State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
So I finally checked my privilege. What do you think happened? That’s right; they threw it onto the wrong plane and it ended up on the tarmac in Des Moines. Note to self: next time carry your privilege on and stuff it into the overhead bin like all the sensible people do. But the episode was instructive, and a good reminder of my – oh heck. I’m just gonna say it. A good reminder of my privilege.
In fact, it seems safe to say that we who live and prosper under the almost literal dome that encloses dear Santa Barbara…we’ve got it pretty good. Sure, it’s a struggle. But not, you know, like a STRUGGLE struggle. We’re all fairly privileged. We’re not often shot at, nor do we very often suffer the indignity of pillage by bloodthirsty marauders. When we step outside in board shorts to march with sullen, tanned expressions down our famous main street in protest of this or that injustice, our police don’t descend on us with rubber truncheons, or pepper us with rubber bullets. [second note to self: buy stock in Rubbermaid].
Harmless Flesh Eaters
Yes, we have our share of flesh-eating bacterial outbreaks, but most of these are over-prescriptions by well-meaning weight loss professionals. Santa Barbara is today a sun-kissed cathedral of peace and prosperity. Fragrant ocean breezes gently dance with our impossibly statuesque palm trees; symbols of plenitude that seem to say “What’re you lookin’ at, loser? Ha Ha just kidding. Look all you want, winner!” The town is peaceful, devoid of angst, pleasantly soporific. Mostly.
Guess what? All is not well in the Second or Third Happiest Place on Earth. You know this to be true. We can see it on each other’s faces. In Ralph’s, at the Farmer’s Market, in any of Santa Barbara’s parking lots – not in the 99¢ store, so much, since we are usually wearing disguises in there. What is this new menace? What exactly are we seeing in each other’s faces?
A little something I like to call Califorbearance©.
That’s Right. Califorbearance©
What is Califorbearance©? It’s that LOOK. When worn properly—and Santa Barbarans wield this thing like nobody’s business—it can simultaneously convey both long-suffering patience AND projectile passive-aggression.
The sky is so clear and blue and cloudless you begin to suspect a trap. Or maybe that’s just me.
Hey, the Left Coast may be famously progressive, merciful, and benevolent, but we have our limits, and when said limits are tested, we have a look. It is the look of Califorbearance©. What does this interpersonal transaction look like on the ground? Let’s look at some examples you may find familiar from your own experiences, dear reader.
Example # 1: A guy in ear buds is approaching a crosswalk, doing that soulful strut that suggests the whole world can hear the bass-heavy whimsydiddle blowing through the middle of his underfurnished cranial vault. As he steps into the crosswalk he notices that a Prius (probably Metallic Green) is breaching the crosswalk paint by half an inch. It’s a crosswalk incursion! As Ear Buddy passes in front of your car he is either looking dramatically at your invasive front bumper, or staring stone-faced at you through the windshield. It’s as if you ran down his little brother moments before and he hasn’t forgotten. Yaay!! You’ve just experienced Califorbearance©! The pedestrian’s stern expression is actually beaming at you a kind of brutalist forgiveness. You didn’t ask for it, and neither were you aware of needing his absolution, but there you have it. Drink in his Califorbearance© with gratitude.
Example # 2: You’re in Trader Joe’s and make the monstrous tactical mistake of stopping briefly to examine the several shelves of gluten-free soaps. As the words “gluten-free soap” gain puzzled traction in your gray matter and begin to occupy the little hamster wheel you keep up there, you suddenly feel a hulking negative presence to your right. When you tremulously dare to look (another mistake) you see a dreadlocked, yogic tension-guru wearing dusky purple Punjab pants and a riotous beard that might make Rip Van Winkle gag. He is attended by a patchouli cloud that could bring down an airplane. The vibe is pure frozen-faced “patience”; that projectile patience that hits you like the blast wind from a hydrogen bomb. Califorbearance©! Do you feign renewed interest in the gluten-free soap and further antagonize the organic downer, or do you yield and hustle on to the carob-flecked mashed potato rosettes? You yield. YOU YIELD.
Example # 3: You’re at Saturday’s Farmer’s Market. Sunshine is falling all over the place, and Santa Barbarans are milling about and chatting and gesturing. The crowd has about it the electric happiness of a community fully and consciously inhabiting its gorgeous Saturday morning. The sky is so clear and blue and cloudless you begin to suspect a trap. Or maybe that’s just me. You bump into some friends you haven’t seen in a while and it’s marvelous! You begin to gab and hug and affectionately wrinkle noses, and you’re all standing in the middle of one of the sun-struck market lanes with puh-lenty of room to pass on either side.
Despite the breadth of the lane and the ease with which the other happy congregants walk around you, an older couple in straw hats stop dead in their tracks and begin blasting Califorbearance©. It is simply too awkward a Next Move to pivot to them and give them the Marceau for “Walk Around Us, Angrily Patient Oldsters.” So you keep talking with your friends and gesturing and sharing news, and all the while the oldsters are standing there like the chilling couple in Grant Woods’ famous painting “American Gothic”, except the man isn’t holding a pitchfork and couldn’t be more frightening if he was. They’re holding satchels full of nature’s bounty and staring straight ahead like Manchurian assassins. As you hurriedly wrap up your conversation with the friends you see once in a blue moon, the couple and their Califorbearance© remain lodged in the pedestrian flow like an arterial blockage. You finally move to concede their victory, and they pass you with a glance that is as communal and loving as Karloff’s face in a rainstorm.
What is behind these increasing instances of Califorbearance©? Have we got it so good here? Are we so blessed by the G*ds of easy living that the sleepy and sated citizenry simply must find SOMETHING to be rankled by, some rattling inconvenience to push back against? It’s just possible that in a town as stripped of fear, privation, and the ordinary tractions of everyday living as Santa Barbara is, we secretly yearn for the therapeutic workaday vicissitudes that afflict and improve our counterparts outside the dome.
Exaltation at Harry’s
Some years ago at Harry’s, I carefully watched the restaurant’s costumed manager as he made the rounds in his superfluous, ceremonial red vest, rubbing shoulders and making polite conversation with the diners. He stopped along a highball-and-plate-littered table to speak to a man dining gingerly, and somewhat embarrassedly, it seemed, with his elderly and frail-looking mother. In the sepia light of the chandeliers, the scene, some tables distant, was without sound, but not without effect.
The manager engaged the man’s mother in conversation, at one point placing his hand on her shoulder as would a congenial confidant. She tilted her beautiful face to receive his attentions and I saw that her expression was alight, suddenly. Her lovely eyes blazed at this sincere businessman, blazed with utter, unshielded delight, not with a simple explicable smile, but with a clear, radiant expression of bliss, an absolute incandescence, a contagion. He was only talking to her, but I could see he wasn’t approaching the conversation like a mincing stranger in the presence of the “old”. How long might it have been since she’d been spoken to as a woman, as a person – and not in the lilting baby talk we reserve for our elderly? I watched her grown son’s own face as he followed their exchange. When the manager leaned laughing into his brittle and ecstatic and beautiful mom and she laughed easily in return, the son’s face became beatific. It shone. The three comprised a bliss circuit. I could feel it from across the room. I’ve never forgotten it.
So, yeah. There is some full frontal Califorbearance© afflicting our leafy little paradise by the sea. On the other hand, here and everywhere else—in our restaurants and parlors and living rooms, our classrooms and public parks, and on the daylit street corners of this sometimes startling burst of color and feeling—we find simple love, simple beauty, and the means to be lifted. If there is a little trouble in Eden, so be it. Trouble in Eden is, according to some, the beginning of something better anyway.