Our little bit of California was called Casa De Ora. That wasn’t the official postal name but that’s what we called it. Back in the 20’s they had tried to put a tract out there. You could still see the layout for streets, and as you drove towards where the tract was supposed to be, on both sides of the roads were brown turd like mounds of plaster of paris with the words Casa De Ora spelled out on them in gold lettering. I guess they were supposed to suggest a gateway into Casa De Ora.
Just beyond the gates, stores had sprung up on both sides of the road. The stores were set back from the road leaving a dirt area for a person to park his car in front of the store whatever it was: a couple of gas stations, a bar, a drugstore, a barber shop, another bar, an independent market, a car mechanics place, and later on the Hires root beer barrel. The root beer barrel was made out of metal, shaped like a barrel, painted to look like a barrel and about ten feet high. The root beer barrel didn’t last as a root beer barrel for very long. Next, it was a chicken barrel, and then a fish and chips barrel, and finally, before it was torn down, it was for a long time a Mexican food barrel.
The houses on our street that headed up the side of the hill had all been independently built. No tract homes, one looking like the other. You figured that people who had come out our way to live—and we were the boonies back then—either didn’t have much money or were attempting to escape their past. In some cases, I think both. Half of the deep south seemed to have moved out our way, to where they could have a little “elbow room,” that being very important, and a little bit of land on which to recreate the southern lifestyle.
Peope kept big gardens, and sometimes livestock, pigs and an occasional cow. Chickens too, but they were frowned upon because of the racket. People stuck up “out buildings,” a tradition in the south. We had outbuildings and also collected cars down back as was also a southern tradition. At one point, we had three cars out back with anis weed growing all around them.
But one day, this man in a uniform came to our door. He said he was from health and sanitation and showed us his papers. He said we had to get rid of the cars out back. Something about this guy annoyed me, so I said, “Why.” Because vermin might be growing there, he said. Vermin? I said, are you talking about rats. Because I have never seen a single rat down there.
The guy didn’t look at me but handed a warning citation to the old man. As the guy walked back up towards the road I said as loudly as I could without yelling, “Vermin! I haven’t seen any damn vermin down there!” But the old man and the old lady sort of slunk off; I think they were embarrassed.
I don’t know why I wasn’t. I thought it was funny, and the guy had pissed me off by using the word vermin when he meant “rats.” The dark shadow of civilization in the form of bureacratic double speak had just passed over the area.