I can see the Pacific Ocean from where I’m sitting. I can’t see much of it, just a glittering sliver along the top of an apartment building on the street between me and the sea. I can’t see the waves from here, or the surfers, or the beach. All of it’s there, though, and I smell salt every time I breathe.
The neighborhood is called Sunset (with its Inner and Outer varieties; we’re Outer). Nearly fifty well-gridded, numbered avenues march in a straight line toward the sea. Most are filled with houses like pastel cubes, one apartment upstairs, a garage and mother-in-law apartment below. Or, like our place, they’re two apartments up, and a combination of garages and baby apartment below. However it works out, there’s never enough room for all the cars.
Nothing in Sunset seems taller than four stories. I don’t know why. I wondered: earthquakes? Geological instability? Bryant says, who’d let their block be ripped down to put up the first high-rise? I wrinkled my nose, and he said, exactly.
Between our street and the one closest to the beach is a warren of long, fenced backyards that no one uses. The dog owned by the renters two floors below us runs around in a constant circle over a grey stone path in the shape of the infinity symbol. Once in a while I’ll hear people shouting – five minutes ago, a guy bellowed, “Motherfucking blood type!” from the yard a few doors down – but I never see anyone just hanging out on their little patch of dirt.
What amazes me most in the middle of the day is how deserted the whole thing is. Sunset is the largest neighborhood in the city. The avenues are wide. I could walk down to the corner right now and stand in the intersection and see no one, all the way up to 40th or so. Buses pass now and again. Surfers. I can hear ship’s horns and the Muni’s bell where it turns at the end of Judah. I can always hear the waves.
The apartment building right behind ours is a pastel yellow block with scaffolding covering its whole rear facade. I can see straight through the apartment opposite our bedroom. The woman who lives there has fluttery white curtains and a centerpiece in the middle of her dining room table. When she eats I can see the back of her head. It’s always perfectly centered in the window-frame.
I can tell when the afternoon heads into evening because all the cars come home. There’s something so public about living with all the windows open. The iron gate across our front door slams every time someone comes home. The dog two floors down is panting. The ‘motherfucking blood type’ guy just told a bro he’d be by later.
Birds walk and hop on our sunlights. The cats sit below and watch in unison. They love it here. Sunspots, birds, open windows. It hasn’t rained yet, but the ocean keeps everything damp. Laundry takes forever to dry. Bread molds quickly. When the fog comes, I can move from one end of our very long apartment to see all the grey roll over. The rest of the time, it’s a California dream. The sunsets are particularly fine.