Sitting on her towel on Pacific Beach, Karen sang a snatch from the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and gazed out across the water. “We’re just trying to have some fun before we grow up and have to go to work every day.”
Right after the Fourth of July, a series of perfect days unrolled across San Diego County beaches. Sun sizzled away the coastal low clouds by no later than eleven, and girls from local high schools began spending entire blue days at Pacific Beach and La Jolla Shores. Nearly naked in two-piece bathing suits, with flawless, smooth browned bodies that might have been turned and sanded and varnished in advanced woodshop, in trios and pairs, the girls began to drift down the stairs next to Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier and onto La Jolla Shores’ wide flat beach as early as ten o’clock. Bathing suits were cut high on the thigh, and the girls appeared preternaturally long-legged. They put an observer in mind of cranes and egrets and flamingos.
For teenagers, La Jolla Shores’ parking lot, set next to the emerald green grass of Kellogg Park, is almost as important a social arena as the beach.
Karen and two friends had settled a few hundred feet south of Crystal Pier. “Summer is the time to go to the beach, and kick back, meet new people, just get crazy and banzai,” said seventeen-year-old Karen, who in less than two weeks will be a junior at Madison High. Tall and slender and blue-eyed and tanned to a ginger brown, her streaky blond hair falling down her back in a braid, Karen sat cross-legged on a striped towel, lamenting the loss of an earring. “I’m bummed,” she said. Two friends flanked Karen on either side. They commiserated.
Madison was like most high schools, said Karen (whose name, as all the other girls’ in this story, has been changed). “You’ve got rockers, punkers, stoners, and squids.” Squids, she explained, are nerds. Probably, she demurred, speaking in tones as round and even as matched pearls, squids are very nice. But she doubted that squids come to the beach. “They probably sit home and watch Leave It to Beaver on TV.” When squids turn on the radio, “they probably listen to symphonies or Walker-Scott music.” The rockers listen to KGB-FM (101.5) and XHITZ-FM (90.3). Punkers like to dye their hair green. Stoners, well, they stay stoned. Karen and her friends are “normals.” They listen to 91X and XHRM-FM (92.5).
Madison and Clairemont high school students gather at the section of Pacific Beach where Karen and her friends are sitting. “We’re the P.B. locals. We all stick together. We’re one happy family. Everybody knows everybody, and if you don’t, you meet them real fast.” Karen pointed to blond Diane, who lay back, looking utterly exhausted, in a beach chair sunk in the sand at Karen’s left. “Last summer she didn’t know anybody, and I brought her down here and introduced her, and now she knows everyone.” Diane grinned a weary agreement.
A year ago, Karen and her friends thought the beach was more crowded than this summer. “More people seem to have jobs,” said Karen. Diane, who not long ago quit taking ballet lessons after five years, is afraid her body has already started to turn to flab. “Maybe everyone’s grown up,” she suggested.
Karen’s parents split up six years ago. Her father lives in Alpine. She used to spend summers with him. Now that she is in high school, she said, “I like to stay here with my friends. This summer I’m just working at the Soup Exchange and going to the beach.” Karen gets to the beach every day. This morning, she’d gotten up about ten. She ate some pudding and watched Metal Shop on MTV. Then she smoked a cigarette, and her friends came by and picked her up. They got to the beach in time to get a parking place on the strip between Crystal Pier and Big Olaf’s ice cream shop.
All three girls wore gleaming two-piece suits. Karen owns three. Most girls, she said, will wear a one-piece only if they think they are fat, or if they have an ugly stomach, or if their parents will not permit them to wear two-piece suits. Karen, who at 110 pounds and five feet, seven inches is sleek as an eel, never worries about what she eats. She eats, she said, “Whatever’s there — Danish rolls, Jack in the Box.” She pays no attention to how much she weighs. “Usually,” she said, “I don’t even know what I weigh unless I’ve just been to the doctor.” Diane, however, weighs herself every morning and is trying to lose weight. “She doesn’t eat for two days,” said Karen, not unkindly, about Diane, “and then the next day she pigs.”
Diane admitted it. She starved, and then she ate too much. Diane refused to offer even an estimate of her current weight. For many of the girls on the beach, weight was the ultimate worry. “No one cares anymore whether someone is a virgin or not,” said one girl, and not a few talked easily and unabashedly about being on the pill. But weight and clothing size called for dissembling. One girl claimed to wear a size seven, but she couldn’t have buttoned herself into anything less than a size thirteen.
