• Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"See the marketplace in old Algiers,” sang Jo Stafford quite clearly in the summer of 1951 or ’52, “Send me photographs and souvenirs,” but I heard it funny. (Kids’ ears are like that.) I heard it and I heard it but it always came out silvernirs...silver...tokens of not only interest, even intrigue, but shimmer—and possibly worth. When my father set me straight I thought, well, Okay. It doesn’t play, but I can live with it. By the summer of ’62, when the Duprees released the great rock version, I heard better. I knew better. “You Belong to Me,” with or without the silver, was a song about property and remembrance.

Likewise, moreover, I thought for years that mementos were momentos, souvenirs of not so much place as time, and that keepsakes were only items kept, not given. All of which might suggest — aside from that I am one dim dummy — there is something elusive about the concept.

There is nothing elusive about the concept. What’s elusive, or might be, is the items. Finding ’em. Items of definitive — designated — official or de facto — souvenirhood.

Finding and accepting them, that is. Allowing their tawdry (rhymes with “Audrey") presence in your car and/or home; letting their cooties crawl and wash over you. Unless you’re a kid, of course — or a tourist. Well I ain’t playing no kid, no sir — not for literature, journalism, rent money — but OK, let’s play tourist. From Pacific Beach to Del Mar, let’s say, up along the coast — give me 100, 200 bucks expenses — I’ll tour.

And see what we shall see. And freely — openly — tolerantly acquire.


 Imagine the same basic hat being used for Hawaii, or Santa Monica, or Bali, or even Bangladesh.

Imagine the same basic hat being used for Hawaii, or Santa Monica, or Bali, or even Bangladesh.

Baseball cap, Del Mar. One-size-fits-all, with adjustable red plastic snap band. White “commodore" type braid along the front, as synthetic as the day is wrong. Cap itself synthetic, mostly red, with royal and cerulean blue palms and fronds, a monochromatic blue bird-of-paradise, and indigo sailboats on reddish seas at sunset (or sunrise) with some yellow/orange/blue sea-level clouds as backdrop. White script-lettered “Del Mar” stencil-sprayed midway up frontal portion (over upside down sailboat) in that “furry” kind of fabric paint — you can see under it. And imagine the same basic hat being used for Hawaii, or Santa Monica, or Bali, or even Bangladesh, where in fact it was made by (or for) the Mohr’s company (red logo: “M" as a mountain).

“Are you gonna wear it,” I was asked, “or do you need a bag?" “Bag it...it’s a gift.”

Oversize T-shirt, La Jolla. I go into this frou-frou but casual call-it-a-boutique, start eyeing the shirts, haven’t even touched ’em, when this motormouth accosts me: “They’re all incredible! — original art! — signed by the artist! — every one unique!” What he’s babbling about is this rack of xtra-large T-shirts, 50% cotton/50% polyester — enormous white T’s with cartoons. On each, a hand-drawn boy and girl — man and woman — with noseless “Have a nice day" smiles, sandals, conspicuous navels, and four-finger waving hands stand arm in arm beside a waist-high sign proclaiming: LA JOLLA. What makes these shirts mildly appealing, or would if one were susceptible to such shuck, is the fact that each has a colorful pair of extraneous cut fabrics sewn onto the persons of the boy and the girl: bathing suits. Jack. (How clever, how cute-'til-you-puke: while you wear the garment, they wear garments too.) Every one different.

Finally I pick one — “An excellent choice,” says herr motorman. Girl’s suit (matching top and bottom): tropical fish and seaweed on a navy background. His (baggy boxers): outlined varicolored doll faces (clown faces?), wall-to-wall, leg to leg, to similar overall effect as that of those in James Ensor’s The Entry of Christ into Brussels.

“Have a nice day.” Why, fuck you too.

Petrified shark’s tooth, Pacific Beach. “Own a piece of the past — how did the prehistoric shark’s tooth get in the bottle?"

I don’t know, truly I don’t (nor do I give a flying fugging hoot on the moon). Bottle (glass) is 13/16" in diameter by I-7/8", cork 1/4" diameter by 1/2", with the blue machine-painted inscription: PREHISTORIC SHARK TOOTH (w/ shark in silhouette). Tooth is grey-black to black, approximately 1/2" from root to tip, 5/8" wide; sticks to inside of bottle when bottle rests on side for any prolonged period.

