Julie Stalmer 6:30 p.m., July 23
- Community Blog
- back at the ranch
back at the ranch
I crashed the cymbal and tore into the drum set for the final fill. I had just finished playing for the first time at a popular local jam session and I wanted to make sure everyone would remember me. Judging by the applause, I was pretty sure they would.
"You're good," one of the musicians said. "Where do you live?"
I hesitated. I've learned to dread this question since moving back to San Diego last November. If I answer honestly and tell them that I live in Scripps Ranch, the response is always the same:
"Oh. Do you live with your parents?"
Why else would a twentysomething musician be living in a neighborhood almost exclusively reserved for young families and the grandparents who finished raising their young families in the eighties and nineties? As I wander the winding sidewalks and watch the light filter through the narrow branches of the eucalyptus trees that give Scripps Ranch its distinctive character, pricy real estate, and hazardous fire conditions, I often ask myself, "How did I get here? Where did I go wrong? And how soon can I achieve the financial independence necessary to move to a neighborhood where I actually make sense?"
The story of my journey back to the 'Ranch begins in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It's October 2009. I am curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the room I rent sobbing violently because I have just spilled a bag of sugar all over the room, and the ants are already showing up. Filthy dishes are piled in a stinking stack on top of the toilet in my small bathroom. Pots and pans caked with charred food soak in soapy water in the shower. I reach down to claw at the seething mass of mosquito bites on my ankles. I have fifteen minutes to get downtown to the English classes I've been teaching illegally since my Fulbright scholarship ended on August 2nd. I earn about eight dollars an hour for the group classes downtown and about fifteen dollars an hour for the private lessons in Barra, the ultra-snobby Miami rip-off neighborhood two hours away from my house by bus. My phone rings. It's my boyfriend, calling to let me know he'll be over after work and asking if I cooked today...he'll be starving when he gets here...
I told myself that I had decided to stay in Brazil so that I could continue the percussion studies I had started with Uncle Fulbright. I convinced myself that there was still a lot for me to learn, and that it would be a great experience for me to actually have a job in another country, especially when my own country's economy had taken a nose dive. The reality was that I was sweating profusely on a bus almost all day long going from one end of Rio to the other, trying to balance teahcing English classes with basic survival, samba school rehearsals and the occasional drum lesson. I was not earning enough money to cover all of my expenses, and if I wanted to be a Real Adult and stop taking money from my parents, the next step would be to marry my boyfriend, get a work visa, and move into an apartment even more grim than the armpit I was currently living in. The scariest part is that I actually considered doing this, and after mentioning it on the phone to my mother one day, she stopped me mid-sentence.
"Sweetie...is that really what you want to do? Why don't you come home, regroup, and take some time to think about what you really want?"
As I began to weigh the pros and cons of what would be one of the most important decisions of my life, I started to have dreams at night about my old neighborhood. I would be swimming in the pool on a bright blue late summer afternoon at the Swim and Racquet Club, or feeding the ducks at the secret pond behind my house, or watching the sun set over the Golden Triangle from the park above Miramar Lake. I could smell the peculiar mix of eucalyptus and chaparral that would cling to my clothes after a walk through the canyons. I even had glorious visions of my mother's kitchen, with its gleaming countertops, stainless-steel sink, and my favorite appliance of all, the dishwasher.
I bought the ticket. It was time to go home.
We moved to Scripps Ranch when I was ten years old. It was a dream come true for me; we had lived in a neighborhood full of grouchy retirees who would constantly complain about us making too much noise as we played in the street, but Scripps was going to be a kid-friendly neighborhood just like the ones I saw on my favorite Nickolodeon sitcoms. I couldn't wait to finish fifth grade at the local elementary school; I fully intended to make its bizarre seventies architecture the setting for The Catherine Barnes Show. Unfortunately, I was not a hit; I couldn't play four square, or tetherball, or wall ball, or dodgeball, or any other kind of ball, for that matter. I sat by myself and read at lunch. The school was on a year-round calendar, and the year dragged on and on. Starting middle school, where no one really knew anyone anymore and I was prohibited from wearing the awkward Birkenstock sandals I favored in elementary school, was the only thing that revived my social life.
Moving back here at twenty-three, I feel like a social pariah once again. In Brazil, it's normal for young adults to live with their parents until well into their thirties; here in the States, I've seen at least three newspaper articles in the past few months pointing the finger at my generation--the "Millenials"--for moving back in with their parents in alarming numbers due to the dismal state of the economy and an apparant lack of interest in social pressures to get married, get a job, have kids, saddle yourself with a mortgage and wait to die (wait a minute...didn't the Baby Boomers rebel against that, too? Why are they acting like they haven't seen this before?). As much as articles like this irritate me, they remind me of a very important fact: I am not alone. Had I been living at home a decade ago, it would have been blaringly obvious that I don't have it all figured out just yet; in today's world, I can hide my shame and confusion behind general social trends.
I still haven't answered the musician's question. The silence is starting to get uncomfortable, so I finish weighing my options and blurt out an answer. "Mira Mesa. I live in Mira Mesa."
"Cool," he says. "That's not far from here."
Having successfully diverted the "parents" question, I pack my drums up and drive back up the 163 to the 15. I pull off at the Pomerado Road exit into the fairy world of houses and lanterns hidden behind the trees. The first time I saw Scripps Ranch at night, it reminded me of the Ewok village from Star Wars. All these years later, it still does.
It's good to be home.
More like this:
- Maybe Not Never Again — June 19, 2012
- "Rapist! Murderer! Child Molestor!" — March 18, 2009
- Scared to Grow Up — March 9, 2006
- Scripps Ranch boasts most Girl Scouts in the county — Dec. 30, 2004
- Are the van Dams Fit Parents? — March 28, 2002