I woke up early this morning because it was too hot to sleep, again. I drove the car the three blocks to buy the Post because it was already too thick outside to consider walking. For the third time I'm spending August here on what my wife calls the wrong coast. So when I read Benjamin J. Stein's paean to Washington Augusts (op-ed, Aug 4), it just made me miss my California home more than ever. How unfortunate that he's miserable in paradise.
Americans seem to think that because of the common nationality and language we should feel equally at home anywhere in the country. But despite the homogenization of our society with stuff like chain restaurants and network TV, serious culture shock usually greets us when we move.
It's not just being uprooted from friends and family. It's easy to understand that Stein misses ice cream from Martin's Dairy in Wheaton, or pizza from the Pizza Oven in Montgomery Hills. He associates those places with pleasant memories. But missing familiar pizza and ice cream doesn't explain his unmitigated paranoia and disgust about California.
Culture shock explains that.
Consider that it's about the same distance from London to Istanbul as it is from Washington to Malibu. Consider the cultural changes from London to Istanbul. Changes just as great exist between here and my California home.
Causing much of the difference is the lack of breathing room on the East Coast. This wrong coast is so settled. You guys here long ago accepted that all the land is allocated for some use or another.
Stein feels comfortable with the idea of picnicking in Rock Creek Park, because that's what Washington designated for picnicking. But he looks up from his Malibu place, sees the undeveloped wilderness of the Santa Monica Mountains, and he can't deal with it. No little benches set aside for lunching, no little signs explaining rules and regulations, no close-by telephones to call the police in case something goes some way other than planned. Stein sees those wide open spaces as a threat because he's an easterner.
He worries that his neighbor's dog might eat his own puppies. We westerners would figure out an accommodation with the guy next door so the dogs wouldn't get in a fight. What bothers us is the unnatural confinement forced by the leash laws at Battery Kemble Park.
Lots of what superficially offends Stein--the spiked hair, the lunches with agents and producers, the Rolls Royce ladies--he could avoid. Plenty of that crowd came from New York anyway. But Stein would still hate California, still miss Washington.
He remembers Washington as safe, sane, and managable not because it is any safer, saner, or more managable than California, but because he grew up with it and learned how to deal with it.
But the confinement of growing up an easterner obviously had adverse effects on Stein's personality. It's really too bad, living out there in the prime of his life, apparently healthy, with plenty of money, professional success and perfect weather, that Stein fails to realize we can have everything, all at once, now and forever.
California helped teach me that. If it means I'm crazy, that's okay. Maybe it'll help me get through another August in Washington.