Under the Crystal Pier, Pacific Beach
Author: John Campbell
Neighborhood: Pacific Beach
Everyone, even my friend from Ohio, knows that P.B. is full of douchebags. So when I said I was going to move to the beach, I didn’t have a lot of support from my homies.
There wasn’t a lot of overt protest, though, either, come to think of it.
Maybe that’s because I was living in Mira Mesa at the time and starting to dissolve into that neighborhood’s monochromatic sprawl. The bulk of my friends — the too-cool O.B. kids, the way-too-cool North Park kids — mostly just said “Oh, P.B. huh?” and swallowed their ridicule.
But, of course, P.B. is filled with douchebags — even the douchebags probably wouldn’t dispute that.
For the first few weeks I felt like I was awash in a sea of beach cruisers and tribal tattoos. I felt, inexplicably, like I should pull my socks up to mid-calf and get my T-shirts embroidered. Even in my slightly grittier corner of this town, Grand Avenue and Lamont, where we actually have rats in our trees, it all felt boring and predictable. Until this one night.
I’d just come from a friend’s place in O.B. when I stopped for cigarettes at the mini-mart next door to my humble abode. The girl in front of me was my age, about 23, with a sheer red dress and pretty, in a certain way. She was confidently informing the clerk that, no, they must have a restroom.
Clerk: “No we don’t, sorry.”
Girl: “Well, where do you go?”
Clerk: “We have a bathroom, but we’re not allowed to let customers use it.”
Girl: “That doesn’t make sense.”
Clerk: “I don’t know what to tell you.”
Girl: “Can’t I just use it for a minute?”
Clerk: “I’m sorry, I really can’t.”
It went on like this for a bit, but eventually she wandered out. The clerk shook his head; he looked tired. I bought some cigarettes.
In the alley behind the store, I saw the girl in the red dress poking around in corners, but they’re all sufficiently well-lit to discourage things like that.
Gregarious by nature, I asked if she still had to pee, or whatever. She said yes and, gentlemanly as always, I offered up the service of my restroom.
“It’s just around the corner,” I said. She was very, very drunk.
We walked up the path to my apartment and I showed her the bathroom. She let out a satisfied sigh and thanked me cheerfully as she exited.
She was your typical P.B. girl, I guess. Her clothes were expensive, her shoes uncomfortable, her hair highly processed. My roommates had a few friends over, and although I was prepared for the typically vacuous conversation that’s common ’round these parts, we invited her to stick around for a beer.
And wouldn’t you know it, the alleyway girl was a talker. She was fun for a while, but it became increasingly clear that she had a big-ass chip on her shoulder and very likely a personality disorder to boot. She made a number of slurring, irrational, and potentially threatening statements. People kept making quizzical faces at me when her back was turned.
Any urge I might have had to get her number quickly evaporated as she informed us, very loudly, how rich she was, and more specifically, how much richer she was than us. Her dad owned some kind of auto dealership and a rug outlet or something.
My friends and I don’t take well to people like this, and I have to admit we egged her on. We eventually goaded her into burning a 20-dollar bill. But to further demonstrate her contempt for valuable things, she produced an expensive cell phone, the flip kind, and broke it in half. It was impressive, actually — she wasn’t a big girl. She then heaved the pieces onto our neighbor’s roof.
The cell phone, at least two years later. Just so you know I'm not a liar.
As I ushered her out the door, I felt a twinge of guilt, sending her out alone. It was at least 3 a.m. at this point, and crazy as she was, she was also very drunk and… I just figured I should escort her to wherever she was headed.
She’d mentioned earlier that she had wandered away from a party nearby. I remembered this because she underscored, repeatedly, how much cooler that party was, when compared to the gathering of poor people at my place.
She was sure that her party of origin was close by. Along the way she began to display what I would describe magnanimously as moderate psychosis. She was alternately grateful for my help, furious for getting her lost, and even more furious for making her leave the party. The one at my house. The lame one with all the poor people.
She also clearly had no idea where she was going. She’d lead us a few blocks, assuring me that the place was just around the corner, and then we’d turn the other direction, with the same assurances. We walked around many, many corners. None of this was unexpected; she was drunk, and I was drunk, and she was lost, so I was too.
