- Call them Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity...LTSEWH.
For those unfamiliar with this long-running column, it is an attempt to
set down minor occurrences that chronicle the ongoing decline and decay
of civilization. Names have been used whenever possible in order to ensure
- LTSEWH #1 - WAR OF THE WORLDS
- I confess: I went to see "War of the Worlds."
I liked the original almost as much as I loathe Tom Cruise, who has always
reminded me of nothing if not a manic beaver. Although I think beavers
make better dramatic actors.
- I also think Spielberg has seen his glory days long ago,
and I'd read A.O. Scott's New York Times review that warned me of the insipid
sub-plots involving Cruise's character and a resentful, estranged teenaged
- Still, I like to see a "summer blockbuster"
every two or three years in order to confirm all of my suspicions about
the near-total intellectual, artistic, emotional, moral bankruptcy of popular
- In this regard, I was not disappointed.
- The movie is a product. Everything about it is calculated
to generate response, that's all. Yes, there some hamhanded parallels to
9/11 terror attacks (and sleeper cells, as the aliens planted their ships
here eons ago, awaiting activation), but that's as "intellectual"
as things get. Cruise's manic beaverism was crippled by a lack of credibility,
even for him. The flick lacked all of the heart and character---and for
my money, suspense---of the original, however romantic and corny that one
was. (And to give Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, stars of the first version,
all of two seconds as a "cameo" was reprehensible.)
- End film review.
- On my way into the theater, I was assailed by four or
five twentysomething chickies, dressed in tight virginal white pants and
tight white T-shirts, asking me, "Would you like a bracelet for the
upcoming movie, 'The Island?'" They were handing out what appeared
to be white rubber bands with "The Island" stamped on them.
- I smiled at one of the Virgin Girlies and said, "No,
- She peeled back her lips and showed me a mouthful of
giant white eating devices.
- "Have you heard of 'The Island?'"
- "No, thank you."
- Her voice, which was already at a volume which suggested
she had assumed I am not only old, but deaf, increased. And it acquired
an aggressive edge that flirted with outright animosity:
- "Well, then, HAVE A NICE DAYYYYY!"
- Then. . .
- You guessed it.
- After having my fulfillingly disappointing cinematic
experience, the same thing happened on the way out. Same spiel. Different
- "Would you like a bracelet for the movie, 'The Island?'"
- She also had obviously concluded that I was deaf.
- "No, thank you, " I said, smiling.
- This Virgin Girly, a willowy and positively gorgeous
young lady with legs that stretched from here to Hollywood (or will, soon
enough), shifted, as per her training, to the back-up question: "Have
you heard about 'The Island?'"
- I had passed her at this point, but politely turned my
head and said, again, with a smile, "No, thank you."
- Uh-oh. Her poor, undernourished, sugar-poisoned, Hillary
Duff-rearranged brain did not like the fact that I had not properly answered
- "Have you HEARD about 'The Island?'" she asked
again, at a volume no louder than a movie preview.
- Now, my natural urge is to take the face of a person
like this, and push it into a nice plate of Jello, or something even less
appetizing. These children have no idea they are dirt-stupid, let alone
that they are prisoners of marketing, popular culture, demographics, consumerism,
greed. That their humanity has been co-opted, almost since birth, by the
great marketing and entertainment machinery, rendering them dutiful soldiers
in the Army of the Corporate States of America.
- But there was no plate full of Jello handy, so I opted
for courtesy and pleasantry---always a good choice. Or almost always.
- I tried a smiling "no, thank you" a third time.
- I was a good thirty feet away when she began to shout
at me, despite the fact that she was surrounded by many other exiting moviegoers
who might have wanted a "The Island" bracelet. And who were not
old and deaf.
- "WHY CAN'T YOU ANSWER THE QUESTION?" she yelled
in what was now a plainly snotty tone.
- I know, I know. I should have gone on my happy-go-lucky
way, but you see, this was a war of the worlds. Mine, which is civilized,
logical, kind, forgiving, generous, deferential (well, okay, at least once
a year), and hers, which is built of brain chemistry mercilessly flogged
on a daily basis by constant bombardment of misinformation, pop culture,
TeeVee, and a fabulously hypertrophic consumerism. All of which teaches
me, me me.
- I wished to bridge the gap. I wanted her to glean a little
lesson. I wished to say something like:
- "I have answered you, although I was not obligated
to do so, and I have answered you three times! Politely. Yet you are unsatisfied
with this. Your ego will not allow me to escape unscathed. You have now
run out of patience with your work, and that the 'public' will not respond
to you as you wish, and you are behaving badly. So please accept my original
- But I knew this was futile. Besides, I confess that I
had run out of civility, logic, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, and
deference. Yes, I was having a LTSEWH with myself! All kinds of unpleasant
things rushed into my brain and got in a big traffic jam there. One of
them was "Why don't you shave your f---ing head and sell all your
f---ing possessions and go and work with starving children in India, you
pinhead!" But again, my time was limited, and I was not confident
she would grasp the spirit of the invitation. I figured I had a better
chance of getting through to her with some basic hand signals. Less danger
- So I made a gesture so biological in implication that
I am ashamed to reveal it here. But I really thought there was a better
chance she might understand this mode of communication, seeing as language
and courtesy were so alien to her.
