A column of this size is perfect for the brief essay, and I have done this, in a sense, several times. Never have they been formal and rarely have they been entirely serious; the more serious they tend to be, the more responsive mail tends to use the word "whining." Actually, seriousity does not even have to be sensed, but the single use of the word "sad," for example, even in some ridiculous context, is read as self-pity. "Homeless" may be another example of whining. Heart, drink, drunk, failure, or love might also be included here. I think many of us secretly want to write essays. Well, not necessarily write them, but deliver them. And maybe not exactly essays, but we want to pontificate in one form or another. Just pay attention -- and you may not be able to help it -- the next time you get on the #2 or the #7. We, like Rush Limbaugh, know how things ought to be. They don't.
Actually, all the good essay titles have been taken anyway, the best being "Common Sense," by Tom Paine, with "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift being a good runner-up. The best title for a collection of essays was Wilfrid Sheed's Essays in Disguise, which were actually book reviews; and this gave me an idea that I too could pontificate under another guise -- not the U-T book reviews I did for ten years, but right here.
Many of these columns have simply been bad essays. (You've come to the right place for autocriticism; but remember, it was Sheed again, or Vidal or Rochefoucauld or someone who said, "For completely missing the point, there's nothing like an author's evaluation of his own work.") They might have been more honestly titled something like, "Ordinary F*****g People: I Hate Them." Or, "Are People Getting Stupider? I Think So."
One of the essay subjects I've stalked and never nailed would be titled something like, "San Diegans: No Laughing Matter," and would be about the thing I like least about where I live, and that is America's Finest City's apparent lack of any sense of humor about itself. The problem I run into constantly is that the zeitgeist of this city is correct, and we're simply not very funny. Blond jokes, surf jokes, panda jokes, and "Dude, where's my skateboard?" riffs provide only so many yucks. And I'll say this for my neighbors, they're not that representative. The real meat for the jokes lay somewhere in the direction of what the New York Times was referring to when they called San Diego "Enron by the Sea."
This has to do, I'm thinking, with the city's political and financial sleazoids, wannabe Chicago-style politicians (which is to say, gangsters -- in our case, effete gangsters with MBAs and law degrees and briefcases) who take great pains to dress, walk, talk, and in general pass for members of the 700 Club, even to the point of mouthing the word "family" at least as often as they'll mumble words like "empower," "prioritize," "outsource," "win-win," and adhere to a rubber yardstick of behavior in the name of some tortured phrase such as, "financial achievement dynamism" or maybe "fundamental Christian empowerment through real-estate success magnetism."
To me, that's funny; but I'm guessing it may strike most San Diegans as less than hilarious. Most would not get it and instead might study some of that rhetoric, write it down, and file it away into some reptilian archipelago of synapse connections for future use. The ones who recognize truth in it will be offended -- the more truth, the more offense. They will point east, scowl at me, and say, "Well, then, leave. Get out! We don't want you here anyway. Why are you here?"
A perfectly reasonable question, and I think the answers are fairly reasonable. I have a job here I love, and it is unlikely I could replace it easily elsewhere, not in a timely fashion. The other thing is that I have a son who lost his mind here and wants to stay where he is in a desert of condominiums and cookie-cutter government apartment developments outside of Vista, where smoking is prohibited on the grounds and houseguests are verboten past 13 days under the administration of a quasi-Christian Right group of overseers who were previously living in mobile homes.
I am hardly suggesting this is hell. I'm as quick as the next guy to congratulate myself that I had the sense to get in out of the rain back East and chuck some member of the D.A.R. lightly in an air-swipe under the chin, and wink, saying, "Another day in paradise, heh-heh." And I'm not a complete idiot. I also know enough to survive conversations in this town. For example, while in the presence of decent Americans, if some long-haired, Zionist agitator suggests that we should all take one car and, "You know, do our bit for global warming," I know enough to pause, squint at him, and say, "You know our boys are over there right now so we can take our own damn cars. Not a big supporter of our boys, are you?" And not stay for an answer.