‘Tis the Season – Cue the Ghosts

The holiday season always has a reflection on A Christmas Carol – this year, it’s time for a Culver City Carol.

It’s essential to remember the reason that the ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge is not to punish him – it’s to give him a chance to change his ways ‘before it’s too late.’ 

Anyone raised in America or England knows the old Charles Dickens fairy tale by heart. An old man, an infamous miser, is haunted by dead business partners, friends and relatives trying to teach him that generosity is central to the joy of life. 

With the surprising plot twist on last Monday night’s City Council meeting, where the minimum wage for health care workers that passed by the outgoing council of Eriksson, Fisch, Lee, McMorrin and Vera was spun backwards and repealed by the newly seated council of Eriksson, McMorrin, O’Brien, Puza and Vera – with McMorrin and Puza voting against the repeal. After more than a year of lobbying for a raise, the Bob Cratchett-like health care workers had a living wage for less than an hour, before being kicked out into the metaphorical rain. 

Eriksson, like Ebenezer, seems to equate kindness with stupidity. Despite being a smart person – he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if he weren’t- he has a fear of being seen as dumb. Any support for the common good that isn’t about reinforcing the old infrastructure of authority earns his contempt. Showing that he’s read the fine print on the rules of order and voted yes so that he then had the option to turn around and vote no allowed him to prove that being clever was the same thing as being cruel. And triumphant.

Vera, in his first meeting as Mayor, let Eriksson lead. O’Brien played his hand as the deciding vote – he’s there to be a useful tool for the moneyed interests. These men would all argue that what they are doing is right. The Republican belief that regulations are wrong supports the corporate legal standard that profit is the only consideration. 

In Chapter One, Ebenezer Scrooge would concur most heartily. 

So, who would come back to haunt these gentlemen, who would ask them to reconsider “before it’s too late?” 

The first ghost would have to be Steve Rose. The story of Eriksson and Rose is so similar to Scrooge and Marley, it’s merely a change of costume. The late council member and president of the Chamber of Commerce is surely still haunting the place. Rose’s need for things to be done in a certain fashion cannot have been defeated by mere death. 

Rose was also known, at the time of his illness, for a quick instruction to ambulance drivers – “ABB – Anywhere But Brotman!” Now that he’s no longer among the living, maybe he’s in the same place with some of the people who died in that hospital, a place so drenched in wrongful-death lawsuits it’s no surprise the plumbing is bulging out of the walls. 

But before taking on the overworked, underpaid staff and the gleeful miserliness of his friend and business partner, Rose would have something to say about that campaign flyer. 

Steve Rose would not have given a pass to the anti-semitic campaign flyer, or the PAC dedicated to smearing Alex Fisch. Within ten minutes of finding that thing in his mailbox, Rose would have found out who wrote it, had them fired, and made sure that the ad agency was taken off the account before the end of the day. Rose would have made quick work of denouncing that slur, and forced everyone involved into a public apology. That the people playing on his team would have used anti-semitism as a campaign ploy would not have had his approval. Someone should head down to Hillside Memorial and check to be sure he hasn’t actually turned over in his grave. 

So, clanking in Marley’s chains, swearing, stuttering and probably screaming, if the first ghost to come and haunt you is Steve Rose, you might think that’s as bad as it gets. 

But the next ghost would surely be Albert Vera, Sr. whose circumstances of death are the classic standard for haunting. 
A medical condition that left him confused, a sudden demise – this is where tradition holds that folks wander around in the afterlife, wondering what happened, and trying to make contact with the living.  What would he warn the council members? And the new mayor? 

Marley begged Scrooge – don’t do as I did, or this will be your fate as well. 

Reading Dickens can, first of all, remind us that we are not the only culture to find ourselves at this crossroads. London in 1843 was choking on coal fumes, a huge chunk of the population packed into rotting tenements, and the streets filled with ‘mud’ that was 80% fragrant horse manure. The character of Bob Cratchett, and his small, crippled son ‘tiny’ Tim, were representative of thousands of people in Victorian England, living on the edge of starvation and sickness. Those who had wealth and power were often rationalizing why they should not help the less fortunate; there were religious and political reasons as well as social standards. Class stratifications held tight, and social mobility was not an option.

Culver City in 2022 should not choose to resemble London in 1843. 

Who would be the third ghost? Maybe someone who just died at Southern California Hospital, from the lack of staff and overbooking brought on by the hedge fund that refuses to pay its workers a decent wage – Or was that us? 

When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas, he is a changed man. Not just because of the ghosts, but because he has finally let himself reconsider beliefs that he held for decades. He’s allowed himself to think and feel, and discovered more joy in generosity than he had ever found in hoarding. 

There’s a reason that “A Christmas Carol” comes back to us with so much emotion every year. It’s a lesson we have not learned. 

The council has announced a special meeting to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, to discuss a potential anti-camping ordinance. Y’know, “to reduce the surplus population.” Just like the book says. 

Sweet dreams.

Judith Martin-Straw

The Actors' Gang