- Her response:
- "You probably don't have one!"
- Damn! Failure of communication, again! She still didn't
quite get the drift, so I endeavored to make it even clearer, this time
resorting to very primitive language of a type guaranteed---guaranteed---to
rile up the animal defenses of the brain. Which is to say, her entire intellectual
- That did the trick!
- As I crossed the street, a voice that was no longer recognizable
as Virgin Girly welled up and roared. I mean this was the voice of The
Beast. I could not even discern the words. And then that voice was joined
by another, probably male, which made me think my days in my world were
about to come to a sudden end.
- Yet, as with the aliens in the movie, they simply died
- I must add, for any Hollywood marketing geniuses who
might come across this column, that I have no plans to see "The Island."
- LTSEWH #2 - TO GO TOO FAR
- There I was. . .
- On the glorious July 4th holiday, sharing the glory with
the glorious American people---in their glorious designer T-shirts, tattoos,
sunglasses, hairy guts, unshaven cheeks, flab-encasing skin-tight exercise
pants, sleepy dead eyes, and gimmegimme, covetous hands.
- Whole Foods Market, in other words.
- Everywhere I stepped, on every aisle, at every turn,
a fellow glorious American citizen stepped right in front of me. With nary
an "excuse me," "sorry," or "Happy Independence
Day." It became rather like a game. Find the Polite Person in the
- Women vacuum-sealed into low-waisted jeans with sunned
midriffs scrutinized the contents of rich pastries through opaque sunglasses.
One of the supernaturally increasing numbers of pregnant Los Angeles females
passed by, her massive gut exposed to the world, navel protruding like
a beacon, undecipherable tattoo sticking up from the vicinity of a crotch
barely covered by sweat pants.
- Makes you feel patriotic, doesn't it?
- Well, I managed to wretchedly gather up my usual array
of aliments, with the words of a Buddhist priest I heard recently echoing
in my head:
- "You people are all stinking rich! Stinking! Don't
believe it? Go to Asia. What've you got to worry about? You're stinking
- The odor in the market was certainly ripe.
- At last I reached the check-out register, and emptied
the glorious July 4th contents of my environmentally friendly canvas bag
on to the glorious conveyer belt. The bounty spilled out: carrots, kale,
beets, bananas, rice milk, turkey, fish, "Rice Dream" (good ice
cream substitute), apples, grapefruit, oatmeal, potatoes, garlic, avocado,
tomatoes, celery, peaches. . .
- "Is this for here or to go?"
- This voice was not in my head, but for all the sense
it made, it might as well have been. Couldn't be meant for me. . .
- "For here or to go?"
- There it was again! Yes, yes, the question was directed
at me! By the checker---or "customer service tabulation engineer,"
or "human shopping aide," or whatever they are called now.
- "For here or to go?"
- Ah, I got it. She was kibitzing, cutting up, being convivial
and jolly. The merry "customer service tabulation engineer" doing
a little shtick for shoppers!
- "Ah, it's a joke, right?"
- She stared back, a pleasant looking woman in her mid-20s---or
she would have been pleasant looking, perhaps, had she been smiling.
- "No, sir," she said, with all the life of a
doorknob, as she picked up my grapefruit and held it aloft. "Is this
for here or to go?"
- I looked at the array of groceries laid out before her.
- "Oh, it's for here!" I said. "I'm going
to eat the grapefruit right here! And then the bananas, the garlic, and
then every single container of the rice milk, and everything else. Want
- She was a flesh-and-blood monument to disinterest.
- "Why on earth are you asking me if this is for here
or to go?"
- "We have to now," said Engineer. "We're
- "You're kidding! Well, that's really sad. I'm really
sorry you have to do that. I think it's really terrible that your management
makes you do something so incredibly stupid."
- "It isn't management. It's the government."
- I had as much interest in comprehending what sort of
bureaucratic idiocy was now playing out before me as I have in a date with
Oprah Winfrey. No, less. Yes, yes, I realize it has something to do with
taxes. Everything does.
- "That's awful that you have to ask this, and have
people like me smartass you all day long."
- "Oh, I'm used to it," she doorknobbed. "I've
put up a big wall. It bounces off. Some people are really nasty. They scream
- I couldn't blame them!
- And then, to gild the absurd lily, my poor brain began
analyzing the matter as I walked out of Whole Foods. What if I ate the
grapefruit five feet outside the store? Is that "to go" or "for
here?" Did "for here" mean I had to eat a banana inside
the market? What if I had one bite inside the store, then ate the rest
of the banana outside? Tax that, Uncle Sam! What if I went up and down
every aisle in the market and just knocked as much merchandise off the
shelves and on to the feet of all the sleepy, dead-eyed, gimmegimme stinking
- Guess I'd be charged "for here" for that.
