Editorial: Oregon Takover Bid

The Oregonian newspaper building, since demoli...

Oregon Rejects Hostile Takeover Bid

 They’re much like aging, craggy, feuding sisters, wallowing in the dredges of a thirty-year-old spat whose point has never seen the light of day. After sniping at each other for so long, neither combatant can remember how the tiff started, and neither is willing to let it go. The essence of the feud has been lost over time, but the emotional intensity surrounding it haunts a two-state area and has crossed over into a second generation of Westerners.

These sisters share much in common that has been overlooked, dismissed as insignificant, or pushed into the quiet corners of their collective unconscious. Still, none of that seems to matter any longer. These siblings would rather snipe at each other, even if they can’t explain why. That’s the residue of an unexpected hostile takeover bid that failed three decades ago.

Their names are California and Oregon, and their multigenerational squabbling is legendary on the West Coast. It is the stuff of modern folklore, the soul of West Coast mythology. The lines in this battle have been carefully drawn, and the feelings of both parties are unambiguous. It is only the primordial meaning of the original issue that has yet to be made public. Happily, science can provide a cure for this long-standing ill. In fact, everything is finally at hand to engender cooperation where there has been decades of enmity, and gentle acceptance where there has been relentless sniping. The resolution is straightforward, available immediately, relatively inexpensive, and mail-order simple.

In honor of the overdue exposition of this twisted story, we will begin with the end–the cure.

Frenetic, chaotic, and inherently dangerous California is in desperate need of a massive regimen of Prozac in order to set it right as an honorable neighbor in the West. Oregon’s frigidity, spawned by the unacceptable, often unpredictable, behavior of its miscreant southern sister, would benefit enormously from a healthy dose of Viagra in the water supply. Both states will require a full flushing of their short term memories, best accomplished by truth-laced, broad based enemas of innovative interstate public relations, in combination with a few years of deep psychological counseling on the couch of enlightened thinking. Finally, these warring siblings must come to a genuine understanding of the root of their long-standing anger. In fact, this kind of dawning awareness will prove crucial to the success of any cure.

That is the end of the story, the proposed resolution. But, let’s be more specific about what has been troubling these battling bessies for so long.

Let’s begin again.

It all started with license plates. Well, strictly speaking, they were not the root cause of the thirty years war. Rather, this was the first recognized symptom: massive numbers of California license plates were discovered sneaking across the state line into Oregon in an obvious preemptive attack on a peaceful sister. For Oregonians of the time, some thirty years ago, these plates became the instant and hated symbol of an invading army that seemed destined to annihilate the Holy Shrine of State. The logic behind this presumption of impending oblivion was, on the surface, sound. In fact, at the time, it was taken to be a formal truism by the locals, much like Einstein’s E=MC(2).

California was known to be psychotic, crime-ridden, filthy, and populated by soulless crazies, whose singular purpose was to invade neighboring areas like so many dreaded virii. Worse, should this unremitting plague manage to take hold in Oregon, it carried with it the possibility of mutating with such virulence that the entire state could shortly be transformed into something akin to (God forbid), Los Angeles. This apocalyptic vision had proven true in the Realm of the Southern Sister, and it could easily happen north of the border, if folks weren’t diligent and vigilant.

This was the start of the feud that has now been passed along to a second generation of indefatigable state line guardians. The imperative in those days was clear: fear Californians and what they bring here because they invariably leave a sticky trail everywhere they go. The corollary was equally compelling: if you don’t believe there is danger in this attempted takeover, just ask anyone, so long as that someone is an Oregonian. To ask a Californian would be tantamount to asking a hooded viper to share your warm slippers in the morning.

