top of page
San Diego.jpg

Glow Sticks as Whale Food

May 2017


The road on the bus into downtown San Diego feels much higher than it should as if you’re in the mountains and the sky is close or like the bus might just take off and fly away. It feels like driving on a ridge, like the curvature of the world is steeper there and that everything is slipping down away from you and out of sight.


The $US52 I had to pay to enter the San Diego Zoo was worth it for the apes (being in a zoo at 24 by myself surrounded by kids is an experience I will not be repeating).

The orangutans roughhousing (the baby with its pursed lips sucking and chewing and rolling around the big female and occasionally putting its whole mouth on the glass to amuse the kids its same size on the other side, the mother watching from a distance), the mother and the baby gorilla so tender, and relaxed with each other and the silverback, huge and right up against the glass sucking on his fingers with a slow pop.

The polar bear doing sad loops pushing backwards and gliding and then turning around and doing it again and again all wrong, so wrong, and everyone watching from below and laughing at first and then the laughter easing as it got sadder and sadder like all that cold blue water shifting and circling and turning around the bear’s dense fur was sucking all the happiness out of everyone, like it sucked all the happiness out of the bear a long time ago.

I forgot that I’m not good with heights before I got in the gondola from the top to the bottom of the zoo. Luckily it was sturdy and only juddered a few times and the view of the city opened up a whole lot of new ideas about what San Diego is and could be away from the little suburban life I had known.


In downtown I wandered aimlessly looking for an office depot “you go left and right and left and straight and it’s huge you can’t miss it.” But I seem to have a habit of missing things these days, catching them just as they’re turning away. So I went to the small Museum of Contemporary Art, half of which had an exhibition on activism and had all these beautiful paintings and collages full of pathos and angst and almost every artist was a woman so I didn’t feel like I had to look for them, and the other half – this big old factory space with this moving flower pattern projected onto every wall and the air in the place seemed to move with them, rolling right over us all sitting on the concrete floor.

The hunt for the office depot took me right to the waterfront which was severed by a huge road and cut off by some container yard or at least an inaccessible pier. It felt like home. The air felt thicker and the road was white and baking.

The woman was right, the Office Depot was huge and you couldn’t miss it.

San Diego has this outdoor mall and every surface is coloured or tiled a different way and sits at a different angle and it’s full of this kind of sad joy, cause it’s playful, but it’s old now, and tired, one of those places where time raced off too far ahead. This kid was standing at the top of the up escalator with his feet over the edge cause it felt good through his shoes.


Modest Mouse was incredible and best summed up by my drunk diatribe to Simon as I walked home (sorry mum it’s not as bad as it sounds)






Apparently Portland is cold and rainy and everyone wears gold. I am yet to confirm this. But the artist called Mattress wriggled about the stage awkwardly alone with a deep voice that didn’t seem to work quite right with his music. He didn’t seem to understand how anyone in San Diego could have beef when avocadoes LITERALLY grow on trees.

I wonder what they grow on in Portland?

You can’t play at a modest mouse gig and be surprised by pessimism.

Isaac asked us what happened to all the glow sticks, what would end up in the belly of whales now that no one has glow sticks at concerts anymore? I’d say it will be the carcasses of all our smart phones, the glowing squares like pixels in crowds extinguished by the dark blood of the ocean.


On the tram back to the train back to LA I sat down across from a traveller in full camo and he stared at me intensely with these bright green eyes (what is it with San Diego and green?) and I tried to resist the pull of them as he didn’t look away, and then he stood right up by my seat and started shuffling his pants and I was filled with this sick feeling that he might do something obscene, but luckily he hesitated and sat back down and stopped looking at me. The woman behind me was rolling her head around and kicking her feet out and making these orgasm noises and so at an appropriate stop I slipped to the back of the tram. The only person there was this old Chinese woman in 80s style thick lensed square framed glasses wearing a T-shirt that said “Where’s Jesus?” and a hat with a shamrock on it.


Back on the AMTRAK and the train had to stop for a while because another up ahead had a collision with “something” on the track but you already overheard the security guards at the station you got on at discussing quietly and frantically over their intercoms something about people on the tracks, about three girls, and the fragments of that conversation, as scattered and contextless as they were start to form a narrative, one that fills up the whole train carriage like smoke.

And you think about the woman that you saw beside the train a few miles back, a lady in a pink and blue dress, so bright, electric blond hair like it has been shocked a few times, clinging to the inside of the fence next to the rail line as the train went past, a man standing a few feet back, indifferent to the rush of the train and the desperate look on the face of a woman who feels like she almost made a terrible mistake.

Behind you a girl says too loud over the phone “since i’m in nursing school anything like this excites me”

After they announce that if you are squeamish you might want to move away from the windows, and to definitely move your kids away, cause the captain can’t be sure what we might see.

To look or not to look.

There’s a black line of birds hovering over an inlet, trampled tracks through the flowers.

Is there anything as wide and as vast as the Pacific Ocean?

It seemed squashed on that day though, like it was apologising for its wideness by crouching.

The view was like a pile of things, flattened by the grey sky. First the line of green trainside foliage, the sad stretched faces in the small cliffs by the sea, then the road, cut up by more lines, perfect and yellow and straight, one telling you where you’re going, one showing you where you’ve been, and then the cars, a thick line of overlapped blur against the strip of coast tussock, gold in all the haze. And then the most important of all, the sea, mesmerising and still unchangeable in its endless lost trance.

So the coast was to be understood as a series of lines. Lines of surfers, of birds, of driftwood huts on a sandy ridgeline, of beach chairs and boulders, of orange cones and blue lifeguard huts, of long piers reaching out, of the grid of volleyball nets, and the scars of tyres in the sand and of the train tracks, holding on to all of it, drawing a great line between things, marking it out, connecting the dots like you might on a map.

bottom of page