Ken Leighton 4:11 p.m., Sept. 3
- Community Blog
- The Square Deal
The Square Deal
San Diego is known, to San Diegans at least, as Americas Finest City. It could just as easily been called The City of Self Righteous Attitudes or City of Perpetual Disorder or The City Councils Shady Payday. It rests on the laurels of its climate and stops there. I always thought that self serving logic is humanity’s most dangerous attitude. After our bout of self love we stop trying. We stop looking through the cracks and scraping off the stucco that covers up reality. San Diego never rolls back it curtain it just tells the audience that whatever is behind that curtain is the best thing a person could see. There is no curtain call here. The actors have already taken the money and run.
Any jaunt through the forgotten neighborhoods of Dago will display the pastiche of peculiarity that really reigns in this town. Beat up trucks. Beat up houses. Beat up people. The alleys tell the stories not the freeways, but people cocoon themselves in their cars. They don’t see or smell or taste the neighborhood. They leave Logan Heights to Logan Heights. They drive through, pay attention to potholes and leave. They do not excavate, they evacuate. Some people find ways to live in the ground, in these nooks that most people miss, the places that most of San Diego doesn't notice.
My hole in San Diego is Sherman Heights. Only the cops and the neighbors know anyone’s here. It is an old suburb swallowed up by ring after ring of newer suburbs. We look at what the tourists see as our San Diego and pretend we are a welcome part of the charade. In San Diego we hope they will remember us, but rather, they remember our eponym, Americas Finest City. Who needs reality with a nickname like that? If a person can look outside everyday and see perfection how will they motivate themselves to improve their city?
Sherman Heights is a crescendo of all that makes me love my hometown. I can scan the horizon and see all that is real about life. The view is great too. It is a strange fantasy to see the shimmer of the bay as I look through the concrete and steel canyons of Market Street. Odd love and odd people make the perverse attitude of this neighborhood seem perfectly normal. I fit in here. I can walk around here stinking drunk and talk to almost anyone, or no one. There are addicts and drunks. There are fools and heroes. There is class and ass. Most importantly, there are families of every shape, color, size and weight class. You can see it all. The problem is a lot of us aren't paying attention.
I walk out into the fog of the early morning. My depravity knows no bounds today. I am in the right part of town. I walk to the Square Deal and buy three deuces of Coors. I need a lot of beer and I need it while the sun spares my gaelic skin from its never ending glow. I walk past a couple hidden in a nook off of 18th Street.
"Can I get a smoke?" No please or respect just a demand. It's an old gang banger chick with a tough accent and a face that looks like it’s been punched in too many times. Her accent suits her."
I don't sell cigarettes."
"I, do not sell cigarettes."
"What time is it?” I ask.
She looks at her watch that is too nice to wear if you are trying to bum cigarettes. "Eleven o'clock 'ey"
"Ok," I say knowing full well it is nine in the morning.
She walks off and her old man starts screaming at me about respect. "Someday yo’ your going to be going down the street wantin’ a cigarette, then what are you going to do?" He asks as if I have never thought about this before.
"Go buy a another pack"
"You smart ass faggot, I'm gonna kick your ass," he says as I walk by him looking at a young girl across the street. He is forty years older than me, four inches shorter and barely looks like he could have whipped me in his prime.
"It’s called respect 'ey" she burps at me.
"Whatever, you’re begging from me. I say no and now you act offended." I walk off as they emit a kabbala of curses at me. I turn around and realize they are following me.
"If you want a free cigarette why don’t you ask the cashier for one?” I taunt as I walk into the liquor store. The Square Deal liquor store is as depressing as possible. It is a converted shit hole of a house that someone gutted to sell booze to the local winos. A tangible display that in this neighborhood everybody is out to take advantage of you and they will do it any way they can. We walk out and a crack head stumbles by, he notices my smoke.
"Hey, do you have any extra cigarettes?" He asks.