For their part, Californians never seemed able to come to grips with the fact that most Oregonians had found the genuine quality of life that their home state promised but never seemed able to serve up. Oregon was, and is, a beautiful, mostly unspoiled, and often breathtaking enclave of the West. It is what California used to be so long ago that the only remnants of those halcyon days are pressed into faded tin plates in forgotten museums. It is a fact that Oregon, for the most part, has been spared the legendary blights that are inherent in the California lifestyle. True to one of the basic tenants of the American persona, the determined folk to the north have managed to protect their resources by a sound principle: don’t let anything creep through your backyard that you wouldn’t invite in your front door. If you live in Oregon, the translation of Commandment One is easy to remember: if it bears the mark of the beast (a California license plate), or acts like a person from “you know where,” or dresses in that particular, peculiar, “down there” way . . . well . . .

Let’s be even more precise. There are many subtle facets to this insidious war.

Oregonians instinctively know that all the litter in their State has always been, and will always be, caused by Californians. Everyone to the north knows that California is the Litter Capital of America, if not the world. This is axiomatic. It is as sure as gravity.

Point two: Californian’s are all born with a peculiar deformity that causes their right foot to be two shoe sizes larger than their left. This is so they can comfortably break all the posted speeding laws as they drive through Oregon on the way to their next invasion point. Aging Californians, euphemistically called “senior citizens,” are even more dangerous because their deformity takes on a horrific final phase as they grow older. In their waning years, these folk encase their overwrought, ill-spirited right feet inside forty-foot-long motor homes, and then mindlessly drag the entire apparatus along the most serene and hallowed Oregon highways. In recent years, this has become an invasion in force that has not gone unnoticed in the north.

Then there is the crime issue. Every Oregonian worth his salt knows that all crime in their state is attributable to Californians. If the perpetrator of the offense isn’t a first generation Californian or (even more likely) one of the dreaded transient Californians, then he or she will most certainly have been spawned by a miscreant in the family tree who hailed from “down there.” This, too, is axiomatic. Crime is imported from California. Period.

As for attitude, well, here is yet another clear and persuasive reason to keep to the battle. Everyone knows that Californians have “an attitude.” It’s like knowing that the cream in your coffee is not quite up to snuff. There are those little gooey things floating around on the glossy surface. That’s how you know that the cream has soured; that’s how you know when you’re talking to a Californian. Oregonians certainly don’t talk like that. They would never utter, “Like . . they . . . ur . . .talk . . . like . . . well . . . you know, man . . . cool!” Much too gooey for an Oregonian. That kind of thing would never be heard in Ashland, where the Bard still haunts the soul of the citizenry and the cream is always as fresh as a slap across your face. That’s California-speak. Period.

Now, if these arguments are not sufficiently persuasive, there is an even more hallowed and compelling reason to continue hostilities—history demands it.

Thirty years ago, when the sisters drew down the first rules of engagement, California was already doomed and most Oregonians knew it, at least unconsciously. In fact, Californians also knew it. I knew it and can prove it, because I’m a Californian and I was alive back then. This is the kind of irrefutable proof that is treasured not only in Oregon but in Missouri. It wants for no additional logic.

Once again, let’s be more specific. We will use a firsthand lesson from the local cellar of West Coast mythology to prove the point.

I first learned that California was doomed while on a driving trip to Oregon. It was a lesson that has lasted a lifetime—nearly as long as the sisters have been feuding. Once I came to fully understand the import of California’s sad condition, an appreciation of Oregon’s “down there” paranoia and frigidity was just over the awareness horizon. Without question, this kind of enlightenment must have been visited on countless Californians who ventured across the state line over the past few decades, although each transcendental experience was surely different.

It was the dead of winter when I found myself in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, on a business trip to Seattle. It was 1966, around the time of the first angry words, although no one was willing to go public at the time. Now, here is a crucial point in the story. Everyone knows that it never snows in California, at least in that part of California where everyone who is anyone lives. Therefore, it goes without saying that any decent Californian would inherently know that it could not snow anywhere else they would dare to travel, even in winter. That’s classic California-think, and that’s what I thought in those days. Everyone “down there” did.

Well, to my enduring amazement, it was snowing in Grant’s Pass on the day I arrived. In fact, it was snowing like hell. It was snowing so badly that I was stuck in town for the better part of two days.

