Wednesday, October 08, 2008

California Dreamin'

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

The Los Angeles Times informs us this day of the impending denouement of a case that seems to sum up and symbolize what was once referred to as the "California Dream" but in the end, appears to be a model for the intellectual, spiritual and moral bankruptcy of that idea. 

In the end,the much ballyhooed and worshipped Dream turned out to be very similar to some of the experiences one has at Disneyland, the only difference being that even tourists from Weeping Water, Nebraska know that Disneyland and everything that happens there is but a facade and pleasant diversion.

The Dream also has parallels to the Langston Hughes ditty about Raisins in the Sun. It looks like Hughes may have been speaking of far more than race, whether he knew it or not.

The story goes like this.

Tom and Jackie Hawks were a middle aged couple who'd attained the perfect California Dream-Tom (a bodybuilder) comfortably retired from his state job as a probation officer and Jackie, his trim blonde helpmate who'd helped raise his two children by a previous marriage. 

Vivacious, Hawaiian shirted Tom and Jackie, with their unnaturally whitened teeth, suntanned to perfection, had purchased a 55 foot trawler named Well Deserved, and they spent two happy years cruising the Sea of Cortez and up and down the coast. 

Deciding that they'd like to be closer to a new grandchild, they offered the Well Deserved for sale in Newport Beach-that apotheosis of the California Dream-where people who make less than $250,000 a year are escorted off the set at sundown, just like when Disneyland closes.

There, Tom and Jackie met the dark side of the California Dream in the form of a small time grifter, failed child actor, and beach boy calling himself Skylar Deleon.Expressing interest in the purchase of the Well Deserved, and using his young wife and child as window dressing, Deleon, who was at the time living in a converted garage in downscale Long Beach, conned his way aboard the Well Deserved for a test ride.

Once out in the Catalina Channel, Deleon and his associates took Tom and Jackie hostage with stun guns, extorted powers of attorney and title transfers for the Well Deserved, cuffed them to an anchor and sent them down to Davy Jones' locker.

As so often happens, the object of Deleon's desire became his undoing. Pesky questions were the undoing of Deleon and his henchmen, and Deleon, it seems, was also implicated in the murder for money of John Jarvi, a man he'd met when both were doing county time. And that's not the half of it. Deleon had also solicited the murder of his father (to whom he'd made damaging admissions), and while in custody on the current charges, the gender challenged Deleon attempted sex reassignment surgery which failed miserably.

Deleon's wife has since been convicted of two counts of murder with special circumstances and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and Deleon's trial starts this week. It's quite likely that Deleon will be convicted and probably sentenced to death, although the likelihood of anyone being executed in California is just about nonexistent.

What's the connection with the California Dream? 

It's something a lot of people in that area (and all across the sun belt, which might be more aptly yclept the Foreclosure and Bankruptcy belt) are experiencing at present, wanting a life they couldn't afford and being willing to set aside any reservations about the wisdom or sustainability of the project on the assumption that the rising tide that floats all boats would continue rising forever and ever, world without end, Amen, and that they could all be like Tom and Jackie.

It's also got parallels on some levels to the case of Anthony Dzida, a Long Beach paramedic, bodybuilder and one time slumlord who rented a room in his house to a mild mannered professor at my alma mater, California State University-Long Beach. Dzida was another civil servant who figured he could get rich and retire by 40 by a combination of property speculation and tenant oppression. If it's the same Anthony Dzida, he may have gotten his seed money from the death of his first wife in an airplane crash in Mexico City.

In any event, Dzida rented the room via an ad in The Grunion and the professor, having moved in, had second thoughts and started moving out. Confronted by an enraged Dzida who was upset at having to readvertise the room, the barely mobile and definitely out of shape professor retrieved a pistol and shot Dzida, who expired.

The connection, of course is what is sometimes called magical thinking, a mental process that starts with the suspension of disbelief and the discarding of common sense, and leads to phenomena like voodoo and cargo cults-and now, as we see, the California Dream. 

Photo montage courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald. G'day, mate.


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