Jeff Smith noon, Sept. 16
Neighborhood of Quiet Desperation
Neat. Orderly. Quiet but for the intermittent high-rev blasts of black,
plastic-phallused leaf blowers and caws of an exponentially increasing population of crows, Del Mar Heights sits comfortably wedged atop a mesa west of Interstate 5, one mile east of the Pacific Ocean. Any tsunami worthy of the name would have to raze the bistros, boutiques and real estate offices of Del Mar and climb over 300 vertical feet, toppling Torrey Pines and filling Crest Canyon on the way, to even dampen the manicured sod of a single Del Mar Heights home.
Upon Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration, Robert Lowell wrote the poem with the final line: “...and the Republic summons Ike, the mausoleum in its heart.” Tired of the physical, psychological and moral trauma of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans wanted only to be left alone, to rest. And if you happened to be white and among the first wave of the growing middle class, what better place to rest and raise a family than the suburbs, with its streets and homes and turf laid out as neatly as any military cemetery.
And since I’ve been a Del Mar Heights resident for over a third of my adult life, what does that say about me? Well, besides admitting that I like(d) being one of the comfortable living dead, it may say sour grapes. Laid off two months ago from a moderately low-paying, but mostly enjoyable and "spiritually rewarding" job working with dyslexic kids of mostly successful and ambitious parents, my mind has begun the spiraling, self-accelerating dance of fear of the recently unemployed. Downsizing is the now overused term for having to start living with less of everything, except stress and facing ugly truths about oneself.
After a morning of emailing resumes into the black hole of Craigslist.com, I take a break. Strolling the serenely suburban street east of Crest Canyon, I greet and exchange pleasantries with neighbors, most of whose names I’ve never bothered to learn. An elderly Taiwanese woman walking her beagle and mini-schnauzer, a middle-aged man with an overweight yellow lab. As I continue my walk, scenes from “Blue Velvet” flash onto my visual cortex. I stop to rub a chartreuse leaf of black sage between thumb and forefinger. Inhaling as deeply as Dennis Hopper's depraved and haunted character from the film, I hope the familiar fragrance will serve as an olfactory meditation, holding me in the timelessness of the moment. But more, I hope to sage away--exorcise--my growing, nearly paralyzing, negativity.
The volatile scent brings a moment of calm. I fill my vision with the muted green leaves and brilliant purple blossoms of the osha yerba bushes. But then the spiked green pod of a clinging, green-tentacled wild cucumber catches my eye, and scenes of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” jumps to mind. One-armed white crucifixes with real estate “For Sale” signs are springing out of front lawns like dandelions. Late model Volvos and Beemers are left parked on Mango by the Vons shopping center with more For Sale signs. Osteoporotic, stooped pensioners are working as bag boys and cashiers. The Federal Reserve (which like the Moral Majority is neither) and its Washington minions have wound up the printing presses to levels that would make the head of the Zimbabwean mint blush, making a dollar literally worth less than two 1912 pennies. But no one shows any emotion, any sense of pain or outrage.
Maybe it’s not an invasion of extraterrestrial Body Snatchers, but that of the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry. Between the Paxil, Nutrasweet, Oxycontin, and high fructose corn sweetener, maybe we’re incapable of feeling any emotion. But then again, maybe that’s for the best. I’d hate to see Del Mar Heights end up like the suburbs of France.
Oh well. Time to go. I promised my wife one last lunch at Le Bambou, and some frozen yogurt at the Golden Spoon. I guess there are a lot of things worse than being a Pod Person in Del Mar Heights.