I don’t think that most residents of modern, sparkly, wants-to-be-New-York-so-bad-it-hurts San Diego are aware that one of its popular locations is actually a kind of combination Ripley’s Museum/leper colony of which we should be sincerely ashamed.
“Oh Hose, I’d love to drive you down there; we could have a picnic… but aren’t you under some kind of uh, order to stay away from…“
“No, that’s about my being legally forbidden to come closer than 50 yards to any cemetery,” I reminded my visiting cousin Antoinette. “This is about kids –living, playing, joyous emissaries of our nation’s future. Believe me, it couldn’t be further removed from anything having to do with my old… indiscretion. It’ll be great to see it again. You know, I haven’t been back down there… haven’t set my eyes on it… since I was a kid myself!”
Soon we had packed the caviar, smoked salmon, champagne, and snickerdoodles and were on our way. Just before reaching the on-ramp to 5 North, I decided I’d rather make the trip alone. She annoyed me, she and her perky manner, her constant giddiness, her knowing far too much about me. I turned back around toward home. “Damn! I forgot the tape recorder,” I lied, convincingly. Once we made it back, I slipped the front-door key into her hand and, smiling sweetly, said, “Be a dear, would you and go in and grab it for me? It’s one of those tiny microcassette things, you know, palm sized? I think I left it behind the liquid soap dispenser in your bathroom.”
“Always happy to oblige in any way,” she snickered, winking at me, as I struggled to contain my breakfast. Then, as she entered the front door, I peeled out and was quickly back en route to La Jolla, looking forward to some much-needed me time.
It was a quirky project, to be sure, but one I’d thought about quite a bit recently. I had been commissioned once, several years ago, to compose some songs for a proposed children’s musical involving a friendly dinosaur and a cross-dressing dung beetle. As so often happens, just before we went into previews the producer and director shot each other to death and somehow the financing fell through. Some weeks ago, when I stumbled across those long-forgotten songs of mine pretty much by accident, I was surprised and impressed by their exuberance, their melodies, their sincerity, humor, and pathos. “These are genius; the work of a modern god whom must know,” I decided, just before remembering that they were actually my own. Even now I blush at the depth of my perception.
Becoming reacquainted with these songs had stirred an additional idea within the bowels of my heart: perhaps one or two of them might actually be improved with the addition of a sort of ambient soundscape laid behind them – the stirring sounds of real children at play! Next best thing to a laugh track, really; a damn cheap way to manipulate the listener’s emotions ( or like so many slick Hollywood films whose last shot is a lot of people applauding on screen – gawd, even Cameron did it in Titanic) but of course my purpose was entirely artistic. Likewise, my doing the recording on cheap microtape; I’ve always loved the simple, delicate warmth in the timbre once it’s transfered to the full-sized cassette master.
Yeah, I can train cats to speak, too….
I’d finally decided to only use the kiddie noises on one song, the anthemic Partay Tam. This comes just after Feltchie (the dinosaur) accidentally smokes some crack and goes insane and nearly drowns Ringo (the dung beetle) in the ocean, where the two had been struggling to establish an eco-friendly, sustainable, interspecies brothel for lobsters with crabs. At once an ode to the animal spirit and a plea for tolerance, my sonic sweetening was sure to break the song out of its shell, making the occasion of my having to justify or explain it less likely.
The sun was just setting as I caught first sight of my destination, my perfect location to record the kids – La Jolla’s legendary Childrens’ Pool. I reached into the glove compartment and extracted the microrecorder, pulling it to my breast and patting its sweet little recording head. I lucked into the closest possible parking space without the slightest idea of the shock I was about to encounter on that innocent beach.
The horror! The blight! The insanity!
I didn’t notice any adult observers (it was a Monday) or pedestrians but there were plenty of their kids laying about in the sand, bringing life to a tableau more haunting than any ever imagined on The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits or Criminal Minds, or even American Idol…
To call them visually displeasing would do disservice to fresh road kill and Gerard Depardieu after a night on the town. They were insanely oversunned and obscenely bloated, several rolling around in their own filth and croaking gutteral honks more nauseating than the noise of that chick in Florence and the Machine. The faces were those of mutant rodents, pocked with unmanageable whiskers that gleamed like some junkie’s discarded needles. The legs seemed to have fused together, likely from the tragic aggregation of open wounds and sores. And whatever virus or sadistic medical experiment had flattened the arms into veritable fins I had no desire to pursue.
Suddenly I felt hungry. I remembered the picnic basket in the car. Leaving the champagne bottle, I grabbed the rest and hurled it down to the beach, instigating a feeding frenzy. And wouldn’t you know it… just like with normal, healthy kids, the most sought-after entree was the snickerdoodles…
Much later I would nearly boil with hatred toward a town that had willingly put these unfortunate children out on display like this for their own twisted entertainment, the very term “Childrens’ Pool” sickly mocking the elemental concept of Nature and Nurture. Yet now I stood alone, scared, stunned, sad, as one single bitter tear, like an iconic orphan trying to chase the setting sun, slid down my smooth, rosy-red cheek as I pressed the “record” button. Damn; shoulda brought a camera.