Ball marker and golf hat, Torrey Pines. Marker is circular polished wood, exactly the diameter of a dime (tho slightly thicker), with 5/16" perpendicular protrusion in back. Torrey Pines” in green with windswept T.P. tree logo: not a pine — or is it? — what is it?...must be a pine. Uses other than ball marking: bug squasher, garlic press (quarter-clove at a time), replacement eye for a doll or teddy bear, ring holder (one ring max.), poking holes in the skin of fruits so they get rotten quicker, blinding pigeons and dogs, etc., etc.

Hat: durable-looking coarse-woven light brown straw whatsit by Kangol Design. “Torrey Pines” in silver embroidered letters below dark green/light green tree logo on 2- 1/8”-wide red polyester band. A one-size-fits-all that actually fits me, no mean feat — I take a large medium, or a small large — thanks to one fantastic elastic white inner band. I will wear it with pride until I die.

Bottled condom key ring. Pacific Beach, Jack Condom — Old No. 69: parody of a Jack Daniel's label. Pint-proportioned bottle consists of identical plastic halves, 3-3/4" from base to nozzle, 1 -7/16” wide (made in Hong Kong), joined at the nozzle by sturdy 1" metal ring. Condom itself cannot be removed, or significantly examined, without breaking the plastic or snapping the metal triangle which joins the halves and binds them to the ring...okay, let’s break.

Freeing: wrapped, rolled (and apparently lubricated) pecker balloon by Prime Assorted Colors — mine is yellow — Ansell Incorporated, Dothan, Alabama. Expiration: !2/97...plenty of time to try it out.

A more timely generic beach curio, perhaps, than a bottled bygone fish tooth.

La Jolla Cove place mat. Plastic-coated, washable, 11 -7/8” X 17-1/4”. No mountains, no prairie, but two-three inches of photographic ocean white with foam. On the beach sit, lie or stand 40 Caucasians of various ages, four with caps or hats, all hut one without a shirt, but none totally nude, none eating, drinking or playing hall. Up the hill are another 18, no caps or hats, only two without shirts, otherwise ditto. Also on the hill stand a pair of light stanchions and a Torrey pine, or Monterey pine—whatever the hell it is. The sky is a cloudless blue, the ocean (foreground) snot-green with a touch of blue, (background) the exact hue, tint and chroma of Aqua Velva. Out at sea, the wake (left to right) of a single powerboat is seen, but no sails, masts or plesiosauruses. Only visible umbrella is in a closed position. In mid-foreground right, a rock formation resembles a leatherback turtle.

A lone tall palm ascends from the beach, dryish fronds overlapping the pine tree. From beyond upper frame right, seven or eight leaves of a mystery tree, species unknown, intrude just below the horizon line. At foreground left, 91 or 92 white daisies may be counted. On the side of the hill, uncountably many yellow flowers, too small to i.d., and also some white. Judging from the size of shadows, it would appear to be (rough guess) 2 or 3 PM. No dogs. Down from the hill, a concrete staircase w/ concrete railing, its final 18 steps visible. Two rectangular signs on poles, one on the beach, one up the hill, text side of neither facing the camera.

Most interesting alien object: pinkish orange wooden chair, precariously close to edge of the massive central rock which takes up at least 15% of the overall image.

Around the whole thing, a royal blue and white frame. Reverse side: beige/brown “Formica” pattern. Distributed by Road Runner Card Co., San Diego. Logo: a black & white roadrunner, running left. Purchased in Pacific Beach.

Tree branch from the Salk Institute. Make that a felled tree branch. I would not take a live branch for a trophy. Not even a eucalyptus. Which this wasn’t anyway. Let’s back it up.

All the fuss about their remodeling Salk. Those that’re remodeling. “The second most beautiful building in America,” i.e., after Wright’s Fallingwater — well I dunno ’bout that, lots of weather-beat wood and stone that looks like concrete but ain’t even: actual stone. A very dressed - down architectural wonder. First time I been there and I look around, check the fog, check the famous murdered eucalyptuses. Poor eucs. But there’s one don’t look like a euc, don’t smell like a euc., so I ask this guy who says: “That, sir, is a eucalyptus" — wrong! But whuddo / know, hey — you know I don’t know trees — so I yank off a branch and head for the nearest tree book.

Mildred Bell Lewis’s Interesting Trees of California. Well, it’s not a euc...not a willow...not a yew...a dawn redwood? No, a COAST REDW(X)D. “Native to the ‘fog belt’ of coastal California, from sea level to 900 meters.” Sound possible? For a second opinion, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, Herbert Edlin, ed. Check the pitcher. Seems like it. Ain’t life funny?

