Bouncer: Dreams of California at the Pizza Place on Noriega

Being a learned, erudite Bouncer reader, you probably already know what arenophiles are, but just in case: Arenophiles are people who dig sand. Not literally dig, like a kid with a spade and a bucket, but people who really, really like sand. They collect it in jars and swap it at conventions with other people who are into sand. Most sand in the world is made of silica, but there are plenty of piles of the stuff that are made of other rocks and minerals, worn down over the ages and turned into satisfying (to an arenophile) mounds of enchanted dirt. The rarest Holy Grail (grain?) of sand to collectors comes from the Easter Islands, but Hawaii has its fair share of uncommon particles, too.

I'm guessing that the sand at Ocean Beach is not exactly a precious commodity. I hope not, because rows and rows of houses and businesses are built on it. I waffle back and forth between thinking I would like to live in the Sunset (usually on sunny days) and deciding that I would never, ever want to set up camp in a place with so few trees. Generally, I arrive at the same old cliché: It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. I wonder whether arenophiles choose to live near beaches. It must be a nice feeling to go to bed at night knowing that you are resting atop several hundred feet of the stuff, just another speck among specks. As Vladimir Nabokov put it, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

Every week I take the N-Judah out to Ocean Beach for work, just another speck among specks, stopping at the very end of the line and walking several blocks to my client's house. If I have time, I always stop in at the Pizza Place on Noriega at the corner of 46th Avenue. It's just like its name — basic, to the point, and unpretentious. There's a big room with tables on one side and a bar on the other, where beer flows liberally and the TV always seems to be on some sort of skateboarding event.

I don't drop in for the beer, or the pizza; I go for a guy who works there. I don't want to do him or anything. I don't have a crush on him. He just looks exactly like the California Kid, and when I see him, I am reminded that I am originally from Illinois and that I came out here several years ago, like so many other people, because California called to me. He makes me feel excited, as though I have just stepped off the airplane from Peoria.

Last week he was there, all blond shoulder-length curls, sun-dappled freckles, and a surfer's build. He smiled and got me a drink. He is friendly, but not overly so. He looks Southern Californian, which to me is not an insult. Every so often he tilted his head toward the TV to watch the skating competition. He put his hands on his hips. They are strong, golden hands. He has no idea that he represents so much to me, which I suppose is a good thing.

This is the stuff of novels. So many people come out West to start over. California is a lot of things to a lot of people. We all drifted here, pulled by some tide, slowly honed into faux natives with some small vestiges of our old lives barely beating underneath. Sometimes I forget I am not from here, but then I see someone who is so clearly an original, and I am all of a sudden a neophyte again.

To me, this guy at the Pizza Place is part Jeff Spicoli, part John Steinbeck. “Is this the X Games Japan or something?” I asked. The show was taking place in Asia, but had Americans competing. He said it was some other competition, and from there we started talking about Christian Hosoi, since my knowledge of the sport is either stuck in the '80s or from Dogtown and Z-Boys. He refilled my drink while we chatted.

He greeted a friend of his who walked in who looked like a surfer. They did a bro-type handshake. I pictured myself at a beach bonfire with them, passing a bottle and wearing a fleece jacket over my bathing suit, my hair in a ponytail after a long day of being in the ocean. That's what this California Kid represents — the life I never had in high school. I was out cow-tipping and stealing 12-packs of Schaefer instead.

He never seems to remember me, and I suppose that is a good thing. I like to be a speck among specks. If he began to notice me, then I might get to know him better, and he would start to be an actual person, and not a symbol. And I wouldn't want that. I do know that the reality is never as good as the fantasy; this guy represents a fantasy. He is a Disneyland attraction. But fantasies stir feelings, and I like the feeling I get when I go to this place. It is the sort of feeling that drew me out here.

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