“Southerly gales, squalls, lee rail under water, wet bunks, hard tack, bully beef, wish you were here, instead of me.” This was writer and adventurer Richard Halliburton’s last message as his Chinese junk, The Sea Dragon, battled a typhoon somewhere near Midway Island in March of 1939. He had intended to sail into San Francisco Bay on this exotic craft just in time for the Golden Gate International Expedition at Treasure Island.
But it was not to be. Richard, his junk and the entire crew were lost at sea. This left the devoted readers of his adventure stories devastated. Here in South Laguna his just-completed concrete masterpiece, Hangover House, perched above Aliso Canyon and the coastline was left without its muse.
I’ve read that last message many times, imagining the frightening situation this brave adventurer, who had survived swimming the Panama Canal and duplicated Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps via elephant, was experiencing as the waves crashed over his fragile boat. Was he wondering to himself, “Is this it? Will this be my final adventure?” And so he made a joke about bully beef, a term for corned beef used in World War I.
Now it could be used by us to complain about bullying.
Bullying is an affliction that is finally getting its due attention. Here locally, according to Sande St. John and Sandy Thornton who testified at a recent council meeting, there are organizations, Western Youth Services (949 855-1550) and Learntostopbullying.org devoted to educating and counseling youth—the bully, the bullied and the bystander. One message is, “If you see someone being bullied, don’t be just a bystander! Be an up-stander and tell an adult.”
Councilmember Steve Dicterow wondered about the adult influence. He pointed out that there is bullying among adults. “We see it right here in the council chamber and there’s a lack of civility in our country as a whole,” he continued.
Councilmember Toni Iseman elaborated, “We sit up here and we have bullies, people who come up and say things that aren’t true. People who write letters to the editor that aren’t true…I wonder how often we should just sit here (silently) instead of saying, ‘That’s not true. That’s not the intention’.”
“It’s kind of sad that we have the sweetest little town in the whole world, with the most amazing people, and yet there’s this thread going through the town…”
Now it’s not just words. Some people in town are threatening to affect the upcoming council election with a $100,000 war chest available for political expenditures. Another form of bullying that takes its inspiration from the unsavory tactics of national politics.
Will we be the bullied or the bystander? Will we stand for what’s true? Will we say something? Will our town be lost to those who can pay the big bucks?
We can stand by and hope for the best. After all, most of the time, as in Halliburton’s case, that risk-taking exploit will turn out to be a stimulating adventure. Most of the time those hostile words will wash over us as we move on to more positive thoughts. Most of the time our democratic process works things out despite the influence of big money. Until the worst happens. Then we are lost at sea, there’s terrible violence or we lose the soul of our town.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph served on the City Council.