Monday, January 17, 2011

Imperial Beach and the Colors of Ugly

Imperial Beach's wild, savage parrots.

I like Imperial Beach. I like living here. I like the surfers who walk through town barefoot, board under their arms, in their wetsuits. I like the dog walkers, the wild parrots, the skateboarding parents, the hipster grandparents, the aging hippies, the active military, the beach, the surf, the estuary, and that view that gives you the USA, Mexico, and the broad sweep of the Pacific Ocean, all without having to turn your head.

There are also a few things I don’t like. One of those is the occasional green flash of racism that appears on the horizon.


I saw a particularly colorful, stupid version a week or so ago, while at the laundry – to be specific, I was at the Palm Coin Laundry. I watched the laundry owners walk up, past the 7-11 next door and pass several of us: a pair of young women, a young mixed-race couple and their kids, and me; and walked straight on to the middle-aged Hispanic man sitting in the bed of his truck, watching his clothes through the laundry’s glass front.

“If you’re going to work here,” the owner said, “could you move your truck?”

When the gentleman said that he was washing his clothes and waiting for them, the owner – a just-past-middle-aged Caucasian pretty boy – responded that he looked like he was working. The Hispanic chap said again that he was washing clothes.

“I thought you were working,” the owner said. “Guys who work over here…” he pointed at something that I didn’t see, “sometimes take up our spots.”

The young women, the couple, the Hispanic gent, and I all had parked our vehicles there – and all of us were clearly not working. His truck wasn’t marked for work, there were no tools visible, and he was sitting on the tailgate, watching the inside of the laundry. I want to be specific: he clearly wasn’t working.

At this point, Mr. Palm Coin Laundry had made a couple of dumb moves: he had assumed that the one probably-Mexican guy he could see was working, and when he was corrected, he failed to back off and apologize (or at least not pursue it further). It gets better.

The owner then sauntered away inside and the guy in the truck followed him. He was offended, and rightly so. He quietly said something to the owner; I wish I had heard it, but I didn’t. But the reaction was the same:

“I thought you were working.” Still standing fast, the owner refused to admit he may have made an error. So when the man from the truck asked him to unlock the washers so he could get his clothes out, the owner stomped off, came back, and unlocked all the washers.

It’s my belief that the right thing to do would have been to…

A) Apologize for making a dumb-ass assumption.
B) Assure him it won’t happen again.
C) And thank him for being a customer.

But, no. He did none of these things, instead defending his position. Is this racism, or is this just brain-dead business sense? You may have a different opinion, but I was there, and I watched this Imperial Beach business owner stride past seven other people to focus on the one man of color and ask him to move just that one vehicle.

If that were you, how would you feel?


I like art. I like sculpture. I like the mixed-media sculpture, and classical sculpture, and even abstract sculpture – that trope, “modern” art.

What I don’t like is this:

At first thinking it was a giant Elvish rune from Lord of the Rings, probably warning of “dangerous magic here,” or some similar twaddle, I discovered that this was, in fact, supposed to be a piece of art to be proud of.

I don’t quite understand that.

This abstract chrome beast, which looks like it’s mounted on a basketball goalpost and planted in a small dumpster, has put a nasty chrome dent in the view off the end of Dahlia. Entitled “Sun and Surf,” this ugly thing appeared while we were in New Mexico over Christmas. In which case, I can only assume that Santa Claus has decided that Imperial Beach was very, very bad last year.

I understand that the curve at the bottom is surf, and the bird-shaped figure at the top is a wave, but what exactly is the round thing on legs in the middle?

The sun on crutches? A rotund Samoan on a boogie board? A Martian death machine rising from the waves?

I like that last one particularly.
One last thing: this brilliant idealization of a can-opener seems to be constructed of chrome. You know what chrome does in salt air? It rusts.

There is already a patina of rust on the seaward side. How long will it take this hideous thing to complete its metamorphosis into a rust-colored Martian death machine and slay us all?

Maybe if Imperial Beach is good this year, Santa Claus will haul that ugly thing away. And maybe if we’re really good, he’ll take the art, too.

Imperial Beach art critic.


  1. I like the new blog: Now with photos!

  2. So long as you don't think those are GOOD photos. They're just quick ones I got to demonstrate my ire.

    Except for the parrots. And Adam, the critic. That shot I love.

  3. Nice photo essay: great change of pace for your blog ...

  4. Just trying to keep things fresh, yo.

  5. I am so impressed,It's beautiful, and very beachy. Love those colors.

    beach art