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Hombre Tortuga, Part Two

March 1, 2015
Beach Flats, in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Big Dipper roller coaster.  The neighborhood where Hombre Tortuga became legend.

Beach Flats, in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Big Dipper roller coaster. The neighborhood where Hombre Tortuga became legend.

It’s been a long time since I published part one of this story, so it may behoove you to first read part one here.

Yes, to all of my new neighbors, I had become Turtle Man.  This was somewhat reminiscent of when I played high school baseball, and all of the Latinos nicknamed me “Spicoli.”  That was the name of Sean Penn’s character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and it was apparently the only pop culture reference my teammates had for a white kid with long hair.  Oh, well.

There weren’t a lot of reasons why my new found friends in Beach Flats would find the need to summon me.  In fact, the only reason I can recall was when they were playing soccer in the street and needed another player.  From my apartment I would hear a shout of  “Hombre Tortuga!  Football!”  and knew that was indeed the case.  The locals seemed to be aware of which apartment complex I lived in, but never sure which particular apartment.  So I would emerge from my doorway, as a chorus of ‘Hombre Tortuga!” would greet me, accompanied by hands raised in excitement.  I would trot down and join the game.

And while I held my own as a high school baseball player, I made no pretensions about being a good soccer player. I decided my job was to be a placeholder.  If the ball somehow found it’s way to me I quickly as possible made every effort to pass it to someone who actually could do something with it.  This was sometimes a challenge, as I wasn’t always sure who my teammates were.  The most common breakdown of competition in these matches was Guatemalans versus Salvadorans.  If I had a better ear for dialect and language, I may have been able to focus in on their accents and make an accurate judgment.  From there, I would be able to isolate any physical characteristics that made the two distinctive and therefore more recognizable.  But I have no such ear–at least not one that can focus during the shouting and vernacular of a soccer game, so I had trouble ascertaining who was who.  Happily, they eventually agreed to divide themselves with the tried and true method of shirts and skins.  This made it far easier to hastily pass the ball to one of my teammates.

While the neighborhood didn’t have a good reputation amongst many other Santa Cruzans, I was actually very glad I had the chance to live there.  I am not trying to diminish the neighborhood’s crime and drug problems (which honestly paled against some far worse places I lived in San Diego), but I found most residents to be friendly and welcoming.  I recall one Christmas Eve when it sounded as if the neighborhood was having one massive party:  loud salsa music, shouts of celebration, the frequent igniting of fireworks. I decided to turn my television to the Spanish language station and pretend I was in a different country.  The illusion worked remarkably well.

My pet tortoise and willingness to join pick up soccer games was not my only recognizable characteristic in Beach Flats.  Thanks to the stress of college, I ended up showing a very different side of myself to many of my neighbors.  Indeed, it was a wonder I didn’t develop a new nickname:  Hombre Desnudo.

That story I will tell in a week.  Yes, a week.  Seven days.  I promise!



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