The other day, we wandered through the grounds of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1929). It’s the city’s most imposing architectural landmark: a towering confection in the Spanish-Colonial style, dazzlingly white, imposing in size, as formal and fantastic as Ricardo Montalbán in his tropical suit. And yet, with its asymmetrical composition, its sunken gardens and wide field, where low-riders pull up and disgorge wedding parties on beautiful sunlit days, the Courthouse is also as playful and fun as a wedding cake.
The grounds have been planted with giant redwoods and other specimens, and the lawns are manicured to within an inch of their life.
As we left the Courthouse and I turned for a last look at the famous clock tower, a rat came scurrying out of some hole, veered toward me and, like a demonic toy car, passed between my feet and raced into oncoming traffic, its tiny clawed feet skittering furiously, dodging left and right between cars. I turned away, too afraid to look.
In all this beauty, a rat. The worm in the rose. The first sign.
Walking along the shorefront, a day later, I spied flat black boxes discreetly placed under each shrub. Rat traps.
It all comes together, when you pay attention.
When you start to look for the signs, they’re everywhere. A pattern, sometimes plain as mud. Other times demanding close study. As one studies the clouds, for example. Or pores over the entrails of birds. Or intercepts the sidelong glances of passing strangers.
What does this really mean? Why is he smiling?
When you least expect it, the signs multiply. Take care, you’re on your own.