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(Nov. 10, 2004)

        Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters with Humanity, or LTSEWH for, uh, short. Names have been included when possible and appropriate in the full interests of humiliation.
        Ah, the time-honored role of the pedestrian! To be out, ambling, sauntering, loping, shuffling---a lyrical, vanishing phenomenon in Los Angeles! After all, perhaps nine out of ten pedestrians here walk because they are homeless. To be decadently out for a stroll for the mere joy of it? Get outta town.
        Oh, if only I could!
        There I was. . .
        Quick-stepping along Ohio Avenue in Westwood, mid-day, sunshine as rude as a TV Newsmannequin at a funeral. Taking nice long strides, playing "step on a crack, break your mother's back." Hat pulled down to keep the sun from finding out what I was thinking.
        Missed me by six inches. Doing about 20 miles per hour. UCLA student on a racing bike, school books in napsack, helmet on empty head.
        My heart considered going on strike, settled for missing just one beat.
        This fellow had just nearly killed me. A head-on collision would have left me with head off. With my hat pulled down, I hadn't noticed oncoming traffic. And wait a second---why should I have noticed oncoming traffic? I was on a sidewalk.
        Might as well ask why no one says "you're welcome" anymore.
        It had never occurred to the fine young student cyclist that there was anything wrong with flying down a walkway at 20 mph. It had never occurred to him that a narrow sidewalk bordering sleepy flower beds and darting butterflies was not for flying at all (no, it was not marked as a "bike path.") It never occurred to him that missing me by six inches was objectionable for any reason at all. It never occurred to him that had I capriciously changed position, and stepped in front of him, I would not be typing now.
        I know these things never occurred to him, you see, because I yelled very, very foul things in his direction, after he phoooomed me, and he just put up his arms in a big shrug, as if to say, "What did I do?"
        Ah, yes, I forgot. Time no longer honors the time-honored role of the pedestrian. Bike Boy was probably wondering what in hell someone was doing walking on that nice strip of cement where he rides his bike every day. Some loser, probably. Why else would anyone walk?
        LTSEWH # 2: I WAS FRAMED
        I wanted two frames, both the same size. I had the pictures in hand. They were both 14" x 17". This was a simple matter of walking into Aaron Brothers Art Mart and picking two identical frames for 14" x 17" pictures, and walking out, right? I would take advantage of that one-cent sale, to boot!
        Yes, and the Iraqis welcomed us as liberators, strewing flower petals in our wake. . .
        In the galaxy of frames in the Aaron Brothers Universe, there were, of course, none that fit 14"x 17". This was obviously a conspiracy---collusion between: the Strathmore people who made my sketchpad, Aaron brothers, and possibly the Carlyle Group.
        I waited at a counter for about five minutes, while a woman clerk rang up a customer. Finishing, she glanced at me curiously, then moved on to other matters. She obviously had figured out who I was. "Ah, it's Rense," she must have thought. "Must ignore him, as per Carlyle instructions."
        I waylaid her, which is sort of like what Kobe did in Eagle, Colorado, but legal.    
        "Hi there! I need some frames. I wonder if you could help."
        She chirpingly agreed, and led me straight to the aisle I had already visited in vain search of 14"x 17" frames---despite my explaining this to her on the way there.
        "Huh," she said. "There aren't any."
        (This is just the start, folks. It gets better.)
        "Well, you could go larger, and get a mat cut."
        And you could go larger with a brain. . .
        "Hmm. Okay."
        Clerkess then proceeded to argue so passionately, so sanguinely, against a white mat, that I threw up my hands and let her choose (sky blue.) They do this at Aaron Brothers. They persuade against your choices. As if they are refined arbiters of artistic discretion, and you fresh off a hay wagon. (Once a clerk actually talked my better half out of framing a couple of posters because "they're just posters," losing a couple hundred bucks in business.)
        The process of selecting a mat involved my giving information for the Aaron Brothers computer that did not quite include the exact time of my birth, or whether I am circumsized. Several people gathered around, either to find out more about me, or because they needed mats cut, too. I asked how long it would take to cut my two mats, and was given this answer:
        "Can you come tomorrow before noon?"
        That would, I quickly calculated, be about 10 1/2 hours per mat.
        The following conversation is from memory, but it's pretty close:
        "Um, tomorrow before noon? It's 3 o'clock right now. Can't someone in the back just cut them now?"
        "Well, he's pretty busy."
        "But how long does it take to cut two mats? Five minutes?"
        "Yes, probably about that."
        "Then why should I have to wait until tomorrow?"
        "Well, he's got a lot of mats to cut. He's pretty busy. And I have other customers behind you to take care of, and I don't want to keep them waiting."
        I turned around and looked at these other customers, waiting patiently. I looked at myself.. I noticed that I, too, was a customer. A customer who was in front of the customers behind me. A customer attempting to pay Aaron Brothers well over a hundred bucks for a two mats (in a color I didn't want) and two frames. I looked back at the clerk, whom I had mistakenly thought was there to serve customers. I heard incredulity enter my tone as I spoke:
        "Well, okay.Uh. . . I'd sure hate to inconvenience the guy cutting the mats that I'm trying to purchase, since he's so busy. And I'd sure hate to inconvenience the people behind me, waiting for service. And I'd sure hate to inconvenience you, as you are in a hurry to wait on them. So I'll tell you what: I don't want to inconvenience anybody, so let's just cancel the whole deal."
        "Uh. . .you want to cancel?"
        Long pause. Clerkess stared fixedly ahead, her mind working, disappeared in the back for about a minute, and returned, smiling.
