We San Diegans are a self-congratulatory lot; the weather itself is, to us, a kind seal of approval on our meritocracy. After 28 years here, I see it much this way if I don’t think about it too thoroughly. My first and pretty much only shot across the bow at what has become my town is our apparent lack of humor when it comes to us. Not much criticism of our paradise is brooked in casual conversation on elevators downtown, at the water cooler, and never during weekend recreational activities. And why should it? We host America’s Finest Fridays and America’s Finest Weekends.
In a recent conversation with a neighbor from the Bronx, he was groping for a word to describe a certain unfortunate attitude about us and eventually hit upon the word “entitlement.” It is as if, he said, by virtue of our finding ourselves here one way or the other “someone, somehow, and everywhere owes us respect, the right of way, and the freaking parking space. Know what I mean?”
I do, in a way. Nathanael West put it very well at some length in his short Hollywood novel The Day of the Locust. While he was talking about Los Angeles, he may as well have been talking about us and all Californians who, after some life-upheaving hassle, made our way here and found ourselves cheated in some unidentifiable way. I stand by this, especially after meeting the proportionately few native Californians and San Diegans who suffer no such sense of being screwed.
I resisted this town for years and for typical New Yorker reasons, but no longer. Within four years of moving here I would find myself at regular intervals looking around me and seeing that it was good.
The weekend I have planned for this third of them in August will be a quiet one. It may involve the beach if I can swing it, a number of paperback books, and a swimming pool among friends. Other props likely to play a role will be a borrowed Yamaha acoustic and what I assume will be an adoring audience of bikini-clad college girls at either pool or surfside. Some kind of barbecue is hardly out of the question, liberally peppered with intelligent conversation among smart professionals, some artists, teachers, and at least one family member. I say this with reasonable confidence after making only the most tentative plans with a few relatively new Californians but folks who have been here long enough to assure me that one way or another, some version of this idyllic scene will materialize. This, after a conversation consisting only of phrases such as:
“We’ll play it by ear.”
“Are you okay with me taking your guitar to the beach?”
“Whatever. Maybe we’ll do some billiards in the rec room after lunch.”
“You gonna drive or Rick?”
“We’ll go with the flow.”
Had this conversation taken place 2000 miles to the east, no information would have been exchanged, no commitment from anyone to even show up. Nothing would have been established, and the weekend would still be a question mark. Here, it’s a done deal, time and place being left to a cell-phone call on Friday, maybe Saturday morning, and this is assumed. No phone call is even mentioned. In the lead time between that conversation and that third weekend this month, we may well have gone to war with Iran, forest fires may be choking the skies of North County, and Obama may have been outed as a radical Islamic terrorist; but with the possible exception of the second contingency, I am reasonably certain that I will be doing something much like what I described.
“What about a movie?”
“Sure, if we’ve got time.”
“Your kids gonna be there?”
“I’ll pick up something we can enjoy.”
“I don’t know. What am I? A wedding planner?”
“Don’t get that one.”
“I’ll call you back?”
“I don’t know...you know.”
Being vague is not feeling entitled. It is, when you think about it, an evolved sense of faith. Presumption may be unwise, but look at the record. For every miserable weekend I’ve spent in 28 years here, I can point to hundreds more that have more or less fulfilled the promise of California extended to me in Annette Funicello movies 45 years ago in Chicago.
So I am unlikely — as Donald Sutherland did at the end of the film version of Locust — to stomp to death an effeminate, preadolescent boy singing “Jeepers Creepers” at the rec-room premiere of whatever it is I select at the video store for that day. Even if mushroom clouds sprout in the Middle East or our own skies are apocalyptically raining ash, and Obama cracks during a speech to the Daughters of the American Revolution — deranged on hashish and begins shouting, “May the rivers flow red with the blood of the infidel!” — I am reasonably assured of yet another of America’s Finest Weekends. I may register as a Republican after all.