When Karen has to work at the Soup Exchange, she leaves the beach at five. If she doesn’t have to work, she stays until six, then goes home, takes a shower, eats dinner. Then she and her friends may “cruise down to Fiesta Island and kick back with everybody.” The people who hang out on this section of Pacific Beach, said Karen, party at Fiesta this summer. “People meet there, get rowdy and crank sounds, get away from life, from reality.”
If no one’s at Fiesta, you can go to a movie. (Favorite movies this summer are Top Gun, Karate Kid, Part II, and Psycho III.) There are parties at people’s houses where bands, like the local group Shock, will play. Sometimes parties are advertised and Xeroxed flyers are handed out at the beach. The host charges admission, three dollars for guys, half that for girls. Two or three kegs of beer are purchased. If enough people show up, more beer is bought.
By August last summer, in the early evening, there would be people “raging” all over Pacific Beach. After dark they would drive to De Anza Cove. The police harried the partyers out of De Anza. So, successively, during summer 1985, P.B. locals partied at and were run out by the police from El Carmel Point, Mariner’s Point, Kate Sessions Park, and finally Vacation Village. This year at Fiesta Island, the police have not bothered them, Karen said. “Sometimes they set up a checkpoint to look for drunk drivers. But usually they just drive by.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Diane. “Arrest 400 people?”
Everybody had a song that made them remember last summer, the summer of 1985. That song, or maybe two songs, reminded them of parties they went to, of what they wore, and who they loved, and how it all turned out. When school started again in the fall, maybe one of the girls was doing homework and was depressed and then that particular song came up on the radio. The song that will always remind Karen of last summer, summer 1985, is Dire Straits’s “Money for Nothing.” Karen pointed to her friend Diane. “Her and me and two guys hung out together every day last summer, and that song would come on all the time.” Then, when they were back at school, all through the year, every once in a while “Money for Nothing,” with its chorus, “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free,” would come up on the radio, and Karen would remember summer 1985.
Karen thought this summer’s song would be Van Halen’s “Dreams” (“And in the end on dreams we will depend, ’cause that’s what love is made of”) or “Love Walks In” (“There she stands in a silken gown, silver lights shining down”) from the group’s new album 5150.
For Stephanie, Lori, and Sarah, stretched out on their stomachs on towels near the lifeguard station south of the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, smelling of the coconut oil in Stephanie’s tanning lotion, the song that will remind them of this summer will probably be something by Depeche Mode, Wham!, INXS, or Japan. The three girls graduated this spring from Pacific Beach Junior High. Next month they will start at Mission Bay High School. Stephanie, an exuberant, round-faced fourteen-year-old wearing a black bikini, had heavy earrings dangling from her double-pierced ears. She confessed she was progressively lightening her reddish blond hair this summer with SUN-IN. (“Just a few sprays bring out golden highlights of summer,” reads SUN-IN’s advertising copy.) When Stephanie abruptly sat up and took the bottle out of her beach bag and showed it, her friends Sarah and Lori laughed. But the laughter was not cruel.
Sarah is a dimpled thirteen-year-old in a bright yellow two-piece suit who has lived near the beach all her life. Lori is a freckle-faced girl of fourteen with recently installed braces. None of the three is old enough to have what they called “real jobs,” but all three baby-sit. On a typical summer day, they are out of bed by ten. They watch soap operas — Another World, One Life to Live, All My Children, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless. Sarah, who got started watching soaps several years ago with her mother, said that when the daytime dramas are on, “You yell at the TV, you say, ‘Don’t do that!’ to one character or ‘Watch out!’ to another. You get involved. If you’re gone, you will find yourself rushing home just to see what’s going to happen next.”
“We use the remote control to switch back and forth and watch Another World and One Life to Live at the same time,” said Lori, who is a sufficiently dedicated soap opera fan that she has her grandmother record any episodes she misses. “Then,” she said, with satisfaction, “when I get home in the evening, I watch them.”
The three had all been to lots of parties this summer. “Pool parties, at people’s houses, in the back yard. Sometimes they get a DJ and everybody dances,” said Stephanie. Parents were at these parties, but not right there in the room. People did not drink, the girls said. “They stay pretty much straight, they don’t go off,” said Stephanie. “If they do, it’s just, like, bounce them out.”