        "Uhh. . .can you come back in 45 minutes?" she said.
        "What? Can I come back in 45 minutes? You mean the mats can be cut by then?"
        LTSEWH # 3: APPLE TART
        The Apple Pan in West L.A. is probably my favorite place to eat, and if I ate there as often as I would like, firemen would have to break down a wall to remove me from my home. The simple menu, the great kitchen burger/sandwich assembly line, the inimitable Hickoryburger, the apple pies that look like Olive Oyl just baked them and set them on her windowsill---it's all a deeply ingrained affection of mine, dating to 1971. This would be my Last Meal.
        Perhaps the nicest thing about it is that I have never once had a Less Than Satisfying experience there. Well, never say "never."
        She was young, she was self-confident, she was blonde, she liked her midriff bare. She was with a clone of herself, albeit in brunette, and they both had a general manner and rising tonal inflection that said nothing if not fabulous insolence.
        Ah, youth!
        She was waiting for two seats. We were waiting for three seats. At the Apple Pan, which is a square room (like a pan!), you wait on the side where you wish to sit. It's the ancient, unwritten rule of the joint, dating to 1947. One of my companions had severely aching feet, though, and because we predated the arrival of the Insolent Sisters, my companion---against my gentle advice---moved to available seats on the girls' side, pleading age and sore insteps.
        A minor confrontation ensued before the Insolents backed off with clicking tongues and hissing Valley-isms. I was a bit embarrassed, as technically, they were right! But. . .age before beauty. . .
        We dined. Girlies were promptly seated and they dined, too. Might it all end happily?
        Sure, and so will Iraq.
        As we left, confrontation number two ensued between my pedally challenged companion and Blondie---just a couple of sharp words I couldn't make out. I found myself left behind to pay the bill, with  Blondie seated right beside me, yelling "That's not fair!" after my exiting companion.
       Another customer came to Blondie's defense, offered that Apple Pan seating tradition never changed---yet Miss Midriff 2004 also argued with that, apparently because she had good argument momentum going.
        "Everything changes!" proclaimed Blondie, staring straight ahead, but loudly and obviously baiting me, the last remaining member of the pedally pained trio.
        "Oh, well," I answered in an elderly, world-wise voice, "Some things never do, dear."
        "Nope," she said, in a tone meant to out world-wisdom me, "absolutely everything changes!"
        "Ignorance?" I asked.
        Blondie paused, held her tongue, and cocked her head.
        "Now that wasn't very nice!"
        I smiled.
        She was right. It wasn't!
        LTSEWH # 4: TRASH MAN
        You're right, that was no big deal, really, so here's a better one---also straight from the Apple Pan.
        It was about 6 p.m. I was biting into my Hickoryburger with far more pleasure than the experience merits, when a voice spoke briskly in my ear.
        "Trash," it said.
        Huh? What was this? An old editor, come back to haunt me? A bit of performance art? Had I been X'd by Jamie Kennedy? I was about to turn around when a well-dressed arm shot over my shoulder, clutching an empty "spring water" bottle, and deposited said bottle in front of the cash register immediately to my right. Yes, on the counter where I was eating dinner. I turned around, but the speaker of "trash" had gone to the men's room.
        Then I put it all together:
        He had entered the restaurant with a piece of trash, placed it by the register in order for the waiter to throw away, and had informed me, for reasons known only to Homeland Security, that the bottle was "trash."  I'm surprised he didn't let me know that he had to go to the bathroom, and what he would do in there.
        Trash Man presently returned and took two seats to my right, announcing to several puzzled ladies waiting for seats that his wife would be joining him shortly. His voice was audible throughout the room, and perhaps, in Pasadena. He wore a conservative, expensive gray suit. He was about 30. He tucked his tie into his shirt, to keep the ketchup off. He spoke on his cell phone at such volume that I actually wondered, for a moment, if he was hearing-impaired. He proceeded to conduct telephonic business as if alone in his office---rapid-fire references to buyouts and contracts and other evil lawyerly fare. Seems he and Mrs. Trash Man were meeting for a quick dinner, then returning to the remainder of their 18-hours worth of daily avarice.
        Wifey-poo showed up after about ten minutes, and she was one hot chickie with half a diamond quarry on her ring finger. They gabbed and jawed, and jawed and gabbed, did the perfect couple, slamming down fries and burgers (two for Trash Man) with dazzling gusto. Private conversation in the vicinity was not possible; all other diners could only enjoy the Mr. and Mrs. Trash Man Show.
        She was a realtor, I soon learned, and can you guess the substance of their conversation? Hmm? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't altruism, and it was green! At one point Trash Man gave her a stern bit of work advice: "Well, if you do that, I'm going to have to lecture you, Honey, and I really don't want to do that." Her response, "Okay, Hon'." (Translation: I really like my ring.)
        I give Hon and Honey about five years to divorce court.
        What I utterly marvelled at was not Trash Man's loudness or self-centeredness per se---it was that he comported himself as if he owned the restaurant, if not the world, and all inside knew him intimately---and adored him!
        So it was with fiendish delight that I watched him attempt to hail the waiter in order to pay his bill. At the Apple Pan, you see, you don't hail the waiter. They take care of you when they are ready---plenty promptly, too. Wave at them? Go to hail. So Loudmouth waved and barked about six times in as many minutes, and was (deliberately, I think) ignored. At last he instructed his diamond carrier to "act like you're walking out without paying---that'll get his attention." No need. Waiter arrived.
        On his way out, this grand fellow held the door open for other people on the way in, smiling as if they were all convivial old friends.
         One word played in my head:
        For more LTSEWH's, watch this space.

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