Notes on Leucadia

Why bother posting this? Because I am here to write (visit, surf and read). My novel and other fictions lie fallow, but I can at least observe my surroundings, exercise my ability to describe, hope these nuggets polish up into something pretty someday.

Yesterday I explained to Kim how writing reviews or sharing why I like something is difficult; I’m best at dialogue and action, utilizing nouns and verbs rather than adjectives (weak!) and adverbs (weakest of all!). Why do I appreciate books by Lionel Shriver? They’re interesting. She writes well about serious stuff. Her characters seem real, but her writing is utterly without sentimentality, so I experience an unusual engagement in and detachment from their stories. (Checker and the Derailleurs a notable exception.)

See? Bor-ing! What does any of that mean? Nothing. It’s like saying the day is hot or the houses around here have lots of flowers. Or, I’m sad. Or, she’s pretty. So vague as to be meaningless. Talking about how I feel is like talking about what I like; I’m grasping for words that explain and find myself clinging to adjectives and adverbs. I’m scaling a cliff of description and everything I grab slides out stem to root from each dry crack. I need something solid to hold on to.

Point is, feeling is only interesting when it’s well-illustrated. (Says the heartless critic. Suffering is irrelevant unless you’ve expressed it well? I am talking about the craft of writing, not a person’s intrinsic worth, she explains.) Being depressed is one thing. Walking outside with last night’s overfilled compost bowl in your hand and reacting to the weeds taking over the flowerbed, the bolted rainbow chard, the dead vines of the peas and the dog shit everywhere by falling to your knees in the dirt and weeping as the sun cracks the horizon forcing you to your feet because the day is starting and you must, must, must continue except as you’re chopping onions for breakfast potatoes with the ultra sharp knife, the one your in-laws got you in a rare display of appropriateness, visions of continuing to slice straight up your arm into your wrist, turning the knife to run perpendicular instead of parallel because like all true depressives you know too much about suicides insert themselves unbidden but somewhat welcome, well that is something else entirely. (Of course, that sentence has problems of its own, as well.)

So when I want to tell someone about a book without giving away the story, I struggle. When I review a CD, I tend to fall back on metaphor or simile (“Man-on-Man Shenanigan’s new album, Happy Pants, is like being hit upside the head with a ping pong paddle and then giving a raspberry sundae afterwards. Silly, yet painful, and with an unexpected fruity reward at the end.”)

What does this have to do with describing Leucadia? Because I want to use shorthand like “classic SoCal beach town with money” and adjectives like “rich” and “funky” and “retro.” And “floral.” (I should note, I’ve only explored the area immediately adjacent to the ocean. When I lived in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in the summer of 1988, Leucadia had a bad reputation. I have no idea if it was any better or worse than any other funky seaside surf town.)

If you grew up in Southern California, then you know these types of homes. Not rich-rich, but you’d have to have money to own or even rent. Big, but not exactly ostentatious because they all fit together so well, which is to say the variety of architectural and landscaping styles is many, but the space they take up, the flavor they exude, the houses are similar to each other the way dark chocolate is like semi-sweet or milk chocolate is not too far removed from mocha. Or more accurately, how palm trees and pine trees are quite different, and yet they’re both trees and both green and both equally capable of providing structure to the brilliantly red flowers that twine around and over the yards these houses, mixing with other flowers of orange, white and pink hues. Oh, and yellow of course, like the swallowtail butterflies I kept seeing. I wonder do they migrate? Have they come down from Humboldt for the winter?

These are the homes of people that glow with health and wear excellent haircuts, that surf and walk their dogs and ride their bikes and probably hold hands with their partners both on the beach and in the Tacoma or Highlander parked in the driveway of their rich-cool-funky-flower-surrounded home (no Priuses — Priuii? — here).

What they do not represent are the oversized and overglittered fortresses of Los Angeles flashaholics — or the McMansions of the suddenly rich. They are the dream behind the last 50 years of palm-tree covered postcards, the vision that Midwest teens see when they dream of the ocean. These price of these houses — if you found one for $3 million, it’d be a steal, seriously, a steal — suggest someone had to work hard somewhere once, and perhaps someone still does, but the exteriors say nothing more than it’s always playtime at the beach.

And I’m drawn to it. I wouldn’t trade my Humboldt life for anything, but in my much, much younger days, whenever I happened to find myself in some funky part of some beautiful beach town, I’d look around and think, it doesn’t get any better than this. Most of those towns have since been rebuilt, remodeled, sold out or overdeveloped as to become unrecognizable (Huntington Beach anyone?).

As I walked down Neptune today, I was happy to discover that I didn’t need to feel nostalgic about the beach town memories of my youth — this is one place that the California Dream has remained intact.

(In fact, you can experience it yourself, for only $4,000/week, here.)

(This post is exactly 1,000 words. Perhaps a single photo would’ve sufficed?)

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