A rainy-day trip to Wings on Newport (amuse the outta-town guests — Seattle/Pasadena — with some local O.B. color), my oldest granddaughter approaches with an obscenely blue shell embellished with a garish Tweety Bird. “Grammy, can I get this hermit crab? I will pay with my own money! He can live at your house, here in San Diego!”
No! Of course I say “no.” A common character defect: I open my mouth before engaging my brain. What the hell would I want with a hermit crab? But I look at this kid — almost a teenager, on the verge of real babe-hood — and me, now 100 miles away. The lightbulb flashes: We can keep in touch; we can email about the crab soon to be known as “Bob.” So…okay, you can get him, but ditch that blue shell for a “real” one. She does, and on that rainy day, bobthehermitcrab leaves the edgy, gritty splendor that is Ocean Beach and comes to the strip-mall/tract-house haven that is Clairemont.
When I moved here earlier this year I wanted to live in O.B. or maybe Point Loma. Clairemont just wasn’t parta the plan, but houses in O.B./Point Loma were trashy or scary or too small or too expensive or not receptive to the 100-pound dog that shares housing with me (and now Bob!). So here we are in Clairemont in a condo — too good to be true. And Clairemont, well, it just is not all that bad.
I grew up in a waterfront town east of Seattle. Bill Gates et al. have turned that small haven into an art gallery–
infested chichi wonderland, and you need to drive to a town ten miles away to buy socks or underwear. In Clairemont, commerce that sustains real life is all around us, everywhere. I have never seen so many everyday-life stores all practically within walking distance. And the people — they are all smiling! In the Vons, the pet store, the key place — all are smiling. I know all the guys in Home Depot from helpful and happy encounters. I can see the sunset from my dining room, the bay view is a two-minute drive… and the off-leash park? Where else could there be an off-leash park with an almost 200-degree ocean/bay/skyline view like Cadman?
My neighbors in this tiny complex all seem to know each other, look out for each other, notice cars and wanderers that do not belong, and actually approach with a “Do you live here? May I help you?” I was welcomed with goodies. I awoke on Valentine’s Day to find a little bag of heart-shaped candies on my doorknob, and everything I want, everything I need is less than eight miles in any direction. La Jolla in the morning, downtown in the afternoon, Sunset Cliffs at sunset — all easy drives. And then back to Clairemont, safe and comfortable by a real fire with the big dog, bobthehermitcrab, and another email from the kid detailing the website she has set up for the care and nurturing of Bob (one section: “Bob the crab in puberty” — she adds, “if he lives that long”) and how we can blog each other re: his progress.
From a six-figure corporate controller to a cyberspace grammy in the suburbs — I rush too quickly to judgment. Clairemont is teaching me once again to remember the Stones’ profound epiphany: We may not always get what we want, but in Clairemont I just ended up getting everything I need, and I like that. Clairemont is not just Bob’s but my new neighborhood, too, where I am cherishing the lesson that somehow took a junk-store hermit crab and the friendly, happy, down-to-earth folks in Clairemont to help me see.