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He Just Wants to Keep Things Private

June 10, 1993|T. JEFFERSON PARKER | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

By the time 2.6 million people come to live in a place the size of Orange County, one might deduce that a certain level of personal privacy is going to go out the window. Sadly, I've found this to be the case.

In a place with less people (Orange County circa 1965), there are simply not so many who feel they need to keep an eye on you. In a place with more people, no one bothers to pay you much attention, and privacy--in an odd way--is ensured by the neglect of teeming masses of denizens (Manhattan circa now). But I think Orange County is stuck in the middle, no longer spare enough for what Daniel Boone would call elbow room; not dense enough to lose oneself on a bustling, hypercrowded street.

This loss of privacy came home to me in a number of different ways just last week. First, I hiked far back into the western side of Laguna Canyon to release yet another rattlesnake that had found its way onto my driveway. I carried the furious thing ( Crotalus viridis , three feet long) in a capped water jug with a handle, listening to his sullen buzz all the way back into the hills. No sooner had I cut the thing loose and shooed him back into some sagebrush, when a ranger roared down the road at me and brought his Bronco to a stop.

"You're trespassing, you know."

"I didn't see a sign."

"There are signs all over."

"I was letting a rattlesnake go."

"Need that much water just to let a snake go?"

"The snake was in the jug."

"Hmm. You know, this is fire season."

"I didn't start one."

"We had some people up here recently, killing calves with spears. Some kind of cult thing."

"Not me."

"Have some ID?"


The ranger explained to me that he would not write me a ticket for trespassing, although I would need to fill out an Identification Card so they'd know I'd been caught here once. I filled out the card with a bogus name and address, simply for the thrill of lying to someone in authority. I wondered who would start more fires here, hikers or rangers parking their trucks with scorching catalytic converters on the brushy hillsides.

"You want to come up here again, sign up for a tour," the ranger said. "This is private property. The docents will show you around."

Walking back, I mused on the idea that I had invaded his privacy as surely as he had mine, though the specifics of property lines seemed less the point than a walk in a remote canyon with no intention of setting fires or killing calves. The ancillary thought--of being led on a guided tour of this scrubby hillside--struck me as sadly comic. I wondered if the coastal oaks would soon be fitted with video cameras to make sure no one sneaks off the trail to actually be alone in nature for five minutes.

Feeling put upon, I headed for the Laguna Beach Art and Antique Mart, whereupon I paid in full for a weird, 1930s standing ashtray I'd put on hold the week before. I'd been eyeing this ashtray for some time, and feeling uneasy because the city of Laguna Beach is trying to outlaw smoking in the city by 1995. In some minor gesture of protest, I lugged the heavy standing ashtray to many of my favorite parts of the town, putting it down beside me and enjoying the deep and satisfying smoke that will likely be forbidden by law to me in a few short years whether I get cancer and die first or not. It is a nice feeling to settle the thing into the sand at Main Beach, sit in the warm sun and smoke. Ditto the corner of Coast Highway and Forest, and the Marine Room. How long until this is a felony?

Home offered its usual comfort and sense of autonomy, although I did note that 85% of my mail was junk: flyers, advertisements for things I didn't want, and those glossy supermarket coupons that make the whole pile slip out of your hand and blow away in the breeze. How many perfectly good trees are cut down each year to make this crap?

If the city of Laguna is going to make anything illegal by 1995, it should be Target flyers and propositions for carpet steam-cleaning, refinanced mortgages and dating services that come unbidden in the mail. I actually sort my mail outside, over the trash can. It should be a felony to address anything to "Occupant" except for Victoria's Secret catalogues.

I clicked on the answering machine to hear from friends. But the machine offered no relief. The first call was from a computer, which had the audacity to call and put me on hold! I actually did hold, stupefied with wonder at what company would adapt such a marketing strategy (Waichona Loan Services--whoever they are). Their first available operator told me I owed them money, which I do not. Disgruntled, I listened to the next message, which sounded as if it came from a young woman, or perhaps a girl. She said:

"If you own an electric vibrator, push 1 now. If you are male homosexual or lesbian, push 2 now. If you are neither, push 3 now. And I'll tell you, Mr. Parker, I'd park your p.... anywhere, anytime!"

I made a strong drink, which, the last I checked, is still legal to do in your own kitchen. I drew the blinds and turned off the answering machine.

I called the Newport Beach Marine Safety Department (673-3371) for the daily ocean and weather observations, something I've been doing for a quarter of a century even though I don't surf, because I love to know what swell is here, how cold the water is, what the underwater visibility might be, and which lifeguard's voice is on the recording. The line was busy. I unplugged the phone.

I turned on the Knicks/Bulls game and got the volume up high. Real high.

Then I hunkered down in front of the set and felt it--finally, yes!--coming from that much maligned tube, a wonderful sense of privacy swelling up with the roar of the New York crowd.

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