Musings From the Coast


The Autumn by My Discontent

Michael Ray

Spring is in the air. I can feel it.  Things are looking up.  But I cannot get with it.  I’m not there, not yet. I’m still stuck in a time warp dating back to the fall of 2009, 18 months ago.

Then, on Sept. 2, the ocean temperature was an unheard of 78 degrees for the third day in a row. I was at Cleo Street Beach with my friend Greg, who lives there. To confirm the water was actually that warm Greg waded out into the water with two pool-type thermometers tied to his trunks, body surfed for a while, then came back to shore with readings from both thermometers. Yup, 78 degrees.

In my entire life, the ocean temperature had never been that warm in Orange County, and I grew up on the beach in Newport. The highest I remember is 74 degrees, and then only for a day or so.  A normal summer high temperature is 72.  78 was unprecedented. It was not just weird, it was wrong.

I did not like it. Strike that. I loved the temperature being that high because I love warm water. But I also hated it because it was not just a pleasant anomaly. It was weird. It was wrong.

I felt the same way about everything. Wrong was everywhere.

Locally, I read in the paper that the real estate company owned by Don Bren’s son went bankrupt. That was wrong, unnatural. The center had not held.

The nation’s political discourse, never seemly, escalated to ugly and vicious.  Anything Obama proposed (and Obama himself) was attacked with true malice.  Why? It was not because his opponents wanted what was “good for the country”. They wanted failure, humiliation. Obama going down in flames, whatever the cost.

And the woman who almost became one-heartbeat-from-the-presidency quit her job as governor of Alaska because…it didn’t pay enough? Ah, so what? Celebrity is what really counts. [Celebrity is what celebrity does.]

California was broke and no one cared. The state was dysfunctional like some twisted family; no one cared. The County of Orange was cutting services for lack of money; ditto our cities and school districts. Still no one cared. (But now, 18 months later, people surely do care. It is hitting them personally).

My buddy who worked in Iraq for a third party contractor reported that the country was so corrupt that those who did not engage in corruption were considered stupid. Is Iraq a division of one of our big banks? The principle is the same.

On the one-year anniversary of the September 2008 financial meltdown, in September 2009 the big banks were back doing it again: awarding obscene bonuses to those risking depositors’ money on speculation. Such irony: after receiving hundreds of billions of bailout money, those same banks were spending many scores of millions lobbying against the reforms that would stop the insanity.

Get yours now, my friend; everyone else is.

Meanwhile, millions of jobs and homes were being lost, unemployment was soaring, formerly middle-class people were stunned, dazed, too shell shocked to formulate plans for their future let alone pay the rent. If you still had a job, the common reaction was to keep your head down. Stay out of the way. Be safe.  Crawl into a bunker.

Those were some of my thoughts while experiencing the extraordinary high water temperature at the beach that day. I wanted to enjoy it, but I couldn’t. So while spring 2011 is almost upon us, I am still stuck back there in the fall of 2009 and my sense of wrong remains my constant companion.

On the other hand, maybe, I think, just maybe, what the hell. Maybe I am just some pathetically principled fool who can’t get with it and go swindle someone just because I can.

And oh, by the way, have a nice day.

P.S.  This column is for my good and dear friend, Justine Amodeo

Michael Ray was raised in Corona del Mar and makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur. He is involved in numerous charities and currently lives in north Laguna.




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