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James M. Cain's 'Paradise'

January 01, 2012|By James M. Cain

Now, if this profounder attitude is real, and not something that I thought I detected and didn't, you would expect it to give some tangible evidence of its presence, something you could put your finger on and say, "There, that's what I mean." And so, in fact, you find it. The offices are quiet and run with swift efficiency. There are no signs telling you to "Smile, Damn You, Smile." There is an atmosphere not unlike what you associate with the research departments of a big university, with the difference that this research has a purpose, a smell of dealing with live, important things, that most university research plainly lacks.

.And there is something that I pay a great deal of attention to when I try to estimate a man's integrity, which is a healthy respect for a fact. It amounts almost to a religion in this place. You hear frequently the rueful admission that "we've got a reputation to live down, all right": they seem terrified lest old mistakes will be repeated and come home to roost. So that you are no sooner handed a table of figures than you get the footnote: "Now listen: This is not any of our hooey. This comes right out of the United States Census Reports, and you can bank on it to the last decimal point." Well, I buy that. I am a sucker for the man who is worried about the last decimal point.

In other words, out of the Gethsemane of its woe these last few years, this Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce bids fair to emerge as what a chamber of commerce ought to be, and so seldom is. It is very powerful, much more so than the chambers of commerce you are probably accustomed to. It is a sort of government outside the government, bearing about the same relation to the body politic as the Communist party does in Russia. (I suppose I put that in out of pure malice.) And, like the Communist party in Russia, it is most intolerant of all schemes for monkeying with the gears. Radicalism of any kind is anathema to it. I suspect that the big fellows enrolled in it are not anything like so hot on this subject as they are thought to be; but big fellows are not the only ones it must satisfy: the very fact that it has a large membership, has to study the problems of even the littlest fellows, and is the repository of a highly concentrated leadership, has forced it in this matter to go along with the crowd.

This, I must say, I find deplorable. I never feel that a city is really in the Big Time unless it has soap boxers damning the government in the parks, and parades that occasionally result in cracked heads. Why I regard such things as cosmopolitan I don't know, but I do. Yet it would be foolish to maintain that I miss them out here as much as I would if they were absent, say, in New York. Again like Russia, this section is not ready for that kind of thing yet. You have to get the gears turning before you can throw left-handed monkey wrenches into them. And, of course, the basic realities take some of the sting out, too.

The one basic reality that can dignify. Red goings-on is hunger, and there is very little of it here. Ten cents will buy an incredible amount of food, and hardly anybody lacks ten cents; if somebody does lack it, the genuinely humane treatment he gets here alters somewhat the circumstance that he can't put up a general squawk. What I am trying to say is that the air, the sun, the lay of the land, the feel of what is going on here, make the inalienable right of man to talk, wrangle, and fight himself out of his daily bread seem somewhat beside the point; that may be what other sections have their mind on, but not this one. It has its mind on something else, and it is only sensib e to judge it by what it is trying to do, and not by what you think i ought to be trying to do.

Which brings me to my final point, which is the idea held by everybody here that some sort of destiny awaits the place. Of recent years, the implications of a destiny have bemused me greatly; and I believe that one of the troubles of the United States as a whole is that it no longer has one. In the beginning, its destiny was to reduce a continent, and that destiny, as long as it lasted, made everything hum; transformed the most shiftless bacon-and-beaner into a pioneer, placed an epic frame around our wars, gave the most trivial episode the stature of history. But the continent has been reduced, alas, so that destiny has blown up.

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