Lori, in fact, said she had not been to one party this summer where people drank. “It’s not fun,” said Lori, and Stephanie added, “It’s fun to be in control of yourself.” Sarah suggested, “Perhaps people are just burned out on drinking.”
Stephanie has read almost all of the thirty teenage romance novels in the Sweet Valley High series. Lori and Sarah read them, too. “You can’t put them down, you just have to read them,” said Lori. The series’ locale is Sweet Valley, a Southern California town whose “rolling hills” are “carpeted with lush grass.” The series’ principal characters are twin sisters, the mischievous, even occasionally malevolent, Jessica and the four-minute-older, dependable, straight-arrow Elizabeth. The twins are medium height, slender, blue-eyed, and blessed with “shoulder-length, sun-kissed blond hair.” Although the series makes reference to girls who have “sought attention in the arms of any boy who came along,” the embraces described do not wander past the first blouse button.
The longest boy-girl relationship Stephanie has had was during seventh grade with a boy she met at University Towne Centre. The relationship lasted two months. Lori only recently started going with a boy. Sarah, who has nothing serious going, noted about the lack of durability of these real-life romances, “Stuff fades off.”
Sarah’s father, an accountant, and her mother, a special education teacher, have been married sixteen years and have two children, Sarah and her younger brother. Sarah thinks of her parents as a couple who are in love with one another. “They like to go out, go to the movies together. Sometimes we all do something, like go to dinner and a movie.”
Lori’s parents were divorced several years ago. She and her ten-year-old sister and her mother, a welfare worker, live with her mother’s parents. One of the girls on the beach said her mother didn’t work. “But that’s because your parents are still together,” answered another, quickly adding that “most everybody’s parents are divorced.” Girls at the beach estimated that the parents of at least half of the girls their age were divorced.
Of those girls who believed they knew what caused their parents’ breakup, several said their fathers drank too much. One sixteen-year-old, frowning as she massaged her knee with fingers on which the nails were bitten back to the quick, said, “My father had been cheating on my mother for four years before they split up.”
All of those whose parents were divorced lived with their mothers. Most of these girls rarely saw their fathers. Two had not seen their fathers since their parents’ initial separation. As she drew circles in the sand with an index finger, one fifteen-year-old, speaking of her father, said, “I really don’t even know where he is.” Another, gazing out toward the horizon where sailboats bobbed on glinting water, said about her parents’ breakup two years previous, “It was really hard.” The four-word sentence dragged on for what seemed hours. The silence of the girl’s two friends, who seconds before were giggling, grew awesomely huge. Overhead an airplane droned. The girls’ eyes stayed on their friend’s stricken oval face and did not glance skyward, where a long banner advertising Noxema fluttered out from the plane’s tail.
At this time in the lives of these young girls, it is with other girls that most of their days — and evenings — are spent. Friendships with other girls are as important to them as boy-girl relations. When Lori and Sarah were in seventh grade, they became embroiled in a situation they compared to some tragedies they have seen in soap operas. A mutual friend told untrue tales to Sarah about Lori and to Lori about Sarah. Soon Lori and Sarah were yelling at each other. By the end of seventh grade, said Sarah, her voice deepening, “We weren’t talking at all.” All last summer, when they would see one another at the beach, they would say hello, but that was all.
Listening to Sarah’s recollection of their “breakup,” Lori furrowed her brow and gazed out toward the ocean. If their friend had not told tales about them, Sarah thought the split between Lori and herself would never have happened. “Last year,” Sarah concluded, speaking in measured tones, “we were young and immature. Now we can talk about everything that happened, and it’s really cool.” Sarah smiled at Lori. Lori smiled back. The sunshine glittered off her braces.
On a weekday morning before these girls were wiping sleep from their eyes, the sand would have been raked clean of the previous day’s debris, joggers would have showered and struggled into suit and tie and gone on their way to work, and surfers, wearing kneebuster trunks in neon brights swirled into eyepopping patterns, would have already lofted their boards into vans and headed to McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin.
By ten Pacific Beach began to take on an over-the-fence air of a small-town neighborhood: towels and chairs and umbrellas, rented at the beach or brought from home, were laid out and poked into sand and set up at a regular distance from one another, and perfect strangers said, “Hi.” Locals with oiled dark skin lolled in worn beach chairs, and young mothers laboriously pushed strollers through the sand. In the strollers, toddlers, packed in with plastic buckets and towels and a box of Pampers, screeched when they sighted the waves.
