CALIFORNIA WEIRDOS by David Arthur Walters
Late Sixties anecdote from The Golden State
California has represented the bright future of This Great Nation of Ours ever since young men were told, “Go West, young man.” Pure Land Buddhists in China also say that El Dorado is in the West, but they take a short cut and go east to get to California. Now it appears that a Chinese navigator arrived in California long before a Caucasian barbarian ever set foot there, and he did not say “Eureka!” Neither did the Polynesians who arrived in California in canoes and greeted their distant cousins who were already there before the Vikings discovered North America.
Go West, young man, indeed! Today pundits say, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” The Golden State of course goes for the gold, as we can see in its golden state mineral, golden poppy, golden trout, and golden-orange garibaldi. Fortunately, by way of contrast, we have the California redwood, gray whale, and brown grizzly. The prospect of going out West for the gold alone is not so alluring to those who prize their integrity during the great American pursuit of happiness – all that glitters in the moral sphere is not golden. To begin with, the golden state is a stolen state. But to make a long story short, it is the most bizarre state in the union.
I have been to California several times. I was a young man back East when kids were dropping California Sunshine, hence I always thought of California, not Florida, as the Sunshine State. By golly, I wound up in San Francisco, where hippies were eating out of garbage cans in front of St. Francis Church as the bishop, sporting a Rolex and a bejeweled gold ring, got into his stretch limousine. I nearly starved because I was a finicky eater. I wound up selling Collier’s Encyclopedia door to door, and riding horses between gigantic redwood trees up north of the city.
Gary, our sales manager, was a Hells Angel. He was a good salesman but Carol was our team’s top producer. Carol came back to our Volkswagen van one night and reported that she had written 24 contracts because she had put her foot in a minister’s door and he introduced her to his congregation, to whom she put her pitch. I had written one contract the whole week, my first, with a thirteen-year-old lumberjack who already had a wife and kid; his father made us cancel the order on the grounds that the youth was a minor – imagine that, a father depriving his boy of an encyclopedic education!
Carol always wore mini-skirts and high heels, and she used tons of makeup, so when she hustled encyclopedias around those smaller towns, which were supposedly protected from the likes of us by something called The Green Law, concerned housewives who saw her hoofing along the sidewalks mistook her for a hooker and called the law. When she did not show up at the van, we would drive around looking for her, and eventually head to the police station. That’s where we found her one night, in Eureka. We vouched for her and headed for a motel. Just as we pulled into the parking lot, we were surrounded by cops, who had their big guns drawn; we had to get down on our bellies and clasp our hands behind our necks – I got some greasy dirt in my mouth and scraped my chin. There had been an armed robbery; we were suspected of being the culprits. After a gun battle ensued with the real gang of outlaws across the street, we were let go. We got some beer and went to our adjoining rooms. I drank my share, read some of Gibran’s The Prophet, fell asleep and crashed into some crazy dreams. I will never forget Eureka.
As strange as it may seem, such weird events were par for the course during our sales expeditions, especially given the nature of our sales manager; he liked to unscrew the ‘No Solicitors’ signs and present them to the residents. He was not beyond seducing prospects providing they were not married – a shotgun blast had turned him off of married women. He certainly was a slick character when not riding with the Angels. To this day I cannot figure out how he closed so many sales. It was not just the canned pitch. We were not supposed to vary from the standard pitch, but I varied after a man took a swing at me because I said, “Would you deprive your kids of food? No, you would not. Would you deprive them of food for the mind?” By the way, the encyclopedias were free to qualified people – the ones who qualified to pay for the updates.
One night in training our sales team knocked on a door in Berkeley and we were led into a Baha’i meeting place. After the sole devotee therein listened to our pitch, he proceeded with his own. Grabbing a claw hammer, he enthusiastically tore the lock off a cabinet containing religious pamphlets and books and distributed a good deal of it to us, free of charge. We were suitably impressed by his non-profit behavior.
I could not stand San Francisco in the late Sixties. I liked the big pinecones on Angel Island, but the city was too rough for me. I was as poor as Texas dirt, yet I was constantly harassed by panhandlers, and I got mugged in Chinatown for three dollars I had won shooting pool. And I was often groped by men in restaurants and bars. Prostitution of both sexes was running rampant. The acidhead and potheads were no problem, but people were reacting violently to other mind-benders, like PCP and speed. A regular job was hard for newcomers to get. I finally managed to raise enough money to get back to civilization – the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As the bus went over the bridge, I dared not look back at San Francisco lest I be turned into a pillar of salt. I returned on a business trip a few years later; the city still gave me the creeps. Maybe I would like it now, but I don’t think so.
There are other parts of California that I liked, like San Jose. So what’s wrong with San Jose? Why are people shaking their heads? Never mind. All in all, I think California is a very weird state. Just observe what goes on there: Arnold Schwarzenegger has won the Mr. Governor of California title – can you believe it?
Please mistake me not: I love you, California. You’re the greatest state of all. I love you in the winter, summer, spring and in the fall, but sometimes I think that a gigantic electric fence should be erected around the most populous state in hopes that enough juice might be found on the grid to keep the weirdoes inside. But that would not work, for people would watch the show on television and be freaked out anyway. Normal Americans would not even know what hit them; abnormality would become the norm.
For instance, a recent media study reported that seventy percent of jingo news viewers in California still believe that the three major lies propagated to justify the Second Bush War on Iraq. The administration ‘fessed up once but then returned to spinning the usual story; if you prevaricate long enough you begin to believe your prevarications, so keep a positive mental attitude. The seventy percent of conservative viewers who actually believe jingo cable propaganda coincides with the seventy percent who usually agree with any recognized authoritarian figure whatsoever he says, whether he is right or wrong. Anyway, who cares about substance when Maya is everything? Fools, that’s who. Why in the world does the word ‘hypocrite’ still have a negative connotation? It only meant ‘actor’ to the Greeks. Are we not all actors, and is not the world our stage?
Notwithstanding the right-wing trend, a few censorious diehards still insist that the unwitting moral majority of the United States is being transformed into the immoral majority by California weirdoes, many of whom are descended from Beatniks and Hippies and other Bohemian types! If I were not such a great fan of Goddess Liberty, and if I were not so terribly afraid of the dark, I would suggest that California be blacked out altogether. That being said, maybe I will check out California again. Elsewhere can be boring when Fool’s Gold is at stake.