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TAKE THREE: Three views of the Southland | SHAWN HUBLER

Springtime Resolutions

January 02, 1998|SHAWN HUBLER | Shawn Hubler's e-mail address is shawn.hubler@latimes.com

The great thing about a place like Southern California is that winter can end whenever you want it to. Birds don't fly away for the season. You don't have to deal with that telltale blanket of snow. A couple of blasts from the Santa Anas and a stint of rain and you can make your own call. If you aren't from here and don't look at the calendar, it just as well might be May.

Today, for instance, is my own personal First Day of Spring. I know, you technically can't make that kind of declaration, but somehow it's felt that way since I moved to this place. If the folks Back East had known I was going to end up doing something as blatantly Californian as personalizing seasons, they would have never stopped snorting and rolling their eyes, but hey, my grandmother in Pennsylvania used to do her "spring cleaning" in a foot of snow, so what's that about?

You want your Christmases to be in winter, so I let winter last until New Year's Day. By Jan. 2, that's enough of that. On Jan. 2 in Southern California, I stick my head out the window and survey the evidence: Mockingbirds singing in the hibiscus bush. The Valencia orange tree groaning with globes of fruit. Kids in baggy pants and long T-shirts whizzing by on skateboards. My next-door neighbor surveying the mess in his garage.

What could it be but spring? Even if it's raining, the drops are of the fat April-shower variety. Soon there will be daffodils and freesias in the neighbors' flower beds. Soon we'll prune the roses and whack back the ivy and replace the Christmas lights with little pansy flags.

In other words, soon we'll get back to work. Which is another way in which this day smacks of spring. Of all the squares on the kitchen calendar, the one for Jan. 2 is the most laden with possibilities: This is the first day of the rest of your year. What will you do with it? Who will you be?

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This inchoate question has seemed particularly poignant in this metropolis in the past couple of new years. Having weathered big riots, big fires, big earthquakes, big celebrity murder trials and big downturns in the economy, we have hunkered down big time and it is getting old.

A person, a city, can only stand so much downtime. By a certain point, that's enough of that. So the question becomes, what are the possibilities? We have a new year on our hands. What will we do with it? Who will we be? This is the kind of thinking that leads to resolutions, which we all know are broken as easily as they are made. But a resolution is just your own personal form of hope, and even a place as jaded and big as this one can find room for that.

In that spirit, I could offer a few recommendations, culled from my own list of personal standbys. For example, several L.A. residents have suggested that the city could shed many pounds just by letting the San Fernando Valley secede, thus offering the municipal answer to my perennial promise to get in shape.

The problem with that one, though, is that L.A. proper's loss is Greater L.A.'s gain. Once you get past the technicalities, you're just shifting mass. The San Fernando Valley can start its own municipal government, but it will still be part of the metropolis and the metropolis will be part of it. You can run, but you can't hide from urban angst.

Or, on a more human front, Southern California could make the civic equivalent of a vow to reduce stress and take care of itself. We could take note of our Ted Kaczynskis and resolve to take mental health care seriously enough to make good therapy more than a perk of the insured and the affluent.

We could rise above the managed-care bean counters, weed out the charlatans and give everyone access to as much quality care as they need--from the aged and the chronically mentally ill whose Medicare benefits have been almost criminally eroded, to the working poor whose untreated frailties take a daily toll in lost productivity and domestic strife.

Or we could, as a place, just be nicer to each other. Get rid of the damned guns. Stop punishing the immigrants. Give our share to charity. Invest in our kids' schools and put their needs first, for a change.

At this point, you, too, may be snorting and rolling your eyes. And it is true, these are small-town hopes for such a big-time place. But it has been, for so long, such a chilly big-time place. Under our big, golden sun, we've let frost settle on our hearts.

And now that we've bounced back, now that the economy is hopping and we're between riots and earthquakes, between fire and rain--well, has there ever been a better time for hope, for spring?

Because that's the great thing about a place like Southern California. Winter can end whenever you want it to.

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