Killing Trees in San Clemente

by Jeff Costello, October 12, 2010

Historical San Francisco/LA cultural antagonism (“Don’t call it Frisco”) is a quaint relic of a bygone era, or is it? Recently, when I came south for work on a movie project, an old friend up north chastised me: “Don’t go Hollywood.” My reply was, “If by ‘go Holly­wood’ you mean turn into some kind of phony or hustler, at my age it’s a bit late for that.”

Well, thanks to Dutch tax laws (never mind the details), I’m off that job, but still in the southland, 55 miles past Los Angeles in San Juan Capistrano. And for any loyal Friscophiles who spurn LA, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you really want to see what’s wrong with southern California, come to Orange County.

This is the “Republican stronghold” where HP billion­aire Carly Fiorina kicked off her senate campaign — an entire county full of eager right-wing shills. San Clemente, home of the “Western White House,” still, after all this time, can’t get enough of Nixon. From this week’s SC Times: Casa Romantica presents an exhibit featuring the impacts President Nixon had on SC with memorabilia, stories, displays and much more. Runs through Nov. 2.

Also, from the SC Times’ Sheriff’s Blotter: Avenida Vista Hermosa - Deputies were contacted because of loud joy making and merriment coming a church nearby… Calle Amistad — Three juveniles in a red car in a parking garage. The caller thought they might be selling drugs… Via La Mesa — A man called the police because he is concerned that his wife is not taking her medicine for being bi-polar. She is wearing only under­wear and just attacked the kids. Yep, this is the Nixon crowd, all right.

It’s also the pro-life gang — you know, the death pen­alty advocates. But all in all, Orange County loves most to torture and kill plants. Steven Wright said he ate only vegetables, “not because I love animals, but because I hate plants.” Today I stopped at a coffee shop by the beach in San Clemente. A man in a hard hat approached my car and asked how long I would park there. “Long enough to get a cup of coffee.” He said, “In ten minutes we’re going to take down this tree.” I moved the car and watched. The tree was a palm of some kind. One man cut the trunk while another pushed it with a backhoe, then manipulated the tree through a chipper, that blew the chips into the waiting truck. In a few minutes the stump would be pulled and chipped, the hole filled and sodded over, and no sign would remain that a tree had been there.

The men on the tree crew were all Mexican, and in this county full of white anti-immigrant regressives, the Mexicans and Central Americans, are the actual majority of the population, and do all the work. With apologies to the reasonable white Anglos that surely exist around the county (there’s a small buzz in the complex that this unit houses “liberals”), older white people appear to mostly sell real estate, cars and insurance, and go to the malls. And so many malls to choose from, for so many condo dwellers. And at these condos, crews of Mexicans work diligently to keep the lawns and shrubbery clipped back just short of death. Because the white Anglos in charge want it that way. Everything neat and tidy, apple-pie order. Not a hair out of place. As one woman at the com­plex where I’m staying put it, “Trees don’t need leaves.”

The ubiquitous malls, one after the other, are never-ending and partially populated by cadaverous barbies, women in their 60s and 70s dressed like teenagers with blond dye jobs, boob jobs, and plastic surgery that leaves them with a ghastly science-fiction appearance. This sort of vanity puzzled me until I discovered the Ego Salon, an actual business in a mall between Dana Point and Laguna Beach. What goes on in there I can’t say for sure, but an after-hours peek in the window reveals two walls lined entirely with mirrors, and each with a row of chairs where clients could sit and look at themselves.

What happened? How did it get like this? Is Orange County some kind of overspill, a dark shadow of some­body’s misbegotten notion of Hollywood?

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