Left in Laguna: A Privilege
“I know your type, honey! The woods are full of ‘em like you. Whether you are black, white, skinny or fat, rich or poor. One more word from you missy and you’ll be out in the hall faster than I can say Jack Robinson.” Her index finger shaking, Mrs. Ligget pointed at me to make an example of me — a pariah, or “one who speaks into the silence”.
I had no idea who this mythical Jack Robinson might be, or who was rich or poor. What was clear is that this lady humiliated me in front of my peers on this first day of junior high study hall. My virgin experience of social categorization came at me hard, just like that.
Relieved that I was not banished, I scanned the classroom. For the first time I noticed our differences; variations that would later become the stuff of my doctoral dissertation. Our minds cannot help but categorize the chaotic stimuli that bombard us. My research hypothesized that social categorization and labeling lead to stereotyping and harmful discrimination.
This holiday I became a Mrs. Leggit in Laguna. I labeled and categorized my neighbors. After enjoying a party in Emerald Bay the weekend before Christmas and Chanukah, I took a walk. I noticed that the neighborhood appeared empty, void of human life. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sauntering past a Neiman Marcus delivery truck, I noticed two guys unloading a massive amount of merchandise. They stopped me to ask, “Hey, where are all the people?” I said, “Away on holiday, I guess, maybe shopping”. Juan introduced himself, then playfully turned to his buddy and quipped, “Man, it’s like they’re all asleep.” His compadré, Jesus, laughed, “Yeah, we’re from Santa Ana and our barrio is alive, families everywhere celebrating, fiestas, tamales, kids with parents walking through the neighborhoods to mass.” Juan finished with, “No, man, Christmas around here is more like Day of the Dead.”
I wanted to tell them about Hospitality Night, but stopped. I knew they were on to something. If one stays in Laguna over the break, a unique holiday phenomenon unfolds between Christmas and New Year’s. It appears that many residents follow Santa’s sleigh right on up into the sky toward ports afar like Deer Valley, Mammoth, or Aspen; Banff, Bali, or Burma; Sayulita or San Miguel de Allende; Paris or Chamonix.
As residents travel to their second or third homes in exotic vacation spots, those who stay in town report feeling “left behind”. In my psychotherapy office it becomes another version of the abandonment narrative experienced by singles who have the money to travel but do not want to go alone, retired couples living on a fixed income, young couples counting their pennies, divorcing couples in the midst of great loss, families struggling with a terminal illness, service professionals staying to serve, business owners, or others who stay to work just to make ends meet.
There is a significant exodus. And if I am seeing through Mrs. Legitt’s eyes, this flight from town appears to separate the “haves” from the “have-nots”, the “flatlanders” from those who dwell in the “heights”; the “affluent” from the “service professionals”. Dare I say the “privileged” from the “less privileged”? But that word is dangerous, isn’t it? It creates a categorization that divides. “Privilege” denotes ease, luxury, or playing in beautiful places.
The truest privilege is to stay at home in Laguna during the holiday. It is to rest and play along a coastline so beautiful it rivals the Amalfi. It is to wake up to empty streets as if every day of the week is easy like Sunday morning. To take this “staycation” is to luxuriate in the warm December sun at your pristine beach without a crowd competing for that sacred spot. It means prime seating at your favorite restaurant or dancing to the beat of our local musicians until you drop.
To really stay, to be still, to truly see how blessed we are is to be awed by sublime sunsets and dark cool nights that illuminate the Milky Way galaxy over the sea. It is to become a diplomat spreading peace and good will to the “privileged” national and international visitors each time you say “yes” when asked to take their family photo at Heisler or the Montage. My take is that regardless of our differences, whether we stay or whether we go, as Laguna residents we are more than privileged as we enter this New Year.
Michele McCormick is a psychologist, writer, and Laguna resident. She facilitates open mic readings at Laguna Beach Books and can be reached at [email protected]