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We're Simply Paying the Price for One Bad Mood

March 14, 1994|JACK SMITH

My wife and I were driving north on the Pasadena Freeway the other morning and it suddenly came to me why we live in Southern California--or, specifically, in Los Angeles.

It was February. It was a gorgeous day. The blue-denim peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains were shadowed by luminous white cumulous clouds. The car's sunroof was open and the wind was brisk and clean.

The freeway, Los Angeles' oldest, was undamaged in the earthquake. It was uncrowded. We felt as if we owned the road. God knows parts of the city were left in shambles, but it was possible to ignore them.

I remembered an earthquake of several years ago. There was severe damage in spots, but the city was not, as the eastern press exclaimed, in ruins. Photographers could find few sights to validate their papers' reports.

The Associated Press sent one of its top reporters, Saul Pett, to Los Angeles from New York to document the disaster. Finding no widespread calamity to describe, he decided to write, instead, a think piece on why, with our landslides, fires, riots and quakes, we Angelenos continue to live here.

Seeking answers from residents, he called me. "Why does anybody live here?" he asked.

"Saul," I said, "where are you?"

"In the Beverly Hilton."

"Well, stick your head out the window and tell yourself it's February."

Of course, the Beverly Hilton is air-conditioned. The windows don't open. But I think he got the point.

There has been some speculation on God's role in the earthquake. Some religious leaders have assured us that God is not concerned with such regional disasters. If, on the other hand, God is indeed omnipotent, then he is surely responsible for every shake. Unlike fires, earthquakes are not caused by human wrongdoing.

My theory about the reason for the floods, hurricanes, fires, riots and earthquakes that have been visited on our country in recent months is simple: God has the gout. He's in a bad mood and is just lashing out to ease his frustration.

On the beautiful day we headed out the Pasadena Freeway, we met some friends for an 8 o'clock breakfast at Julianne's restaurant in San Marino, sitting next to the open patio. I wore an Orlon turtleneck and a jacket and was too warm.

We are remodeling again. This time my wife is redoing her bathroom and the kitchen. Also we are repainting my bathroom and the two bedrooms. The painters had left all the outside doors wide open to let fresh air blow away the paint fumes.

That's another reason we live in Los Angeles. We can leave our doors and windows open in February.

There has to be a deeper reason, though, other than the balmy temperatures, for our continued residence in Los Angeles. I think it has something to do with our view of life on this planet as it whirls through space.

We grow so smug in Southern California with our climate, our beaches, our mountains, our deserts and oases, our bikini-clad natives, our colleges and think tanks, our athletes and our movie stars.

We are accused by our critics of being hedonists inhabiting a place called La La Land. But our earthquakes come often enough to remind us that the earth, the very foundation of our lifestyle, is untrustworthy and is likely, at any minute, to shake us all to death.

That possibility gives us all a little thrill of danger and uncertainty that life in Southern California would otherwise lack. It reminds us that the good life is not guaranteed by God, and that he is likely to shatter our dreams and castles at any moment.

As I say, though, earthquakes have nothing to do with human misbehavior. We cannot say we are being punished. We are only being reminded that we must not be too laid-back. We must not take life's pleasures and amenities for granted. The earth may remind us at any moment of our precarious existence.

I do not hold, though, with those Christians who believe that in striking at our biggest playpen, the Coliseum, God was expressing his distaste for our games. Our sports are very humane compared to those that went on in the Roman Colosseum.

If I were to hold God responsible for human afflictions, I would surely blame him for the disasters visited on me during the past year--two heart attacks, a stroke and the onset of Parkinson's disease. But I know in my heart that I have done nothing to deserve such afflictions. Or have I?

After all, an earthquake is not the end of the world, although we may fear that it is when one strikes. The thing to do is to recoup, rebuild and go back to work with a song in our hearts.

And pray that God gets over the gout.

Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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