Pale vacationing families, each of their faces a replica of the other; like one after another in the series of matched plates you see hung on dining room walls, landed, rather than arrived, on the beach. They made elaborate camp. The youngsters took places on white towels carried from nearby motels. Their mothers, eyes wide with a frightened, witless awe, kept a body count as children and husband popped up and down through the moving water.
The sun, which earlier had danced on the sea and sparkled off the pastel houses that front Pacific Beach, by noon began to glare down and flatten the landscape. From the corner near the lifeguard station, the smell of hot fat and spices radiated off the hotdog wagon. A jiggling zoo of melodies from cassette players and radio stations tuned along AM and FM bands from 91X all the way to 103 deconstructed the silence of two hours previous.
The girls crossed Mission Boulevard and walked to a 7-Eleven and bought sixteen-ounce Big Gulps. In husky tenors they yelled out, “Hi” to friends. They might flirt a little with some guy they knew. Karen confessed she had done just that. “He was cute,” she said. “Rad.”
The traveler’s children turned listless and asked when they could go to Sea World or back to the motel to watch television. Their mother drew a plastic pitcher out from a Styrofoam cooler and poured purple liquid into paper cups. She doled out sandwiches, and from brown Food Basket sacks, she raised high a packet of potato chips. Like hungry pups, the children, screaming, reached up for the bag, grabbed and tore it open. They took the top slice off their sandwiches and laid potato chips across glistening surfaces of pressed ham, put back the bread, and squeezed the sandwich between both palms.
An enormous man, his burned flesh in rolls above black boxer trunks, presented his wife with two of four chili dogs. He sat down next to her in one of their two plastic-webbed lawn chairs. The chairs’ legs sank deep into the sand. The wife’s breasts fell resistlessly into floral-printed brassiere cups. Chili dribbled down onto her white thighs. The couple stared out at the water. They bit down and chewed and did not talk. Their lips and teeth and tongues were a factory. Eating was their job.
No wonder, then, that set out here and there on this stretch of beach these teenage girls, growing only a filmy sweat, seemed to deserve their indolence. “When we’re hot,” smiled a curly-headed blonde, “then, yeah, we go in the water.” She could swim, of course. “But some girls,” she went on, “are too afraid of getting their hair wet.” The curly-headed blonde put her feet up on a radio wedged into the sand and draped with a beach towel. She beat out rhythms with red fingernails as Eddie Van Halen’s miraculous guitar licks twined around Sammy Hagar’s hick-hipster baritone. She lazily chewed ice from the Big Gulp cup. She chose a chip of ice as if the clutter of ice were a selection of bonbons. An occasional sliver dropped on her chest. “There she stands in a silken gown, silver lights shining down,” she sang along with Hagar.
Three or four towels away, a brunette with violet-blue eyes had chocolate at the corner of her mouth. Her friend pointed it out. Looking at her friend, as if into a mirror, the brunette licked the corner of her mouth until her friend nodded and said, “It’s okay now.” Then they got out compacts. They checked their eye shadow and, still using their mirrors, in the glass they watched, over their gleaming shoulders, the swarthy boys, striped across noses and beneath eyes with the green and yellow and black zinc oxides that protect against sunburn, stride out of curling waves. The boys looked like painted braves from cowboy-and-Indian movies. The brunette and her friend joked about guys who had to stay on their stomachs. “They scoop a hole in the sand and stay on their stomachs so it won’t show.” When she said “it,” she lifted her dark, bushy eyebrows, which, like model Brooke Shields’s eyebrows, were thick and tamed upward toward the arch. Then, even as their laughter died, a green-nosed boy approached, dripping seawater, and addressed the brunette by name. As they talked, sweat broke out in oily drops down her neck and across the wings of her clavicles.
