DON WINSLOW’S SAVAGES — Why I Blame Winslow for My L. A. Jones
DON WINSLOW’S SAVAGES — Why I Blame Winslow for My L.A. Jones
Don Winslow’s webpage describes “Savages” as:
“Part-time environmentalist and philanthropist Ben and his ex-mercenary buddy Chon run a Laguna Beach–based marijuana operation, reaping significant profits from their loyal clientele. In the past when their turf was challenged, Chon took care of eliminating the threat. But now they may have come up against something that they can’t handle—the Mexican Baja Cartel wants in, and sends them the message that a “no” is unacceptable. When they refuse to back down, the cartel escalates its threat, kidnapping Ophelia, the boys’ playmate and confidante. O’s abduction sets off a dizzying array of ingenious negotiations and gripping plot twists that will captivate readers eager to learn the costs of freedom and the price of one amazing high.”
However, for me, there’s so much more going on.
January 2009 — I started the worst run of unemployment I ever suffered while living in Los Angeles. It got so bad that I eventually left the city that I often loathed but will always love.
I’m not the first to point out how harsh of a mistress she can be. It’s tough living with her when the greenbacks are scarce. But I really miss the city of fallen angels bad. Real bad. Part of that blame rests on Winslow and his Weed Noir book, “Savages.”
Now all the Winslow fans are going, “Wait a minute! Winslow doesn’t write about L.A. His stomping grounds are the O.C. and San Diego.” True.
Besides, for me, slipping under the Orange Curtain only happened:
— When the Red Sox played the Anaheim Angels — Wait. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Fuck no — The Anaheim Angels)
—When visiting family wanted to hit the tourist traps of Fun Dog, i.e. San Diego. (Still can’t rid my head of Chon’s etymology.) We even drove through Laguna Beach one early morning.
— The twelve times attending Nerd Prom, i.e. the San Diego Comic-Con. A few times I took the Pacific Surfliner to the Con. It’s a breathtaking overview of Winslow’s territory.
— For fucking Disney Land.
Funny thing, I had to flee to New England to discover Winslow’s novels. At the end of 2010, I was welcomed back with the worst snow laden winter in recent memory, and a crash pad knee deep with teenage hormones from my nephews. At least I had a job. But I needed to escape as much as possible.
In between work shifts, I fled to the to the tiny granite town library and consumed all things Los Angeles via public internet, including daily stops at DeadLine Hollywood. There I came across the announcement that Oliver Stone was adapting this novel about hydro-420 growers Ben, Chon and O. The article talked about Jenner Lawrence considering the roll of O. She went with that Hunger Games drivel.
My brain screamed. Don’t wait for the stupid movie. Read the novel. You love SoCal crime. Why don’t you know about this dude? Read the stupid novel. NOW!
The attitude Winslow— actually, baditude (Thanks, Chon) — takes when commenting on SoCal, her people, and their culture in ways this Angeleno on-hold could relate to big time. It reverberated with me like a direct shot from a 8.2 temblor. That love and loathe thing all over again.
“Savages” is a decent novel. Liposuction lean prose, sometimes too lean. Some of the twists I was ahead of.
O becomes a damsel in distress for the last third of the novel. Prior to that she was an energizing and fun character. Of course, the book is about Ben and Chon’s attempt to save her, so it had to be.
Winslow clicks off great images of the barren SoCal landscape that has always been refreshingly otherworldly for me.
And the book’s ending… It rings true to the characters, but seems too… convenient. It’s an odd happy ending. It’s a logical one. It’s just that my gut has a problem with it. I guess that means the characters and world got under my skin. The ending is the last thing I wanted to happen.
The novel is at its best when Winslow criticizes and comments on Southern California. It glows hot with biting humor and insight on SoCal’s people and their culture. It’s the novel’s tour de force.
It’s what forced me to read it three times and listen to the audio recording with chapters like:
1 — “Fuck you.” The two words and out. A direct line to Chon’s baditude. Also, it could double as my birth commonwealth’s official motto.
