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They're Only Human and Therein Lies the Problem

November 13, 1994|RIP RENSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Call them "Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity," or LTSEWH for short. I swear they're true. Only the names have been omitted to protect the imbecilic.

LTSEWH 1:

I was driving down Veteran Avenue near UCLA one black night, in my wretched, decrepit, backfiring automobile. The one with the duct tape hanging off the windows and the petrified bird dung on the roof (guaranteed to prevent carjacking). "Rip's Krazy Kar," as my friends call it. The street lights were on the blink, so it was especially dark.

Suddenly, without warning, my headlights caught the image of human-on-bicycle. It was all I could see, frozen in stark light like a leaping deer--a young male on a bike, darting diagonally in front of me, no more than 20 feet away.

I braked and violently swerved. Right into the oncoming traffic lane, which was mercifully empty.

I shouted the name of the symbol of a popular religion. I looked to my right. There was the cyclist, cruising blithely along--with his hands folded against his chest! As if he were coasting on a damned unicycle. He was in his early 20s, I'd guess, and didn't seem the least fazed by the fact that he had just nearly lost his life. It was then I concluded that--for whatever bizarre reason--his maneuver had been intentional. You know, Just do it. Go for it, dude.

"Hey!" I yelled, pulling alongside, rolling down my passenger window. Now, understand that there were many picturesque things I wished to say to the young man, but instead I gritted my teeth and opted for something civilized.

"Hey! You should wear white clothing and get a light for your bike. I nearly killed you!"

The kid looked at me with plain disgust and yelled, "What?"

I repeated my advice.

The kid screwed up his face, actually waved me away, and this--so help me--is what he said:

"I don't have listen to a lecture from you ! I go to law school!"

I must say that I still find this remark hard to believe. The celebrated dismissive two-word phrase ending in "you" would have been preferable. I think. When I recovered, I gritted my teeth and opted to say something . . . uncivilized. The parts that I can print in a newspaper went something like this (with many lively and colorful terms omitted):

"That figures. Law school! Right! Of course! What else would an idiotic punk like you be doing with your life! You are exactly what's wrong with the law profession! No wonder people hate all law students and lawyers! Can't wait to graduate and get that BMW, I'll bet. Well, I hope you crash your damned BMW head-on into a tree!"

Yes, I guess you could say I was fairly angry. I probably, at that point, looked rather like Lon Chaney Sr. Perhaps as he looked in the film "London After Midnight," in which he portrayed a leering vampire. Saliva flew from my mouth as I further uttered the wish that untold horrors befall the young man--which did seem to rattle him a bit--and then I drove on.

LTSEWH 2

While strolling on the Venice Beach boardwalk, I stopped to browse in one of those nice South American import stores, with all those beautiful multicolored hats and shirts. I had just purchased two knit caps from another establishment, and had one in each front pocket. Because I've noticed that the proprietor in this import place watches customers closely and suspiciously, I sought to avert any potential misunderstanding.

"Hi," I said, smiling. "I've got hats in my pockets."

I pulled the hats part way out of my pockets, so she could see them. She looked at me dumbly, and with slight irritation.

" What? " she said.

"I've got hats in my pockets." I smiled again.

"So what," she said. "Why are you telling me that?" Oh, good. She didn't get it. She thought I was nuts. Next I would tell her about the kangaroo in my pants.

"Oh, sorry--I just bought these hats outside, and I wanted to let you know so you wouldn't think I was shoplifting."

She eyed me like I was about as consequential as ant breath.

(Do ants breathe?)

"Well, I don't care!" she huffed.

"In that case," I smiled, "I'll just steal everything I want!" And I winked.

At this point, the woman looked openly fearful, having concluded that I was both crazy and a thief.

"You better not! I'll catch you!" she threatened, then emerged from behind the counter to keep an eye on me.

Undaunted, I tried on a hat, and walked to what I thought was a mirror to inspect it. It wasn't a mirror, though--it was just a framed hole in the wall looking directly into another part of the store.

"Oh, that's not a mirror!" I laughed. "It's a passage into another dimension!"

I waited in vain for the now horrified woman to laugh approvingly at my joke. A voice from behind spoke.

"The mirror is behind you, sir." It was a young fellow with a wispy half-beard, apparently an employee.

I thanked him, and explained that I had avoided that mirror because it was positioned at about knee-level.

"The mirror is right behind you, sir," he repeated.

I took that hat off.

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