Todd Walton: Le Village


From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Mendocino

“I always felt that the great high privilege, relief, and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing.” Katherine Mansfield

A soggy afternoon, the last Friday in October of 2010, Halloween two days away. I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley on Halloween five years ago and I have yet to tire of going to the beach. I mention the beach because almost everyone I met during my first two years here assured me that I would soon tire of going to the beach. These same people also told me that after I lived here for a year or two, I would grow stir crazy and hunger for the cultural excitement of the outer world. They were adamant I would want to travel to Mexico or Hawaii or Europe or Manhattan, or at least to San Francisco, but after five years here I have yet to experience the slightest urge to go anywhere but the village, the forest, and the beach.

Today was the last farmers’ market of the year in Mendocino. I love our little mercado. I hope one day to be one of the people selling things in our market. I will vend vegetables and fruit and books and CDs and greeting cards and Giants T-shirts and Giants baseball hats and Cliff Glover and Marion Miller ceramics, and each week zany and eccentric friends will make guest appearances at my booth. I will also have a weekly poetry contest (one entry per person), and a guess-how-many-beans-are-in-the-jar contest, with valuable prizes.

Today I would have bought a farmers’ market pie from the wonderful Garden Bakery people, but I am gluten free now and the Garden Bakery people only sell pies full of gluten. I’m predicting big things for gluten-free foodstuffs in the near future. Whomsoever comes up with decent gluten-free sour dough French bread and a credible gluten-free pizza crust will make out like big dogs.

Standing at the uphill end the farmers’ market, a light rain falling, the vendors few and stoic, shoppers scarce, the atmosphere bracingly local and groovy in the absence of tourists, I watch a local woman carrying a big basket turn away from a vegetable stand and bump into another local woman carrying an even bigger basket.

Big Basket: Hey, how are you?

Bigger Basket: I think I’m okay. I’m just so…overwhelmed.

Big: I know. I know. It’s just crazy.

Bigger: I know. I just…one thing after another.

Big: I know. I keep thinking, ‘Are things ever gonna slow down?’

Bigger: I know. It’s…overwhelming.

Big: Are you okay?

Bigger: Yeah. Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. You look good. You’ve lost weight.

Bigger: Have I? Wow. I don’t know. Maybe.

Big: But you’re okay.

Bigger: Yeah. I think so.

Big: Good. Great to see you.

Bigger: Great to see you, too.

“Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned.” Swami Nirmalananda

When I come to the village I like to park my truck at the Presbyterian Church and walk what I’ve come to think of as a holy circuit, a labyrinth of invigorating twists and turns around town. I begin by transecting the eternally For Sale eucalyptus-dominated vacant lot, assess the state of the economy by the size of the crowd of caffeine addicts in front of Moody’s java bar, jaywalk diagonally across Lansing, and hang a left onto Ukiah, my first stop invariably the post office (home to a marvelous crew of die hard Giants fans) followed by protein confiscation at the always warm and friendly Mendocino Market (a fabulous deli with a fine wine selection and a growing number of gluten-free items on their menu). Next I visit Corners (zaftig organic groceries in a cozy former church), the bank (our one and only), Zo (fabuloso copy shop), Garth Hagerman’s (gorgeous nature photography and web meistering), Harvest at Mendosa’s (beer and olive oil and notebooks), the bookstores (used and new), the new hardware store (they should sell transistor radios), and I used to frequent our deliciously aromatic bakeries and Frankie’s pizza, but now that I am gluten-free I spare myself the glorious sights and divine scents of their verboten goodies.

So you see, though Mendocino lacks a good Mexican restaurant, decent public bathrooms, a good Chinese restaurant, a town square with comfortable benches and a virile fountain, a good Thai restaurant, a spacious pool hall, a good Indian restaurant, a movie theatre showing foreign films, public tennis courts, and a commodious tea house, we have almost everything else a reasonable human could desire.

There is the excellent Mendocino Café featuring pricey and not-so-pricey entrees, and just across Big River Bridge we have a fine bike shop where one can also rent a canoe. We have three bars (counting the hotel), a liquor store, dentists, a veterinarian, massage therapists, a hamburger joint, and several restaurants, inns, galleries, and shops for rich people and tourists. And perhaps best of all, there are no overhead wires in the village, which makes everyone who comes here feel inseparable from the sky, which uplifts us even if we are unconscious of why we feel uplifted.

I wish everyone (save for the handicapped) would park his or her vehicle in just one place when he or she comes to town, and walk from this one place to all the places he or she needs to go, instead of driving from one place to another to another and another in our very small village; but what are you going to do? Yes, the village depends on tourism and the illegal sale of quasi-legally grown marijuana for the larger part of its economic existence; and, yes, many of the houses in the area are the second and third and fourth homes of people who can truthfully be called filthy rich and only use these tertiary properties as tax write offs and weekend getaways; and I cannot deny there are days when the village reeks of decadence and disregard for the earth and a hatred of whales and trees and poor people, but how is that any different from anywhere else? I don’t know.

