Letter From California
12/23/06 0504.22 pst
San Jose, California
Season’s greetings and good wishes from this tiny liberal domicile in the southern San Francisco estuary. Christmas in California is, of course, many things, but I have always been touched at the sincere human effort to clock out of the capitalist machine for at least a week, spruce up the place and touch base. Simple human memory of souls admired and missed, hope for wellbeing, a real validity of the human condition: how you doon? I’m all right, brother, stay well.
Postcards arrive in the mail with pictures of happy miraculous children, taller uncanny mirrors very year, emails pour in with happy greetings, the phone rings and rings with family calls of presents, menus and events. So much of American life has been labeled “unsustainable:” the Iraq war, deficit, education neglect, emission pollution, health care…Californians must change a great deal in the next fifty years, but at least they won’t have to think about Christmas very much, we do it pretty well here.
Christmas seems as it ever was in the land of milk and honey, endless multitudes of noisy gaseous machines rushing through freeways and choking the streets, about half the houses on the streets lit up, the malls full of shoppers and wreaths adorned on pickups. The ultra modern mega-store Safeway I shop in seemed looted last night at six, shelves completely bare of many items in a frenzy of gastric consumption.
A minor, regrettable development to California Christmas are the relatively new inflatable Christmas figures for home lawns, inner lit and whirring furtively with wasted energy as one walks by on the street. At night the puffy, swaying figures have a certain crass American charm, but when the timers go off and daylight arrives the poor figures are limp corpses, an awful, dead deflation of seasonal decoration, a limp jarring testament to the mortality of us all that hopefully will fade from the California Christmas scene in a few years. Oy.
As long as I have lived in this place Californians have always done this at Christmas, but how much more of it will change in the tiny time I have left to watch it? Forty years from now will cars still foul the air, dominate our landscape and sounds while smashing us to death? Probably, I’m afraid, although great hope is merited in knowing that emission and injury could be a tenth of what they are now.
One often wonders if anyone will be able to live here at all; in just the ten years I have owned a house its worth has grown 300%. Somehow this insanity will have to settle itself out, not even California can keep this up, but predictions of what cannot be are never wise in the Terminator Republic, the kingdom of Arnold, the land of beach and bicep. Anything and anybody can make it here, in a manner of speaking, and it gives the place a sputtering, often tragic sputtering result of regression.
Regression in horribly neglected schools, a workweek burden that grows heavier and harder every year, appalling incarceration rates for petty drug offenses, lack of daycare and healthcare. Great wealth--wealth the world has never seen or comprehended before--surrounds us all, but Californians still have a very hard time sharing it. That, probably, will be the hardest change of all for us here, the same old struggle against gross economic inequality that has always been with us.
But for this week, at least, the heavy tools of capitalism are put down and good cheer, great food and festive family frolics are the rule, thank you baby Jesus. We’ve got our problems with great obstacles and change in front of us, but Californians always do this part of the year well.
Merry Christmas! Please have a wonderful holiday season, full of light, good cheer and cherished family. May the peace of the holiday stay with us, all of us.