We're losing George, too. He's had a medical diagnosis that none of us can bear to call by name. We still wave and chat, but we keep an eye out when he walks his dog in case he loses his way. After all, we're his neighbors and the least we can do is help steer George home.
Welcome to North Clairemont, our neighborhood.
-- Alex Finlayson
Most people recall their first kiss with fondness and clarity. I cannot remember my first kiss. But there was so much kissing and so much groping going on in my neighborhood as a kid, we thought that was the reason people called National City "Nasty City." We wore that badge with pride, believing we had obviously earned it with our adroit, bold, precocious sexual experimentation. We didn't play Hide 'n' Seek -- we played Hide 'n' Go Get It! It wasn't until years later that I realized the term "Nasty City" was more often a slur on the socioeconomic condition of the town than the romantic antics of East 12th Street. Imagine my chagrin.
But when I think of Nasty City, I think of John Zamora.
It did not occur to me that 12 years old was a little young to contemplate losing my virginity. John Zamora was two years older than me, and he regularly contemplated it. His attempts to remove my panties at every possible opportunity usually occurred with DJ Tayari on radio station 92.5 playing in the background of a friend's garage. We were loyal to our soul music and oldies, especially "Always and Forever" by Heatwave or "Angel Baby" by Rosie and the Originals (themselves National City natives). Sometimes we would sneak into John's house. His parents had huge religious paintings all over the walls, and I could never shake the feeling of Jesus watching me getting felt up. Nothing sets the mood for love like a particularly bloody rendition of the Stations of the Cross.
I would curl my bangs with a curling iron, put on some unicorn-emblazoned top, and walk up 12th street to Ziggy's house. Ziggy's name was James, but we all knew him by his DJ name. Everybody and their brother was a DJ back then, or a breaker. "Breakdancer" was a term used only by the media and the uninitiated. You weren't worth your parachute pants or your square of linoleum if you used such a ridiculous word.
The garage and the radio were all we needed to get our mojo on when I was a kid. Two or three of us would be assigned the task of walking to the gas station "Mini Shop" on the corner of Plaza and Palm for provisions. We slow-danced with the lights off, a bunch of preteens armed with Funyuns, Mountain Dew, and a startling lack of parental supervision. It is astounding to me that I did not lose my virginity until I was 17 and that the lot of us didn't get pregnant in rapid succession that summer of 1983. In my diary, between ramblings about Duran Duran (I either "loved Simon" or "loved Nick" according to my mercurial whim), all I could write about was messing around with John Zamora. That's what we called it, "messing around."
I should draw a diagram of the neighborhood, that would be so Dave Eggers of me. I lived at the bottom of the block, next door to Mr. Bartlett, whose finely manicured and verdant front garden remains the visual highlight of the street. It was also the home of Toot, the evil Doberman Pinscher who bit me while I was roller-skating. Never leashed but meticulously trained, Toot did not ever, ever cross the seam in the concrete separating the end of his driveway from the sidewalk. So the day he bit me, I couldn't help but be impressed that he actually stuck his neck out over that line, so as to take a bite out of my Dove shorts while still maintaining his perfect record.
Next door to the Bartletts' was my best friend Eva's house, then Ziggy's house, up toward the end of what I suppose you would call a cul-de-sac. We certainly never referred to it as such, and to this day I feel some municipal code must surely forbid the use of the pretentious term cul-de-sac within National City limits. Down the other side of the street, before John Zamora's house, was an apartment building that played host to the most thrilling drama ever to unfold here, when a man shot himself and had to be LIFE-FLIGHTED OUT. The words in my trusty Hello Kitty diary feverishly recount that day in all caps, just like that: LIFE-FLIGHTED OUT.
There was also a huge undeveloped hill of land with just one house on it, home to our friends the de la Cerdas. My first experience with gentrification happened on that hill, when it was torn down to make room for a motel. I had envied the de la Cerdas, because I had never known anyone who lived so far away from the street, so far away from neighbors. It seemed foreign and pastoral to me, like Wyeth's painting Christina's World. Then one day it very abruptly became a Quality Inn.
Directly across the street from my house was Dr. Free, the dentist's office. So perfectly aligned with my front window was Dr. Free's that I cannot believe I never got caught messing around with John Zamora on the steps leading up to the dental X-ray rooms. The steps were covered in that bright, stiff Kelly green artificial turf that often left little scrapes on my elbows and back. By rights, my mother should have caught me almost in flagrante delicto on any number of nights if she'd only turned her head away from Dallas or Falcon Crest at the right moment. Actually, it must have been Quincy or the Rockford Files, because I would never miss Dallas. Not even John Zamora could come between me and my shows.