On weekdays around noon, dozens and dozens of teenagers come down from the high school and invade the retail sector of the village to buy crap for lunch. Many of these cuties and louts talk at the top of their lungs (don’t ask me why) and are easy to overhear. To wit: three not-quite-old-enough-to-legally-drive (thank goodness) boys stand on a corner across from Harvest Market, gorging on slices of Frankie’s gluten-rich pizza as they watch the girls go by.

Teenaged Boy #1: She is so easy.

Teenaged Boy #2: How do you know?

Teenaged Boy #3: He doesn’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: She on the pill?

#1: Oh, yeah.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Don’t.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie.

#2: I think she is. Kevin dumped her purse.

#3: So?

#1: I did more than dump her purse.

#3: Lie.

#1: What the fuck, man? You in love with her?

#3: Fuck you, man.

#2: Why would she be on the pill if she wasn’t doing it?

#1: Oh, she’s doing it.

#3: You don’t know.

#1: Do.

#3: Lie

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Krishnamurti

In the post office, I witness two local men greet each other.

Man One: Hey, long time no see. Where you been?

Man Two: Here. You?

One: Mostly here. We went away a couple times. See the boys.

Two: How they?

One: Good. Yours?

Two: Fine. I guess. Who knows? You know?

One: Right. Right. Who knows?

Silence.

One: So…things okay?

Two: Same. You?

One: Good. Same. You still…?

Two: Yeah, yeah. Same old. You?

One: Just, you know…working away.

Two: Right. Business good?

One: Can’t complain.

Two: No. No. Can’t complain.

“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” Samuel Beckett

As I’m loading my groceries and mail into my truck at the Presbyterian, a little boy rushes up to me.

“Sir! Sir!” he cries. “May I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Where is the ocean?” He asks with such unmitigated passion he might have asked What is the meaning of life?

“There,” I say, gesturing toward the quite obvious sea.

The boy frowns at the distant breakers. “I mean, how do we get there?”

“Take the trail to the left and you’ll come to a stairway leading down to the beach.” Now a man who might be the boy’s father arrives, a tall fellow, forty-something. “Take the trail to the right and you’ll wend your way along the headlands.”

“Will there be gulls on the beach?” asks the boy, nodding eagerly. “And a tall dark tree on the edge of a cliff?”

“Yes,” I say, knowing the tree of which he speaks. “And there will be ravens and ospreys circling in the air above the confluence of the river and the sea.”

“Yes!” shouts the boy, turning to the man who might be his father. “Let’s go!”

“He’s got some kind of imagination,” says the man, winking at me. “Thanks for the directions.”

“An actor is totally vulnerable. His total personality is exposed to critical judgment—his intellect, his bearing, his diction, his whole appearance. In short, his ego.” Alec Guinness

I take a seat on my preferred bench on the ocean-viewing terrace of the Presbyterian and jot down my conversation with the boy. A young woman commandeers the bench next to mine and carries on her phone conversation without the slightest regard for privacy, hers or mine.

She glares up at the sky and shouts into her little red phone, “I’m like, ‘No way,’ and he’s all, ‘Yes, you will,’ like I owe him? Can you believe it? I know. And I’m like, ‘If you think dinner and wine and a little coca-doodle-doo is the total ticket, you can forget it, buster,’ and he’s like totally furious, and I’m thinking, ‘Who told this dude I was cheap? You know? I mean, like, Jesus.”

She listens for a moment, nodding enthusiastically.

“I know. I know. I couldn’t believe it. Totally.”

She laughs unconvincingly.

“I know, I know. Totally. So I go, ‘No way,’ and he like totally clamps his teeth and gives me this look like he’s gonna kill me. Insane. I know. I so totally know. And I’m like, ‘Excuse me? I don’t think so?’ and he’s like fried out of his mind, and I’m like, ‘How the fuck do I get home because no way I get in a car with this psycho.’”

She laughs dryly, and my throat aches in sympathy.

“I know. I know. He did seem nice. Totally. I know. I know. I mean…I was like having fantasies about him. Totally.”

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser.) ~~

8 Comments

Nice piece. Lived in Fort Bragg for a number of years and developed an intense personal dislike for Mendo village. There are nice things and you tic off all of them. But basically Mendo represents for me extreme white privilege. I closed the book on Mendo when I discovered that the schools there discriminate against non-white kids. Up to that point I was trying to give Mendo a chance. I don’t think that everyone there – how about Al? – is a white racist, but then expressing racist attitudes is still a bit taboo, so it could be more extensive than is superficially evident from the sort of white theme park theme the powers there strive to impose. OTOH, I am happy that you have found happiness there. It is God awful beautiful. But then, that is the problem. White privilege is all about monopolizing the nice places.

