February 25th, 2006
I discovered the Pacific Ocean today.
I'd had a sense it was nearby, based on the prevalence of surfers and seagulls in the neighborhood, but it took me a couple of weeks here in Ventura to build up the courage to seek it out.
For one thing, I'd gotten new sneakers just before I came down here from the Bay Area, and I didn't want to scuff them up right away with sand and such. Also -- and you may not have noticed this -- but I'm quite bald on top, and the sun tends to treat my noggin as a frozen planet that needs immediate thawing. "So wear a hat," you say. Well, that would make sense for someone who didn't have an enormous, gravity-bending head -- a head so big that the "one size fits all" label on baseball caps must be treated as a sad and bitter joke. I don't wear hats; at best, I balance them atop my head and hope for light winds. Plus -- and you'd think this would have occurred to me before -- I recently got to wondering whether wearing my big, honking headphones on sunny days (I hardly ever go on a long walk without listening to music) could leave me with strange, headphone-shaped cranial tan lines.
Nonetheless, despite these Lewis-and-Clark-type obstacles, I decided to go beach-exploring this afternoon. There's a woman at the front desk at my hotel who seems to think that my questions are less than important: every time I ask her something, her answer has an implied "And you pulled me away from my computer solitaire game for this?" vibe to it. Today I asked her how to get to the beach. She regarded me silently. I added, "By foot." If Mona Lisa had been a hotel clerk, she would have smiled the way this woman smiled at me then: an inward smile, an I-can't-believe-I-almost-got-my-Master's-in-English-Lit-and-here-I-am-dealing-with-this-jerk kind of smile. "You go out the front entrance," she said, at last.
"And then you turn left."
I got out my notepad. "And then?"
She sighed. "And then you're at the beach."
Well, I must say, it was that simple! Every day -- sometimes twice a day -- I'd been going out the front entrance of the hotel and then turning right, on my 10-minute walk to the theater. Turns out, if you turn left instead, in a block or so you're pretty much at the ocean.
Grooving to some Fiona Apple on my iPod, I made my way along a paved pedestrian-and-bike path to the historic Ventura Pier. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like people were staring at me. Was it my enormous head that attracted their attention? Or my gigantic headphones? Actually, I think these folks sensed, rightly, that I was a visitor from Indoor World who was trying to pass for an indigenous Outdoor Type. Also, I may have actually been grimacing with my worry about the headphone-shaped-tanline possibility.
By the time I got to the pier, I decided that I needed to take protective measures. So I opened up my knapsack and took out a cap we got on a family visit to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. It almost fits on my head -- which I think is because it was originally designed to be worn by pandas. Then -- both to weigh down the hat, and to continue my communing with Fiona -- I clamped my headphones over the top. Now people were looking at me in a slightly different way -- as if I were a giant-headed mutant alien who was receiving signals from kinfolk in a distant galaxy.
Just look casual, I kept telling myself. I strolled out toward the edge of the pier, noting fun facts on placards (when I could decipher them through the graffiti and seagull poo):
- The Ventura Pier is the longest pier in America. Or else it's one of the longest. Or maybe it's just average. (I didn't write this down in my notebook, unfortunately.)
- In 1914 the schooner S.S. Coos Bay smashed into the pier, breaking it in two. The pier was not reconstructed until 1917 -- a process briefly interrupted late in the year, when master carpenter Leon Trotsky abruptly departed to help lead the Russian Revolution. (Okay, I made up that last part.)
- Common fish that can be found under the pier: white croaker, topsmelt, jacksmelt, and surfperch.
- Banjo sharks!
I had reached the end of the pier. I tried taking a picture of the ocean, so I could show it to you, but with the sun's glare I couldn't really see the viewfinder in my camera-phone. (Maybe next time they should start with a really good camera and then add the phone, rather than the other way around.) I stood there and stared at the sea and tried to think big thoughts. The first thought that occurred to me was that I had to pee. Which in turn led to a question I've had for some time: Why do some (maybe even most) men flush a urinal before they use it, rather than after? This is something that I've never understood. Is it because they're afraid that the guy who used the urinal before them didn't flush? And if so, aren't they -- through this behavior -- perpetuating a recurring cycle of pre-flushing born out of mistrust? What if all men just agreed to flush after using the urinal? It might sound like a small thing, but if you ask me, it could ease a lot of the tensions in men's rooms everywhere.
You know, I should get out more often.
Entry Filed under: let's digress