Walter Mencken 2:08 p.m., Aug. 27
- Community Blog
- The Combat Zone
The Combat Zone
La Mesa was OK. It was convenient, boring, close to school and unknown to us when we moved down from Washington. Sure, I think they sold drugs out of the hair salon down the street and the purpose of the condoms on the sidewalk was confirmed by the women walking down El Cajon Blvd. But it worked OK, it was just kind of mediocre. We wanted to move somewhere more “happening.” But where is happening in San Diego? Maybe North Park, it seems OK. But a little too crowded, dirty, cityish. And, living in Seattle gave me a pretty severe allergy to hipsters. As in, I can’t stand those smug, cooler than thou SOBs. Adams Ave, University Heights, Golden Hill, South Park, all fine but similar complaints. So maybe Pacific Beach? Don’t think so, considering that I don’t do steroids and my wife does not spend her life between the beach, the tanning salon, and some bars patio. How about OB, my wife has been working there and likes it. It seems pretty nice on the surface too. But I have this image in my head of being pummeled in an alley by tattooed “locals” for daring to set foot in their bar. But shit, where else are we going to move? At least the OB Attitude is genuine, as in go f### yourself loser. Not some bearded, jean jacketed, jerk off looking at me stupid cause my tshirt is neither vintage nor related to that cool band that recorded that one album in 1976 before they committed mass suicide for an Andy Warhol art project. OB beats North Park and the beach is always good, even for my lilly whiteness. So we start seeing apartments, some nice, some crappy, and we start hearing the murmurings. The landlord on Del Monte finally clued us in, this is a nice place here, you don’t want to live down there in the “Combat Zone.” The what? Yeah, the Combat Zone, where all the tweakers, bikers, homeless people, local partyers, and vacation partyers make noise and act ornery. Well no thank you, that does not sound good. So we are schooled on the exact boundaries. West of Sunset Cliffs, North of Newport. It’s like the Gaza Strip of Ocean Beach. We chose Israel. Our place was pretty nice, by the cliffs, quiet, nice neighbors, young people having fun but in a subdued, happy way. We had some of the OB character, our gypsy of a neighbor getting us drunk and consistently hitting on my wife. The nice couple with a cute baby living in a small one bedroom but loving the beach way better than suburban New Jersey. It was cool, we liked it, our house was moldy and falling apart but it was cheap and it was two blocks from the water. But then…”I waaant a doggggiee.” My wife has a baby voice which I have no defense for. A dog huh? I guess that sounds OK. Can we get a dog landlord?, no, but our neighbors have one, oh, cause it’s old and they have wood floors, are you sure, OK, I guess we are going to move. Problem is, for all the dogs in OB, no landlord admits to allowing them. “You just got to get one anyway” we are told, that sounds too stressful though. We look for three months with little luck, everything in our target areas is way too expensive. And she really wants a dog. Finally, I nice place is located, detached unit, little yard. It’s a nice, cute beach cottage. But wait, it’s in the combat zone. Not only that, it is on one of the three busy north/south streets coming into OB. She is fed up with me, it will be fine she says, we are moving and getting a dog. I guess that is settled. We move in and it becomes clear that this is not in fact a combat zone. It is more noisy than the last place, stupid bikers seem to love revving their engines by my house, we get, your pretty badass. The neighbors across the street have a penchant for singalong parties, at three AM, on a Monday night. From time to time, I gotta tell drunk people that while I have no problem with them as a person, I would prefer that they not sit/sleep on my steps. But we like it, we get a dog, a pretty awesome one at that. And we are close to Dog Beach which is good. And then this combat zone they speak begins to talk back. Reveal it’s true character. Fourth of July, hosting some friends, showing off the new place. All of a sudden the lady next to us leans over her fence, and let’s me know with a thick Eastern European accent “zere iss enimals coming in my yard.” She has seen my cat. She is not happy and she is calling me out in front of my friends. She adds that she has been advised by people to put out poison “but I don’t vant to do zat, I don’t vant to hert enimal.” I am glad to hear that lady, I would prefer that you not kill my cat for shitting in your garden. I offer to help clean up the crap, which she declines, but it seems to appease her. We’re friends now. Just a little while later, walking past a certain Laundromat with the puppy and a shady looking fellow asks me, “want to dance.” Do I want to dance with you, not really? He asks again, this time I hear him better, “do you want a dance, a lap dance, from her.” He points to a woman standing behind him. About forty, probably pretty good looking in her time, some last vestiges of that beauty remaining. But I don’t want a dance from her either. In fact, she looks familiar. Oh yeah, she tried to come to my group at the drug treatment center I worked at right before I quit. My group was not for walk-ins but I wished her well and told her when to come back. Seeing her like this bothered me. I wanted to tell her to go back to the program, to get away from this scumbag, that recovery happens, maybe I could even stomp his head in in an alley. But I didn’t, I am just jaded enough to leave it alone. She will choose her own path. Then there are the old schoolers, the pillars of this strange society. Of course there are the herds of young peope, no shirts and bikinis, heading to the bars and beaches on the weekend. There are also the people that used to be part of that herd…in 1965. They never left, mourning the golden days of this lost hippies paradise. “When you could walk from kegger to kegger on the weekend” they tell me. But they remain, no doubt many former friends now married, moved up the hill, inland, back to Colorado. They remain, chasing the illusive golden days of themselves and this neighborhood. The men drinking beer, tuning up the car, and trying to holler at girls. The women still rocking daisy dukes on a hot day. Well do your thing, you still got it. Time passes and it is working pretty good here in the combat zone. The idea that people are fighting in the street or are trying to mug you in allies has gone away. Then, one Saturday morning, I wake up to the dog barking and see some dude walking down my hallway. My wife would tell you that I wake up grumpy and disoriented on a good day. I come rumbling after him “whoooo the f### are you.” The dog is behind me, the puppy is now a pretty big, scary boy. The guy sits on the couch when we catch up to him. My wife completes the scene as she comes down the hallway with our in home security system, a 16 inch framing hammer. We got him surrounded. But who is this guy. He is wearing a wife beater and jeans, no belt and no shoes. He looks disoriented. It’s 7 am, what kind of person would try to rob your house at 7 am. He says he was supposed to let his out of town friend’s German Shepherd out this morning. Sounds kind of fishy, but I am so confused from waking up with this kind of adrenaline rush, I just don’t know. And he looks scared, looking back and forth between my wife with the hammer, the still growling 80 pound dog, and me standing over him in my boxers. OK, turn out your pockets, nothing of ours there, you can go. He leaves a dollar on the table by mistake, I guess we came out on top. Now we lock the back door though. All things considered, I am glad we moved down here. This is OB, the funky, quirky, skuzzy place they speak of. It’s cool, people are actually pretty friendly, we even have developed a kind of mutual respect with the homeless people. But we are Northerners, we miss the weather, and California is too damned expensive. We will probably be leaving sooner rather than later. But it has been fun to be here so far, to be a part of this OB experience at least for some time. As long as the skateboarders stop trying to do grinds on our railings, things will be pretty good.