After walking roughly in circles for 20 or 30 minutes, and while still within earshot of my own house, she grabbed my elbow.
“I think this is it…”, she said, nodding. “Mm hmm. I think this is it…” She pointed. “There it is!”
Her pace quickened, and she took my arm, heading toward a building that was clearly an orthodontist’s office. The sign said so. I tried to correct her.
“Jazell…” (I swear to God her name was Jazell). “Jazell,” I said, “that’s an orthodontist’s office.”
She shook her head. “Nope, come on.”
I was skeptical, but I followed her up a flight of stairs to the upper floor of a squat office building. The names of several orthodontists and their suite numbers were posted on the wall. I decided not to fight it; Jazell rang the bell.
I didn’t really expect anyone to open, but I began to realize, standing there, that I looked very much like a rapist.
Here I was, tromping around with an obviously inebriated girl in a diminutive red dress. Also, given her periodic rage at me for “getting her lost,” there was really no predicting what she might say to the boyfriend/husband/pimp who might eventually open the door. Furthermore, who throws a f__king party at an orthodontists’ office? Do orthodontists throw parties?
I debated whether I should just leave her on the landing, trusting that she’d get the door open somehow (strong hands!), but before I could turn tail, the handle rattled and the door opened a crack. It was held in place by one of those New York–style chain locks.
Club music poured out of the space in the door. I could see a whole bunch of people inside, as well as some kind of laser light show. Also, and I swear to God I’m not making this up, there were fog machines. F*king fog machines. In the orthodontist’s office. I’m really not making this up.
A guy flicked the chain dismissively and Jazell let herself in. Without so much as a glance at me, Jazell released my arm, headed toward a back room, and disappeared. I dithered near the doorway.
At this point I still wasn’t sure if this was the start of the most surreal night I’d ever had or just a preamble to a sensational murder. There were a few people on a leather L-shaped couch by the door, and one burly-looking guy invited me to sit. I obliged.
The guy, whose name was Chris, handed me a beer and asked me how I’d met Jazell. Neither he nor the others seemed the least bit surprised to see me wander in with her. There was something of a pause, as the people gathered on the couch waited for my answer.
“Well,” I said, “she had to pee. She was wandering in my alleyway, so I let her use my bathroom.”
The gathered crew broke into chuckles and commiserations. Chris smiled and shook his head bemusedly as if to say, “Oh, that Jazell. That wacky Jazell.” He offered me a cigarette, I accepted, and he clapped me on the back. The girl next to me was chewing on a candy necklace and holding a martini. I felt like I had fallen through the P.B. looking glass.
On the couch I had an opportunity to assess the nether region I’d stumbled into.
First of all, there was nary a Hurley cap or a calf-high sock to be seen. There was no beer pong. There were two girls dancing on poles, though, and there was a DJ booth. Not, like, a folding table with someone’s little brother spinning records, but a full-on booth. Stacks of vinyl, extensive PA system, disco balls, all of it. One doorway opened on a dark, narrow hallway, and other doorways were blocked off with beaded curtains for who knows what reason. Jazell was nowhere in sight, which was fine by me.
Chris seemed to recognize my where-the-f*k-am-I expression, so he took me under his wing and showed me around the place. Everyone was friendly, beautiful, and hip, but not in an irritating way. There were video artists and event promoters, video promoters and event artists, and one chick who was giving away small bags of weed. Just, you know, giving away weed. I mean, why wouldn’t she?
We played a game of foosball (foosball!), and Chris eventually introduced me to the owner of the place. He was a tour manager for electronic/dub/house something-or-other.
I was identified to all as the “kid who brought Jazell back.” I began to gather that Jazell was not just drunk and unstable, but rather unstable and happened to be drunk tonight. The owner flashed a knowing smile as he shook my hand and thanked me for tending to their wayward, sh*thouse-crazy ward.
I don’t remember anybody else’s name, and I never saw Jazell again — not that night or any other. I hung out in the orthodontist-club for a few hours, but my friends were waiting for me. I took a beer for the road and trundled off home around five, reflecting on judgment, books and covers. And on my new home, Pacific Beach.