Malibu: A Way of Life for Those in Denial

Except for the very rich--those who can afford to live in lovely gated manses along the storied shore--Malibu has got to be an acquired taste.

Why? Because despite its gilded reputation, it is full of renters and working folk--people who apparently do not mind living cheek-to-jowl in domiciles the word shanty was invented to describe, all in exchange for the privilege of being able to gaze out the window at one of the most magnificent natural tranquilizers the world has to offer: the rolling, hypnotically beautiful Pacific Ocean.

A paltry payoff. Give me potential liquefaction over inevitable mudslides and wildfires any day.

If one more person tells a reporter as he is sucking 10 tons of mud from his living room that the risk is worth it because there's no place as great as Malibu, I may have to wretch.

Is there a single person on that whole star-crossed coast who can give an honest response? Like, we're stuck here with a fat mortgage, and besides, FEMA will bail us out? Like, we get better dates because we have an ocean view?

Is there anyone who will actually say on the record that Cosentino's nursery couldn't have bought the kind of publicity they got a few months back when their crummy little shed on Las Flores Creek washed away?

Breathes there man, woman or surfing beast in Malibu who can admit just how ridiculous it is to stay?

For answers, I toured the disaster zone two days after the most recent Malibu mud event. I sloshed along the fabled-but-goopy Pacific Coast Highway, guided by my gal pal, Malibu Kathy.

Malibu Kathy is a tall, blond reporter whose ponytail swings to-and-fro as she races from brush-fire to mudslide. Her accessories include a note pad, a pen and mud boots. One hoped in vain for a pink convertible, but Malibu Kathy drives a sensible mud-colored sport utility vehicle.


We drove as far as we could, until backhoes, debris-clogged rivers of mud and a bunch of hard-hatted, thrashed-looking Caltrans workers screaming at us to stop gave us no choice but to park and walk.

We strolled along the deserted roadway, picking our way over fallen logs and deep patches of glop. It was one of those gorgeous days that makes you happy to be coastal, even neo-coastal.

"Look up there," said Malibu Kathy, pointing to some palm trees on a cliff frosted with purple ice plant. "This is exactly what Maui looks like."

"Then why would anyone bother to go to Maui?" I mused, adding that if you disregarded the dump trucks disgorging their loads of gunk onto the sand, ignored the uprooted trees that littered the roadway and tried not to look at the three feet of mud that buckled the garage doors of the beach dwellers, you could almost pretend you were in paradise.

Whatever, said Malibu Kathy.

She was already scanning the coast for disaster victims.

We spotted a man who had put white garbage bags on his feet before tying on his running shoes. The trash bags made a peculiar fashion statement, but since he described himself as an "artist," he had some sort of sartorial latitude.

"What I cannot believe," Malibu Kathy confided sadly, "is that all these people have been through this so many times before, and so few of them seem to own mud boots."

Bad accessories is one of her bugaboos.


We fell into the clutches of an affable, 74-year-old retired bartender, a condo dweller whose garage had been made into an oversized terrarium by the mud. He was wearing white cotton shorts, no shirt, and loafers without socks.

"I gotta get some of those boots," he said. We nodded sympathetically.

He let us into his tiny pad to use the phone and offered us wine. It was 11 a.m.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I'm working. Do you have martinis?"

"I've got a very nice bottle of gin," he said.

"I'm just kidding," I told him. "I'm actually a Scotch drinker."

"I've got a very nice bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label," he said.

Self-medication--the second sanest response to the mud (the first, of course, would be to high tail it to West Covina).

Two doors down, I finally found the only candid person in Malibu.

Lucille Forer, a retired clinical psychologist, stood in the doorway of her home, watching her husband, Bert, sweep mud from the driveway. An elegant woman clad in a pristine lavender sweat suit, she smiled when I asked why she stayed.

"To tell you the truth," she said, "I moved here for my husband and our children. I don't like this house and I don't like the ocean. I've wanted to move since we got here."

* Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.

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