Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Montecito Transaction

        You are suspicious of titles with names in them, in significant degree because they remind you of writers whose work is more a construction than a story, a string-like mesh of enough elements, tucked and folded, and woven to cause a pattern to appear.  The Eiger Sanction.  The Bourne Identity.  The Ambler Warning.

     You didn't mind A Coffin for Dimitrios,(difficult yet to mind anything written by Eric Ambler) which in probability influenced these others.  Nor do you mind the suggestion that The Bourne Identity remains one of the most famous--read copies sold--spy novels; you do not read such fiction to dissect formula but rather for the kind of pleasure that should fit under the category of travel writing because of the way it invariably takes you someplace you had not expected to go.

     This becomes prologue to a title that presented itself to you during the course of an email you wrote to an old chum who, hot having heard from you for a considerable time, had left a phone message for you, wondering if you were all right and would you contact your old pal, Digby.

     More of the prologue:  Until recently, and since 1976, you have lived in Montecito, a nine-plus square-mile community just west of Santa Barbara, arguably one of the wealthiest areas in the state.  A literal translation of its Spanish name is Little Mountain.  One famed resident was a classmate of yours at UCLA,another still teaches at a university where you once taught, yet another is not someone you know on a personal basis, rather by reputation for the vigor and fervid nature of his political opinions.  In recent months, Montecito has noted with a mixture of pride and alarm the residence of the former wife of a former vice-president of the United States.

     Montecito also publishes a weekly newspaper for which you have been the principal book reviewer since 2005; it is a newspaper referred to by some as "that fascist rag," because of the often expressed political views of its principals,although their views are nothing resembling fascist.  They are instead libertarian, which is more endearing in some of its attitudes.

     The title you unintentionally invented was The Montecito Transaction, thus the potential for suspecting you of willful neglect of your own standards by coining it.  You will have to see; it is still spinning about, a pinball not quite sure which hole it will allow itself to sink into.  Montecito is a hive of, among other things, illegal rentals, some extended to individuals under the most altruistic of circumstances, others yet under the more venal.  Montecito is a place of excess and of entitlement to the point of outright whimsy as in the case of a Rolls-Royce and Bentley, each vying for the same parking space at the Von's Market (called Von's of the Stars by locals) inflicting considerable damage each upon the other.  "I naturally assumed,"  the owner of the RR said after the fact, "that you would cede the privilege to me because mine is the more expensive car."

     There are large numbers of pleasant individuals resident in Montecito, many who have gone out of their way to be affable, cordial, even friendly toward you; they are not being overlooked in this brief visit to this remarkable enclave any more than your obvious edge toward the community has been allowed to make its way into these vagrant paragraphs.  Yet there is a visible daily exchange of Montecito Transactions taking place in the various stores, restaurants, banks, even the library (where one outraged resident was heard by you to say, "You'll have to talk to my lawyer about that." in reference to a twenty-three-dollar overdue book fee) and not to forget the Y, where, in the hot tub you heard teen-age girls complaining that they were limited to one spa manicure per month.

     Montecito Transactions may morph into something stand-alone, a euphemism for some form of betrayal or of riding a sense of entitlement to some form of social impasse if not outright collision.  It may come to nothing more than the reason you no longer hold the Saturday writing workshop in the Community Room of the Montecito Library (which has over the years you have rented said room a tendency to double book); half way through the ultimate Saturday, we were beset by a group who were advocates or perhaps even acolytes of a particular form of yoga, demanding we vacate the premises so that they could begin their session.  You nodded with what you felt was sympathy before telling the yoga leader that you had booked the room and paid for it.  She tried to trump you by claiming also to have paid for the room, then, when she saw that was not going to get her anywhere, maintained that she had booked the room earlier than you.  When that gambit failed, she pulled out her last hope.  Looking at your motley group of writers, she announced, "I surely paid more than you did."

     Montecito Transaction.  Pictures at eleven.

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