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Nov 15, 2021

An Anniversary Waltz: This Column and I Share a Birthday

A few too many words about California, tragedy and, in a cameo, Moses

By Ed Goldman

No one was more surprised than I—and a handful of snide actuaries—to discover, via Facebook, that today’s my birthday. I won’t reveal my age but will allow that it somewhat rhymes with “heavenly fun.”

While I’m one of those people who are almost painfully grateful for each day, what I’m really celebrating today is the second anniversary of this column, which rose from the ashes of a daily one I wrote for eight years for the Sacramento Business Journal.

Edgy Cartoon

Computer Terror

That was a casualty of State Assembly Bill 5, which was sponsored by California’s unions and designed to ensure that if you were a contractor but not an employee, you probably didn’t know how unhappy you were, you silly fluff.

So, when your client feared you’d sue to demand back wages and unpaid benefits—even if suing anyone is usually the farthest thing from your mind—you were cheerfully escorted to the figurative exit. (I say “figurative” exit because I visited the newspaper’s offices perhaps four times in eight years.)

And so, on November 15, 2019, two months and two days after the Business Journal put the kibosh on my column, I created The Goldman State. It now has readers in 20 states (and one European country), many of whom are curious about (but very few who are enchanted by) how we do things here in California.

California, which I’ve taken to calling The Initiative State—and I don’t mean that people here are always peppily innovative—sometimes appears to be a satellite office for the Democratic Party and labor unions. But I repeat myself. Yet even with our quasi-liberal brand, we actually have a fairly robust share of anti-vaxxers, survivalists, gun owners, racists, homophobes and would-be secessionists peopling our nearly 155,800 square miles, 58 counties and 482 municipalities.

When I first began writing this column two years ago, my notion was that its title was a simple double-entendre—that its main focus would be on California, The Golden State. But during the past 24 months, I’ve come to realize “The Goldman State” is probably a triple-entendre, since many of the essays I write have more to do with my own whimseys, passions, hatreds and innumerable shortcomings than with the state of this state.

I don’t think the column would have caught on as well as it has, and in such a relatively short time (for which I thank all of you, even those who’ve unsubscribed) had it always been about California’s very real schizophrenia.

For while amazing inventions have emerged from our health, science, agriculture, and entertainment sectors, so have idiotic trends, terminology and lifestyles. (Exactly what is a lifestyle, anyway? It should mean the manner in which we conduct our daily existence. But it’s come to mean how we accessorize it. And with what.)

People have frequently viewed California as the country’s trend setter— something along the lines of, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” But which nation are they talking about? I’m not certain that people living in the states between us and New York spend much time contemplating what it means to twerk, get woke, be farm-to-fork, and elect then try to recall governors whose biggest crime may be dullness (Gray Davis, who lost his recall election) or tone-deafness (Gavin Newsom, who didn’t).

I’ve noticed that in California we speak hyperbolically. In other parts of the union, when people die unexpectedly or horribly, it’s tragic. In California, when we run out of bagels we characterize it as an existential crisis.

We also sometimes miss the point about things the rest of the country seems to grasp. 

I’m reminded of the time a former play-group mom, knowing my late wife was a graduate of Northwestern University and a TV journalist, asked if she knew whom to call to arrange a tour of the Electoral College for her kid, who was in his junior year of high school. “He seems to love politics, so I thought this would be an ideal place to send him for his bachelor’s degree,” my wife recalled her explaining.

Other states have their share of natural disasters, but it can be said that California’s portion approaches the Biblical: land-, people- and property-ravaging fires, somewhat regular earthquakes, the occasional mega-storm, flooding, drought, and even pestilence. Moses would have loved using this state as a visual aid to prove to Ramesses why the monarch had better “Let my people go.” In gangster parlance, Moses could just as easily have said, “Nice little Egypt you got here. It’d be a real shame if something were to happen to it, if you catch my drift.—Hey, is this your first-born son?”

Our human disasters here include:

  • periods of police brutality and subsequent riots;
  • oil spills;
  • roulette-spin gas pricing;
  • surprise energy blackouts; and
  • a phenomenal amount of bureaucratic ineptitude, such as demonstrated by our ongoing Department of Motor Vehicles and Economic Development Department scandals.

Then there’s our peekaboo business diaspora—”peekaboo” because some executives (mainly in the hospitality and chamber-of-commerce realms) insist it isn’t happening, that the state is merely wicking away unneeded dross, if I didn’t just mix metaphors there (I think of dross as being a solid; your physics may vary). If so, it’s doing it in a curious way, by creating enough rules, regs and red tape to out-choke even a California privet, which is, to the backyard plant world, what the Boston Strangler was to Beantown.

California has more geographic and demographic diversity than any of the other 49 states. I fell in love with it when I moved here in 1958 and have also fallen in love twice while here: in 1977 and anew, very early this year. To sum up, this state has been very good to me. And I’ve yet to run out of bagels.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).