Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tales from Abroad, Pasadena Edition - Part 5: Hollywood and the "S-word"

Sunday - second day of my only free weekend in Southern California. I decided to go into town to meet a distant relative. For some strange reason - maybe it's some deep-rooted Jewish desire to recreate the diaspora - my family seems to have relatives everywhere I end up. I can't even go to Switzerland without meeting some distant cousin, though if you're looking for a talkative, sort-of-crazy old Jewish lady, going to west LA is probably your best bet this side of the continent.

My relative is warm, friendly, and incomprehensibly talkative, but I guess that's what happens when you live alone with three birds, including the grumpiest parrot I've ever seen who, incidentally, has a curious penchant for attacking toes. We hopped in her car (leaving the grump of a bird at home), picked up her friend and headed to Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and soak up the whole crazy West-side tourist thing. We ate at the Saddle Ranch Chop House, which served up a great steak sandwich and dirty mashed potatoes, and then, because the waitress took a liking to us, a massive banana sundae. Flavour won out over common sense and I nearly killed myself with the unordered (and unjustifiable) dessert. No celebrity sightings at the Saddle Ranch, though I did walk by Jordan Prentice (from In Bruges) on my way to Long Beach Saturday.

I suppose Hollywood is one of those places that if you work there, there's something to do, but aside from a few sights, there's not a huge amount of stuff to do there. That said, it's a great place to spend a few hours. You can stare at the guys all dressed up as whatever so you can get a shot with them and slip them a buck or two (my memories of every major European city I've been to came flooding back...), and there's the usual souvenier shops where you can buy mini-Oscars (my fav was "Best Tourist"), and some of the buildings are gorgeously art deco, but once you've seen the walk of fame, the hand and foot prints, the new gorgeously-designed open-air mall (with a view of the Hollywood sign), the Kodak Theatre and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, I guess that's it. But hey, I guess that's something right there, so what am I complaining for - what do you want from a town that makes movies? Non-stop entertainment? Well, I guess if you shell out some dought you might get something for it. Still, it's something to see and I approved.

On the drive back to Pasadena (my relative's friend was nice enough to give me a life and spare me the two-hour bus/train ride with the inevitable woman talking about how half the cities in North America are going to hell with gangs and such ("It's the Columbians and El Salvadorians. People don't want to say what it is because it's not politically correct, but that's who it is, I tell you. They'll shoot up a place if you look at them wrong. Swear to God.") For some strange reason we got to talking about health care - who knows why - maybe something Obama said.

The ladies, dyed-in-wool Democrats who, if they weren't past menopause, would easily name their firstborn son "Barack" seemed skeptical about universal health care. Coming from Canada (and having lived in other industrialized countries that have health care a hell of a lot better than we do back home) I couldn't understand their hesitance, especially given their left-leaning sympathies.

"I don't understand it. If you don't work, you still get health care! And there's plenty of people who are lazy and don't want to work. Why should I pay for them? It's communism! I mean, it's socialism!"

My answer was pretty simple: yes, it's socialism, and no, that's not so bad. I tried countering their meritocratic example by suggesting one of my own: that a first-generation immigrant who works just as hard as a native-born American probably won't earn as much, but why should that stop them fro getting decent health care? I think it's insane that I can get medical treatments while the guy down the street who's trying to hold down a convenience store can't.

Then I undersood it, clear as day. American's are just against the government interfering in their lives and that's that. The whole socialism/communism fear made perfect sense when the Red Menace was a real emeny, or even at the turn of the century when industrial interests branded unions in bed with the reds (which some of them understandably were) so they could break up organized labour. There are such clear, obvious historical reasons for these fears, and socialism has been branded as the Path to Hell and an emeny both from outside and from within. The word itself is so tabboo, something between "communist" and "liberal", that whoever in the past wanted Americans so afraid of Big Government that a mere mention of the word was enough to shoot down bills directly opposed to the interests of Powers That Be.

That said, I can't imagine why people don't just put the word to rest and see that "socialism" is a political Boogeyman, just like all the other terms used to quash sensible debate about real issues - whether it is advantageous and feasable to provide universal health care to a nation of over 300,000,000 people is a big question, and, like all big questions, it's not one that's best solved by being afriad of words that your parents taught you to fear. Grow up, people. Seriously.

I mulled over this tonight as I strolled down Colorado Blvd, admring the privately owned liquor stores, joyous that I'm forced to go to a government-sanctioned LCBO (or beer store) back home to get my booze. Maybe there is something to be feared about "socialism" after all, I wonder, before remembering that Canada is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to pinko countries and where you can buy your liquor. But that's another rant for another day.

1 comment:

  1. How does the "budget-apocalypse," (my favorite kind of apocalypse) look from the inside?