Gabriel San Roman
Slingshot: OC's Gallery of Ghouls, Part One!
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Not long ago, Orange County had a free weekly newspaper that greeted every spooky season with a searing listicle of its scariest people. This beleaguered land has only gotten wackier since, finding itself in a moment of grand pestilence and pendejadas.
Take the following two ghouls. Tito Ortiz, a former UFC fighter, is running for Huntington Beach city council while peddling incoherent coronavirus conspiracies on podcasts. Meanwhile, John Eastman, a Chapman professor, embarrassed OC with a Newsweek column attempting to stoke birtherism anew, this time by questioning Kamala Harris' eligibility to become Vice President.
But neither will grace the Slingshot! in its two-part Halloween tribute that subscribers have petitioned for. Why? Both appeared in the 2010 scary list from that once infernal, prophetic rag.
Still, there are plenty of new faces who've arisen and shouldn't escape a scathing arraignment. To that end, the Slingshot presents its first exhibition of OC's Gallery of Ghouls. Next week, five more fiends will complete the list.
10. Basilico's Pasta e Vino
Sure, Nomad's Canteen in San Clemente hogged cameras in May when it defied statewide health orders by packing its patio and dining area with patrons amid the pandemic. But no other restaurant is trying to profit off of Covid notoriety quite like Basilico's Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach. The Italian eatery is now notorious for its "no mask" policy. Basilico's has even gone so far as to put up a billboard declaring, "Leave the mask, take the cannoli," while selling shirts with the same Godfather spinoff quote. Show up in a mask for takeout and they'll send you home without your cannoli.
At least when workers at the late Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse in Garden Grove cut off unsuspecting patrons' neckties to hang them as decorations, it kept the vibe casual, not creepy!
9. Dwight Manley
A few hundred Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in downtown Brea following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In late June, another smaller demonstration followed. The former Sundown Town showed itself to be so TRIGGERED by two anti-police brutality protests that a giant "Thin Blue Line" flag soon started waving above a shuttered Farrell's on Brea Boulevard. The Instagram page for Downtown Brea promoted the flag with a #BreaStrong hashtag as if the city had suffered a grand test of its resolve. Of course, the short-lived stunt could've only been the work of one man: Dwight Manley. The flag didn't attract any press attention, just a brief article in Brea Olinda High School's newspaper.
To detractors, Manley said, "I’m happy to fly their BLM flag on the other downtown flagpole if they want to purchase it." Being a filthy rich downtown property owner, Manley suddenly can't afford a flag?
8. Gene James
When the pandemic first arrived in San Clemente, city councilman Gene James only lasted a few weeks before repositioning himself as a hero of the reopening movement. In late April, James called for a special council meeting to pry San Clemente from the pandemic, first by opening parks and then nonessential businesses by May 4.
"As the elected officials of San Clemente, we simply cannot stand by and accept this once reasonable and now unconscionable fiat from Sacramento," James chimed on Facebook. "Our businesses are dying and we must take action."
James also wanted to reopen council chambers and declared that he'd show up in person rather than meet remotely. For all the bombast and bravado, James had precious little to say once coronavirus cases started to climb higher in San Clemente during the summer surge than in Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.
Seeking reelection, James is busy filing an anti-SLAAP motion against Jim Bieber, a former political associate who is suing him for defamation. The dust up stems from the "Stolen Valor" controversy that arose in 2019. That's when the OC GOP sent mailers out describing James as a military Legion of Merit award recipient during the special election. Bieber claims in the suit that James told him and another person directly that he received the medal.
The Orange County district attorney's office initiated a review of the controversy following a citizen's complaint, one it hasn't rendered any public comment on since.
7. Dominic Menaldi
Before catching coronavirus, Dominic Menaldi's previous claim to fame came from wrestling bears and decking his Huntington Beach castle house out for Halloween trick-or-treaters. That all changed one day in late June amid the coronavirus summer surge.
"To all my friends stay away from me," Menaldi wrote on Facebook. "I'm sick as hell."
Even though he freely attended a Black Lives Matter counter-protest in HB without a mask, Menaldi claimed that anti-racist protesters came to intentionally spread the disease and that if he died, it was murder! But Menaldi also hung out at a bar with friends, including one who later died of Covid. Menaldi tested positive for coronavirus and survived after running a high fever for a week straight. Any hopes that he would be humbled by the experience were quickly dashed away.
Menaldi returned to Facebook and rambled in sentences that plowed into each other like a twenty-car pileup. He sang the praises of Hydroxychloroquine, a supposed wonder drug that his MAGA emperor didn't bother with after catching the Rona a few months later.
6. Will Swaim
Orange County became a national embarrassment again in July when its board of education voted to adopt symbolic guidelines for reopening schools without masks, social distancing or reduced class sizes. It quickly emerged that the California Policy Center's Will Swaim principally authored a white paper guiding the majority vote. All of three pages in, the intent became clear.
"Parents, not government officials, are in the best position to determine the education environment that best suits their children," it reads. "If a school district is unable or unwilling to provide that education, parents should be allowed to send their children to a district or charter school that will provide that education."
Dan Cooper, a UCI professor of pediatrics, criticized the white paper in the LA Times as "poorly annotated" and "deficient" with regards to its review of the available scientific literature on coronavirus and masks. The real intent was to promote the charter school movement anyway.
Swaim's original "white paper," OC Weekly, was a much better gift to the county when he founded it in 1995!
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
Less than a month after Disneyland opened in July 1955, the company signed a sweeping contract giving the American Federation of Labor exclusive rights to represent a swath of theme park workers. Only supervisors, clerical, administrative and temporary employees were excluded from it. Two years after the agreement that turned the Mouse House union, a picket formed outside of Disneyland that revealed a gender divide in Orange County's labor movement. Clerical workers walked the line early in the morning of Oct. 26, 1957 in response to the firing of two colleagues who were active in the Office Employes International Union (OEIU) Local 30. Disneyland and OC Labor Council leaders teamed up to deem the picket an "unauthorized action." Joseph A. Anderson, an OEIU business representative, told the press that Disneyland set up a company union while refusing to negotiate with them; an unfair labor practice complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board in response. In the 1950s, women comprised much of the clerical workforce, as they do now. None of the 35 unions that had labor contracts with Disneyland offered any solidarity on the picket line. The company finally reached an agreement with OEIU to resolve the dispute through state mediators. An election was to be held to decide whether the clerical workers wanted to be represented by OEIU, the Teamsters or no union at all. Newspapers didn't bother reporting the outcome of the election. But by 1984, when Disneyland faced a 22-day strike, the company trained clerical workers to operate rides as strike breakers.
By the Byline
I'm back in the LA Times with a feature on Zoey Luna! The 19-year-old trans Mexi actress is starring in The Craft: Legacy due on demand this Oct. 28. With major studios having released ZERO films in the past THREE years with ANY transgender characters, Luna's casting is an important moment for representation and a reason to celebrate.
Better yet, Luna is on the roster of Transgender Talent, an OC-based management company!
Pick up your TimesOC section of the Sunday edition on newsstands now.