Plastic cherry (or onion) spears. “Across from Del Mar Race Track,” boasts the red and blue business card of Red Tracton’s Restaurant — “Proudly serving Eastern prime beef.” With metal jockey sculptures out front and Leroy Neiman horse prints (paintings?) on the walls within, you’d figure, well...something. Souvenirwise, however, there are no matchbooks, no napkins no coasters — nothing to beg, borrow or steal — with a horse or track motif...what to snatch?

After much consternation, I settle on a couple of plastic spears, one yellow, one blue, 3-1/2" X 1/16" X 1/32", used (presumably) in subduing maraschino cherries for mixed drinks. Or onions. Or halves of sandwiches. There’s a good point on ’em. Every time I stab something I will think, Red Tracton's, no horse*..no track...no tap beer — stab, poke — take THAT, Red — you asshole.

Complimentary tea and non-dairy creamer. “ Take tea and see” — remember that? Rallying cry of the nefarious tea (vs. coffee) campaign of the early fifties. Well I took tea and c.: creamer. Upon checkout from a night at SeaCoast Suites, Pacific Beach. Stayed there. One block from the ocean...rather small room...bed takes up between 2/3 and 3/4 of the space... view of not much...single trashcan, dollhouse size, in the crapper...no local phone book...no complimentary postcard-antiseptic tho, v. clean (no bugs, either flying or crawling). And tea, thanks. And c.

Tea (individually wrapped Lipton flo-thru): fine; dandy; the “brisk” tea; caffeine — some; no gunk or residue left in cup. Creamer (no brand name; contains: corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium caseinate, sodium silico aluminate, dipotassium phosphate, monoglvcerides, sodium tripolyphosphate, diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono and diglycerides, artificial flavor, artificial colors): I wouldn’t rub it on a rat.

Del Mar racing postcard. They’re off: nine horses entered, number 5 seems to have broken from the gate. Hundreds of spectators in frame, at least 60% clad in white, only 31 with caps or hats. “Racing at Del Mar” — lemon yellow pseudo-script (all letters separate) on burnt sienna. Text on reverse (sepia on white): “Exciting thoroughbred racing can be enjoyed at its best at beautiful Del Mar Track.” Road Runner Card Co., printed in Australia by Colorscans. In stamp-goes-here space: “Colorscans North America” around globe w/ select land masses, among which neither North America nor Australia can he distinguished. Purchased in La Jolla.

Free save-the-manatee pamphlets. “Attention: Swimmers, Boaters, Divers” (subtitle: “Guidelines for Protecting Manatees”) and “Manatees: Miss Her Now or Miss Her Forever” (subtitle: “A Guide for Boating, Diving and Snorkeling”), published and distributed, respectively, by the Florida Power & Light Company and the Florida Department of Natural Resources. “It is unlawful,” says the former, “for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.” “Wear polarized glasses while operating a boat,” advises the latter. “Polarized lenses make it much easier to see the 'swirling* that occurs when a manatee surfaces for air.” Cuddliest li’l manatee depictions you would ever care to see on the pages of each. I will treasure them — lemme tell ya — for another 40 seconds or possibly more.

Picked up at Diving Locker, Pacific Beach — 3000 miles from the nearest non-captive U.S. manatee.

Christian Science literature. Beating the streets of La Jolla — pounding ’em — where to go next? Like any score-hungry tourist, I make haste for 7853 Girard Ave., home of L.J.’s Christian Science Reading Room. Open daily, 9:00-5:00,7:00-9:00 — we’re in luck. And waiting at the door (no need to even enter): vol. 95, no. 18 of Christian Science Sentinel. Normally 2 bucks, to us free — wow — what a deal.

Cover story: “Forgiveness and Its Power to Heal.” Illustration: teenaged boy and girl on adjacent swings, she in matching lavender turtle-neck and socks, he in red (not burgundy) Washington Redskins sweatshirt. Has she given him herpes — or the crabs — and is asking his forgiveness? “Heal the sick — Raise the dead — Cleanse the lepers — Cast out demons”: sounds like a my-t-tall order to me.

(Why do I mock? Why do I mock?)

Promotional beer booklet. A man needs a dwink. So. While still in a reading frame, read — quick. La Jolla’s Star of India, reviewed in the window by Eleanor Widmer, who hates my guts. Favorable assessment; good. Where there’s food sometimes there is beer. Is!

Flying Horse Royal lager from Bangalore: yum. Best-tasting Indian import (qua import) I’ve sucked down yet. The best I had in India was Kingfisher, which while now imported is imported from England — bottled there. Not the same. (Like the U.S. version of Lowenbrau — yuk.) Previous best import from India was Taj Mahal. This is twice as good. Smooth, rich — like it’s loaded with B-vitamins or something. Nutritional equivalent to a whole-grain multi-grain five-dollar bread. You could go for a while not eating — just drinking Flying Horse.

