The Bell Curve: Political comedy in Costa Mesa

Every good comedy team has a straight man and a comic. The straight man is the logical and patient half of the duo; the comic is the jokester who pulls the plug after the straight man sets him up. Abbott was the straight man to Costello, as George Burns was to Gracie Allen, and as Hardy was to Laurel.

And now that Costa Mesa politics has become the local branch of Comedy Central, the city's supply of comics is emerging loud and clear. I'm pleased to be playing straight man to the most recent of the comics to make a Daily Pilot headline.

I don't often agree with Costa Mesa City Councilman Eric Bever. Maybe almost never.

That's why it was so satisfying to read in a recent Pilot piece that Bever has found a bridge to a weapon I've sought unsuccessfully virtually all my life. Ever since I read my first box score some 80 years ago, I've been searching for some means of casting a spell over the despicable New York Yankees, a problem similar to the one Bever seemed to be facing with the Costa Mesa police union when he told a Pilot reporter "I don't recall anything quite this drastic."

Bever's description of how he stood his ground when provoked by two cops in a police car while Bever was putting up a Jim Righeimer campaign sign before a supporting cast that included the candidate, his attorney and Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach was not only deeply moving but offered me the weapon I've been seeking all those years. According to Bever it is called "stink eye" and reduces victims to jelly just by staring them down. Bever, who called this behavior "chilling," courageously fought it off. But it has occurred to me that the Yankees might find it beyond their evil powers to resist. At least it's worth a try, so I'll be at Angel Stadium next year to turn my stink eye on the Yankees, all the while remembering Bever with gratitude.

For what it's worth, all this reminded me of a game similar to stink eye from my junior high school years. When we were victimized, we responded by waving a hand fearlessly in greeting to the perpetrator or simply sticking out our tongues.

If Bever had tried either of these responses he might have scored some Comedy Central points in the process and made an official investigation unnecessary.

And, oh yes, if you aren't up for comedy in your local government, there is another candidate running for that vacant City Council seat named Chris McEvoy.

OASIS Newport opening

I'm not much of a joiner. Actually the only organization I've ever joined is the Navy, and that was because it was an invitation I couldn't resist since World War II was going on at the time. So it was only because a friend invited me to join him there that I was at the OASIS Senior Center for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 9.

Ordinarily I avoid ribbon-cuttings like the plague, but my friend also offered a possible big band performance as an inducement, and so I went because I found that irresistible. Well, the big band didn't show up, but I got a long look at OASIS. I was instantly seduced, at first by the size and breadth of the place and, as that soaked in, by the activities it offered that matched up with my interests, like the big bands. But most emphatically like bridge.

Bridge was a part of my growing up in the Midwest. I played it at home, at college and socially with friends where the paring of dinner and bridge was a staple — and even once during the war when I crossed paths with an old partner from home after his submarine and my plane put down at the same island.

For most of the 50-some bridgeless years that followed, I have accepted the fact that the ocean has replaced the bridge table for most Midwesterners like me who moved here — and that it never was in the lifestyle of native Californians. So seeing it listed among the OASIS activities was like discovering born-again bridge. The last time I can remember playing was on a cruise eight years go when I was partnered for duplicate with a single lady from Brooklyn who was highly critical of everyone's play except her own.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I was intrigued by the breadth of activities offered at OASIS and congratulate the dedicated people who made it happen and saw it through. I may have forgotten most of the nuances of bridge — especially the bidding — but I'll be around for the next big band.

SCR and old friends

And, finally, a bouquet to South Coast Repertory for risking the work of new writers at the same time they are taking fresh looks at old classics with a fascinating variety in between. "In the Next Room" (or "The Vibrator Play"), which just left town, was one you shouldn't have missed. The title isn't a tease. That's what it truly is about.

And getting there — except for an overlong second act — was a delight.

A bonus on the night we attended was a chance to visit with Tom Shelton, who was in the play and an old friend. Still a warm memory are the summer theaters Tom created in his Corona del Mar backyard to stage homegrown plays for family, friends and neighbors. The level is far different, but he's still at it. And still loving it.

JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.

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