- LTSEWH #3 - WRONG TURN
- I was driving down an empty sidestreet, not another moving
car in sight, at about 25 miles per hour---which, of course, meant that
I was in imminent danger.
- The young woman saw me coming, but pulled out anyway.
After all, she had important things to do, I'm sure.
- Specifically, she made the first part of a three-point
turn, away from a curb. Directly in front of me.
- Picture it: I'm blissfully making my speed-limity way
along. I stop for a stop sign, which is a quaint, antiquated custom in
L.A., I'll grant you, but then, I'm nostalgic. She sees me at the stop
sign from her parked car on the opposite side of the street. Eye contact
occurs. She watches me move through the intersection and then. . .pulls
directly in front of me, perpendicularly, forcing me to slam on the old
- I wondered for a moment. . .Homeland Security? Had The
Rip Post finally annoyed the wrong people? No, it was Ratmobile Syndrome.
My car is old and dented. I am obsolete, unadapting, poor competitive stock.
I am to be ignored, elbowed aside, even run off the road (which has happened.)
As I have written before, it's Carwinian.
- I stupidly awaited her smile, her waved apology, her
look of embarrassment---anything to convey that she had erred. But. . .nothing.
Then she backed up---point two of the three-point turn---and as she did
so, I slipped by.
- How dare I! How dare a Ratmobile interrupt her three-point
2005 shiny generic-looking vehicle turn?
- She was on the Ratmobile's tail in nothing flat. Whatever
"nothing flat" means. She followed to the end of the block, where
I turned right. She followed to the end of that block, and waved her arms
at me in a "what the hell are you doing?" fashion.
- What can I say? I was once again doing the speed limit,
and this is very, very upsetting to people who are better adapted to driving
in modern society.
- LTSEWH #4 - PHONEY BALONEY
- Phone was dead. I got out the cell phone and called the
- Once again, this is proof that I was born in the 20th
Century. It was the stupidest thing I could possibly have done.
- The Verizon guy with the Texas accent first explained
that "there is nothing wrong with your line" and that it is a
"circuit problem." I asked if this meant that many phones in
the area were out, and he said no, repeating that it was a "circuit
problem." I asked him what that meant, and well, he launched into
a lengthy dissertation, full of impenetrable tech talk, that boiled down
to. . .
- Many phones in the area were out.
- And Verizon Boy was not through:
- "You know when you had all that rain out there?
When it rained in California for like a hundred days straight and nearly
- There was something in his voice that was curiously derisive,
sneering---not jesting. Oh, I got it! He was being insulting! He was one
of those people who finds California to be the butt of all jokes, a land
where "everything loose from the east" rolls to, etc., Haw, haw.
- "Well, it didn't really rain quite that much."
- Texas Tekkie didn't hear me, as he was on a monologue.
- "Well, what happens is that the cable gets wet,
and. . ."
- And away he went on another five-minute---I really mean
five-minute---explanation of telephone technology that had as much to do
with getting my phone repaired as Texas has with subtlety. Then he added:
- "I've been doing this job for 13 years and no one
ever calls to tell you that their phone is working properly!"
- Yes, folks, I get them all. Every drunk on the street
talks to me. All schizophrenics in the park do. All misanthropes everywhere.
Hey, there's Rense---let's talk to him! This nutcase had even sensed it
over the phone. I felt like I was in a Woody Allen picture.
- "Yes," I said, "I'm sure that's true.
You have a tough job."
- "I love my job!" he said defensively. "Wouldn't
stay here 13 years if I didn't!"
- Good, good. I vaguely recalled that he had my name, address,
and, being from Texas, lots of automatic weapons.
- "I'm sorry, I'm running short of time. How do I
get my phone fixed?"
- He hadn't heard me. He was off talking about cables and
operatives now. Operatives? I realize the federal government has consolidated
intelligence agencies, but had this included Verizon, too?
- "And you know that earthquake you had a week ago?"
- "Near Eureka?" (about 500 miles north of LA)
- "That's right. Well, we have six-hundred operatives
up there right now trying to check everything, make sure all the poles
- The tone in his voice said this:
- "We're a great company nobly helping out your insane
state with its insane problems, so why are you complaining that your damn
phone went out for a few hours?"
- He went on and on about the six-hundred "operatives"
who could not be in Southern California to help an idiot like me out, actually
chuckling about it at one point, and finally allowed that someone would
be out to fix my phone---
- In two days!
- "Two days? Gee. PacBell was never slow like that,
even in an earthquake. No offense to you personally, but that's just ridiculous.
This is the kind of service you get in a third world country."
- "Well, we're doing our best to give you the best
service we can, and we're faced with a natural disaster, and---"
- I interrupted the next speech-to-be, and thanked him.
- The phone was working fine the next morning.
- But I'll give Verizon credit: a repairman came two days
later, as promised.