by Chris Quilter
My mother’s mother was a perfect lady. If she were starving, she would politely ask you if you were hungry. (No? Are you sure?) On occasion, however, she could flash the will of steel she usually kept cloaked beneath her garment of gentility. As she grew dangerously wobbly, for example, she fiercely resisted our entreaties to at least get a cane for God’s sake. In the end, we bought her one and bullied her into using it or else. A day later, had we attempted to take my grandmother’s cane away, she would have beaten us to death with it.
I’m old enough now to appreciate that canes are irrefutable signs of decline, along with hearing aids, little blue pills, sensible shoes, wattles, and forgetting whozit’s name. Experience has also taught me that we have something in our nature that drives us to adopt extreme positions in the face of change, and then adapt quickly to change even when it is forced upon us.
Remember the brouhaha when the City Council discussed putting in a four-way stop at Park Avenue and Third Street, then one of our scariest intersections? Something like 32 anguished neighbors testified that night that a four-way would have a catastrophic impact—screeching brakes, rear end collisions, smog!—on their quality of life. So the Council voted to test drive the concept. The signs went up, and in no time it became clear we had made a change for the better. End of story.
I’m glad the neighbors who protested the four-way did not prevail, because that intersection no longer unnerves me. I’m also relieved that their worst fears weren’t realized, and I applaud them for participating vigorously in the democratic process. Don’t I sound sensible? That’s why I’ve applied to become Laguna’s official Voice of Moderation. (I tried out for the Voice of Reason, another vacant position, but flunked the entrance exam by giving a Facebook friend some perfectly sound but unsolicited advice which got me immediately unfriended.)
The Voice of Moderation is admittedly a bit of a booby prize. Moderation is an old-fashioned virtue that gets little respect these days. Passionate advocates see it as a wishy-washy cop-out practiced by mealy-mouthed people who either can’t make up their minds, have no strong convictions, or are afraid to offend anyone. I resent that, but only moderately. I can’t remember the last time someone was praised for being moderate—a clear sign of how unpopular it’s become. Nevertheless, I’m betting that moderation is poised for a comeback, if for no other reason than its compatibility with my favorite virtue, without which “Lagunatics” would not be entering its third decade: irony.
Take those wonderful photos from Gene Felder at the Historical Society showing the homes we are now striving to protect back when they were new. There’s nary a tree in sight, because we hadn’t planted them yet. Today, our hometown is a cornucopia of vegetation, making the typical Laguna charmer in those photos look like Sleeping Beauty’s cottage. So what if that puts us in the ironic position of being selectively nostalgic about our past? And yet what if the slaughter of those ficus trees downtown was not a chainsaw massacre? What if it was a plot hatched by guerrilla preservationists intent on restoring a native habitat desecrated by non-indigenous plants, trees, and sprinkler systems? Can you feel a song coming on?
Then there are the vocal locals pushing for a View Equity Ordinance who also are of the Tea Party or libertarian persuasion. Surely they appreciate the irony in decrying the heavy hand of government except when it comes to crushing view-blocking neighbors into submission. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the patron saint of moderation, pointed out: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Still, it would be refreshingly large-minded if these critics of the Nanny State—or Nanny City—would cop to making exceptions to their rules when it suits their purposes.
Where does this leave the Voice of Moderation on the contentious issue of trees versus views? Fearlessly straddling the fence, of course, which I can afford to do because I don’t have a view unless I stand in the middle of Myrtle Street with binoculars. I will say this: the proposed city budget has a View Equity Ordinance placeholder of $300,000 a year. As a self-appointed spokesperson for taxpayers who never had and will never have a view, let me observe that $300,000 is a lot of money—some of it mine—to spend just because selfish homeowners don’t give a damn if their trees block their neighbors’ views and should be ashamed of themselves.
I hope that doesn’t sound immoderate.
After submitting this column, Laguna local Chris Quilter learned that his application to be the Voice of Moderation had been rejected.