I am living at home with my parents. Since I’m not about to move to a commune, I need to figure out how to get some cash without turning into a complete square who hates her job.
I spend days driving around looking for work, thinking about all the evil gas I am guzzling and how San Francisco is far superior in that regard. But I am in suburbia now, a tedious place to walk. Freeways, roads, neighborhood associations, these are the things responsible for my new habit of driving anywhere and everywhere. I’ve put on a couple of pounds, too, since lately I’ve been so well fed. Another reason to hate paradise.
“San Diego has high rates of car theft because there are too many roads,” I might hypothesize. “If you want to fight crime, plant trees. Turn highways into blooming oxen trails. Down with cars, down with crime, down with loneliness!”
One hot afternoon, while no one is home, I let myself weep during a particularly moving segment of a NOVA television special. There is a shot of the Earth from the perspective of the moon. A scientist says he hasn’t stopped thinking about the human genome for the past five years. It is followed by a clip of him saying, “After that photo was taken of our delicate little planet sailing through the universe, humanity began to see itself differently.” The scientist used succinct terms like “recombination” and “linkage.”
One of the special things about sea turtles in San Diego is that they are residents, not wanderers. I visit Victoria Touchstone, conservation planner for the San Diego National Wildlife Complex. The complex is a series of nature refuges scattered between Orange County and Tijuana. Their offices are in Carlsbad.
Despite being located in a sleek business park, the interior of administrative headquarters gives the feel of a park ranger station, from the decor in shades of brown down to the government-rationed bulletin board. Victoria greets me wearing full ranger garb. She is also wearing gold earrings depicting marshland birds. Under her arm is the refuge plan, a thick binder with a small section about the resident sea turtles.
“The issue you have is that you save these small pockets of habitat that are as natural as you can get them,” she says while flipping through the binder. “All the species are competing against...amongst themselves to try to survive.”
That sounds like my job search. Victoria is aware of the different stories explaining about the sea turtles living in San Diego Bay.
“I like to think — but I am a big turtle fan anyway — that even if the power plant goes away, the turtles are gonna stick around.”
Victoria is not a biologist. She is a writer. She knows all the tiny details about the conservation plan, from the sea turtles to the nesting habits of the California least terns. What is the point of habitat conservation? Why does she care about the green sea turtles or the California least tern? She pauses for a minute.
“You tug on this piece of the web and it all moves, so you have to look at that too. I don’t know if the California least tern has some effect on us all, but I think it does.”
Later that week, things improve when I am hired at a breezy café situated along Highway 101. The inside is decorated with surfboards, giant pink conch shells, and palm fronds to accent the happily tanned employees. I might as well do San Diego all the way, I think, and put on some corduroy shorts.
On my first day, I notice the manager’s habit of saying “No worries.” I wonder about the sorts of worries I could be having while spreading peanut butter on bagels and fastening plastic monkeys onto smoothie straws. After receiving winks from old surfer dudes, I make a brash decision.
I quit that first day, with hopes of finding something better. Emboldened by my quitter’s high, I come home with the ambition to make a statement. I am sick of being a customer-service whore. I am going to shave my head.
I call my younger sister Nedda, who lives in San Francisco. I tell her I am bald.
She scoffs through the phone, “So, you’re one of those feminists?”
This is not the reaction I want. I tell her I am not actually bald.
“What do you mean you aren’t bald? Why did you tell me you’re bald?”
“I’ve just been thinking about it,” I say, fishing for some sort of encouragement. “I’m not bald yet.”
“Well, good, because you already dress pretty ugly. People will think you’re a dyke.”
“But I want people to think I’m a dyke, if that is the only way to be taken seriously. I’m thinking forward.”
My sister’s doubts are annoying, but I don’t want to shave my head anyway. I hang up and go online to look for a job.
I am contacted on Facebook by the prospective groom in Alberta. He would like to chat. My aunt has already told me everything I need to know, namely his family legacy and that he is studying to get his Ph.D. By my family’s standards, he is a real catch. She also informs me that he is looking for someone who is Westernized.
I block him from my profile and continue scouring the web for office jobs on craigslist.
Hundreds of ads solicit self-motivated data clerks and undervalued team players. Since I’m neither, I conclude that I am not ready to wear business drab yet. I continue scrounging around at the bottom of the service industry, not quite sure where I fit. I take a break and dream of turtles.
They once were so abundant in the Pacific that flotillas of migrating turtles in Baja waters would slow navigators. Surrounded by the swarms, it wouldn’t have required more than an afterthought for 17th- and 18th-century pirates and explorers to eat this unassuming prey. By 1920, up to 1000 sea turtles were being shipped to San Diego restaurants on a weekly basis.