The Most Horrible Man in the World

Photo by James BunoanHe was the only guy at Coconuts who didn't have a whiff of vomit on his breath while The 5150s—three middle-aged gutty dudes—did guitar-god headbanging to their “classic rock,” such as “Pink Cadillac” and “Mustang Sally. During “Margaritaville, a tiny brunette mom-type got onstage and, with the world's most blissful smile, did that boob-shakey thang, while two tweaker ladies with circles under their eyes that made Al Pacino look like a Maybelline spokesmodel danced all over the floor, sticking their bottoms up in the air like they just didn't care.

San Clemente is a pit.

My sister and I had already spent some quality time at Big Helyn's, the county's southernmost bar. There, Elsa, the owner/ bartendress, was a vision of dominatrix-y retro; we liked her, and we liked the crowd (they welcome a lot of homeless people into their fold), but for a Marine bar, it didn't have very cute boys. That's the thing about San Clemente: you always think the people will be more attractive in this lazy beach town, and you're always surprised when they're not. I swear, it's like hanging out in Fontana.

We moved on to the Outrigger, where a crazy tweaker rested his eyeballs on the smoking patio's TV screen, flipping the channels as fast as he could count and talking to either the TV, himself or God.

So by the time we hit Coconuts and saw a guy there whose eye whites weren't a pretty shade of pink, our standards had fallen away like religious Republicans voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wasn't noticeably drunk, he wasn't twitching, and he was from Oregon. People from Oregon are nice! So even after nodding and smiling our way through a five-minute conversation about drywall suppliers, we still invited him to join us at The Swallow's.

It seemed in addition to his drywall business, Ladd had busted bulls on a ranch in Oregon, been head loader for the Peter Britt Festival, had four black belts and was a hairdresser/DJ. Which was all good and fine, but when my sister mentioned her belts in Eagle Claw, he left her hanging on the high-five while he explained that he himself had four belts in it; he'd learned from his uncle, a grand master who had studied under Bruce Lee. And when he said he'd “hung out” with Bob Dylan after loading his gear (because if there's one thing Bob Dylan is, it's approachable with roadies), and I mentioned that our dad used to be Bob Dylan's roommate, he at first ignored it and then told me he wasn't impressed by people who tried to impress him. “After Willie Nelson's stopped his bus and everyone's gone, 'Ladd, get on the bus!' you're not impressed when people try to impress you,” he said to me, really very impressively.

I didn't make the mistake of mentioning any of my very famous friends. You know I don't like to show off!

A solid hour later, we had learned that Ladd used to live in Bullhead Cityand would take the bus (it only cost $5) over to the Riverboat Casino, where he would come with $100 and leave with $180, except for the time he came with $10 and in six hours made $90, and once he'd made $340. After he'd blathered on for 10 minutes with two nice drunks at the Swallow's about their shared English heritage, I mentioned mine: half Russian-Polish Jew and half English/Irish/ Scottish/German. A few minutes later, when Sarah and I asked pointedly if perhaps he would like to ask us something about us and then showed him how by asking conversational questions about him, his only question was “Nice heritage.” Huh? “You know, the comment you made before that was totally irrelevant to the conversation we were having?” Oh, yes. That heritage. My apologies, Ladd!

Sarah and I had already had some fun dancing with ourselves in the Swallow's cattle-call—it was packed with fun in there, and it allowed us to avoid our now-unwanted guest—but we kept going back for more and more Ladd. It was just like when you're 'shrooming, and there's a vortex in the kitchen, and the vortex is scary, but you keep going back for more scary kitchen vortex. You know?

What would Ladd say next?

We kept trying. Would Ladd respond to anything we said, or would he just keep looking perturbed at the interruptions? Ladd was a very serious man! We decided to save Ladd from having to try to show interest in what we had to say; it was just too hard for him. So we offered without prompting the story of our lives: how we'd grown up in Iowa with our dad, who was a professor of English history, and how idyllic our childhood was with dad studying in the den and coming out to say fatherly things like, “Now, children! Please try to shush!” At that point, Ladd asked his first question of the evening. “You're sisters?” It had only taken him two hours.

We continued with our childhood happiness: how our two moms had been able to complement each other so well, with Sarah's mom bringing in hard cash as a corporate attorney while my mom baked and hung out with all the wives' children. “There were a couple of others, too—younger women—but they were more like our sisters,” I told Ladd happily, as his face froze in what I'd call “sickened horror.”

He didn't even say goodbye.

It only took us an hour Friday night to find the new Square Blue; it seems Bristol's street numbers change at the Santa Ana/Costa Mesa divide, so while we'd been driving in circles, watching 3398-A turn into 3420 with no 3400 in between, everyone at the grand opening for Jamie Wilson's new temporary space was eating all the hors d'oeuvres.

“Oh, Jesus,” we said in a snit when we finally pulled up. “It's the same fucking dot paintings!” (See my Art column, page 38.) Luckily, there was other work as well, including Bob Pece's standard architecture cartoons and some terrific posed kewpie-doll scenes by Davis N Davis. Bedroom Walls played, sounding like Hole but not screamy, and a magician named Greg wandered around, stealing people's watches and doing what was clearly the work of The Devil.

But we misunderestimated Wilson. Not only was the band terrific and the magician full of evil and the lemondrop martinis infused with citron and the huge new space filled with interesting and pretty people such as educators and curators Doree Dunlap and Phyllis Lutjeans, painters Bradford Salomon and Janet Rosener, the Gypsy Den's Joe Ongie and Catherine Graziano, and Justine and Laurie from Coast, but there were also still plenty of hors d'oeuvres! So I taught my son how to find the door where the hors d'oeuvres enter the room and stand sentry by it, bringing me whatever new kerfluffle the waitstaff was passing. He's a fine son—and an excellent tipper.

Afterward, we stumbled over to Chat Noir, the newest of new playgrounds for OC's special people and where the maitre d' dragged our pal Kedric (and therefore us, but only because we apparently were with the specialest of them all!) over to the reserved booth that sits high on a dais. There, like Yertle the Turtle, you're king of all you survey. In the house was a good crowd, surprisingly friendly for the demographic (moneyed) and the Orange County Performing Arts Center-adjacent locale, and it included Orange County's most genial guy, Al Freeman (the host no matter whose house he's in), and tending bar was one of OC's five hottest, per this paper, Nikki MacCormick. Also, there were blue-cheese burgers, which are becoming totally the thing. If I were Tina Brown, I'd call blue-cheese burgers “burning, volcano, yeast-infection hot!” But I'm not, so I'll just mention that I've been seeing them around a lot lately.

Bonus Item: This Week's Likes and Dislikes!

Like: Arrested Development, the best show about Orange County in the history of the world. Dislike: Those boys who came at the Albertson's picketers with baseball bats Sunday night. Like: Albertson's picketers. Dislike: Tweakers and Ladd.

Don't be Ladd! Be Glad!

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