The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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(Sept. 29, 2005)

          Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity, or LTSEWH, for um, short. All names have been included whenever possible to ensure fullest humiliation.
          LTSEWH # 1: Pedestrian behavior
          She was luxuriously, pullulatingly young, every pore popping with burgeoning biochemistry, hair a-bounce with insouciance, owning the world as she stomped down a Westwood sidewalk.
          She was, also, naturally, on a cell phone. All the best people are.. The sidewalk was no wider than Rhode Island, empty as a Tavis Smiley interview. I loped along in my middle-aged manner, Grateful Dead cap conspiring with graying hair to mark me as spent, used, irrelevant, creepy.
          Naturally, I was not on a cell phone.
          Miss Bloom of Youth 2005 was headed straight for me, of course, puking up clipped vowels and snapped consonants. If she had noticed me at all, her subconscious had already labeled me something on the order of oh, a Starbucks cup.
          I expected all this, of course.
          What I did not expect was that she would abruptly turn her head 180 degrees and look exactly behind her as she yapped into that cell phone (undoubtedly to another noble young person destined to mold society in compassionate, important ways.)
          Yes, that’s correct. Head turned backward, body moving forward. Oh, the torque twist of it all!
          When head swiveled back around, Bloomy found herself square in front of Grateful Dead Cap-man, about to collide. I was confronted, close-up, with those unapologetically peeled lips and honking cellular voice.
         Did she make an effort to step aside? Did she stop and say, “Oh, sorry!” Did she smile and laugh good-naturedly?
          Does Tavis Smiley ever ask a deep question?
          I did the sidestepping here. I’m a born sidestepper (inside joke for Deadheads.) But as I did so, I lowered my voice to a husky growl. No---I didn’t have to lower it at all. It just came out that way automatically, the tone color dictated by the circumstance:
          “Watch it.”
          Oh, the audacity of a walking Starbucks Cup, daring to speak disrespectfully to someone whose whole fabulous life lay before her, who is richer and freer than most kings and queens who have ever lived, who. . .(cue “We Are the World.”)
          Thank goodness Bloomy had the character to not stand for such insult.
          “No! YOU watch it!” she yelled from behind.
          Yes, this is a girl on the way up.
          LTSEWH # 2: Inquirer Mind Doesn’t Want to Know
          I phoned the Philadelphia Inquirer in order to follow up on a story pitch. I had spoken to the features editor a few days earlier, and he had advised that I call back.
          Trouble was, I couldn’t remember his name. Well, I remembered the first name, and part of the last. Michael Rosen-something-or-other. I must have spoken with dozens of Michael Rosen-something-or-others through the years.
          I “navigated” through a recorded “menu” in order to find the Inquirer operator. (Ahoy, matey! I’ll have a BLT!) My toenails grew no more than a quarter-inch during this time. Then a gravel-voice asked if he could help me, the invitation sounding less than convincing.
          “Yes, I hope so,” I said. “I need to speak to your features editor, and---“
          “What’s the name?”
          “It’s Michael, and the last name is Rosen-something-or-other. I’m sorry, I don’t recall the full last name, but if---”
          “I need a name, sir.”
          I explained again what I had just explained.
          “I’ll transfer you to that department, sir.”
          If the reader guessed that I was promptly transferred to a recording, the reader is most clever!
          I phoned the operator back. That is, I phoned the “menu” back, and “navigated” again, and my toenails grew another quarter-inch before Gravel Voice answered.
          “Hi again,” I said. “You transferred me to a recording. I’m trying to reach your features editor, whose name is Michael, and the last name starts with ‘Rosen.’ There can’t be more than one such---”
          “I have no such name, sir.”
          “That’s funny, because I just spoke to him last week. Uh. . .well, can’t you just look up the name of your features editor?”
          “No, sir, I can’t do that.”
          “You can’t do that?”
         “No, sir.”
          “Uh. . .Why is that?”
          “We are not able to do that.”
          “You are not able to do that. But you’re the operator. You're supposed to be able to do that. You mean you have no list of who works where?”
          “No, sir.”
          “That’s incredible. Don’t you ever wish you had such a list, so as to help people who phone asking for particular editors?”
          “No, sir.”
          “You know, this is really interesting. Here I am, calling long-distance with a simple request, yet you are not only unable to help, you are expending great amounts of energy to not help. For that same amount of effort, you might have actually helped! Aren’t you interested in trying to do your job efficiently?”
          “No, sir.”
          “Well, then I would guess you are an idiot.”
          LTSEWH # 3: Bed ‘n’ breakfast
          We were dining. It was early. The sun had already barged into the sky uninvited, while I clung to the residual calm of a rare good night’s sleep.
         We were in John O’ Groats, which is hallowed on the West Side as a fine, homey place to have breakfast---primarily because there really are no other fine, homey places to have breakfast. I mean, Denny’s? We sat easily at our little table, which was covered with a fine, homey blue-and-white checked cloth, and ordered. We opened the L.A. Times. No worries for the next half-hour---just good pancakes and too much mediocre journalism. And then---
          I lowered the paper slowly and peered at him. He was at the next table. He was the lucky recipient of stellar genes. Big, strapping, rangy. Six-foot-five, built like a champion swimmer---broad at the shoulders, lean all the way down. About 25. Wearing some of those weird gigantic shorts and vaguely athletic amorphous pullover shirt-like-thing. Chiseled ectomorphic features. Ape hands. Dog eyes.
          His date was the American ideal: blonde, petite, mammary glands aimed high. He carried on and on and on about myriad ways that he had discovered to keep himself entertained: boats, cars, restaurants, drinks, and boats and cars and restaurants and drinks. His voice was a miracle of acoustics. Here inside a crowded, cacophonous restaurant, he pierced the air as if shouting through a police megaphone.
          I’ll give him this: he made each bite an adventure. Do I manage to enjoy the pancakes, or is my little attempt to have a peaceful breakfast completely ruined by Gargantuan Jackass?
          As it turned out: neither. For as soon as Monster Child had finished shoveling most of a large omelette into his blast-furnace gut, he declared, and I am pretty close to quoting this one accurately from memory:
          He was not being um, light-hearted in this er, romantic overture. His tone was as serious as if he were disclosing a visit from God.
          The blonde and her optimistic bazooms got up and promptly fled the scene.
          “DON’T YOU WANT YOUR PURSE?” said Jackass, who then sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the rest of his omelette. Quietly.
          I’ll never think about blondes the same way again.
          LTSEWH # 4: Daytime Moon
          I had parked, and was making the dreadfully functional journey from car to market. Those 50 or 60 steps we are all doomed to walk thousands of times, back and forth, back and forth. I often ponder whether those accumulated hours, days---years, perhaps?---spent on those walks might be put to some supplementary purpose.
           Whoops---I gave myself away. That’s correct, I don’t own a cell phone.
          But this, you see, frees me up to notice things. Cell phone yackers walk around as if they are at home in the living room, oblivious to the gorgeous, vivacious world around them!
          Why, a person on a cell phone probably would not have remotely noticed, for instance, the woman bending over to retrieve something from the back seat of her car. Leaning in through the opened rear passenger door. And I do mean “rear.”
          Bending so far over that her mini-skirt hiked. . .all the way up to her waist.
          It was about 2 p.m., but the moon was full.
          No underwear.
          Luckily, she was young and well-toned. Fit as a fiddle, really. Uh-one, and uh-two. . .
          I looked away for a moment, to spare her embarrassment. Or em-bare-ass-ment. But then I noticed that she didn’t seem to care. She just kept bending, and fussing around with something in the back seat. And the moon kept shining.
          If I were a werewolf, there would have been a serious problem.
          No, she did not care a whit whether I---or anyone---was viewing.
          I forget, you see, that most modern young citizens are unabashed about displaying their rumdadums. Witness amazons’---er, women’s---professional volleyball.
          I stopped for a moment, though, because, well, if you are male, you really don’t have a choice. And the show just went on and on. For a second, my brain was flooded with primeval chemicals which, if they could speak, would have said something like, “Uh! Uh!!” Then reason managed to feebly assert itself, along with age, and I realized that, well, there was nothing more to be done.
          Except walk on to the market. Feeling an ass. Feeling like an ass, I mean.
          LTSEWH # 5: Turn, turn, turn
          To everything, turn turn turn, there is a season. And in this case, the season for turns was in full bloom.
          This little tale concerns a perfectly normal, unfettered, innocuous, gentle right turn into a parking lot.
          Please picture this. It’s worth the trouble.
          I am slowing down to make a right turn into the driveway of a large parking lot. There are cars parked along the street I am driving on, just as there are cars parked along every street in Los Angeles at all times, and will be for the rest of eternity.            
           Another car is waiting to make a left turn from oncoming traffic into the same driveway.
           Simple, right? The car waiting to make the left simply waits for me to make my right, then, provided the coast is clear, turns and follows me into the parking lot.
          Ah, but this is L.A.! A place where no one understands four-way stops. Where no one pulls way out into the intersection while waiting to make left turns. A place where the mayor says “indefensible” when he means “defenseless.” Where TeeVee anchors talk about “tough drives” when freeways stop dead as a George W. Bush sentence. Where all driving has become as predictable as a terrorist attack. Come to think of it, that’s a good analogy.
          As I slowed down to turn, signal flashing proudly, a car parked on my right suddenly pulled away from the curb directly in front of me! I mean twenty feet away. Just cut right out. Zoom! Outtatheway, Rense! Because I had already severely decelerated for old-fashioned, if not archaic safety reasons, I was able to brake, lean on the horn, and barely avoid automotive intercourse.
          The driver of the darting car, of course, gave me the finger. As he or she sped away.
          End part one. Begin part two:
          As I sat there, stupefied that this alleged human had just so insanely---deliberately?---pulled in front of me, the car waiting to make that left pulled a screeching, illegal U-turn directly in front of oncoming traffic---and directly in front of me. Missing my bumper by, oh, the distance between NBC News anchor Brian Williams's ears. Right, an inch-and-a-half.
          In the end, I wretchedly finished my law-abiding, careful right turn into the parking lot, looking right and left faster than tennis spectators---and up, in case of falling airplanes---and then sat there, embracing a single thought:
          “This is the life.”
          LTSEWH #6: Brain Freeze
          Some LTSEWH's are momentary, trivial, fleeting, but stick with you like bad Paul McCartney songs.
          I might never forget, then, the well-dressed young woman in a Ralphs Market in Brentwood shopping with her roommate.
          “I’ve never eaten a frozen dinner in my life!" she said, nothing short of horror in her voice.
          Roomie had apparently proposed stocking up on Swanson's Turkey-and-Gravy feasts, or something.
          I say we ship this privileged diner to India, and leave her naked and penniless in a leper colony for a few weeks.
          Or better yet, New Orleans.
          For more LTSEWH’s, watch this space.

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