New Times "Shredder" column from July of 2001
The Pink Stink
Looks like my old pal Alex Madonna is up to his old tricks again.
The guy's amazing. Always looking for ways get someone's goat, kick someone's duck, poke the soft spot in someone's ego whenever it needs poking - which is all the time, so far as Alex is concerned.
But he's always been like that. Why, back when we were in college together, he'd come up with the funniest extracurricular hijinks that always had everyone's ducks quacking. What a kidder. Hey, he'd say when someone didn't like getting poked. Lighten up. Sheesh. It was just a joke. One time during Pledge Week he - well, never mind. The statute of limitations hasn't run out yet.
So anyway, I had to laugh when I heard about Alex's sign joke. You know the sign. That big faded pink one on Hwy. 101 that announces the Madonna Inn's proximity for weary travelers in need of gaudy "theme" hotel rooms where they can wake up thinking they'd gotten really drunk the night before and are now in a Las Vegas whorehouse, instinctively checking to see if they've still got both kidneys; or in a cave on Jupiter, or in a 1950s Liberace-inspired Rotary hall. The Madonna Inn is famous for these weird rooms. I like "The Hair Room" best.
Everyone knows what Alex likes. Pink. Hot neon pink. The kind Tammy Faye Bakker paints her toenails. The pink the sun would be if Alex owned it. The kind that makes you run screaming for someone to please kill you.
The Madonna Inn's big faded sign isn't faded anymore. Alex just had it repainted. Now you don't even notice San Luis Obispo anymore. All you see is the sign.
Some people are so outraged over it that their faces are turning about the same color. They call it an abysmal embarrassment. Kitsch on a stick, others say. Stuff like that.
They just don't get it. The main reason Alex likes that color is because everyone in San Luis hates it. That's why he painted the Madonna Inn the same color. That's why the sign's frame is lime green. Because it pisses SLO Town off. But that's what Alex wants. That's the whole idea.
Alex has always liked poking the soft spot of San Luis Obispo's self-conscious yuppie sensibility. That's why he turns his adjacent property into a giant car lot once a year, right after holding his festive cattle roundup and castration hoedown in the spring. That's why he wanted his own big-box store over on the Froom Ranch and tricked the city into helping him turn Los Osos Valley Road into Santa Maria. That's why he's always wanted to build a revolving Swiss chalet hotel-and-restaurant-gift-shop on top of Madonna Mountain that would've made Walt Disney pink with envy.
Alex and San Luis have been bickering since the Chumash left. That's probably why they left.
Alex pokes. San Luis yelps and whines. Alex pokes some more. San Luis gets miffed and passes an ordinance criminalizing whatever he's doing at the moment. Alex pokes again and says screw you. More yelps, more whining. We're like Frasier Crane sharing a house with the Beverly Hillbillies. Pa farts and slaps his knee. Frasier is appalled and embarrassed. What will the neighbors think?
San Luis wishes Alex would move to Paso where he belongs. Alex wishes San Luis would drop dead.
The bickering will go on. Forever. Alex is a relic of that ribs-and-coleslaw era of San Luis Obispo's yesterdays, where you nailed some timbers together the way you damn well liked them, popped a brewski, scratched your sunburn, and admired the house you'd just built for the wife. Building permits? We don't need no stinking building permits.
San Luis is becoming a town that wants to say good riddance to all that. It wants wine, not beer. Trader Joes, not Williams Bros. The PAC, not the Vets Hall. San Luis wants to hang out with all the cool cities like Santa Barbara that are witty and urbane and have cute sidewalk cafes serving designer salads and brie smoothies. But San Luis is concerned. Will they like me? Will I use the right fork?
And then along comes Alex. Hey, guys, how ya doin'? Check out my new tractor. Ain't she a beaut? Painted it pink myself. You seen that new public art crap downtown? Buncha fags, if you ask me. Whatsamatter with you guys? Lighten up.
Alex tells jokes about farmer's daughters. Puts barbecue sauce on his ice cream. Thinks "urbane" is somewhere in Illinois.
San Luis thinks it was bad enough putting up with that apple-crapple, goo-ga hotel of his that would be immeasurably improved if it burned down. And now there's this tacky pink-and-lime-green sign. Right on the freeway for everyone to see. What will Carmel and Santa Barbara think?
San Luis wants it gone. But if Alex can show that it's historically accurate, he could get a pass. He says it is, but that you just can't tell from the old black-and-white photos.
Alex, of course, is lying. It's just another poke. And fancy-pants San Luis is falling for it again. It wants the Architectural Review Board to tell everyone how much it sucks. Alex thinks this is all too hilarious. Poke, poke.
Okay, so I didn't really go to college with him. But everything else here is true.
New Times "Shredder" column from July of 2001