The City of No
Once again I was at The Lumberyard when the Hot Blonde, Petra, stormed in. She was wearing a skin-tight red mini-dress, four-inch stilettos and a scowl. She bee-lined to me and sat on her normal stool, but something was really wrong.
Petra does not exist.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “You don’t exist. I created you to draw the reader’s attention.”
She flicked her hair, gave me a withering expression of pure contempt, then responded, “Maybe you don’t exist. Maybe I created you. Ever consider that?”
The bartender, Jean, by now familiar with Petra’s preference, served up the usual gin martini, but instead of chatting us up, moved away. She saw a train wreck in the making and didn’t want any part of it.
“Go away,” I said to Petra, “you’re just a figment of my imagination. I invented you.”
“No you didn’t. You’re a figment of my imagination. Laguna is a figment. Everything you think you see is part of my universe, not yours.”
This was getting weird. I decided to play along.
“Ok, let’s assume you’re real,” I said, “The only reason you show up is to complain about something. What is it this time?”
Her answer was quick. “You know those frigging blinking city signs when you drive into Laguna? They are temporary traffic signs on wheels you usually see on streets announcing construction delays. They flash on and off and you can’t help but notice. Get it?”
“Yeah, I know. So what?”
Her reply was quick, “They really piss me off. They’re not being used for traffic reasons. Instead, they’re like your hectoring father-in-law, screeching what you can’t do.”
“Ah, come on. It’s just the city communicating.”
Petra’s blue eyes squinted like Clint Eastwood before he pulls the trigger. She threw back her drink and ordered another, her nails drilling against the bar
“Hey,” I said, “slow down. You don’t need to get drunk.”
“I don’t exist so how can I get drunk? All those Russian bots didn’t exist, but they were real anyway, right? They can’t get drunk, so neither can I.”
I replied, “That’s a different conversation. This isn’t about the Russians corrupting our social fabric.”
“Then what’s it about? Same thing. Those flashing signs? Here is what they state, literally: ‘See Something? Say Something.’ Then it blinks the number for the Police Department. They say, hey, do your good civic duty and rat out a neighbor. That is what the damn signs say.”
I thought a bit. There has been a spike in random crime, mostly opportunistic break-ins. Maybe the signs were designed to help the police spot crimes in the making.
Petra sat staring at me. Then she leaned into me, face close. She knew what I was thinking. She said, “Then why do the signs flash a seven digit ‘police’ number? Why not just 911?”
“And the other stuff they flash,” She continued. “They flash: No, you can’t smoke in public. No, you can’t make loud noises. No, you can’t fly drones. No, no, no.”
I thought some more. The police really have been tasked with citing outdoor smokers and motorcycles making popping noises. No other city does that.
Then she stated, “Why don’t the signs just flick a giant middle finger aimed at everyone who enters the place: ‘Welcome to Laguna Beach, The City of No. Go away.’
“Oh come on. We all love Laguna. It’s simply got a bit heavy-handed around here, that’s all.”
Petra stood up, paced around the bar, long blonde hair flying in anger. “Are you out of your mind? This isn’t just over-reach. This city has become one giant homeowners association run by fools who are killing it. Look at downtown vacancies. There are so many you can’t keep track. Compare it with CdM with almost no vacancies. In contrast, why is Laguna so bad? Easy: it is so over-regulated business owners say the hell with it. It ain’t worth the trouble.”
I went silent for a while. Petra was correct about the comparative commercial vacancy rates.
Then suddenly, “Michael! Michael!” It was Jean the bartender. She was gently shaking me. “Are you ok? You looked…strange.” I glanced around. No Petra.
“Yeah, sure.” I smiled. “I spaced out there for a bit. You know how I am.”
But as I was leaving, Petra reappeared, jerked me toward her, and had her final say. “I exist. I do. And I have some advice. You people may think one thing is true, that this city is such a paradise nothing can destroy it. You are wrong. You slowly are being herded like cattle. Your rights have been and are being taken away. Enough is enough”
Then she stomped into the evening. The muscles on her back twitched.
The author lives in Laguna Beach and works in real estate development and investment.