What It Takes to be a Blogger in Orange County

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Since I overwhelmingly won the poll the other day asking “Who is your favorite Orange Juice blogger?” (thanks by the way) it falls to me to write this cautionary post. Ever since Pedroza’s rash call last month for new bloggers, it’s been like the Pool-Party Tryout from Mystery Men around here. I’m afraid that if readers knew the stringent screening tests and grueling initiation processes involved, they would be less inclined to say “Hey, I could do that too!” or at least consider the other, less-demanding blogs in town instead.

Our rival blogs the Liberal OC and Red County (very nice places to work by the way) both have screening processes appropriate to their partisan natures: applicants must first demonstrate fealty to the Party (Democratic or Republican) going back at least a decade; show extensive experience in working on at least one political campaign, preferably a losing one; and show a facility sorting through, copying, and pasting press releases. At the Liberal OC it is also prerequisite to have a fluency in adorning those press releases with the appropriate emoticons. [I kid, guys! Jesus.]

The Red County is even more stringent with its initial screening process – you must show ownership of property, record of publicly expressed conservative opinions, and the “right” family connections, going back on BOTH sides of your family ALL THE WAY TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. The “press-release copying exam” is supplemented by humilitating hazing rituals quite similar to what Matt Damon went through in The Good Shepherd to join Skull and Bones. Well, actually it is exactly like that – mud-wrestling and micturition included – the idea being to both demonstrate and inculcate absolute and unquestioning loyalty to both the Party and Jubal. This may sound strange to you and me, but try to have an open mind and remember – unwavering respect for authority is the cornerstone of the Republican Conservative philosophy.

[read more – it’s important!]

The Red County began allowing “minority” bloggers around the middle of this decade. But, according to countless reports, these conservative “minority” bloggers put up with frequent petty humilitations, taunts and social exclusions, just as Clarence Thomas endured at the all-white conservative St. John Vianney School, as related in his poignant autobiography My Grandfather’s Son. But at the Red County Blog, this harassment is not at all due to racism, but purely, as the “victim” is regularly reminded, intended to “build character.” It’s crucial for a “minority” conservative to feel that they have got to where they are purely on their own merits and with the use of their own bootstraps, so that at the end, like Clarence Thomas ensconced in the highest court of the land, they can look back without bitterness and croon with heart-swelling pride, “I did it My Way.”

One thing I have always admired about both the Liberal OC and Red County is that half of the bloggers are gay, at both sites. This is especially admirable at the Red County, given the historic hostility of the GOP, especially the Orange County GOP, to gay rights issues in general… [UPDATE 2: A few sentences ommitted here from original, which proved to be unnecessarily offensive – Vern.]

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All this is in preparation to sharing with you the harrowing tale of my induction onto the Orange Juice Blog. Remember, this was this past March; Sarah Michele Spinosa had just been inducted a couple weeks before me. When I arrived for my appointment she was curled up on a sofa in the reception room, fitfully groaning and shuddering, still recovering from the experience. This did nothing to inspire my confidence, nor did the sound of shrieking and jibbering from the cellar downstairs. “Sorry, Mr. Nelson, that’s Stanley Fiala,” said the ostensibly gentle Art Pedroza as he ushered me into the work room. “I’ll go down and shut him up once we get started.”

The work room was stiflingly hot; sitting at the table was a bald gentleman I later learned to be Larry Gilbert; there was an elderly couple in the corner perched on two stools, apparently tipsy, whispering and giggling to each other while eyeing me: this was obviously Ron and Ana Winship. Art went to a refrigerator and poured himself and Larry two tall glasses of orange juice, in what I soon learned was a sort of ritual. Then he cleared his throat, asked me to be seated, and pulled from its case a beautiful brand-new laptop – a Macintosh Powerbook Pro with a 200-gig hard drive and a satellite network card for getting internet anywhere in the world.

“Mr. Nelson, this is your new laptop,” Art proclaimed, as my hands reached out to receive it, and immediately Larry grabbed it back continuing, “IF you prove worthy of it.” They grinned and high-fived, and the Winships cackled louder than ever, nearly spitting out their pink martinis. “Now let’s see a hundred pushups!” Art bellowed. “Nobody blogs around here without some exercise first!”