By three o'clock, food wrappers and cigarette butts and paper cups and shreds of torn kite littered Pacific Beach. Pulled up to the sidewalk that looks down onto and parallels the stretch of Pacific Beach where Karen and her friends, and Lori, Sarah and Stephanie lay out, pickups and vans had been parked fender-to-fender since noon. By midafternoon the windshields glinted. Car radios blasted. Shirtless men straddled fenders and drank beer from cans. They were ugly men, and their sweat was palpable. Teenage girls in the sketchiest of bikinis whirred by on roller skates. The girls’ naked haunches bulged with the minutest exertion of leg or foot. The men’s eyes followed. Several girls returned the gaze, even smiled. Others recoiled from the stares as if the men’s eyes were snipers’ bullets. The knowingly provocative among the girls seemed merely brassy, prematurely hard, while others, unaware of their charms, innocent of their own allure, heedlessly showed themselves. A fifty-year-old male in khaki wash pants and polyester short-sleeved shirt, his narrow face blanched under a billed cap, stood in the shadow of the lifeguard station. He eyed the skaters as they sailed by and looked down onto the beach at girls like Karen and Sarah and the curly-headed blonde who so beautifully ate ice. One wanted to pull down a curtain between these men and these girls.
Tan, six feet tall, sun-bleached blond hair, blue eyes, teeth flashing and muscles glistening, really sweet, very friendly: this was the “perfect guy” that developed as girls described him. At La Jolla Shores, give or take a few inches, allow for braces, brown hair or brown eyes, a few sets of jug ears, and he was everywhere.
From La Jolla Shores’ pale, generous beach, the western vista appears incalculably wide. While at Pacific Beach, separation of younger and older, tourist and local, comes about only by happenstance, on La Jolla Shores’ beach an apartheid by age is strictly observed. Between the blue lifeguard stations number 22 and number 23 are teenagers. Between number 21 and number 22 are families, retirees, and young mothers with babies. Only tourists unaware of the beach’s “zoning” and a Cambodian family — a toothless grandmother, a father, two prepubescent boys, and a girl no older than four — heedlessly settled anywhere. The Cambodian family had come to the beach to gather aluminum pop cans in a huge, heavy plastic bag the father carried.
Running parallel to La Jolla Shores’ beach is a concrete boardwalk. There are three pay phones on this boardwalk, and all three are always in use, usually by a girl. Between boardwalk and beach proper, the knee-high wall, known as surfer’s wall or surfer’s ledge, has leaning against it every brand of boogie-board and surfboard and skateboard. Atop the wall near noon on a weekday morning, a young blond male had set up his AM/FM radio cassette player. Its attached speakers blared out 92.5 FM, playing Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald singing “On My Own,” a lush Bacharach/Sager duet: “And I have faith that I will shine again.... On my own...”
For teenagers, La Jolla Shores’ parking lot, set next to the emerald green grass of Kellogg Park, is almost as important a social arena as the beach. On this July morning, boys sat on the back of pickups and in vans. They watched the girls pass by on the sidewalk, and the girls, as they walked, glanced furtively into the parking lot. On the beach itself, the girls arranged chairs to face surfer’s wall and the parking lot. A short-haired blond male sat in a chair in the sand, his bare feet on the ledge, the backs of his legs coated with sand. He, too, faced the parking lot.
Conversations between boys and girls were masterpieces of minimalism. On the sidewalk, a thin, goose-bumped boy recently out of the meringue of La Jolla surf intercepted a richly tanned blonde whose aqua bikini bottom rode high on her buttocks. “Who are you down here with?” the boy asked.
“Nobody,” she answered, sucking in her lower lip and pulling her blond bangs down over her forehead as if drawing drapery. By “nobody” she meant she was not with another male. She had come with two other girls, and her towel, printed with white geese on a field of pale blue terry cloth, lay between her two friends in the sand. The two girls watched.
Glances grazing one another’s temples, the boy and girl looked toward one another for twenty seconds. Neither spoke. Then the boy, yanking at the floral legs of his kneebusters and turning his eyes toward the group of boys from whose circle he had walked away, said, “I’m just gonna have some fun.”
“See ya,” she said.
In the early Seventies, Stephanie must have been a particularly popular name. A second Stephanie, a graceful five-feet-eight-inch tall basketball player with loose, wavy, golden-brown hair, sat with her friend Sandi at La Jolla Shores. Sandi and Stephanie do not always come to the beach together. Girls will come to the beach alone, Sandi said, if they have a car or a brother to drive them here.
It takes about ten minutes from Sandi’s house in University City to get to La Jolla Shores, but she would come here even if she lived farther away. She believes, and Stephanie agreed, that the reason for La Jolla Shores’ popularity is its preponderance of cute guys.
