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Al Martinez

Days of Cutesy-Pie Journalism

December 11, 1986|Al Martinez

I expected a little muttering, perhaps, but not a lot of jerking and frothing.

All right, mistakes were made. I probably should not have said that all Malibu people are tall and blond and have empty blue eyes.

Upon reflection, I realize that such childish name-calling is beneath the stature of a columnist for the Los Angeles By God Times.

I also realize that I probably do not know everything I thought I probably knew about effluence, and I am looking into the matter to determine what I knew and when I knew it.

Meanwhile, I have letters in front of me that are helping me reassess my tendency toward name-calling. One, for instance, says I am shortsighted and black-hearted.

For those just tuning in, I wrote a fortnight ago about the county's plan to institute a regional sewer system along a 17-mile strip of the golden shoreline. I mean the Malibu shoreline.

Most of the area, I noted, is possessed of septic tanks, a method of sewage disposal roughly equivalent to digging a hole in the backyard or, if you're a beach-dweller, in the sand. A sort of giant cat box, you might say.

During the course of my essay, I twisted the facts sufficiently to more or less prove that Malibu septic tanks are polluting the ocean.

Well, actually, I said that they are polluting the ocean and damaging "both the fish and the blond surfers with empty blue eyes."

Then I began hearing from the people of Malibu. Many were more outraged at the stereotype than they were at my presumptions, which shows a level of self-awareness not generally associated with those who live along the Southern California coast.

"I am a 5-feet, 5-inch overweight person with dark hair," a woman named Charly wrote proudly.

"I am short, gray-haired and nearsighted," Jean typed neatly on expensive letterhead paper.

Missy took the time to say she is age 40, weighs 145 pounds, has four children and earns $38,000 a year.

"This," she wrote inside an environmental card featuring the photograph of a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), "is much more of an issue than where to put our do-do."

Neither Charly, Jean nor Missy told me what color eyes they have, but I suspect they are not empty and blue.

"You have become a mouthpiece for Deane Dana and the other greased county supervisors," a man named Tom wrote.

I don't know what a greased supervisor is, Tom, but if it is anything like a greased pig, I don't think I qualify as a mouthpiece, although, God knows, Dana could probably use one.

Irvin charged that "you exhibited new lows with your prejudiced, sarcastic, cutesy-pie journalism."

For those who do not understand Irv's reference, cutesy-pie journalism was established at UC Berkeley in 1963 as a method of striking new lows in prejudice and sarcasm, the old lows having proved inadequate to meet the growing needs of an industrialized society.

Thanks, Irv.

Some of those who wrote, incidentally, pointed out that if they were prejudiced, they certainly would be able to stereotype us Latinos, but since they are not prejudiced they will, thank God, forego the obvious pleasure. That's good news.

One telephone-caller did say, however, that I should stay out of Malibu's problems and "go back where you came from."

But when I said "Oakland?" she hung up, and I'll probably never know exactly what she meant.

Several of the letters mentioned that my opinions ran contrary to those of the Three Great Liberal Representatives of Western Culuture and Intellectual Achievement. Not Larry, Moe and Curly, but Assemblyman Tom Hayden, State Sen. Gary K. Hart and Congressman Anthony Beilenson.

A letter-writer named Richard quoted Hayden, in fact, as having said, "The issue is not sewers, it's development . . . and it stinks."

Not exactly "Give me liberty or give me death," but then Hayden has never been known for eloquence.

However, all of the outrage has been a sobering experience for me, since generally I am praised and loved and hardly ever abhorred.

Especially touching was the television agent who said, in so many words, that either I reevaluate my position or he was going to hold his breath until he died. I certainly don't want that, even though the man isn't my agent.

I've got to admit that the anti-sewer system response was far greater than I had anticipated. I expected a little muttering, perhaps, but not a lot of jerking and frothing.

I mean, hell, man, I didn't exactly funnel money to the contras or anything like that.

However, in the interest of fairness, I will promise another look at Malibu's sewers in the not-too-distant future, perhaps during Easter vacation, and promise that when I do, I will not apply my skills in cutesy-pie journalism to the effort.

Indeed, I will specifically avoid name-calling. My description of Malibu people was ugly and mean and generally untrue. Not everyone has empty blue eyes.

Some have empty brown eyes, but they seem to be filling fast.

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