stuff.
          But I’m through with ‘em! Every last National Thrift one of them.
          “You haff to do it ZEES vay!”
          This was the sentence sternly spoken to me by the plump older woman handling incoming donations. I had brought two bags of clothes containing some nice shirts, carefully folded, and two fine corduroy jackets. Parting with them had been sentimentally difficult, but I was in the mood to clean closets, and I comforted myself with the realization that this place would put them to good service.
          I had filled out the form with my name and address as I have done for the past ten years---with the unit number on one line, and “Los Angeles, California” and the zip on the line below that.
          “Sir! You can’t write like thees! You haff done it WRONG. You haff to do it ZEES vay!”
          She crossed out my clearly printed “Los Angeles, Calif.” and the zip, and wrote on the line above, “L.A. CA” and the zip. Except that her writing was so screwy that it looked like scat-singing.
          Look, had she said so much as “Good morning,” it might have averted the impending disaster. But no. No “good morning,” no “how are you, sir?” and no “thank you for you donation.” And certainly not a “Sir, if you could please fill out the form with the city on line two, that would be helpful.” Just a quasi-shouted order, actually scolding me for the way I had filled out the form. I tried to allow for the fact that she was perhaps from a less friendly country, although that was hard to imagine, here in Limbaugh Land.
          “Look, ma’am, I'm sorry, but I’ll never remember your instructions. I only donate every few months. So there’s no point in telling me, okay?”
          “No! You HAFF to do it zees vay!”
           (Cue Peter Pan on the Disneyland ride: “Okay, everybody, herrrre weeee GO!”)
          “Look, just don’t mess with me, okay? I’m bringing you nice clothes. Don’t give me a goddamn lecture on how to fill out the form. I’ve been filling out the form this way for ten years. I will not remember your instructions.”
          “Sir! Sir! You HAFF--- “
          That was it. I took the opportunity to attempt to confirm the stereotype of The Ugly American, and I must say I succeeded spectacularly. It’s easy, really. You just liberally invoke the most beloved and descriptive of all words in the English language.
          “Look! Don’t f--- with me! I’m bringing you f---ing clothes! You don’t even f---ing thank me! You just f--- with me! Why are you doing this? Are you insane? Or are you normally just a stupid rude f---ing ass----?”
          Her eyes bulged, and then narrowed. I could read the busy little you-haff-to-do-it brain. Ah, he is one of these Ugly Americans! I threw in a couple of “f--- you’s” for good measure, and went on my f---ing way. As I drove off, she came outside and said something to me, and my guess is that it was not “Haff a nice day.”
          Which left me wondering: who had the lesser TSEWH?
          LTSEWH # 5: STAIR-OUT
          Attention, Pentagon: if you are short on troops to manage Iraq, you might want to check out the army of ushers at Disney Hall. They don’t seem to have much to do, and there sure are a lot of them. They’re all young, impressionable, healthy, too---and what’s more, they are tough and do not question orders. I can attest to it.
          There I was. . .
          Trying to take in the pre-concert lecture before a recent L.A. Philharmonic performance. It was Sunday, it was breezy, and I had been in a nice Sunday breezy mood. Stand around, listen to the nice lecture, then head inside and listen to some nice music---perfecto.
          Except there was nowhere to stand, let alone sit. I had crowded into the access-way leading to the lecture area, and was actually helping to block the path. I took note of a couple of Disney Imperial Guards taking note of me. Figuring I should help keep access clear for safety reasons, I sought an alternative.
          The stairs!
          Yes, there was a great, sweeping staircase leading up into some undefinable area of Frank Gehry’s stupid building, and there was not a single human-type-person on it. Well, except for one: an elderly gent who was about three steps up, leaning on a wall, watching the lecture beyond it.
          Great vantage point, thought I! Great way to get out of the way, thought I!
          So I joined the elderly fellow, who promptly left the scene (my breath?). I leaned on the wall and began taking in the lecture.
          For about five seconds.
          She appeared in the corner of my eye. An Imperial Guardswoman. A Gehry Ghurka. She was looking at me with great seriousness in her approximately-20-year-old eyeballs, motioning me to come to her. I had stirrings of memories of teachers calling me off the playground at recess. . .
          She said something I couldn’t hear.
          “I’m sorry?”
          “Sir, you can’t stand on the stairs.”
          Of course, she was quite wrong. I was living proof that I could stand on the stairs. I could have even walked right up them, if I had so chosen. I could have sat on them, tap-danced on them (if I took some lessons), rolled down them naked, crawled on them, writhed on them, stood and declaimed on them. . .
          “Because we have to keep the stairs clear.”
          Folks, I was burned out from my encounter with the National Council of You Haff To Do It Zees Way Woman. I didn’t want any more trouble. I simply turned and gestured incredulously at the. . .
          Empty staircase. Wide and lonesome as the lone prairie. At least twenty feet across. There wasn’t so much as an endangered species on the goddamn thing. Of course, the poor child had her orders, and who was I to disobey?
          As I stepped off, she said the magic words:
          “I’m sorry.”
          Not as sorry as I was.
          LTSEWH # 6: TRUCK YOU
          Several days each week, I walk a couple of miles into Westwood, which necessitates crossing four dangerous freeway on-and-offramps. I sometimes stand on the curb, watching ten, fifteen, 30 cars refuse to stop for the pedestrian. That pedestrian being me. Just for sport, I sometimes smile and give them all the raised third finger. Some drivers laugh, some return my hearty salute.
          The other night it was wet and slick with rain. I was to cross two lanes. I waited until all traffic cleared completely, and there were no oncoming vehicles insight. I stepped off the curb.
          Just as soon as I did this, a small red truck appeared in the distance, as if it had materialized out of the ethers. Well, I reasoned, it’s far away and I can get across without a problem. Yet as I walked, the mysterious truck neared with amazing speed---enough so that by the time I was half-way across, it was within collision range.
          How, I wondered, had it covered ground so quickly? Where had it come from? Did Satan drive?
          Now, nine out of ten people would have kept walking, assuming the obvious: that the driver had seen them, as there was plenty of light, and pedestrians have the right of way in California (plus I was wearing light colored clothes.) But I stopped.
          And sure enough, the driver blasted right by, five feet in front of me, doing about 40, never having even slightly slowed down.
          Now, I sometimes get angry, and other times I “make a statement” in order to alert someone so they might be more careful. Seriously. I figured that if I yelled at this guy, it might save someone’s life later in the evening. So as he passed, I leaned forward and hollered in his partly opened window a rather indelicate message, the nature of which I will leave to the reader to glean.
          You guessed it.
          Red truck, though well into the on-ramp, slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt. And proceeded to back down the on-ramp toward Wilshire Boulevard, and me.
          Yessirree, he was going to teach me a lesson!
          How dare I attempt to cross a street in front of him, when he had important things on his mind, and important places to go.
          Because I know many American citizens to carry guns, and to have difficulty with reading and writing and reasoning, I moved quickly on, and red truck reversed direction and went on his way.
          Guess he showed me!
          For more LTSEWH's, watch this space.

                                             BACK TO PAGE ONE

© 2006 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.