I’d been warned that there would be calisthenics involved in the hiring process and I had been working out for a month, but nothing prepared me for the half-hour of brutal exercise Art and Larry put me through, and at the end I was dying of thirst. “Now it’s time to blog!”

“I’d like to see…” Art paused, and continued, “two posts. One ripping the Board of Supervisors a new one over giving in to the ‘political fix’ and hiring Paul Walters, and another one complimenting them for not giving into politics and hiring Sandra Hutchens. And then publish them at the same time!”

“But… my credibility…” I began to stammer, through parched lips. “Do you think I could have a little of that orange juice first?”

“Do you think I could have my two posts first?” Art gleefully retorted, so I sat there and wrote them. And then he published them both under his own name! “This will be so controversial,” he exulted, “just think of the traffic. The hits! The hits! That’s all that matters!”

Right around then Fiala started punctuating his screaming downstairs with what sounded like dragging his chains across a trash can, and Art said, “Will you excuse me, I’ve got to go look after the Gimp. Gilbert, it’s your turn.”

So I was left alone with Larry, and the Winships hushed and leaned forward to see what this mad Republican would come up with. “Let’s see…” he began. “Okay. I want FIFTY POSTS! Let’s say there is an initiative coming up, and you know it has a fatal flaw. I want fifty posts, each minimizing the fatal flaw, each making up a different excuse for why that flaw is there and why it really doesn’t matter that much. And I want horror stories of the terrible things that can happen if this initiative doesn’t pass. And discredit anyone who criticizes the initiative. Oh yeah, and have at least half of them be about some obscure extremist groups who are bound to support the initiative, and describe the groups as very impartial and respected, and express great surprise and pleasure when after endless dull discussion they eventually come out in favor of the initiative. And no copying and pasting, every post has to be a LITTLE BIT different. And also, please use bold lettering at random!” This made the Winships, now on Long Island Iced Teas, laugh harder than ever.

“But… but my conscience… and my aesthetics…” I stammered, and an evil glint came into Larry’s eyes as he held up his frosty glass: “Didn’t you want some juice?”

So I sat and wrote all those posts, which Larry eventually published under his name, much to the mirth and delight of the disconcerting Winship couple. I assume I wrote all fifty of them, but I must have lost consciousness at some point, because the next thing I remember I was in a sort of labyrinth with a spiked leather glove on my right hand and forearm, trying to get my bearings.

I cautiously turned a corner, then another one, becoming gradually aware of a huge slow stomping sound coming closer and closer. Finally after about four turns, I looked up startled at a towering figure brandishing a club the size of my leg – even with the horned Minotaur mask the creature was unmistakeable from numerous Santa Ana Council meetings – it was Thomas Anthony Gordon!

I had no chance to introduce myself before he lifted the club and swung at me with all his might; I ducked quickly and he knocked over one wall of the labyrinth. He swung again, I ducked, another wall fell. I begged him to stop, I was ready to give up on being an Orange Juice blogger. My pathetic leather glove was no help at all in defending myself from his club, and it was only a matter of time before I had my head bashed in. Finally in desperation I cried out, “Isn’t this a scene from Fellini Satyricon?”

Thomas grunted, paused, dropped his club, removed his mask, looked down at me first with amazement and then smiling with delight. Then he took my hand, raised it in his, and turned with an air of triumph to Art, Larry and the Winships who had been watching the whole scene, proclaiming at the top of his lungs:

“This man knows his foreign films! This was not cowardice or ineptness in combat, this was real erudition! Erudition that can stand us in good stead! I say we keep this man as a blogger. Fire me if thou wilt, but as for me I say I have made a new friend and comrade tonight!”

Pedroza held out his hand to me a second time and exclaimed, “Well done indeed! Welcome aboard, compadre.” And Gilbert sidled up slipping me a business card, “Excellent work, Juice-brother Vern. Why don’t you come with me to the next Howard Jarvis Taxed-to-the-Max meeting?” Fortunately I was still unable to speak so I didn’t have to turn him down or accept his invitation.

The Winships went on tittering, but there was a subtle difference – instead of harsh ridicule their laughter was now redolent of a cheerful celebratory mirth.

Sarah managed to groan from the sofa, “Hope it was worth it, Vern.”

Fiala went on shrieking and cursing from the cellar.

And I was in!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.