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Friday nights here at what I will call the Mayflower Villa Apartments in San Marcos are a far cry from what goes on those same nights in, say, Pacific Beach. I am learning about this place (Mayflower Villa, anyway) from a unique point of view, rather like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window learns about his neighbors — or at least one of them.

The Mayflower strikes my imagination in an unusual way. It is a new low-income apartment complex (a little over a year old) situated high on craggy bluffs of sandstone and clay as if designed with waiting out a siege in mind. No commercial businesses are anywhere near…certainly not within sight. I just sent a friend of my son’s — and it is my son’s apartment — to the 7-Eleven for a few staples. He will take a bus and at least one hour to return. It is the closest establishment for any kind of supplies. On a Friday night, I thought we all might enjoy some sodas at least; our pooled money would be just enough for a pizza to be delivered, but no more.

I am, like Jimmy Stewart in the movie, confined in my movements. While not in a wheelchair, my busted ankle demands that I stay off of the thing, keeping it elevated when I can. A good place to do this is the small balcony, which looks out onto a courtyard and the identical balconies of nine other apartments. I do not need binoculars to observe a goodly slice of life here among the other residents.

This is not the first Friday night I have spent here. I have, in more able-bodied times, come up for weekends several times in the past year. One thing I expected to see, especially on Friday nights, was a barbecue. I have seen none. While it is a great staple of relatively cheap entertainment — a time-honored and American common denominator of “the party” — I have come to suspect strongly that such activity is against the rules here. Rules abound at the Mayflower. For example, any guests, such as myself, can stay no longer than ten days or additional rent will be charged. Other conservative and (it strikes me) almost puritanically eccentric rules riddle the lease pages but are beside the point for our purposes here at the moment.

From my perch on the balcony I can see that the only evidence of a sense of Friday evening is among the children. The Mayflower has plenty of children — absolutely no pets — and a good many of them are the children of Mexican immigrants (I am certain every one of them would be legal, being unable to imagine the Mayflower brooking anything less) and so are very well behaved in the way Mexican children tend to be. This fact is an overlooked boon from another country’s migrants along with lettuce, strawberries, and asparagus all under $40 a pound. But it is not my intention to get political. I am just observing.

One child, with wavy golden hair to her shoulders, is named Diane. (Her mother calls to her quietly from a balcony opposite mine.) Diane is Caucasian, I would guess, and she is mounted on one of those stainless-steel-looking collapsible scooters. She has nowhere to go and makes endless loops around building 4D while singing a pop song. When asked by another child if they might not try out the device, Diane surrenders the thing with grace.

Other children in “the yard” of concrete and postage-stamp patches of lawn are named Martin, Edward (Eduardo), Maria, Leo, and Peggy. Those are the names I catch, though there are more kids. A few of them will raise their voices in good spirits, but I hear no shrieking or screaming just for obnoxiousness’ sake. The children play unorganized games fueled by imagination and its improvisational offshoots, but there is no mistake: they are celebrating the end of the school week. It strikes me as odd how children have no place to play in — there is no designated playground area with, say, monkey bars and slides. It reminds me of the buildings and “gangways” I played in as a child in Chicago. We, in fact, had more luxuries: nearby parks and small patches of yard in which certain adults might allow us to cavort if they weren’t hanging laundry.

I look up from Martin giving Leo a piggyback ride (I think he is pretending to be some kind of beast from Star Wars) and look into the open blinds of the apartment directly across from me. A man, no older than early 30s, is moving quietly about straightening pillows on a sofa, adjusting a Persian-type throw rug in a tasteful, orderly, well-maintained apartment (from what I can see). I can see the bottom edge of a Christmas tree against the right wall. While it is a little late for such a thing, its Italian, soft-white lights lend the room warmth that is inviting. The glimpse of the room delivers a pang of sadness as it reminds me of my own home in Mission Hills some 25 years ago when my son was under ten years old and it seemed to me the world had yet to turn to a kind of constantly morphing hell.

The residents of Mayflower Villa are all — it seems to me all — well behaved. They have each been rigorously screened as my son was initially. There will be no Friday-night tomfoolery, horseplay among the adults, no outdoor alcohol consumption, no smoking (inside or outside its walls) no loud television sets no matter what team is playing, no barking dogs, no beefed-up engines revving in the parking lot, no hanging over balconies conducting loud conversations with neighbors (à la Chicago or Brooklyn or even Mission Beach) and it will be this way every night, not just Fridays.

The Mayflower is a kind of colony set down in a sea of rolling and crumbling barren hills — dirt and rock — and while it is no doubt an idea of Heaven on Earth to the kind of people I tend not to know, it strikes me as an anomaly. And as far as any kind of Friday-night celebration, the only evidence of it here is among the children. They provide something very pleasant to look at and listen to and probably that should be enough.

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EricBlair Jan. 23, 2008 @ 3:28 p.m.

The real question, as always, is what do they have in their medicine cabinets? It's a weird microcosm of reality: multiple bottles of Pepto-Bismol, all 1/3 full.

I'm sorry about the rules. I'm sure the mantra is that it is all for "your own good," but that is not true, generally speaking, nor is good regardless.

BBQs forever---and heal up that ankle soon.


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