11 — A listing of Paqu’s, O’s mom, various phases that reads like a OC entrance exam:
Pills and alcohol
Republican politics and Jesus.”
40 — Winslow’s take on John Wayne Airport:
“Chon thinks you gotsa love an airport names for a draft-dodging movie war hero cowboy who trademarked his gay, pigeon-toed mince into a macho money machine.”
62 — O’s shopping spree at the South Coast Plaza. “The Mecca and Medina of SOC consumerism where retail pilgrims pay homage at the multitude of shrines.”
Those shrines listing and Winslow’s quick remarks are hilarious, especially juxtaposition of Del Taco against the bigger saints. Eat at a Del Taco. You’ll understand.
73 — The upper and middle class Mexican’s attitude towards us Yanquis.
233 — Its opening line: “Even in Southern California, even in the middle of the desert, you don’t leave six dead Mexicans among smoldering ruins of three cars without attracting some attention.
SoCal takes its cars very seriously.”
271 — Is where Winslow wraps it all up: “We made gods of wealth and health. A religion of narcissism. In the end, we worshipped only ourselves. In the end, it wasn’t enough.”
Yeah, throughout the novel he takes SoCal to the woodshed especially with Chapter 271, but you can tell that he truly loves Ben, Chon, O, and the land that birthed them. The same land Winslow migrated to.
Hypocrisy, rampant consumerism, narcissism. All packed in tight with millions of humans with very little water.
Yeah, he goes negative pretty quickly with the idea. Pretty much staying with the novel’s baditude. Then why does this novel fuel my desire to return to this desperate place?
First, it reminded me that I need to laugh at not loathe SoCal. Hypocrisy, rampant consumerism, narcissism those all fell in the loathe category. But that shit is everywhere in the USA. It’s just prettier in SoCal. And, if you can’t laugh at yourself…
Second, in Chapter 271, Winslow reminds me why I went to L.A. in the first place. He mentions reinventing ourselves. SoCal grroooves on that.
To reinvent myself. And I did. Back in MA with their “Fuck You” motto, I reacquainted with places and people from my past, I immediately realized I was seeing them through new eyes.
I was very different from the original me and I liked it. Living in New England with a job, less stress, and even a new romance still didn’t shake the cold fact that my soul was back in SoCal.
There are other things — A family of friends I left behind, the creative energy, a long list of things undone and unexperienced and optimism of reinvention. It’s an American thing.
The West has been the physical representation of that even before we stole it from Mexico. Something Boston, Augusta, Hartford, Concord, Providence, and Montpelier might have invoked for pilgrims and colonist but not anymore.
The character of Ben is SoCal’s saving grace. Yeah, he has one foot anchored in the religion of narcissism, but his other foot is firmly in the future. He gets that this world needs to be shared. That greed is not good. It will soon collapse under the weight of its distended belly.
The greed monster of the Baja Cartel coming for his business represents a new generation of that mutant disease of greed the US released upon the world. Ben is willing to walk away from it all.
Ben isn’t the only one. While awaiting a beheading, O realizes that she needs to do something with her life other than consume. I got the feeling that she is finally growing up and will make this phase permanent.
When I moved to L.A., I heard this thing about California: “Where CA goes the rest of the US follows.”
It was true with wage inequality. In the 90’s, L. A. was already suffering from a growing disparity. There are plenty of other examples. Good and bad.
It’s now true in New England where it’s nothing like the world I left twenty years ago. The religion of narcissism reigns here too.
I want more time in SoCal. I want to explore more. I want to see if humanity will be able to get its head out of its collective ass and save itself. And I think it’s going to start there.
Maybe the droughts will motivate everyone?
Someday I’ll grab a seat along the North County’s Hop Highway, sip an IPA beer, and watch the revolution take place.
And I have Don Winslow’s novel to thank for showing me how to laugh at and love the one local in the world that I feel at home.