Walter Mencken 12:02 p.m., May 30
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"Everyone, this is my friend Jenn," my old neighbor Gino announces to the OB Fourth of July barbecue. "She is visiting from out of town."
"Oh yeah?" slurs one young man. "Visiting from where?"
"Point Loma," Gino deadpans as the entire crown erupts in laughter.
The lame attempt at a joke resonated. It completely articulated something that until then I had been unable to understand, a feeling of displacement growing within me. Even on the long, sweaty walk to this very party, it was as if I was seeing the common streets of OB for the first time.
A scant few weeks earlier, the unfortunate combination of a massive flood and an apathetic slumlord had forced me and my boyfriend Eddie out of our OB duplex. Setting up camp in a series of cheap hotel rooms and one altruistic friend's bedroom, we scanned classifieds for the ever elusive mid-month vacancy. The difficult circumstances had slimmed our preferences: near the water with an operating garbage disposal and definitely not in PB. On the day before we intended on succumbing to a crowded complex, we stumbled upon a gem of a two-bedroom. Its hardwood floors, shiny appliances and modest rent all seemed like a justified karmic reward for our brief tenure as transients. The fact that this miracle lay ‘over the hill’ from OB didn’t really register. We retained the same 92107 zip code. We still branched directly off Voltaire. As far as we knew, we remained OBecians.
But as any loyal resident knows, the spirit of OB is as territorial as it is welcoming.
A popular license plate frame reads: “Ocean Beach: 7 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality”. It doesn’t much matter whether you are living inside that 7 mile bubble or are on the outside peering in. It makes sense. Its truth is especially stark when you move away from OB’s nucleus. Lately when back in OB, I find myself noticing things I obviously long took for granted. Tribes of panhandlers scattered about, skateboarders and beach cruisers blatantly ignoring common traffic laws, the wide-eyed families of Midwestern tourists misled by Expedia ads for ‘beautiful beach front rentals’. All the idiosencracies that once simply caused my eyes to roll, in this new light fascinated me.
Our friends found it hard to believe we could ever leave the comforting bowl of OB proper, what with its strong 20-something population and vast network of bars open at 6 AM. When we tried to reason, mentioning the rent and the fact we could see Sea World’s fireworks from our window, they simply shook their heads. I couldn’t help but think of my great-grandmother’s story of how demented everyone thought her when she and my great-grandfather left their downtown apartment for a Kearny Mesa home in the early 50’s. Granted, GG and Pops were separated by a single dirt road, and our friends were still within a mile’s radius.
While decompressing from OB culture, another strange thing began to happen. When asked after my new whereabouts, I didn’t quite know how to answer. When I said Ocean Beach, they wanted to know where exactly, meaning I had to reveal my obscure new address. Saying Point Loma felt dishonest, as if I were leading people to believe that I owned a sailboat and indulged in discreet ‘dermatological procedures’.
“We don’t have a neighborhood,” I whined one evening to Eddie. “We’re straddling the doorway of two places. I feel untethered.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But how about this?” as he enthusiastically switched the garbage disposal on and off.
In reality, only small changes have occurred. Going to Stumps for groceries instead of Olive Tree. A late night beer at Cat Lounge, no longer Tiny’s. Driving to the beach when Eddie’s board is in tow. Little things, nonetheless the very things that shape a neighborhood and inevitably mold the lives of those who live there. It wasn’t the location of our old house that made us part of OB, rather the immersion of our lives into what makes it up.
Our new place is quieter, and nicer, than our old one. I wake up every morning without the sounds of squawking refugee parrots or conflicting church bell hymnals booming at one another from opposite street corners. I’ve yet to be mugged with a chef’s knife, as I was last winter at the corner of Narrangansett and Cable. But it would be a lie to say that I don’t miss OB, or that almost saccharine feeling of belonging that the community so prides itself upon. The small ache is easily cured, its remedy only a short, uphill walk away.