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notes from the terrace

So it’s another afternoon here at the Terrace, the Green Tea Terrace---the calm little pistachio and orange joint with studying students and wayward officeworkers on breaks and Santa Monica Big Blue Buses flashing by. All stopping for a green afternoon pick-me-up.
          On my way in, Jude the Toothless Guy at the Corner, the unofficial greeter of Westwood, hailed me with this curious anointment:
          “So I’ll introduce you to a guy from Ohio. They’re doing a lot of good work back there.”
          Gadzooks! Yet another sign telling me to get out of L.A..
          I’m sitting at a little round orange table, sipping a very fine Ocha latte. In front of me are three buzzing student girlies from Hong Kong (I presume, as they are buzzing in Cantonese), eating the latest GTT confection: hot buttered toast with chocolate drizzle, ice cream, and a dusting of powdered green tea known as matcha. They gradually become daffy with sugar and caffeine.


          Over their heads, outside the Terrace door, I take note a man about 75, dressed entirely in black. Corduroy pants, socks, shoes, long sleeve button-up dress shirt---black. Topped off by a sporty, stingy-brim black fedora-like hat. (Okay, it has a yellow feather.) He sits on one of those street benches with armrests in the middle to keep homeless people from sleeping on them, and his arms are folded across a gut the size and shape of a woman’s in late pregnancy. He is watching me curiously. I don’t blame him.
          I’m typing away, trying to look benign and pensive, listening to the Grateful Dead on headphones. “Playing in the Band.” Some folks trust to reason/ Others trust to might/ I don’t trust in nothin’/ But I know it come out right.
          Me, I no longer trust that “it come out right.” In fact, I junked the “everything’s going to be okay” credo long ago, perhaps shortly after a friend of mine was murdered with a handgun. I mean, "everything's going to be okay" can get you through the day, or the dentist’s office, but it’s piss-poor proof against divorce, firing, death, AIDS, diabetes, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and Rupert Murdoch.  “Everything’s going to be okay?” The biggest lie since perfume.
          Whoops. My headphone Grateful Dead listening has been interrupted by the GTT sound system, which is suddenly roaring out some punishingly rhythmic recitation of an ilk that might very soon become illegal in post-Imus America. It’s a guy called Beany Man, I am told by an employee, and Beany Man is repeating a phrase involving “sugah” (sugar) and “niggah” (nigger) with great enthusiasm. Quick, notify Les Moonves.
          But back to everything is going to be okay, which brings me straight to Virginia Tech, where despite all the indecent, insane talk of “healing” and “President” Bush’s banal, butt-stupid, trite crap about a “loving God” taking all the brutally murdered kids to his bosom or something, everything is very not okay, and not due to be okay anytime soon.
          See, I was awakened the night after the shooting---that’s last night, as I sit here---around 3 by a dream that Bush had launched a nuke or two in the name of Jesus, and somebody had retaliated with one that had somehow taken out Tucson, with L.A. due to go any minute. I was shouting about throwing the cats and the computer in the car when I regained what may charitably be called “consciousness,” and turned on the TV in search of relief. . .
          It was all Virginia Tech, all the time, of course---well, that is, except for infomercials for Jack La Lanne’s Juice Bastard, or whatever it’s called, and how to get rich by buying up homes people lost to banks, and of course, “Girls Gone Wild.” I hadn’t watched any of the coverage of Virginia Tech Gone Wild during the day. I didn’t have the stomach for seeing all the networks packaging the deaths of 32 college kids and a professor into a nice little melodrama. Complete with graphics, music, and cinematic titles. Massacre on Campus, starring Katie Couric.
          I was absolutely astonished, though. Not by the dumbass newsmannequins who were already shifting from their “shocked and saddened” voices into talk of “healing.” Not by the anchormannequins who commented with grotesque understatement, "A very sad day.” Not even by the fact that some pinhead killed 32 people, then himself---hell, that’s practically a modern tradition in the United States of Amerryguns. No, I was astonished at the comments of the kids on that campus. Their words were not the language of trauma. Their eyes were. . .calm.
          “Well, their pain has ended,” said one little girl, casually, “but we’re going to have to live with this pain forever.”
          Eh? Where did she read that? And um. . .I think it's a bit more "painful" to have your life ended by a maniac than have to emotionally cope with surviving. Call me mean, but I'm fresh out of sympathy here.
          A young man:
          “A couple of my friends lost their lives. Then I heard that my professor didn’t make it.”
          Lost their lives? Didn’t make it? Huh? Wait a second, this wasn’t a flu epidemic. This was killing. You know, hearts stop beating? Brains shut down? Pupils dilate, bladder and bowels release? These kids didn’t lose their lives. Their lives were stolen. Bullets ripped into skulls and took out big chunks of brains, and beauty and aspiration. No, guess that prof didn’t exactly “make it.” Here he thought he was going to do a little imparting of knowledge, but golly gosh, wouldn’t you know it? He was interrupted by someone with a 9 milimeter handgun.
          Hate when that happens.
          Another girl spoke wistfully of a much-loved student known as “Stack,” saying that she had just come from a memorial service for him, where people talked about how loud he was---“but not in a negative way,” she quickly added. She wasn’t far from smiling.
          Umm. . .memorial service? Er. . .How many hours had passed since Stack had been executed while protecting a girl student in the dorm where he was resident advisor? Six or seven? Eight? I don’t know about you, but I’d still be ever so slightly. . .catatonic. . .at that point. Yet this kid was speaking sweetly into the camera, as if old Stack had nodded off in his rocker. Okay, memorial service over, now I’ve got to study for finals. . .
          Better, I think, that these kids sound like Beany Man, who is now chanting unintelligibly, angrily, madly, like a monk on speed, against a nuked-up drum track and a sampled chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”
          We shall overcome? Not as long as young people are leeched of all sane emotion by a popular culture that trains them to accept violent death complacently, we won’t. What is going on with these kids? I’ll tell you what: they have been raised with extreme violence, torture, cruelty, and death. And that’s just Saturday morning cartoons. Not one of the interviewees I saw on ABC at 3 a.m. used the words, “killed,” “murdered,” “shot to death.” It was all “lost their lives,” and “passed.”
          Passed! Yeah, a Glock-propelled bullet will sure make you. . .pass.
          Look, it’s obvious that these young adults, and perhaps most Americans, accept this sort of “passing” as natural as a stroke at 90. And no wonder, given Gulf War I and Oklahoma City and 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib and Lebanon and X-Boxes. But the acceptance of it makes my knees knock, anyway. As did the statement hours after the shootings by some jerkwater White House “official” about how “people should obey gun laws.”
          Sure, and they shouldn’t jaywalk or spit on the sidewalk.
          I look again out the window of the Green Tea Terrace, where Crossfires and Escalades and VW bugs and Mustangs zip by, piloted by glamorously attired people who are, as America’s spiritual leader, Dr. Phil, counsels, “starring in your own movie!” And students stroll past, clad in hundreds of dollars' worth of designer clothing, smoking cigarettes, laughing, jeans painted on, cleavage quivering.
          I suddenly notice that the Man in Black on the bench outside is gone. Maybe, I think, he was in mourning. Maybe, I think, we should all wear black now. All the time. 