Being from California, I was at a loss to pass the time in a town that was so blatantly serene and unassuming. From sheer boredom, I wandered into a Roman Catholic Church, believing (at the time) that it was some kind of new age head shop I ‘d heard about a few weeks earlier. To complete this bizarre encounter, it was a Sunday–the day Californians generally nurse hangovers and waddle to the closest beach. However, in Oregon, things were different in those days, and they still are.

Thirty years ago, Catholics celebrated the Mass in Latin, which was not a language commonly encountered in California’s major cities or beachfronts. On this snowy Sunday morning, I sat at the back of the thick walled church feeling warm, sleepy and lost among those who were obviously more devout than me. This was not what I had expected, and this hallowed place was far too still for me to shuffle noisily out the back door. In short, I was stuck, so I reluctantly decided to make the best of the situation. Since all the action was taking place at the front of the church, that’s where I forced my fractured attention.

Sometime during the service, which seemed interminable to my younger self, I heard the priest repeat a phrase that has stayed with me to this day: “mea culpa.” In fact, I’m sure that he said it three times, just like this: “mea culpa . . . mea culpa . . . mea maxima culpa.”

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake that phrase for the rest of my trip, until I finally crossed the Columbia River and entered Washington State. For years, this damn phrase would reassert itself every time I visited Oregon, which was two or three times a year. Whenever I returned home to California, or crossed over into Washington again, I would be at peace, and my mind would be quiet. The haunting, primordial Latin mantra would mysteriously fall away into my unconscious and lay dormant, waiting for the next time I would cross the state line.

Years later, many years later, at a time when the sisters had long forgotten why they had begun their interminable spat in the first place, I finally discovered what this phrase meant. I remember the moment of my enlightenment as if it were the Jalapeno Spiced Latte ala Muscle Beach that I had this morning.

My car (the one with the dreaded California plates) had broken down at 182nd and Sandy Boulevard in Portland, down the block from a motel that had been both stylish and rural in 1960. My California instincts told me that real salvation, genuine civilization, was at least 182 city blocks away, so I decided to look for a nearby pay phone. To my unsurpassed delight, there was a big blue one standing guard at the entrance to the motel up the block. It was toward this oasis that I made my way. However, I quickly discovered that the Oregonian hand of synchronistic fate was to block my path and enlighten me on a point that had long eluded me in my years of travel to this area.

Propped up inside the mostly forgotten phone booth was an incredibly disheveled man in his forties, or perhaps early fifties. To call him a “street person” would have been to overshoot his caste by a factor of at least three. This guy was in very, very bad shape.

As I approached the booth, the gentleman pre-announced his presence with the distinct, tomb like fragrance of two-day old booze and two-week-old clothes, an odor that is unmistakable in any state. I stood motionless at the phone booth door and stared down at him, wondering how I could convince him that I needed the instrument more than he needed a home, at least for the moment. He must have recognized the befuddlement on my face and decided to make good timing his ally. He quickly rolled his head upward and plastered an enormous smile across his face, a grinning grimace that cracked the caked dirt from the sides of his mouth and chin. If there had been a queue card in his lap it would have read, “Enter sucker.”

“Could you give an old altar boy a dollar?” he pleaded in a lively, practiced voice, accompanied by a strange, distorted wink of his eye.

Stunned that I should find myself in such an unsavory situation in pristine Oregon, I said the first thing that came to my mind. It was the thing that always came to mind when I was in Oregon.

“Ah . . . mea culpa . . . mea culpa . . . mea maxima culpa,” I gurgled

I flashed him a big California smile, hoping to add some meaning to the phrase.

“Urg!” he instantly spat, jumping to his feet and pushing past me in a stale cloud. He paused for only a second before he strode upright down the street, inexplicably cured of his seemingly pitiable state. His snappy farewell, spoken in what I recall as an unmistakable Shakespearean swirl, was simple and pointed: “Damned Californians! Keep your money down there where it belongs!”


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