Welcome, brothers and sisters, to the pop-stained altar of culture. Television does not exist here. The motion picture is a fable your parents told you when you were a squalling child so you would go to sleep believing that someday you wouldn’t have to think. The radio is a dim echo on the far side of your consciousness, from a past that went nowhere. All we have here are the fruits of a crazy German who thought books were for everyone with coin, instead of the few with religious learning.

No more sermonizing. For those that want to hear, I’ll be talking about books.

And in this world of deliberate hypocrisies, I begin composing this while listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, one of the most seminal and unlistenable rock albums. But hell, you’ve all heard that rock is back, right? And for only the sixth time in 30 years, according to Rolling Stone’s calendar. The book, though, still isn’t charting, according to the heathens worshipping at the media altar.

In my other, non-supervillain life, I work in a corporate bookstore. This gives me the privilege of listening for the national heart murmur of What Everybody’s Reading These Days. Pretend for a moment like you care; you’ve read this far, what’s that extra little step?

Which brings us to What Everybody In Santa Barbara’s Reading These Days. If you’re hip to the “Santa Barbara Reads” program – a cross between neo-liberalism and conservative self-backpatting – you know that our town is all about T.C. Boyle’s “Tortilla Curtain.”

Boyle’s novel could be our very own homespun (Boyle lives in Montecito) “Grapes of Wrath.” The premise is simple: The immigrant worker collides with the contemporary white suburbanite. Who lives in the arroyo behind the wide green lawns? And what happens when they meet those lawns’ owners? Read on, my brothers and sisters.

Both “Tortilla Curtain” and “Grapes of Wrath” richly illustrate the economic and racial tensions between California’s inhabitants and her immigrants. Remember Prop. 187? As far as the white and mighty were concerned, not much has changed since the days of the Okies except for relative pigmentation. They still pick the lettuce, right?

The sense of redemption in Boyle’s novel is less overt than in Steinbeck’s, but he relies on less of an Old World sense of Judeo-Christian morality – as do we. Boyle relies much more on irony and caricature to illustrate the realities of his characters. Yet with so much different, he is sending a similar message; harken, ye of the status quo!

Fish Report: The albacore are running, and so are the bluefin. Look for the big ones in close, north of Point Conception and about six miles out. You want your counts up, you’ll go farther out where the fish are smaller and there are more of them. Limits on footballs at 15 to 20 miles.

Talking about relationships with the Man, I said, “You can’t change people.”

“Yeah you can,” he said. “You can knock their teeth out.”