By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I laugh at all this because I graduated from Berkeley during the Age of Boycotts (the early 1970s), when I learned how to needle people about owning Krugerrands, drinking Gallo wine or wearing Farrah jeans. But as the 1970s boogied along, the number of boycotts multiplied exponentially until people simply ignored them. (Today, a list for the venerable Nestle embargo alone proscribes no fewer than 200 products and businesses, from Arrowhead Water to Friskies Cat Chow.) So a funny thing happened on the way to the Finland Station -- the Age of Boycotts morphed into the materialistic and narcissistic Me Decade, followed by a kind of ongoing Me Century.
Apparently there was one eternal law of history Marx had forgotten to tell us about: Affluence eventually afflicts all but the most self-destructive radicals, something every generation discovers and which I only dimly perceived some 30 years ago as I sat in on a meeting of the Young Workers Liberation League, the bell-bottomed successor of the Young Communist League. At one point it came up that the CP boss for Northern California, Mickie Lima, would let the group use his Mendocino ranch for a weekend getaway. “He‘s got a ranch?” someone sniffed. “Yeah, really! That’s kinda funny,” another remarked tartly.
Lima had been born in the small town of Usal, and got his baptism in radical politics during a 1935 strike of barrel makers in Arcata, in which three strikers were killed. He‘d had a pretty tough life up there on the North Coast, and probably didn’t see anything wrong with owning a little piece of real estate during the vexingly prolonged “twilight of capitalism”; but to a group of college radicals still in their teens, the idea of a property-owning Communist was on par with that old gag about anarchists who wear watches.
“I hated having to visit your family‘s place. You were so poor, and I’d think, ‘How can people live like this?’ My cousin -- the one who had gone with me to the Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium -- blurted this out some years back, as we reminisced about our childhoods one evening.
Looking back, I suppose I can see why he might‘ve considered my brother and me ”poor cousins.“ We were the ones who ate spaghetti on Thanksgiving, whose mother washed our laundry in the bathtub and whose family occasionally needed a handout from the Red Cross. Still, we lived like pharaohs compared to some of the kids I knew, with their ketchup sandwiches and homes built into the lofts of abandoned garages. At the time of my cousin’s confession, however, I was stunned. What could have made him think this way? Of course, I realized -- it was the Chevy. And our rented home‘s dirt yard and perhaps the derelict graveyard that lay just beyond it. Or possibly, too, it had something to do with the neighborhood drunks who walked through our driveway on their way to sleep things off in that cemetery. But mostly, I figured, it was the ’55 Bel Air, for it had always stuck out when parked next to my aunts‘ and uncles’ new Impalas. Forget the blare of horns and the glint of summery light -- my cousin had probably cringed in embarrassment when we drove down Fifth Avenue in our old gray car. Not that anyone said anything then, of course, because 35 years ago making those close to you feel bad had not yet come into vogue.
Today, I tell myself that my reasons for driving an SUV are practical ones. With it, I can camp off-road and, on the admittedly rare occasions I need to, I can haul two-by-fours and sheet rock fairly easily. But I suspect part of me also likes owning an automobile that doesn‘t get stuck in the snow or stick out next to new Impalas. I figure if Mickie Lima could own a ranch, why can’t I drive a big, shiny car? At least, like Lima, my SUV is red.#
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