“They all come here,” said Sandi. Still, she declared, she has never been in love. “I’m just too young,” she said. “At my age, you like to flirt, not to be with just one person.”
Once at the beach, Stephanie and Sandi lie around and occasionally get up and go talk to the guys who sit on the wall. “I used to sit with those guys all the time,” said Sandi, not unwistfully, “but they are so into their surfing. When we get really hot, we go into the water. We dive in the waves. A lot of girls are afraid to get their hair wet or their makeup streaked. I talked to one of the guys over there [pointing to the wall]. They say girls don’t need makeup. They say it just turns them off.”
Stephanie, who has two brothers, one a freshman in college and the other a junior in high school, considered Sandi’s comment and then said that by having brothers, “You learn a lot about what boys think and also what a pain boys are.”
Sandi has three bathing suits. Stephanie has five. Pilar’s Beach Wear on Mission Boulevard, with its stock of 6000 bathing suits, and Nordstrom at Fashion Valley are their favorite places to shop for suits. They both prefer printed suits to plain, and two-piece to one-piece. Both have had their ears pierced. They have one hole in each ear lobe. They know girls who have three and four. “I asked my dad to let me get my ears double-pierced, and he said, ‘No, when you get old, you won't want two holes in your ears,’” said Sandi.
Sandi wears only her Mickey Mouse ring. Stephanie, like many girls on the beach, wears several rings on both hands. “One is my mom’s high school ring,” she said, lifting her left hand and showing the ring’s dark blue stone.
“Everyone” said Sandi approvingly, “wears their mom’s high school ring.” Stephanie and Sandi, fifteen and fourteen, both lifelong parochial school students (“prokies”), will be sophomores this fall at University High School. “Some of the people there are real rich and snobbish,” said Sandi, a five-foot-tall, pony-tailed blonde who speaks in a husky, burbling voice. She herself is not from a rich family, she asserted. In fact, she said, when her older sister started at University High, their mother had to go to work to help pay the tuition. University High, Sandi noted, can be extremely “cliquey ... but the freshman classes are always more cliquish than the senior class.” Generally, compared to nonparochial high schools, Sandi suspects that life at University is “more controlled.”
Stephanie interrupted, saying that Catholic school was not that different from any other school. “People think you go around carrying your Bible and worshiping God a lot. But it’s like a normal high school. The language is the same. People still smoke, still party. We don’t wear uniforms ... but we may have to soon,” Stephanie said apprehensively, “because we have a new principal, a brother, who is really strict.”
Parenthetically, Sandi noted that University High even has its stoner group. “No matter where you go, you have them,” she said disparagingly. “They don’t care what they wear. They have long hair and they dye it blue and pink.” Sighing, she added, “You just learn to deal with them.”
On most summer mornings, Sandi is up by ten thirty. She watches Three’s Company and then her soaps. While she watches, she sits in her chair in the family room and eats. Usually she puts some frozen French fries in the oven, and then, after the fries have warmed, she puts them on a plate and floods them with ketchup and nacho cheese. She drinks a Coke. The Young and the Restless ends at noon. “So I put up my hair in a pony tail, put on a bathing suit, grab a towel, and get a bottle of lotion, and my father [Sandi’s father is a supervisor at NASSCO] drives me and my younger sister to the beach.”
Stephanie, declaring forthrightly, “I am not a morning person,” gets up around nine in the summer. She watches situation comedies and game shows. Sometimes she reads; she’s another of the fans of the Sweet Valley High series, having now read twelve of the books. Her mother, who works at State Farm Insurance, telephones her about eleven. After they talk, Stephanie takes a shower. She tries to be out of the house by noon. Stephanie wishes she were old enough to get a job. “It’s easier for boys to get work,” she said, noting that “some of the younger guys can get jobs at Sea World or rec places and surf shops.”
“Lately,” confessed Stephanie, “I’ve been eating chips and ice cream and cake for breakfast because it was my brother’s birthday not long ago.” Stephanie, at five feet, eight inches, weighs 130 pounds. But she wants to weigh 115 pounds. “I was up to 145 and I lost it all.” Because she is trying to lose another fifteen pounds, Stephanie drinks Instant Breakfast two times a day and tries not to eat anything else. “If my mother forces me to eat dinner, I will,” she said, “but if she does not know I haven’t eaten dinner, I won’t eat all day.”
Stephanie knows one girl who became anorexic. The struggle with her body to keep it thin “got to this girl’s mind,” said Stephanie, and even though the girl was “super thin,” she imagined herself as fat. Stephanie said that the girl “would go out with her friends, and she would drink a Diet Coke. Her friends would eat a burrito, fries. This girl wasn’t trying to lie, but she would think that she had really eaten what her friends ate. She wound up in the hospital. She could eat only three grains of rice.”
“I tried dieting for a day, but it only lasted two hours,” said Sandi, noting that she believed in working out to keep one’s weight down. Sandi plays soccer and softball during the school year, and Stephanie plays softball, soccer, and is on University High’s girl’s basketball team. “Some girls,” said Stephanie witheringly, “think they are going to break their fingernails.”
As the girls arrived at beaches and set up beach housekeeping, the arrangements of some were as casual as a striped bath towel, Sunblock 15 ChapStick to keep their lips from drying and blistering, and a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's baby oil: they simply spread their towels and stretched out. Others homesteaded. They set out chairs, inflatable pads, AM/FM radio/cassette players, cosmetics cases stiffed with three or four suntan lotions and hair sprays and eye shadows and brush-on blushers and spray bottles filled with water.
Many of the girls' mothers were not even twenty when the girls themselves were born and are in their midthirties now. To the girls at the beach, their own mothers’ girlhoods seem dark ages ago. “When she was a girl, there were wars and hard times,” one said about her mother. Another offered about her thirty-four-year-old mother, “Sometimes she will tell me about her past. She was a lot worse child than I was. I know she tried drugs — marijuana and acid. She went to love-ins. I don’t know entirely even what that [a love-in] is yet. She went to a couple of them.”
Most girls said they do not want to marry until they are twenty-five. They all knew girls who had become pregnant. Karen, at Pacific Beach, noted that if a girl becomes pregnant during the end of the school year, she will try to finish out the year. Some, though, will drop out. One girl finished off the year and had her baby during the summer, then came back to school the next fall. “They usually end up by getting married,” said Karen. Karen and her friends guessed that if a friend of theirs became pregnant, they would advise her to get an abortion.
Sandi felt sorry for girls who became pregnant but thought them “dumb.... They should have been smarter, watched out, used birth control." If Sandi had a friend who became pregnant, she would tell her to keep the baby, “because otherwise she’d be killing someone. I would say that she should stay at school and not worry about what other people would say about her.”
All of the girls hoped to marry. Only one, pointing as example to an impatient young mother on the beach at La Jolla Shores who comforted a cranky infant against her bare shoulder while at the same time unbuckling a toddler’s sandal, said, “Absolutely, no,” she would not have children.
Most felt it easier to imagine oneself at twenty-five as wife and mother than as career person. Fantasizing about themselves at twenty-five, they could see that, yes, they had a job, but what that job would be was rarely specified. “I’d have an education,” said one. “Secretary?” asked another. Karen did not know what, precisely, she wanted to do. “I do know,” she said, “that I don’t want to be working at the Soup Exchange when I’m thirty.” Yet when the girls began to fantasize aloud about lives as wife and mother, the portrait of the future cluttered with detail: the house in a quiet suburb, two cars, “lots of love” in a close family. The husband, a thirty-year-old version of the eighteen-year-old “cute guy,” by then most typically an engineer or a doctor or simply somebody who “makes good money” or “works steady,” helps out with a bit with housework and child care. But he does not do “too much” housework. He will not cook dinner or iron. The imagined couple of ten or fifteen years from now will go out to dinner and a movie or dancing at least once a week and are “really in love.”
Ashley and Rebecca will be seniors next year at Hoover. Ashley said her mother did not “bother” with women’s liberation. “It really doesn’t concern much. Women can’t go to war, but as far as I know, that’s all they can’t do, being women. I know in certain jobs there is prejudice against women,” she said cautiously.
Rebecca added, “We don't need to think about [women’s liberation]. It doesn’t really concern us.”
Even though most people from Ashley and Rebecca’s school go to the beach at south Mission — and Ashley and Rebecca sometimes go there, too — the two girls also drive over to La Jolla Shores several times each week. Tall, slender Rebecca’s two-piece aqua suit revealed her long, narrow waistline. Her features hinted at the Eurasian good looks of Forties movie stars Jennifer Jones and Myrna Loy. Her manner was that of a great and elegant lady, and she lent to the simple space around her towel the air of a drawing room or grand salon. Ashley, robust and snubnosed and round-necked and rosy-cheeked, like her friend Rebecca, seemed mature beyond her years. At Hoover they are not part of any particular group. “We mix,” said Rebecca, and Ashley nodded agreement. Talking about the mod, punk, rad, stoner, and squid social divisions, Rebecca said, “With some people, being a mod or a stoner is like a religion. They feel they have to stay with it.”
Ashley and Rebecca described themselves as good students. They are in Hoover’s academic program, a program designed for students who plan to go on to college. Ashley said she would always remember this past school year, during which she took chemistry and physics, as “my endless year. You just finished something, and then there was something else you had to do.” She sighed, recalling it, and Rebecca gasped agreement.
Rebecca predicted about their upcoming senior year, “It will be great. I just made it as a cheerleader. That was my dream of high school and I finally made it.” Ashley, who all through her first three years of high school had longed for and not won an Associated Student Body council position, had been elected to an ASB office at Hoover.
“My major, at this point, is undeclared,” said Rebecca, purposefully mimicking prim tones as she discussed her future college career. She did, she believed, want eventually “to be in either medicine or biology.” Ashley was not sure what she would do. She knew she would go on to college, but after that? Her eyebrows shot up and stayed for a moment, wrinkling her otherwise smooth forehead.
On summer evenings, Rebecca and Ashley like to go to clubs — Stratus, After Dark, the Distillery. In clubs that do not permit those under eighteen to attend, the two girls work to make themselves look older. Rebecca said, “I massively tease my hair.” To go to Stratus, they “punk out” their hair, combing in pink and blue gels and then teasing their hair into high and spiky arrangements.
Rebecca and Ashley are best friends. Their boyfriends are also best friends. Rebecca met her boyfriend through Ashley’s. Ashley has gone with the same boy for two years. He is going to college up in Los Angeles to major in engineering and has given Ashley a promise ring that she wears on her left hand. She showed the ring. On the gold circlet, two small diamonds abutted one another. “My boyfriend explained to me that the ring is like us, ‘Together, not apart.’”
On the record, not one girl at Pacific Beach or La Jolla Shores had used drugs. On the record, some girls did not even know anyone who used drugs. Only a few had ever been drunk. Off the record, almost all have at least tried marijuana and slugged down alcoholic beverages to the point of intoxication. Most frequently imbibed is beer, and after that, fruit-flavored wine coolers and schnapps.
Several girls blamed the influence of Los Angeles on San Diego teenagers’ drug use. “Everything goes around at least once up there before it comes down here,” said one girl. “In L.A. everyone is more sophisticated,” said another, adding, “I know people there who were snorting coke when they were twelve. I wouldn’t even have known what to do with coke when I was that age.” Parenthetically, she added, contrasting L.A. and San Diego, “Our beaches are better — less crowded. But they have more cute guys. But ours are sweeter.”
Off the record, a majority of the girls had attended parties in homes where alcohol was made available. Parents occasionally purchased kegs and were present. More often, however, at most parties held in homes, parents were away — and unaware a party was being held. Typically, older siblings or teen-agers who looked sufficiently mature to not be asked for ID bought the booze. Tales were told of being so drunk that partyers vomited. One girl, drunk at an end-of-school party, hid in a closet. She threw up all over her host’s shoes, sleeping bag, and tennis rackets.
“Lots of parents don’t want to admit their kids are stoned and drunk,” suggested one girl, who went on to tell the story of a boy whose mother found him passed out in the hall outside his bedroom. He’d been drinking. “All his mom said when she found him was, ‘Johnnie fell asleep on the floor.’” She mimed a prissy, high-pitched maternal voice. Everyone laughed.
Late in the afternoon, sitting on her towel on Pacific Beach, Karen sang a snatch from the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and gazed out across the water. The air above the narrow waves was made of dots and points. The boats had blurred. Karen spoke with great seriousness, trying to explain what summer at the beach meant to her and girls like her. “We’re just trying to have some fun before we grow up and have to go to work every day.” Then her forehead wrinkled, and she turned her glance to her two friends, as if for confirmation, and said, “But we’ll still have fun then.” Her friends agreed. They would.