I walk back to the house and find my good friend Bodi outside. I hand him a beer. "Hey fat stuff, what you been up to?" He asks.
"Doing work, Life is weird."
"Of Course," he has an annoyed look. "What you working on?"
"I’m finishing the details on those drawings that I've been working on. You know class work." I respond and begin our ubiquitous architectural discussion.
"It’s not just class work," he yells.
"Whatever man," I say.
“If you are going to disregard anything we do in this profession then... you are the jerk off. You gotta want to be an architect. You gotta want to be a designer."
"I do and you know that, you’re kidding yourself," I yell.
"We'll, fat neck. You need to understand that architecture is about space. Space! Do you understand?"
"What are you talking about?" I respond quizzically.
"Everything." It seems that a world where we have to consider everything is too big of a task. This is why we have architects in the first place. To have an expert on putting buildings together, so not every building looks the same. I think of an Indian village and how it is little more than a collection of well constructed tents. There is no need for an architect within this context. People simply put up their wigwams to keep the wind and rain out. This isn’t architecture it is a tool.
I think before I respond, "I see why architecture is about everything.”
“This ought to be good,” he laughs.
“Well, if you think about everything you blow your own mind. You are in way over your head, which is why I took some time to respond, but as an architect you push ‘everything’ into a group. This group informs what you do to the point that it is a lens, so far as ‘everything’ can congeal into a singular lens. This is where sex comes in.”
“Oh my good god,” Bodi groans.
“Yes sex, every adult knows what sex is. Sex is intercourse, but it is the details that make sex. Is she hot? Is he hot? Are we on our honeymoon? Are we screwing in the back of Ford pickup? You consider everything so that every experience is profound, is unique, is memorable, is specific. The variables make the difference, so we consider everything to make each experience different. Sex is intercourse and architecture is structure. It is everything else that makes these acts powerful… I mean look at the Villa Montezuma down the street. It might as well be a woman with too much jewelry on. It is gaudy and bawdy; no one could actually live there, so they made it a museum.”
"God, you are a weirdo. What are you doing today?”
We jostle around and pound a few deuces. Beer is good. I blank out and then blink back in. We can see it all from where we are standing: the future, the past, the present and everything in between. What you see depends on how you look at it. If you want to see a toilet bowl, drink until you throw up. If you want to see paradise, throw caution to the wind. If you want to see reality go shit, shower and shave. You'll see the brown, clean and polished. I ponder this as the wind picks up and blows a few cyclists and paper bags across the street. Bodi makes a run to the Square Deal. I sit alone and watch the sun fight the clouds for ascendency. Then I spot a new building that I never noticed before, the Hilton. Who sneaks things like that into down town, 'Oh yeah, money.' I eye it suspiciously even though it is typical, a huge building in the way of my view of the bay. Another place I will never go to in a better position than I am in. Bodi returns he has the look of a jackal, which is scary because he doesn't need look like one to seem like one. We decide to ride our bikes to the bay front to take advantage of the inevitable beautiful day.
As we cross the freeway bridge on Island Avenue we see it, a huge coyote. He is trotting alongside a fence separating the freeway from the street. He didn't hear us because we were riding quietly, imbibing the aesthetics of the day. He looks at me as if to say, "I blame you for this, white man. I used to run this place. I hunted all I want. I had all the bitches I wanted. I ran this town, my very own city of sage and cacti. It was perfect and then you ruined it with your roads. Now, all I have are the forgotten places. The places you avoid white man. I live in the cemetery or next to the freeway. I live where you don't want to go, even if you own it.” As I look back I can see his eyes reflect the foggy day.
Did I just hear that? I pondered it profusely all the way down the hill until I have to stop at the next intersection. Bodi rides through as if all the bollocks of downtown skim off him and fall right in my face. I stop and look back up the hill at Sherman. I could crash and skate and dig and love. I would never know how much beauty is contained in my neighborhood her cup doesn't runneth over, it sprints.