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Author: Lane Tobias

Neighborhood: Ocean Beach

Age: 24

Occupation: Wildfire Relief Case Manager

I am a recent transplant from New Jersey living in Ocean Beach. I already know what locals or natives think of me. Another East Coaster, another poser, another person sucking the life out of the little slice of paradise left in ­California.

Believe me, I used to hate sitting on the subway in New York answering ­tourists’ questions about what stop to get off to get to a museum, what train to take to get to Brooklyn, blah, blah, blah. My favorite used to be when Boston Red Sox fans attempted to figure out how to get to Yankee Stadium from a hotel room in midtown. “Where the hell is the Bronx, anyway?” Take a right at your mom, and keep on going until your head is squarely up your ­ass.

San Diegans, particularly native San Diegans, probably feel the same. We live in ­America’s Finest City, and everyone wants to keep it that way. For the record, I am here for the same reason everyone else trekked out to California in the first place: The weather has been fantastic, and the living is surely ­easy.

Actually, I ­don’t know about easy (see: car accident last week that totaled my Honda, coupled with bank account hovering around three dollars). But at least I have the illusion of life being easier, and I live two blocks from the ­sand.

On the first night of recovery after a 72-hour stretch of weekend drinking, I found myself on laundry duty. With an impending trip to New York City coming in a few days, I wanted to be sure I had my whole repertoire of T-shirts and cargo shorts at my disposal in order to look as sharp as possible. So instead of using the wimpy washer/dryer at my apartment building, I decided to head down the street and utilize a Laundromat with industrial-size dryers to save time. Apparently they include industrial-size life lessons in the experience as ­well.

At first I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet and empty the place was. Wonderland Coin is fairly popular (although, unlike other coin laundries, they do not offer arcade games to kill time), and I was anticipating a gauntlet of people to try and get to an open dryer once the wash cycles ended. With a frivolity I have never felt when doing laundry, I threw the clothes in the dryer and exited to return upon the completion of the ­load.

Laundromats, unsupervised and open to the public as they are, can draw some interesting people after the later wave of customers finishes folding their clothes. Considering the proximity to the beach, I should have expected that this was the rule, not the exception. But for some odd reason I had made myself believe that it was my night with the Wonderland and that this would be the most simple laundry experience of my ­life.

Five minutes before the place closed, alone with literally every item my girlfriend and I own, I threw on some headphones and started folding. With my back turned to the door I was vulnerable to any kind of ninja or sneak attack, but the relaxing tunes of Wilco allowed me to float into a state of rumination, and I let my guard down. If a ninja wanted to chop me and steal some undergarments, then so be it. This was my time to ­decompress.

It was while gripping a pair of my ­lady’s pink, orange, and chartreuse panties that I heard a soft sound eerily similar to a male voice. I decided to ignore the sound at first, assuming it was some creepy effect Jeff Tweedy had pumped into the background. Unfortunately the sound did not dissipate, and I was forced to remove myself from a peaceful existence and slowly turn ­around.

What I found slouched before me was exactly the kind of person whom I was trying to avoid that evening: a particularly upset, middle-aged man who had stumbled in off the street and was mumbling to himself. Typical O.B., but even more typical for me: I finally get into a groove folding clothes, comfortable with my ­girlfriend’s panties in hand in a public place, and here comes someone who will obviously start spitting out his life ­story.

At first he just kept talking to himself. This ­isn’t comforting to most people, but I was elated at the turn of events. As I mentioned before, this was time for decompression. I think Dr. Phil might call it “me time.” Unfortunately, as I moved from panty stage to T-shirt stage, a blissful, almost Zen laundry experience reverted to its habitual, impersonal nature. I could no longer expect peace and ­quiet.

The man turned to me, ­surprised.

“Oh, I ­didn’t realize there was anyone else in here. I was just talking to myself,” he said. “My ­brother’s wife died today. Fifty-four years old. ­Cancer.”

Well, at that point I was sucked in. Of course, his life story followed. I listened intently as he ran down the six different addresses on Brighton Avenue he had lived at for a number of years before being drafted and sent to Vietnam. We chatted briefly about his time in the jungle but never actually got into the “meat.” We discussed how my father was a firefighter in the Air Force Reserves, and he talked about all the times them “flyboys” saved his life. I surely ­didn’t feel like bursting this ­guy’s bubble, so I ­didn’t tell him that my dad was not a “flyboy” during ­Vietnam.

The conversation revolved primarily around his extended family and not around his own life. His sister-in-law had left behind twin boys who were now in their 30s, one with a couple of children ­himself.

“Amazing kids, really great people.” Pausing for a second, he continued, “I guess the whole marriage thing was never for me, so ­I’m happy ­they’re out there carrying on my name. I was never able to keep a lady in my life. Kept offing those girls.” At which point he pointed gun-shaped fingers at his head and squeezed the “trigger.”

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bohemianopus Sept. 4, 2008 @ 8:31 a.m.

I so enjoyed experiencing the Wonderland Laundromat encounter through your eyes! You are now officially an "OBcean."

Your insight into humanity, and life in general, was a treat for the eyes to read. This story is one that I would love to see continued should you find the gentlemen from the Wonderland Coin Laundry again.

I spent my childhood in New Jersey, so I know the feeling of reaching "Nirvana" here in OB through the most mundane of events.

I hope you win first place in the Reader's neighborhood writing contest for this delightful slice of life!

Welcome to OB! Pat (a fellow OBcean)


AdivesDeep Sept. 26, 2008 @ 11:29 a.m.

Yeah, Goal-tender, you're right: let's encourage kindly emigrees to this area, whom indeed make it sunnier and more pleasant for us all, to get the hell out. You are justified, to miserly covet such beauty your parents or grandparents wandered to bear you into the world, to yourself. Forbid others to make the same decisions of your forebearers, and let's keep OB for elitist jerks. Isn't that what makes SD so grand? :-p Glad you're here, Ltizzle'mo'bizzle! Thanks for the story :)


MsGrant Oct. 5, 2008 @ 12:08 p.m.

Great story! Goaltender, the peninsula is for all of us to share and we are lucky to live here. People such as yourself want to keep OB crappy so you can live in paradise cheaply.


gelle_oceanbeach Dec. 5, 2008 @ 4:35 p.m.

Ocean beach here I come.... As unconventional and possibly odd it may be to have a story regarding a laundrymat be termed inspirational, Ill take the risk and offer it as my opinion of your tale. Two days ago, up here in chilly old northern california, we gave back our laundry machines to save money over the next two months. Adventures to the laundrymat around these parts are odd if not scary and often filled with people you would just rather not be around. In fact, Ill admit, I travel two hours south to use my moms machines. In short, thank you for your story. Its nice to know that when I move, when I inevitably dirty my clothes, Ill have an interesting place to wash my linens. See you in a few months.... and thanks for your story


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