By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Orange County is a different matter. I've never set foot in Orange County. This might sound odd, but, at first, I thought this was a plus. Walter Abish—for my money, the finest one-eyed contemporary American novelist —made a point of not visiting Germany while writing How German Is It. A great novel. Even the German critics swooned, unable to believe he had never visited Deutschland. I'm not Abish, but I thought I could do something similar with Orange County. It was a challenge and might save me from getting bogged down in too much minutiae. It has proved harder than I anticipated.
As you know, there is not a vast body of work on Orange County; a problem, but not insurmountable. Maps were consulted and Nixon biographies browsed. I made the rounds of suburbanization studies and rummaged through histories of California. The timing of grunion runs was noted and the problems of the California Least Tern considered. I read what OC fiction there is, even making a forced march through the work of T. Jefferson Parker, and I learned that life is too short to ever read that many detective novels back to back again. (Have you noticed that T. Jeff really, really does not like women?) Newspapers were helpful, sometimes. Above all, I became OC Weekly's closest reader.
I suppose I should say, OC Weekly Worldwide, a cute, if rather grandiose, addition. Each week, I read the new issue, and I make frequent use of the archives. The archives have been very useful, both for looking up particular topics ("water pollution," "John Birch Society") and for reading through past columns. I think I've read almost all available entries for A Clockwork Orange and Commie Girl. I suspect that only Commie Mom has read more of your work. I further suspect that your local readers have no idea how lucky they are to have you on a beat that is usually covered by a writer whose only talent is cadging free drinks.
After six months of trying to build a fictional Orange County, I welcomed a flimsy excuse to go to LA. I resolved to maintain an Abish-like purity and not cross the county line. Soon, my resolve began to weaken, but only a little. I felt I should go and see the Nixon memorial brick pile in front of the La Habra Community Center. And it would probably be helpful to walk through a mall, maybe the Irvine Spectrum, which you named "the malliest of all God's malls." But that's all. I would maintain an Abish-like semipurity. Then I read about this contest. Purity is overrated anyway.
This brings us back to the beginning. I hope I've convinced you that I am looking forward to listening to you, and even more important, I hope you didn't stop reading this 1,000 words ago. I also hope you didn't get the impression that I'm only looking for a dragoman to show me the local points of interest. If that were the case, I could try Matt Coker, who, according to a recent restaurant review, can be had for the price of two fish tacos and a side of beans at Wahoo's.
As for my charms, I'm afraid I can't describe them quite as well. Whether—as some claim—it is the result of my Catholic boyhood, I seem constitutionally incapable of describing myself in any terms more glowing than "not un-." Not unattractive. Not unintelligent. You get the idea. Instead of continuing the list of qualified negatives, let me point out some of the practical advantages of choosing as your date someone from far-off St. Tammany Parish. I will try to appeal to you (1) as a writer, (2) as a person who falls down unexpectedly, and (3) as a veteran of bad dates.
(1) I assume the date will furnish material for a column or a feature. That is one of the reasons this entry is so late in arriving. I normally don't like to draw attention to myself (see mention of Catholic boyhood above), but this time, I think it will be worth it. Consider how selecting a stranger to OC makes your job much easier. Show the rube the sights, note the reactions, and ask a few questions for some quick-and-easy comparing and contrasting. The article almost writes itself. Choosing me is like getting a week off with pay.
(2) Although I don't have any hard numbers to prove it, I feel safe in asserting that the Deep South is still the Fainting-Spell Capital of the Nation. Over the years, I have caught three women who were "overcome by the vapors" (a 19th-century term for drinking too much on a hot day). These opportunities present themselves if you regularly attend Mardi Gras and Jazzfest. Imagine the feeling of confidence that comes from knowing you are with someone who stands a better-than-average chance of catching you before you hit the floor.
(3) Allowing that you probably exaggerate for effect the degree to which your love life resembles a moonscape, it still seems reasonable to assume you've had your share of bad dates. If you choose a local and the date sours, there could be unpleasant aftereffects. Some possibilities: