Upside Down Backwards
I’ve become a tourist in my hometown, which is too bad because a favorite Santa Cruz pastime is making fun of tourists. I remember one summer a lot of tourists wore upside down, backwards visors, and we locals were particularly disgusted. Well, I’m not wearing an upside down, backwards visor, but there are things about me that mark me as different. LA has changed me.
I never drank Diet Coke before I moved to LA. I pull up to my parents’ house and guiltily eye the Diet Coke cans, like I was arriving with a car filled with cigarette butts. I drive differently now too. I drive with purpose and anger. The locals here take their time, probably because there are beautiful things to see from the window of your car in Santa Cruz. In LA, everything’s an identical strip mall. Although at a stoplight in Venice, I did see a homeless woman take a dump on the sidewalk. However, I could probably see that in Santa Cruz too.
It’s not like I ever felt particularly Santa Cruzan growing up. In sixth grade all the cool kids were professional surfers. I remember overhearing conversations about sponsorship. “I’m sponsored by O’Neill.” I would have been sponsored by SPF 100 or American Girl Dolls. I thought I could maybe dress the part: if I adorned myself in Roxy or Hang Ten, no one would notice that I had no interest in the ocean or the great outdoors.
In Junior High, I forced my dad to take me to some surf shop and buy me board shorts. My dad likes to get to the point when he shops, so he went right up to the guy behind the counter and asked where the board shorts were. I was twelve, so during this whole interaction I wanted to die. The guy who worked there took one look at me and said, “You’re sure your daughter’s into this kind of stuff?”
That salesman was either the worst or the best salesman ever. I choose to believe he was the best, employing some weird mind fuck. It worked. I had to prove I was one of his people, so I had to buy the shorts. Or rather, my dad had to buy them. I wore the shorts skateboarding, so I could get the full surf lifestyle look. I had a longboard, which required no tricks and a minimum of effort. God, I felt cool when a tourist pointed at my board and shouted to his wife, “Look at that?! Is that a surf board?”
Later, in high school, I gave up trying to imitate surf culture and devoted myself to hating it. I had my reasons. My girlfriends always wanted to go to the surfer parties, where thirty-five-year-old alcoholics would try to seduce drunk sixteen-year-olds. Most of the time, I felt like I was on rape patrol.
When my very drunk, pretty friend, with father issues, would get too friendly with a long-haired man who had leather for skin, I’d say, “Excuse me, Blaze, we both have homework.” Blaze would groan and so would my friend. I would too. What was I trying to prove? If I’d just let them be, he probably would have vomited on her before anything could have happened. But Blaze’s disgust made it clear–I didn’t belong in Santa Cruz.
Then I moved to LA. Suddenly, I realized there were many things about my childhood that didn’t match up with other people’s, things that might make me more Cruz than I’d thought. For instance, we celebrated Native American Day instead of Columbus Day. I forgot weed was illegal. Most of my friends’ dealers were their parents. “Clean your room and I’ll give you an ounce.” I had an acupuncturist before I had a regular doctor. Instead of Girl Scouts, I joined the Daughters of the Universe, a group dedicated to approaching puberty from a feminist perspective.
As soon as I left Santa Cruz, I became more closely associated with it. In LA, interviewers would look at my resume, and when they would read UC Santa Cruz, they would look up and smile knowingly. Most of the time I would forget I was in an interview, not a “let’s be friends, get to know each other meeting,” and I would share some of the above anecdotes about my hometown. Treating interviews like “friendship meetings” is probably something I picked up in Santa Cruz. Needless to say, I wouldn’t get the job.
Eventually I did get a job, and I’ve made a little life for myself in LA. But I don’t mind reminding people I’m from Santa Cruz. I use it to explain a wide range of behavior: my aversion to shaving my legs, obsession with junk food because I was denied it as a kid, and my strange behavior around Republicans. So maybe LA can’t really change me. Or maybe I can change, but I’ll never be a stranger. I marinated here too long. What a relief. This means I can still make fun of tourists!