Had I known that my friend Herman, the whittler, was tracking me that Sunday in Loma Portal, I might not have turned in to the two-dollar barbershop on Loma Square shopping center, where he cornered me with his big German grin to tell me that he and his wife Pat, we’re going to Florence, Italy. I might have led him instead to some more exotic destination in that metropolitan area, perhaps to Pacers, only a kiss away. Just what it is a kiss away from, I don’t know, and I’ll probably never find out, because my wife doesn’t permit me to go to such fun places. She probably would let me go to Florence, Italy, but then, I think I would prefer living art.
I often find myself in the Loma Portal area because it is only a hike away from my home and because it is such a lively place, exuding raw energy in the way that contemporary life has of burning bonfires to the gods for nothing. Sometimes I think I’m still grieving the demise of FedMart, where you didn’t have to wait six weeks for some programmed manager to bait you with a good beer price to get you into the store. I judge supermarkets by their beer prices, and I can tell you, the only thing super about them is their prices. They can advertise all they want to in their hysterical fashion in print or on TV, bragging about their new low-prices, but they can’t fool me. When I see what they charge for their beer, I know they’re putting me on.
The passing of FedMart was like the death of a friend you could count on. Having shopped the old Main Street store and the Convoy Street store, I felt like a charter member when they opened the Sports Arena palace. It was like knowing an urchin with talent who had suddenly grown up rich and famous. And then suddenly the kid was gone, done in by an overdose of success or something. America’s general store went the way of the general store.
But Loma Portal remains, and it is hardly a graveyard, even if three once-successful discount emporiums have bit the dust. Like other busy parts of San Diego, it has its deadly intersections. I was standing one Saturday at the intersection of Rosecrans, Sports Arena, and Camino Del Rio West, waiting to cross to pick up my wife at Pic’n’ Save, which is her second home, or her home away from home, when I was reminded of the old traffic circle which graced that intersection in the good old days when Sports Arena Boulevard bore the honest name of Frontier. I was reminded of the traffic circle because it occurred to me that the drivers were going through that intersection as if the traffic circle was still there, changing lanes like drunken skunks to symphonies of blaring horns and burning rubber as they realized they were in the wrong lane and they were headed somewhere they didn’t want to go because, a block or so back, they got in the wrong lane. The secret of contemporary living, of course, is to be in the right lane, and I don’t know why someone hasn’t written a volume entitled Great Intersections of the World, or established a school of therapy based on intersection trauma. When you stand at one of these intersections, you get a sense of all the energy being consumed, human and material, as you wonder in awe: where the hell is everyone going, and in such insane fashion?
It can’t be the two-dollar barber shop, because that tonsorial parlor is not that big or that busy, even though you have to take a number. It deserves that kind of traffic, though, because it’s the best entertainment I’ve had since I stopped going to the opera, and I only have to go there every five weeks or so. Once there were three Marines in there waiting for their turn in the chair, who spontaneously put on a comedy act that would have shamed the Marx brothers. They had everybody smiling or laughing, and when was the last time you saw a lot of guys just sitting around and smiling and laughing and just waiting? The place is not only instant nostalgia, it also may be the last bastion of sanity in San Diego. Long hair probably made the world a worse place to live in because men stopped laughing in barber shops.
But when was the last time you saw someone laughing at a busy intersection? Faces are tense, for they are battlegrounds: drivers worried about turns; drivers worried about lanes; drivers worried about running red lights; pedestrians worried about confronting life-threatening situations every time they venture to step off the curb with a walk-light in their favor. The Department of Defense should investigate the prospect of creating a series of busy intersections as a first line of defense against conventional invasion. Intersections are one subject about which it is difficult to think of anything funny to say, short of Chaplinesque humor. They remind me of the Rupert Brooke line from his poem, “The Dead”: “And we have come into our heritage.”
Considering the prevalence of busy intersections and the absence of islands of sanity like barber shops, it is surprising that there is not more withdrawal in our society. That, of course, is one function of home electronics and booze and daydreams, not to mention night dreams. (If there are nightmares, why aren’t there daymares?) One somehow has to manage to find a place within oneself where there is fulfillment and peace and relative quiet, a sort of Balboa Park of the soul, perhaps the sort of place St. John of the Cross hinted at when he wrote …”the life of the spirit is true liberty and wealth.”
Of course, if you’ve parked in or near Balboa Park lately, you may have discovered that the park is little more than a thieves’ workshop. As Christ discovered, there are thieves everywhere.