Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (in Downtown Fullerton)

Tonight I was feeling cooped-up in my house, watching the third straight episode of Battlestar Gallactica on my laptop.  I started feeling a strange sort of anxiety I can only describe as "internet anxiety."  It's a restless sort of feeling I get when I realize I've been staring at a laptop screen for hours.  When this feeling comes, I have to get up and interact with the real world in some way.  It's the only way to ease the inner tension.

I've been getting this feeling more often.  Binge internet TV-viewing used to comfort and relax me after a long day of work, a sort of escape into cyber-reality.  But lately it's becoming less effective.  I think it has to do with the fact that I've been reading, writing, and teaching more.  All day my head is swimming with thoughts of literature and local history and art exhibits.  A 3-hour internet TV-fest is feeling more and more like, frankly, a waste of time.

The more I read and write and involve myself in real things in the real world, the more I feel this pressing sense of the value of these real things, and a sense that I don't want to waste my precious time on this planet trying to shut my brain off.  There's too much at stake.

So tonight, Saturday night, a night when I usually plop down for some binge-viewing, I get my ass up, put on my coat, throw two books and a notebook into my book-bag and head for downtown Fullerton.

I walk down Wilshire Avenue, through my quiet suburban neighborhood, cross Pomona, pass the First Lutheran Church that looks like a California mission (which disturbs me in a California-historical sense--the California missions were basically west-coast slavery for Native Americans).  But then I pass a homeless guy I recognize and I'm reminded that, every Wednesday, the First Lutheran Church hosts something called The Pantry, which provides food and clothes for our local homeless and very low-income population.  And this gets me thinking about the proposed new homeless shelter in Fullerton, and the weird social segregation in this town that has a long and storied (and largely unknown) history.

I pass the Chapman building on Harbor and Chapman Avenue and, of course, I think of Charles Chapman, the "Citrus King" who benefitted from and contributed to this social segregation.  I guess the problem with being obsessed with local history is that it causes you to see the place you live in strange and disturbing ways.  But I journey on, waving through the glass windows of a restaurant at a young Latino man I know who works for low wages and lives "on the other side of the tracks," and I think…We pay for the crimes of our ancestors.

I'm looking for a place where I can drink and write.  I feel the burden/passion to write, to cast my voice into the wilderness of the interwebs and hoping it takes wing and flies to somewhere meaningful, like maybe a Google search of local congressman Ed Royce.  Oh Ed Royce, you don't represent me.

I'm standing on Wilshire Avenue and trying to decide between Mulberry St. Ristorante and Stadium Tavern.  I like Mulberry, but at 8:15pm on a Saturday night it is most likely filled with well-dressed elderly Republicans eating things like Alaskan salmon.  Later, Mulberry will be filled with drunken 20 and 30-somethings in t-shirts and short skirts for "Karaoke Night" which can be either fun or sad, depending.

So I decide to sit at the more desolate and inviting-looking patio of Stadium Tavern.  I'm looking for, as Hemingway wrote, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."  The weekend culture of downtown Fullerton is not yet a place that is particularly welcoming to literary nerds like me.  As I sit on the patio and begin writing, I'm keenly aware of the fact that I'm the only one writing here.  I might be the only person writing at a bar in downtown Fullerton, excluding text messaging and Twitter and all that stuff.  

I'm writing, by hand, in an old-school composition book and dreaming of the day when more young, bookish nerds like me, children of suburban Republicans and children of hard-working immigrants from "the other side of the tracks" come out together to the bars and plant the flag of literate nerdiness right here, in old downtown Fullerton, and it actually becomes cool, like it was Paris of the 1920s and together we declare, "We are here!  We read books!  We write our dreams down!"

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