Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Quiet California

Despite my total, years-long distaste for the Santa Clarita Valley, there are parts of Southern California I will remember fondly. Not enough to visit them again some time after I leave, but I think they kept me sane enough as this valley was slowly driving me crazy.

I remember the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa, the bridge between buildings. If you wanted to get to Borders or Paul Frank or McDonald's, you walked that covered bridge, that pause and peaceful silence before more purchases. There are conversations on that bridge between others as they pass by you, and you might be having your own while walking that bridge, but it's enough just to watch the cars pass under the bridge, to see all the other buildings in what looks like a consumer district. You look out as far as you can, and you can sense the ocean somewhere nearby, the ultimate peace in this state, which I never visited often, but the times I did remain memorable, such as that Santa Monica sunset near the pier after an awful advance screening of The Producers in 2005, and being on the pier itself, on that ferris wheel as the sun set further.

The most recent complete peace happened while Mom and Dad were in Las Vegas and Meridith and I eventually had 10 days at home. On one of those days, we took the bus to the nearby Ralphs, had lunch at McDonalds, and then walked to where the Italian sub shop was, which took us past Meridith's old high school, Valencia High. But before that, we came upon what is usually considered cookie-cutter housing, a development with row upon row of houses of varying design in the front, but generally with the same purpose: Porches. No matter how small the porches seemed on those houses, there was always room for a chair, a sense of relaxation, a thought that the world could stop right here and rest for a while. I loved those houses. I wanted the designs of a few of them for myself. I'm getting all of that in a different way with the apartment we're going to be moving into in Henderson, but then, I just needed to know that the world still cherished calm, and it did there. It was the kind of place where dog crap on the sidewalk doesn't seem so bothersome. Inconvenient if you step in it, but you only have to look and be careful. This was the kind of development that encourages you to slow down and look closer at the lives around you through the houses, the cars, the moments that tell you that life should not always be a race for something that could very well be unachievable after years of straining so hard for whatever it might be. That's not to say one should not take risks, but care should be taken in what's pursued, as it relates to you, as it might satisfy you.

While we walked closer to the Italian sub shop, I saw Valencia Ice Station, which contains two ice rinks. I had to go in because it had been years since I'd been there. I never skated there, but I remember going in with either Mom or Dad (or both) to pick up Meridith when she was there. I had to go in to see what it was like this time.

The large right-side rink had skaters on it, and the left-side rink had hockey players practicing. To stand there and watch the skaters and then go across the way and watch the hockey players, they're interesting contrasting microcosms. There we were, it was almost noon, and here they were, skating and hoping to win the next game. And that was enough. That's all that was needed in those lives at that moment.

All I needed in my life came when we went to the arcade on the second floor (We were in the second floor, watching the skaters and hockey players from long balcony seating) and Meridith and I found not only a working air hockey table, but also a Galaga arcade machine for myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and after ducking into the restroom for necessary action, Meridith and I played air hockey on a surface that was much smoother than what we usually have at other arcades, such as the one at Ventura Harbor Village. It's not slick enough, and the thin puck sometimes just stops and drifts in the middle. This puck moved across that surface as if it instinctively knew the surface, that it would be the fastest puck ever made. It was a more intense game than I'd had in years, and every time Meridith scored every goal to an eventual win, a cluster of multi-colored lights on the top would spin around. She liked that a lot.

When I played the Galaga machine, I played it as intensely as I did the one at Ventura Harbor Village, weaving and ducking as if the aliens were firing directly at me. When I get into that game, I'm gone. I am that ship, banging on the buttons to fire fast and often. I've gotten as far as level 12, but no further. I aim to change that when I find another Galaga machine somewhere in Las Vegas, possibly even at the Pinball Hall of Fame, the next time I go, this time with Lisa, who's game for it, since it'll be the first time in years she's played pinball, and her favorite video games are all arcade machines there, such as Mario Bros. and Centipede. See? I've finally figured out the secret to a happy life: My beloved pinball games and the most beautiful woman in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if all this makes me live to 150 years old. And I'd be happy with that, because it means more time with her.

I don't think I ever got used to Southern California because it never felt like it offered constant, wide-ranging pleasures. I need that in my life. That's how I live. I don't believe errands should feel like errands. There should be fun in everything. And I never felt that here, not with grim-looking freeways, not with some supermarkets lit so dimly as if to hide the prices inevitably encountered. I feel that constant pleasure in Vegas, and it's where I belong now. I've always wanted to live somewhere that thrives on hedonism. This is it. But at least I found pieces of it here, enough to help during long stretches of days when nothing particularly interesting happened. Sure, there are books, and I had those, but that's not always enough for life. So at least there was all this here. And in some way, it helped me figure out who I finally wanted to be and what would make me happiest. That's fine, but just visit here if you'd like. Never live here.