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Rats in a Cheeseless Maze
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, April 4, 2007.
The Totally Fuckin’ L.A. human-resources unit contacts me by e-mail: “Our hieroglyphics editor is very interested in meeting with you.” It doesn’t say why, but I can use some more income. So after the judge turns me loose from jury duty at 1 p.m., I call the number on the Totally Fuckin’ e-mail and set up a meeting with the editor for 2 — just enough time to fill my coffee and gasoline reservoirs before heading downtown.
Totally Fuckin’ L.A.’s hieroglyphics editor turns out to be one Crystal Clamcake, a 20-something nonstop smiling machine dressed like a model she’d seen in a magazine and doused in whatever aristocratic perfume was advertised on the opposite page.
“We’re a subresource of the Multicultural Diversity Scene,” says Clamcake, and she goes on to explain just how adverrific the M.D.S. statistics are, and what a wonderful world we live in. I have a hard time understanding, but it matters little once Clamcake takes me on the office tour.
“This is our display department. Over there, those are real people staring at us from 10 feet away whom I’m interrupting to point at, but I’m not going to introduce you. Over here, this is our D.A.Q.C. department — Demographic Analysis Quality Control. That’s our Diverse-o-matic™ 5005 — a fully automated self-correcting trend isolator.”
Boss Clamcake does not introduce me to 15 equally perfumed and similarly attired employees. It becomes hard to tell where one odor ends and the others begin. It is a foul smell — a horrible, corrosive, potent mist of perfumes, deodorants, moisturizers and hair gel secreted from satanic bowels and dispensed at Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like.
But we all need to make a living, so I breathe through my mouth until Clamcake gets to the point.
“Right now,” she says (and this is 2007, with the median price of a single-family home in this county going for $520,000), “we’re paying 15 cents per glyph.”
I crank down the windows and drive fast. The fresh air helps. It’s only 2:30, and already it’s been a long day. Too bad the judge dismissed me from jury duty; the trial had the potential to be fascinating: A man had already been convicted of criminal mayhem; this was the trial that would determine his sanity.
And there’d been Juror 12. Bright, beautiful, unscented Juror 12 had addressed the judge in a manner that had caught the attention of my libido. For about 20 seconds, before the probablies kicked in (probably too young, probably has a boyfriend), I entertained fantasies of Juror 12 and me living together up in Portland, in a side-gabled bungalow, sipping hot coffee on our front porch, watching the rain through the trees, the mist through the bridge. For those 20 seconds, I was in love.
“That’s not love,” says my friend Ben Wolfcar, blotting his mouth with his sleeve. “Love — true love — lasts at least one solid minute.”
I consider this as I down the last of my first beer; I reply in the world-weary tone that rendered me victorious in an impromptu Keith Carradine–impersonation contest at Yee Mee Lou in ’86, my one true moment of glory: “Yeah. Yeah, I know . . . ”
After the Totally Fuckin’ interview, I’d picked up Wolfcar and headed over to the Cemetery District, to watch college basketball and test-drive Belgian ales at Seamus O’Kinawa’s. “So anyway,” I tell Wolfcar, “I say, ‘You’re a subresource of what?‘ And she says, ‘The multicultural diversity scene,’ like it’s this tangible…like it’s the Rotary club. Just a scary, scary place.”
“Jesus,” says Wolfcar. “And what were they paying, a buck a glyph?”
“One-five, I shit you not. And they don’t reimburse for expenses.”
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”
“No, Totally Fuckin’ L.A. They did offer some kind of go-to-the-head-of-the-soup-kitchen-line meal plan, but I’d already tuned out.”
Chimay, Orval, Lucifer, Corsendonk, Hoegaarden, Satan, Foret . . . The big round table in the middle of Seamus O’Kinawa’s holds lots of bottles and glasses, and has a great view of the game but an even better view of Lyle Cramby.
Northeast of Hawaii, in the Tropic of Cancer, floats the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a slowly spiraling trash vortex currently the approximate size of Texas. It is directly from this vortex, by my estimation, that Lyle Cramby has come.
“Cramby!” says Lyle Cramby, opening a suitcase and extending his hand at me and Wolfcar. “Lyle Cramby! Scented ointments to replenish and revitalize! Only the world’s finest scents for the ladies! My card!”
That’s right — a perfume salesman. These cold, dead Butt-head eyes and angry nostrils, this pink Jabba the Hutt head choked into a shiny white pit-stained shirt with a shiny blue beer-stained tie and topped off with a whiteboy Jheri-curl mullet — this drunken Cramby sells the very scents from which I’d just fled.
Wolfcar and I shake Cramby’s sausage-fingered hand as required and quickly move to another table.
Cramby snatches some atomizers from his suitcase and begins spraying his samples into the air. “Scents!” says Cramby. “Scents for the ladies!” (Spray.) “Genuine Portuguese sperm-whale vomit!” (Spray, spray.) “Genuine Clackamas County beaver castoreum!” (Spray.) “One hundred percent Norwegian clubbed baby seal extract!” (Spray, spray, spray, spray, spray, spray, spray.)
Cramby nods toward the bartender, an intense young woman with a thick Belgian accent. “Hey, bartendress!” he says. “Another one over here, darlin’! And if you make it quick, I’ve got a little something I’d like to spray you with out back!”
The bartender sneezes and turns red. “I believe you’ve had enough, darlin’,” she replies. “I believe it’s time for you to go home.”
Two bouncers grab Cramby and his suitcase. Cramby screams, kicking and flailing as he’s forced out the door and onto his ass.
“You’ll never smell good in this town again!” Cramby shouts from beyond the glass door. Then he sits crosslegged on the sidewalk and begins spraying pantslegs of passersby. The bartender calls the cops.
“How would you rule on that bit of mayhem,” I ask Wolfcar. “Insanity?”
“No way,” says Wolfcar. “That’s just totally fuckin’ L.A.”