Philosophy and Poetry on the Beach

What do Joe Montana and I have in common? That’s one of the things going through my mind as I’m standing at La Jolla Cove, bundled up in my hooded sweat shirt and shivering in the below-60-degree sunshine.

Hey, I grew up in Chicago and walked to school on days when it was 60 degrees colder than this in nothing more than a coat made from dead teddy bears. I think what sustained me was knowing that California was out there somewhere.

I don’t know what Joe Montana was thinking about when he wowed ‘em on the tundra of my hometown. I think he was trying to prove something.

I used to believe football was about masochism, cruelty and guys slapping each other on the behind. Now, I understand it’s about heart, struggle and desire. That’s why if you want to find poetry in this newspaper, you’ll have to turn to the sports section.


Me, I’m always looking for the poetry that will explain things. And that’s what I’m doing now, while to the untrained eye, I may appear to be a woman shivering on a beach thinking about Joe Montana and cursing California for not being warmer.

We have stopped at La Jolla because my husband tells me that he read in the paper that this was the most expensive community in the country. He said the average price of a house here is in excess of $1 million.

“I want to see the million-dollar houses,” I tell him.

“But they’re the same houses we saw 10 years ago when they were $200,000 houses,” he says.

“It’s not the same,” I insist as we drive by and I count the houses. “One . . . two . . . three . . . that’s 3 million so far on this block alone.”

But we don’t end up looking at houses. We look at beach. We look at blue water and breaking waves. We look at surfers and scuba divers and pelicans at rest and pelicans at work. A hundred tourists snap a hundred perfect post-card pictures. It’s a beautiful spot, and we all want to live there even if it isn’t perpetually warm like the mythic Kokomo that the Beach Boys sing about.

Above the beach, the lifeguard station sits like a little temple. On it a plaque reads: “In memory of Bobby Beckwith, a good lifeguard lost at sea, July 3, 1978.” Then, below that, a blackboard where the poetry is writ small:

Air: 58 Water: 55 Swim Conditions: If you want it it’s here But I think you gotta want it bad. I thought about a boy I had met at a New Year’s Eve party who grew up in La Jolla. He never left this town until he went away to college. Now he lives in Berkeley, where he works in a small shop and hates the demanding customers. “I can’t stand the people in Berkeley,” he told me. “They’re all from the East Coast, and you know how those people are--like, so aggressive.”

He spoke in that mellow, singsong California accent that is often mistaken for stupidity. He was a sweet young man just trying to understand the world; but I worried about him because I saw in him the makings of a California Wealth Wimp.

What will happen when he wants to move back to laid-back La Jolla and buy a place of his own? He’ll have to become, like, aggressive, won’t he?

This is something Joe Montana and I know about. See, I didn’t get to California by magic. I had to struggle to get here, even if the weather isn’t always perfect and my house isn’t worth a million dollars. Yet.

Joe Montana struggled back from surgery to sail footballs across the ice of Soldier Field. It may look like magic, but he didn’t do it by being mellow. Me and Joe, we’re a lot alike.

But the boy from La Jolla has yet to learn what the poet of the beach was trying to tell us: It’s out there if you want it, but you gotta want it bad.