Sunday, October 04, 2009

California Screamin'

I'm heading towards Hollywood and Vine to close down an un-airconditioned office a few stories above the walk of fame for a client. I'm waiting out tough times underneath a palm tree, waiting for the stop light and economic shoots to turn green as a cunningly bleached blonde sits up high in an onyx Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV. She crosses our path in front and dawdles to turn left while a little white dog nestles on her breast looking down at me and nervously at the cars, the kind of dog that's not good for much but luxuriating or tossing up in the air to punt over a fence.

The girl's wearing goggle-sized sunglasses and maybe she'll turn 20 years old while she waits for oncoming traffic to clear and my friend, an L.A. resident, who has been fielding my questions about the Governator's budget crisis follows up with, "They just announced they're cutting summer school and child care programs for migrant workers." "Oh, yeah," I sigh. "Now that makes a hell of a lot of sense. That's really cutting the fat out of a budget! Bold leadership. Political courage!"

To my right, a sun-baked caucasian man, fiftyish, drags down the sidewalk like a grimy, dessicated crustacean with about an hour to live, trailing a torn t-shirt devoid of color, dust in his hair sticking up in the air ike free beauty parlor product, greasy gray jeans hanging off him obscenely. No one at the bus stop sees him, he's magic, he's an invisible man. So I'm sitting there thinking, look pal, it's right here, the future is being spelled out in front of your face on a big mind-reading neon sign just like with Steve Martin in LA Story. Stop for a minute and read.

California's got it all. It's the #1 Death Factory and
it's the #1 Dream Factory in the US and the world. Tops in arms production and entertainment. 8th biggest economy on the planet, huge wine producer, agribusiness, no slouch in the ganja department. Companies like Apple, Google, Disney, Miramax, and YoYodyne are all in California. It is the most fungible entity imaginable.

Yet it's bankrupt, its bonds are junk, it is now paying state worker in scrip and its population is shrinking for the first time since the conquistadores brought the plague.
Now, I'm thinking at the stoplight, we must be suffering from a philosophical conundrum. A triumph or failure of Reaganomics, of scientology, of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, trickle down Wysocki, trickle down. If you can keep your income inequality when all around you are losing theirs then you will be a man my son.

America has never viewed its working classes through the sentimental fug of an Edwardian music hall, but when treated well one time they promptly payed back with the greatest explosion of prosperity and technology in known history. But that's a bygone era, constantly memorialized and milked for every last drop of hope in repeating a Greatest Generation. California, particularly its coastal southern cities, provides a juxtaposition of glittering got-it-made success and violent squalor, with pernicious polarizing influences and taxes that keep regressing. It's the Big vs. the Little Lebowskis, and it's actually hard to tell who's winning--half the time the plot's entertaining, half the time it's frightening, and half the time it's disastrous. Because it's California, the halves add up.

But uh-oh. Cali's attached. It's kind of attached to the US like a skull, in fact. Am I looking at the future of my entire country? Well, it was America's bellwether state of the 20th century, so yes, it would seem so. Reading Will California become America's first failed state?, a competently researched and interviewed article in the Guardian, triggered the above memory of a recent trip to L.A., and the upshot of it is that public services will be shut down to reduce the budget gap, that's not going to be enough, and people will think of something because Californians are innovative.

Metaphorically, to take California's lead, the United States has a case of brain cancer, and it's not ready to start dealing with it in any serious way. Delusion is the order of the day. The recession is over, I'm sure you've heard. Tide's still up, sky's still blue and the myth of the California Dream is going to die hard, like a butthole surfer screaming "whooaaa, duuuude," as he bashes up repeatedly against the stony crags of Monterey.

To end on a glass half full, as required, California dreamers hang it out innately, they don't know any different, which means America's problems tend to crop up first and most prevalently in that state. Presumably, so will solutions.

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