And around the neck, a folded 4-page booklet, 2-1/8" X I -3/4", dangling on a gold 7" string. Cover: maroon, white, black letters on beige; gold winged horse emerges from clouds in a circle. Inside text, meanwhile, is unreadably small...fuggit.

Souvenir of La Jolla serendipity. And? Then? I'll have what he’s having. Heading south on Girard, I follow a baldy in a BMW. Maybe he’ll stop and get a tie. Or some shoes — I could use a pair. He hangs a right at Pearl, okay, let’s see...the Wherehouse at Pearl and Fay. Maybe he’ll buy Borah Bergman and Andrew Cyrille, The Human Factor, on Soul Note — I’ve been wanting to hear that.

But he heads for the classical section — yikes — I don’t know dick about classical. Goes straight for, late in the alphabet, knows what he’s lookin’...whatsit...Edgar Varese, Arcana/Amerique/lonisation, Sony Classical (Pierre Boulez conducting). Heard of him; he’s the guy Charlie Parker looked up, wanted to study with. Then he died (C.P.) so he never. At least now I’ll know what he sounds like.

But he ain’t done, he's heading for T...S...Satie...he looks, selects...Erik Satie, Piano Works, Vol. 2 — Mystical Works, EMI Classics (AldoCiccolini at the piano). Him I know from whatever it was called, in that bank commercial.

Two CD’s, oboy — but no backing out — I’m really in for it.

Varese first, okay. Ionisation. Bombastic percussion with whistles and sirens and shit. Sounds at times like a bunch of squares at a men’s group meeting, at others like the Art Ensemble of Chicago. (Or a misapplied source of Stan Kenton.) Density 21.5 I remember was mentioned, either in the liner notes or a review, as a reference point for some Henry Threadgill thing on the second or third Air album — which I don’t currently own. A flute solo, okay, makes sense. A couple-three stretches in Octandre sound like the theme from Mission: Impossible.

Satie. The bank commercial isn’t on here. But everything sounds familiar anyway, and not because I’ve actually heard it before, it’s just kind of so simple and minimal you could imagine it being a piano lesson for 6-year-olds. Or singsongish like “Frere Jacques,” no, too melodic. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat"? John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”? Something routine, reliable...but not unremarkable. But definitely recurrent. What I can’t compute is are these cliches per se? Cliches at the moment of invention? Cliches purposely italicized? Cliches as flashpoints of mockery? Cliches deconstructed? (Cliches at all?) I guess that’s what’s mystical about it. He can also sound a lot like Martin Denny or the Nairobi Trio.

That wasn’t so bad.

Memento of admission of vision impairment. I’m over 45 and I can’t see shit. Well, far I can see sometimes (with my blind-as-a-bat contacts), but close, no way, nohow — I haven’t got the arm length to finesse it. Can’t read my beer booklet, can’t read the notes to my wonderful CD’s. I need reading glasses something fierce, man — need ’em last Monday — last November — 1987.

In the meantime, how ’bout a magnifier? Sure. From the Nature Company, back up Girard.

4"-diameter Bausch & Lomb “Sight Savers” 2-power mutha w/6-power inset lens — lens is plastic — does glass exist anymore?

Black plastic “contoured” handle, like the handle of a hairbrush, "balanced for hours of comfortable viewing.” Viewing suggestions shown: butterfly, map, 1939 silver dollar. “Everyone needs the power to see the details" — let’s see some now:

“Ideally, Flying Horse should be chilled to temperatures of 8x-l0xC. And, when the occasion deserves it, serve Flying Horse Royal Lager Beer. Then, sit back and drink deeply” — ’s_ the only way I know. “Flying Horse Royal Lager Beer — the champagne of beers.”

(They must’ve not heard of Miller.)

21.5 is the density of platinum. Varese’s piece of that name was composed in 1936 “at the request of Georges Barriere for the inauguration of his platinum flute.”

Varese also spelled his first name “Edgard.”

Vexations, written in 1895, is a theme and two variations Satie wished to have repeated 840 times. The first complete performance was carried out in 1963 “on John Cage’s initiative with the assistance of ten pianists taking turns at the keyboard for nineteen hours nonstop.” (CD version only 1:35.)

