August and Everything After

I am one of these folks who does not mind beach sand creeping into the house. The floors, sofas, showers, towels, bathing suits. I like its gritty, exfoliant texture. I like the way it feels on the soles. I like how it reminds me of its origin… the windswept shores of the Pacific.

When I first moved out here, mid 2019, I landed in a beach house in the free-spirited, coastal neighborhood that is Ocean Beach. For six short-and-sweet months, I lived there with two women about my age.

One day, I had been lounging on the sofa after a beach run. While I am something shy of a full-blown bohemian, I must have been too laid back about tracking a few grains of sand into the house, because when one of my roommates plopped down in that same spot on the sofa an hour or so later, a sour expression overtook her countenance.

“How did this sand get on the couch?” She looked up at me to receive her answer. I apologized profusely. I helped clean up. This is when I learned her vast aversion to sand in the house.

Preferences, preferences. Ain’t it just par for the cohabitating course.

I get the question all the time. “Why did you move to San Diego?” I reply easily with, “The weather, the water, the sun, the palms, the Southern California culture.” Sometimes I go further and mention that I’ve dreamed of this place since I was 13 or 14, when my liberal-minded uncle would tell me I’d fit right in at UC-Berkeley once I was college ready. His way of talking about it—a sort of sales pitch for a relative—had me dreaming of a land by the Pacific where passionate, intelligent, creative, open-minded, big-spirited young people gathered to edify themselves and make waves in the contemporary culture.

I don’t usually tell them about my uncle or UC-Berkeley. I just say I’ve dreamed of being here for a long time.

I also don’t mention the boss I had, where I worked in Minneapolis, who would vacation to San Diego and come back glowing. Funny thing is, when I first met him—very first interaction—I sensed the West Coast in his vibration. I only learned some weeks later that both he and his wife are California natives.

I also don’t mention that the albums of my youth, such as No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and Counting Crows’ August and Everything After and Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything In Transit, undoubtedly seeped into my subconscious. The sounds and the sentiments drew me here. The ocean called.

It’s been well over three years now, living the California dream, and a dream it has been. It’s hard to believe my length of time here will soon surpass that of my nearly four-year stint in Minneapolis. That was another vivid chapter of my life, one that ultimately had me yearning for the bright white sun and the cerulean blue skies of San Diego just as soon as I was ready.

And just as soon as I was ready… I jumped.

This past Friday, I locked myself out of my apartment at 7:15am as I was headed to work. In a panic, I knocked on the neighbor’s door, woke her up to a fright no doubt, and then remembered she doesn’t speak much English.

“No tengo mi llave ni celular,” I pieced together. “Necesito llamar la oficina.” It turns out I did have my cell, in the pocket of my bag, and waking her up was entirely unnecessary.

Either way, I had to take the bus to work. What began as a mishap ended up nurturing a sense of intimacy with my adopted city: the facts that one, I already had my Pronto card set up and the app installed on my phone, eliminating the need to dig out a physical card; two, I had an eleven-dollar balance on it (where did that come from?); three, there is a bus stop a mere block from my apartment; four, it reminded me there are eco-friendly commute options; and five, it ran like clockwork and picked me up just three or four minutes after I arrived at the stop. I made it downtown by 8am.

Promptly at 8:30am, the students filed into my Marine Biology class. It’s not really my class; I’m a short-term sub. Nonetheless, on Fridays it’s a TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR-CLASS and I needed to come up with plans. I had decided in advance we’d continue to follow the Ocean Cleanup Project, and then we’d watch the documentary Mission Blue about marine scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle.

To add to the marine context, the classroom is conveniently situated with a view of the Coronado Bridge and the underlying San Diego Bay. The photo below does it very little justice. It’s a serious visual stunner in all actuality.

We learned from the Ocean Cleanup Project that an estimated 48% of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is from the fishing industry. We then learned that the latest iteration of the Cleanup technology, System 03, is working directly with the fishing industry to design and build its netting. How incredibly inspiring is that. The enemy has a hand in the solution!

Dr. Sylvia Earle’s life and work is no doubt an inspiration. I was moved by the footage of bioluminescence far below the surface, those creatures who light up the dark of the depths. I was oddly thankful, too, to learn that Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, has one of the first and biggest “hope spots,” a marine region protected from all fishing which has rebounded in vitality as a result.

I am thankful it’s in Mexico because 80% of the students in the marine biology class are of Mexican descent, 10% Black, 10% Asian. So much of what is taught in the United States is Eurocentric, and it feels good to work at a school where diversity abounds and the contributions of various races, ethnicities, and regions are represented and celebrated often. Learning about the Cabo Pulmo Hope Spot was a happy accident.

Photo by researcher Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

I was late for my second class. The sophomores were waiting patiently outside the room. It was time for Design Thinking, another two-hour class. The students filed in and chatted among themselves while I got set up.

This particular classroom has a keyboard and guitar in the corner, courtesy of the room’s home teacher, who teaches English and is a musician. Before long, a child of 15 was playing upon the piano, rather timidly, without knowing how. You can imagine how that sounded.

Class began, and we studied the mindsets used in the creative problem-solving process that is Design Thinking. It was a really fun class. At some point, we took a 10-minute brain break, and the child was back at the piano. This time, a masterful composition was emanating from the machine.

“Wow, Roberto, you are a master!” I joked, as Roberto pretended to dance his fingers over the keys. (Not his real name.)

He gave out a belly laugh. “I’m just joking!” he said.

“I don’t mind you tinkling around,” I said, “but I need you to keep the volume at 2 or below.”

“OK,” he obliged.

The day was burning up. After leaving the frigid school, I stripped down layers as I walked briskly to the bus stop. The heat of a heatwave is extra hot downtown. I was glad to leave behind the buzz and wire for the day.

Once I arrived home, the property management lady would help me back into my apartment, and then I would promptly pack for the beach.

An Asian mother and her two young daughters were my beachgoing neighbors, up and over to my left about ten yards. The daughters were dancing. Complete uninhibition. Swaying their little hips. Arms posing like dancing cranes. Giggling. Choreographing and coordinating their moves. Unplanned handstands. Trips to the water and back. Completely unself-conscious. Undeterred expression of life energy. Glee.

I sipped on an ice-cold screwdriver from a water bottle, spent some time admiring the panorama, then stripped off my linen dress, let my hair down, and strolled to shore.

The tide was calm, much like Magellan observed when he first laid eyes on it. The sun lowered in the sky. The moon’s half circle kept watch above. I swam out farther than anyone else. I felt like a newborn child, neck-deep in seawater. Each moment was a baptism.

I pondered Sylvia Earle and all the creatures she encountered in the salty sweet depths. I thought about the students of the day. I thought about the blessing of being alive, alongside all the other life forms.

In my element at Coronado

Upon returning to shore, up to my mid-calves in water, I noticed an inanimate object flowing back and forth with the tide. I fished it out. It was the top half of a wrapper with elegant font: Danielson, delivering since 1943!

A fishing-supplies brand, it turns out.

The day had come full circle.

I brought home some sand with me, and nobody was there to call me out.

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