herb

I agree with you and I don’t agree with you. My experience of the people who live in and around Mendocino is that they are not racists, but have settled here to escape the toxicity of living in a city, to enjoy the beauty and relative solitude, and to work at whatever they work at unencumbered by the stress of urban living, which is why I moved here. I lived in Berkeley for eleven years before moving to Mendocino, and before Berkeley I lived in Sacramento for fifteen years, and before Sacramento I lived in Seattle. Those places are not widely known as racist hotbeds, yet my experience was that racism in Seattle, Sacramento, and Berkeley was prevalent and virulent, though the overall populations were certainly more racially varied than the population here. But much more than racist, I think American culture is excessively and viciously classist, with monetary worth the largest determining factor of privilege. I agree with you that wealthy people monopolize many of the nicest places, but wealthy Japanese and Chinese and Black and East Indian and Latino folks monopolize with a zest equal to their white counterparts. Having lived here for five years now, renting a place for far less than I could rent anything so nice and quiet and wild in the Bay Area, I think it is just a matter of time before many more not-so-privileged folks move here. And when they do, I hope they will join me in color blindness and friendliness when it comes to knowing each other.

Sorry Todd,

Didn’t mean to include all the folks in Mendo, especially not your pleasing self. Please excuse the phrase, but some of my best friends literally live in Mendo. My daughter and grandson lived there for a while. I lived in FB for a number of years and first visited Mendo in the early sixties hitchhiking through, sleeping on the beach, feeling welcome.

But I don’t like what the virtual corporation called Mendocino Village has become. I came across the discrimination issue in ’99 (plus or minus) as part of the Civil Grand Jury. Also, my wife and I are pediatricians and deal with this sort of thing first hand.

As the Supreme Court told us (don’t ask the current one), discrimination can be in effect as well as expressed. I think they have a picture of a Mendo person in the dictionary next to the political correctness definition, bless their hearts. We need not envision a Mendoite in a pointed hat. Nice people, at least most of them.

Besides it is white privilege that we are talking about I think, not racial agression. When the scattering of honorary upper class non-whites is brought up I don’t know what to say. How about, “So what?” But of course white is not as correct as pink. As a child in kindergarten I used “flesh tone” crayola. It was pink. I went to All That Good Stuff across the street to see possibly if it were still true. The wonderful sales person was shocked to realize that the crayons she grew up using in Mexico had a “flesh tone” that was pink. Racism is embedded in culture. It is a tool of oppression. It works in mysterious ways. An ephemeral entity that tends to evaporate in the life boat.

The primary aim of oppression is to get us to segregate out into mutually untrusting groups. Color is convenient in many cultures to establish class divisions. The US retains the albatross of a history of slavery that makes racial and color issues here particularly zany but class oppression based on skin color is routine around the world, lighter skinned oppressing the darker.

In the earliest days of this social experiment fugitive Native Americans, Africans and indentured whites formed successful communities to the West. They were annihilated by the upper class white power structure as a threat to their continued rule.

Besides, racial prejudice need not involve any discernible difference at all. The Christian partisans referred to the Muslims as “Turks” though they spoke the same language and most extended families were mixed. It is all politics. Sometimes having a better school is seen as having a selective student body. I don’t think that the people doing this are conscious. Unconscious racism is the ordinary kind.

The same sort of people that helped turn Mendo into a theme park also exert themselves to be selective about who goes to high school there. I seem to get especially grumpy about these things of late. Sorry.

herb

Oops, I meant to say Christian Bosnians called Muslim Bosnians “turks.”

By the way naturally fermented bread,sourdough w/ no added brewer’s yeast(Cafe Beaujolais bread) doesn’t have the same gluten reaction for some people.
When the making of bread sped up and they started using brewer’s yeast instead of long fermentations, the toxins in wheat now are probably making most of us somewhat sick.

I hear you, Herb, and I bow to your greater knowledge of the forces lurking beneath the surface of Mendocino. My own limited experience of the Mendocino community in my five years here, and being married for three years to a 35-year resident who is part of the rather amazing (for such a small place) music community, is that just about all the regular folks would embrace anyone of any color if he or she wanted to be part of the community, such as it is. The rich folks hereabouts, and I haven’t met but a few of those, don’t actually seem to live here, if you know what I mean by live, though they own big chunks of the place and drive around and eat in the restaurants and shop at Harvest market. I will continue to disagree with you about exclusivity being a white people thing in a general sense, though the manifestation of the rule of the wealthy is certainly white hereabouts.

Katie, you mention the best tasting bread in the world (Cafe Beaujolais) that I do miss (sob) and which my wife eats with zeal and glee right in front of me slathered with butter (which I also can’t eat) but, alas, my gluten sensitive body can’t even hack that wonderful stuff. I do feel remiss not mentioning the Beauj bakery, but then it’s one of those now forbidden places for the likes of me.

Dear Todd,

I and family members have been avoiding gluten (harder than it sounds) for years now. I am fond of Udi’s bread, which I can usually get at the Coop in Ukiah, but am considering buying by mail.

herb

Thanks for the tip. Udi’s here I come.

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