Heinous real estate throwaway. San Diego Portfolio, with scores of loathsome, repulsive “listings” — to wit: “SOUNDS OF THE SURF. Right On The Sand! Large decks for superb entertaining highlight this gracious 5 bedroom, 4 bath home. Located in Del Mar’s unique Beach Colony. $2,300,000." And some people find sex classifieds obscene. Haven’t they heard yet that property is theft? (Found in the trash on Camino Del Mar.)

Original art price tag. Non-willfully acquired souvenir of Shelby’s, La Jolla. “This delightful new restaurant,” says The Ultimate Dining Guide's critique, is like a “home away from home” — good. I’m homesick. “You may even start your day with Eggs and Filet Mignon ($7.95)” — I believe I will. O.J. from concentrate...real carnation on table...biscuit ordinary (from package?)...some e-z listen station (too loud)... good potatoes & meat, say my notes. And — what’s this? — a small strip of paper slips from my notebook...

White, 4-1/2" X 3/4", w/ black boldface: “‘Grand Canyon Suite I,’ $225.” A centimeter (or thereabouts) of masking tape remains in one corner. Apparently it just fell in my book.

And the painting, well, lemnie see if I can ’member it (not in my notes). Principal colors: blue, purple, brown, red, pink. Style: Ameri-landscape Impressionist. I’ve seen worse. Two twunny-five? Well...hmm...no thanks. Tag alone is plenty for me.

UCSD: nothing. No object required. I got mementos enough, indelible mem’ries of the last time, the only time, I was there. I could remember it in my sleep.

1969, summer...a new campus then? We started down the coast, me, my girlfriend Rhonda and another couple, started in Berkeley, heading probably for somewhere in Mexico. Never really knew where we were going, just generally south, and rarely did we have anything approaching what could reasonably have been called f-f-fun. The four of us and a Great Dane — me, Rhonda and him in the back seat — for three-four miserable weeks. By the time we hit S.D. County, we were bickering all the time, fighting over where and when we were gonna eat, drink, where we’re gonna sleep, and Sam the driver — who wouldn’t let anyone else drive — had at least a dozen times almost got us killed (on the outside lane at Big Sur — natch — but also on straightaways and 25 mph surface streets), and nearly busted at least half as many.

A long story. I’ll shorten it. We’re in Oceanside, been stopped for throwing speed out the window — amphetamines — Sam threw ’em — which these cops amazingly took merely as act of littering, didn’t know what, and wanted to pop us for that, and somehow we lucked our way out of it, and afterwards we just drove, kept driving, into the night, many different roads, until we came to...UCSD. And climbed in the windows of a couple dorm rooms and slept.

And in the morning Sam says, “Here’s where we part company” — he wouldn’t drive us to Tijuana, he wouldn’t even drive us to the zoo — and there’s more to the story, much more, but that’s enough.

Sunburned ears. From a day of wearing the Torrey Pines hat after removing another which had more adequately covered them (sunscreen on face and neck). Not too bad, a medium pink; no immediate foreseeable cancer threat.

Penny medallion. Pacific Beach. “Make your own souvenir!

Yes, it’s legal (U.S. Code 18-331).”

Two quarters and a penny go in the slot, gears turn (and turn) and the penny gets flattened like a railroad went over it — flattened and molded — yet doesn’t come out hot to the touch. Oblong, not quite an ellipse, nor even radially symmetrical, pointed more at one end than the other, 1-1/2" and 3/4" at widest points.

Design: the pier, the sun, gulls; PACIFIC BEACH, SAN DIEGO, CA.; elliptical “roping” around everything. Looks like a miniature copper belt buckle. Or a wide surfboard. On the backside you can make out the ghost of Lincoln, so evidently (in my case) it got stamped reverse-side up. (There are worse things you could do with a penny.)

A keeper! Something I will safeguard and cherish ’til the weasels come home.

Wrapped toothpicks. One from Shelby’s, one from Tracton’s. Excellent wood and hygiene. Both ’picks 2-9/16" long, wrappers 3-1/2" X 5/16”: identical. Great restaurateurial minds think alike — it is comforting to know.

Balloon ride advert. “For romantic excursions into the realms of fantasy and adventure, let us take you back to a time when you believed in dragons and fairy tales.” Say what? 4” X 9” glossy postcard-style handout/mailer for A Beautiful Morning Balloon Company. Pictured: (upper frame) red/yellow/blue hot-air balloon above palm trees, (lower) 17 or 18 balloons in varying stages of ascension, hundreds of idiots standing about in their collective shadow (photos by Joseph Woods, 1987). “Join us for one of our daily flights over the coastal regions of Del Mar.” Or let’s not and say we did.


Seashells and driftwood. I forgot. Next time.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment