Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Painfully Normal: Suburbia, East Chula Vista and Family Values
The year was 1994. I was 13. The time was 7pm, I was suppose to be doing my Algebra homework, but I had a secret obsession with watching a news magazine show called Hard Copy. The segment I began to watch was called “High School Nympho Club.” Naturally, being a young-adolescent going through puberty, I was instantly intrigued. In the midst of being hypnotized by the provocative images on the screen, I heard the words “Eastlake High.” I wasn’t sure whether to be excited, worried, scared, or euphoric, but I if I remember correctly I think I felt all of those emotions simultaneously.
Eastlake High opened in 1992, and it did not have a feeder school (Eastlake Middle) yet, so the district (Sweetwater) had open enrollment to nearby middle schools and junior highs. In 94, I was an eighth grader at Hilltop middle bound for Nympho-Club High. Much to my naïve disappointment by the time I arrived at Eastlake High most of the nympho-club pioneers had either been expelled or graduated.
Thus my high school experience was nowhere near as exciting as I initially anticipated. East Chula Vista looked a bit different back then. Otay Ranch, was really a ranch. Olympic parkway (street) did not exist. The only strip mall we had (95-96), was the one on Otay Lakes Road with the Vons, McDonald’s and Computer Renaissance. Today, East Chula Vista is a poster child for suburban sprawl, the corporate invasion includes: Target, Wendy’s. Subway, Albertson’s, Macy’s, Chilli’s, PF changs, Kohls. Basically, every lame, redundant, unoriginal corporate store imaginable exists in East Chula Vista today, with the exception of my two favorite stores: Trader Joe’s and Borders.
Throughout High School and college I was internally haunted and conflicted with an inferiority complex to every hip/popular San Diego community (Mission Beach, La Jolla, North Park, Kensington, Mission Valley, Gaslamp). I analyzed my community with so much self-hate because it was so painfully normal. All the homes are some shade of beige/crème. The architecture is homogeneous. The lake in Eastlake is artificial. There are no dolphins at dolphin beach. Eastlake greens, is really not that green, and there is no forest in the Eastlake woods.
So we don’t have cool zip code t-shirts like Mission Bay that say 92109, nor the hipsterish skinny jeans allure of North Park, nor the yuppie post ball-game nightlife of downtown, nor the elitist tradition of La Jolla, nor are we a singles Mecca like PB, but East Chula Vista is an ideal place for America’s most sacred institution: the family.
Today my father had a colonoscopy. For the first time in my life, I realized that my father was mortal, that he was not superman. As I waited in the reception room, I got teary eyed because for the first-time in my life I was afraid of tomorrow. Growing up my father would routinely greet me as “campeon” or champ. My motivation academically and athletically was always to seek to his approval, to get his famous “champ” greeting. I never suspected that this would have such a profound emotional effect on me. As I sat there waiting I received various phone calls from work colleagues. The calls were work-related but they quickly shifted to my fathers’ colonoscopy because my friends could tell I was an emotional wreck. Three hours later, the doctor gave us a positive prognosis that the tests indicated that my father was cancer-free. When I arrived home I had 22 unread emails in my inbox. Two of the emails were from work-colleagues and the rest were from my students at Eastlake High. Somehow, they all knew that my father was getting some sort of testing done. All the emails expressed genuine concern and hope.
Today I realized why I chose to comeback to teach, live, and coach in the community I grew up in, because underneath the homogeneous architecture, the variations of beige, the lame stores, and the painful normality of East Chula Vista we have created an adolescent culture that is compassionate about humanity not nympho clubs.