Learning to forgive

There’s something I need to get off my chest.

I’ve been holding it inside most of my life, letting it fester, and I hope that bringing it out into the open will help me move past it.

Let the healing begin.

A clean slate.

A new beginning.

It’s time to move on.

I hate California.

Okay, maybe “hate” is too strong. Let’s say I resent California.

Always have.

And let’s say I don’t actually resent the whole of the Golden State. The Bay Area is aces in my book, what with the great food and the streetcars and Alcatraz and bridge-jumpers and such. And Monterey is swell.

Let’s say I resent Southern California generally, Los Angeles specifically, and Malibu bitterly. I’ve lived with this unhealthy resentment since I was a child, and it has in a small way blighted what should have been many happy hours of television viewing, which is ironic because many imperfectly-happy hours of television viewing are what raised that persistent bile in the first place.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been to SoCal, and I liked it. I found the climate agreeable, the scenery exotic, the ocean magnificent, the attractions numerous and gratifying. Disneyland did not disappoint the boy that was I, and teen me couldn’t get enough of SeaWorld. The eucalyptus groves, the piers, the colorful nut-cases and the ever-present glitter of tinsel were sources of fascination and delight. I even loved the beaches – those famous, broad, sun-soaked bikini-clad beaches – which is kind of ironic, since they are in no small part responsible for my lifetime of secret antipathy. But I can state without reservation that I have never blamed the beaches.

I blame Hollywood.

I suppose it all dates back to the surfing craze and movies like Beach Blanket Bingo, Surf’s Up and Gidget. One needn’t know a grommet from a honker to appreciate Sally Field reclining in the sand wearing a form-fitting one-piece, and the idea of cutting loose at a late-night clambake with a bevy of beach-babies could make even the most hydrophobic young hodad lose his water.

In the 80s, blockbusters like the Karate Kid, Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High didn’t improve the situation, although by that time, at least in my case, the emotional damage was largely done.

I love the Beach Boys. Always have. Heck, who didn’t? They don’t get much play these days, but I still sing along when “I Get Around” or “Help Me Rhonda” somehow slips past the metal-manic program director at 99.5 The Mountain.  But they were kings, once upon a time, and they presided over a large and imperial court of surfing nobility. Toss in music by the Ventures, the Surfaris and Jan and Dean, and, for a while there, the national soundtrack had a decidedly west-coastal cast.

In my formative years, adolescent viewers were constantly awash in Southern California. All the best TV shows were set in California, from the Brady Bunch to Charlie’s Angels to the Beverly Hillbillies to The Monkees to The A-Team. Even programs not set in SoCal were too obviously filmed there, forcing impressionable young minds to either believe the whole world is an unvarying landscape of dry hills and even drier palm trees, or accept that everything on every screen was a reflection of California culture. Battlestar Galactica? Take Dirk Benedict out of his smart tunic and put him in Karachi sandals and he’s Ricky Nelson in Malibu U.

What’s my point? I’m glad you asked.

Yes, I liked the shows. I liked the movies. I liked the music. But the subtext of it all never varied. California was cooler than whatever backward armpit you had the lousy luck to live in. Californians were smoother, wittier, better looking and better dressed.

Kids in California surfed, and when they weren’t surfing they were riding dirt bikes, and when they weren’t riding dirt bikes they were performing martial arts, or hang-gliding, or combating injustice, or going to teen parties that were so much better than anything you’d ever be invited to that you were effectively doomed to a life of social disappointment. The girls in Los Angeles were cuter, the boys muscle-ier, the food tastier, the sun shinier. The schools were fun. Big fun.

Not like my school.

Before you say it, belay it.

I’m not jealous.

Insecure, maybe, but never jealous. Fact is, even as a pup, I have never aspired to the Malibu scene, or the ostentation of Beverly Hills, or to emulate the bizarre, alien Valley culture. Why would I want to live in California? I grew up in Colorado, and it was pretty awesome. Still is.

As a lad, I lived in constant low-grade frustration, quietly desperate lest the country not understand that the Centennial State is, indeed, cool, and that I, by extension, was just as hip and with it and tuned-in as Tatum O’Neal. Fact is, I could find nothing portrayed in the California-centric media that was in any measurable way superior to my own circumstance.

Maybe I didn’t have an ocean nearby, but I had a lake to boat on if the mood struck me, and a creek to tube in if I just felt like getting wet. I also had snow, and mountains, which equal skiing, which is at least as cool as surfing and, quite frankly, looks better on TV.

I perceived no obvious lack of hipness in my friends. I had buddies that made Jeff Spicoli look like Ralph Macchio, and if I didn’t own a dirt bike, I knew plenty of guys who did. And we didn’t ride around some sissy track. We took our chances in the unforgiving forest primeval. My schoolmates of the female persuasion were of uniform quality and pleasing proportion, such that I could easily, and frequently, imagine them holding their own against Annette Funicello in an all-bikini clambake dance contest.

And yet, for all that, Hollywood never took any notice at all. In return for my generous investments of time and interest and money, the quiet-on-the-set crowd could only rarely be bothered to even recognize Colorado in passing, much less acknowledge that my Rocky Mountain home might possess some small feature of value not to be found on Pacific shores. Like we weren’t good enough. It felt like a snub, and it hurt.

And I resented them for it.

And I resented California.

And, in my heart of hearts, I still do.


That felt good.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid. In time I came to understand that everything was filmed in California because that’s where all the cameras were. It just made good economic sense. As I matured I came to realize that Dobie Gillis was no more an accurate representation of American life than Gilligan’s Island, or the A-Team, or any of the other fictionalized, glamorized, dramatized and homogenized nonsense that Hollywood perpetually churns out. I eventually concluded that my real-world peers in California probably looked, lived, laughed and loved pretty much the way I did – excluding Pamela Anderson, of course – and that to measure my existence against the entertainment industry’s illusory yardstick must necessarily kill my spirit by inches.

Knowing helps, but the scars run deep.

I have forgiven the Brat Pack, but I won’t forget the way they made me feel less-than.

Even Ally Sheedy.

And that’s saying something.

Even today I generally avoid shows that are set in Southern California. It’s an almost subconscious aversion, and admittedly unfair. On the other hand, it’s spared me the discomfort of even momentary exposure to steaming twenty-something piles like The OC, Beverly Hills 90210 and the Big Bang Theory.

I guess you could say I’ve grown. I now know that our 31st and most populous state is a fine and proud and admirable place chock full of scenic wonders and cultural delights and scientific marvels and a stout citizenry that likes me just the way I am.

And I resent it.

Always will.

Except now I feel a lot more comfortable with that.

In psychological parlance that’s called a “breakthrough.”

I see our time is up.

Let the healing begin.