Hi, Rip,

Thanks for another great piece about our wonderfully brain-dead
really hits home the way you so aptly describe your observations of our
collective decline. I really enjoy your refreshingly intelligent web site as
well as your brother Jeff's. As a 50-something who grew up in the LA area
(the last 20 years in north San Diego County), like you, I 've seen so many
things turn absolutely and irrepairably rotten that *I thought* would be
getting progressively better as we aged and our so-called "baby-boomer"
generation would change things for the better. How wrong I was! Somehow
we've forgotten ALL of the lessons we learned from the '60s on, and allowed
the worst elements of our culture take over. It's amazing how our kids (not
my three, thankfully) have become self-absorbed zombies completely immune to
normal human behaviors, as they have become a sad byproduct of our greedy
and insane bottom-line-driven society. Sure, there are good people out
there, the people I have surrounded myself with in addition to my immediate
family for instance, but you know what I mean. Where in the fuck are we
going to end up in 20 more years? It seems to me that our culture has a
history of cycling back and forth between moments of lucidity and years and
years of sheer idiocy. Just when we see light at the end of the tunnel, a
dirty, stinking diesel frieght train comes roaring out! I even opted to
change my career path from company management back to working "in the
trenches" on night shift so I don't have to deal with the daily drama and be
witness to the tap dancing of greed-driven liars and self-promoting
back-stabbing buffoons. What a great country! Like the old joke saying: our
karma ran over our dogma.we deserve the bed we've made for ourselves.

And to quote our beloved Grateful Dead (I was very happy to see that you
appreciate the Dead's music and Garcia/Hunter and Weir/Barlow's messages):
"I'm not always right, but I've never been wrong.It never turns out the way
it does in the song". How true of the last six years people like us have
been correctly trying to convince people how bad the Bush "people" are and
the end of this current "song" may not be very nice at all.

Keep up the good work!

Carl Desserich
Vista, CA

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