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Photograph by E. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Life in Sunnyvale

By Eric A. Carlson

"Next time I'll save some time. I'll just find a woman who hates me, and buy her a house."

--Attributed to Glen Campbell, when questioned about future matrimony

BROKEN ON THE RACK OF DIVORCE, and then scourged with mind-boggling rent increases in San Jose, I sought refuge in shared housing. I now live in an old, but not quiet, section of Sunnyvale ... with a woman and a parrot. (Strictly platonic for all concerned.)

Looking out my window, I see the neon cross of the Samoan First Assembly of God Church. Alas, the neon does not light up anymore, but gospel music erupts at times, interspersed with triumphant hallelujahs. And at appropriate moments, an inspired soul talks in tongues. Being within earshot of the broadcast (albeit in Samoan), I feel sure God is giving me partial credit for attending services.

Refurbished Murphy Avenue lies in the shadow of the Samoan church. The street is a blast from the past--the last business block in Sunnyvale not stripped to parade rest by evil developers. The street is irrefutable proof that 1959 was the high-water mark not only for design, but for darn near everything else. Murphy Avenue features Irish pubs (3), Mexican restaurants (2), antique shops, a billiard hall (appropriately in the basement), a newspaper stand (appropriately seedy), a dance hall (appropriately named The Palace), and even manages sidewalk space for leisured indigents. De rigueur, for such a street, is a coffee house with outside tables--The Bean Scene. Eye-popping neon signs are also on this short block--check out the "smoking cigar" at the smoke shop.

Many, many bars on Murphy Avenue. Quick takes: Scruffy Murphy's isn't scruffy at all, but is frequented by young high-rollers with loud voices, the primary topic of conversation being their "jobs" and how wonderful they are at them--"See, I'm very aggressive and vocal, I think that helps a lot," from a young, pony-tailed, earringed dotcommer who clearly had the world by the tail. Murphy's Law, on the other hand, can get a bit scruffy; came close to a tussle with a bloke this very evening--he thought I allowed the bartender to take his beer while he was in the bathroom. Fighting the bloke would have been far more entertaining and spiritually rewarding than listening to the young uppies in Scruffy's. Fibbar Magee's has potential. Real Irishmen pop in from time to time--boon companions as long as they aren't carrying ordnance.

Sun Liquors, like the Samoan Church, is just out my window--on Washington Avenue. It is a clean, well-run liquor store. Sinful products are lined up and glistening, like rubies and emeralds from the dark side. Cigarettes, lottery tickets, beer, wine, whiskey, pornographic magazines. I frequent the joint, from time to time, to purchase bottles of Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon--a dependable cheap wine. A Vietnamese man with a friendly disposition runs the place. It is magnificently cosmopolitan to be able to look out your bedroom window and see a liquor store. Like living in an Edward Hopper painting.

Trains arrive at and leave Murphy Station--two blocks away. One hears the whistle and then the rumble of the wheels. Planes pass over before landing at Moffett Field. And well-directed screams from grasshoppers attending a nearby Karate school chime in for good measure. A world of noise that somehow doesn't rankle.

My roommates, woman and parrot, are stalwart companions. I try to talk reason to William, the parrot, who emulates a human scream when I do so. And I watch The Millionaire and play rummy with Lorie, the woman. Lorie and her family have lived in Sunnyvale from the get-go. She is an ex-softball prima donna who resembles a Viking goddess--and drives a FedEx truck for a living. Lorie told me she hates flowers because she has to deliver so many of the suckers. And she opined, when I broached the subject, "I don't like art." (Lorie is too busy working and living for such picayune pursuits.) Life is good in Sunnyvale.

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From the September 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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