?America loves paying tribute to icons-alive, dead or nameless-and that passion burns in San Diego.
The very-much-alive Tony Gwynn never won baseball's triple crown, but he's won the triple crown of monuments: the Aztecs' Tony Gwynn Stadium, Tony Gwynn Way which skirts Petco Park and the Tony Gwynn statue inside Petco's Park at the Park.
Gwynn's our version of Oprah-everywhere he goes, there's something named after him. Maybe that's why, whenever I go to an Aztecs game, I check under my seat for keys to a new VW Beetle.
San Diego native Ted Williams was born (and died) too late to receive those kinds of memorials. Plus he left San Diego as a young man; plus he was kind of crabby. What he did get was a stretch of state Route 56 in North County called Ted Williams Parkway-which, unless he got lost one day looking for a creek to fish, he never personally tread until the 1992 dedication.
The San Diego Ice Arena in Miramar might be a more fitting tribute for the Splendid Splinter, what with his body currently being cryogenically preserved until science learns how to regenerate dead tissue (the erectile dysfunction industry has made huge strides for at least one organ so far).
Let us consider the genesis of our obsession with naming things after people. The trend traces back to Biblical times. Young Moses never forgot the summer vacation between second and third grades when his parents drove him and his brother Aaron ("you kids stop the horseplay, or I'll turn this asscart right back around") through the intersection of Sodom and Gomorrah in downtown Leviticus Township for the first time, craning their necks to see the gigantic statues of Adam and Eve.
In America, memorializing really took off once we started having residents.
The story goes that every town in the United States named First Avenue after George Washington, Second Avenue after John Adams , Third Avenue after Thomas Jefferson and so on up the line. Most people don't know that.
Obviously, only the bigger cities can honor all the presidents. For example, 44th Street in New York City-until recently, it was known chiefly as the starting point for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. Today, it honors our current commander in chief, the selfproclaimed Irishman himself: Barack O'Bama, our 44th president.
Statues abound for just about all the presidents (Martin Van Buren and Chester A. Arthur have been notoriously short-shrifted, but, I mean, come on, we're talking about Martin Van Buren and Chester A. Arthur here-nobody else ever does).
The most magnificent presidential tribute is Mt. Rushmore, in South Dakota, which honors only the Fab Four (George, Abe, Paul and Ringo). There was talk about adding (insert your least favorite president here), but the mountain doesn't have room for two more faces.
Show business honors its legends with memorial stars to walk, sleep or do other stuff upon. I'm referring to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, where each night the homeless play rock/paper/scissors for the rights to lay upon Rita Hayworth.
Then there's the case of the self-addicted Donald Trump, who doesn't need anybody else to help memorialize him. Trump's name is on more signs than "STOP." If Nepal ever runs out of money, The Donald could swoop in and buy the naming rights to Mt. Everest, which still wouldn't be massive enough to accommodate his ego. TRUMP Moon could be next. Or better yet: TRUMP Uranus. Now we're getting somewhere.
This all makes San Diego's largest and perhaps most infamous memorial somewhat ironic, since it honors not an individual we know, but a photograph of two individuals we don't.*
I'm referring, of course, to Unconditional Surrender, more commonly known as the sailorkissing- the-nurse statue, that 25- foot tall curiosity that stands in the southern shadow of the USS Midway, along our bay front. Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt didn't get the names of the subjects in his iconic photograph, taken on V-J Day in Times Square, back on August 14, 1945-the day Japan surrendered, effectively ending World War II. The couple kissed, the camera clicked, and they were gone.
It's a wonderful snapshot that captures the mood and spirit of a nation like no other.
Judging by the nurse's body language, however, the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) weren't the only bodies surrendering unconditionally that day. She looked like she was about to sprint, Nurse Jackie-style, to the nearest penicillin cabinet. Awkward PDA aside, no image is more fitting than that of an American fighting hero lip-locking a nurse that kept the fires burning. Good for him, good for her and good for us.
Image notwithstanding, the statue itself is a bit curious, to say the least. Did it really have to be 25 feet tall? "Oh, the anatomy!"
Stand anywhere close and you're looking right up that girl's skirt. It's like being a munchkin under the subway grating, peering up at Marilyn Monroe's nether regions-otherwise known as DiMaggio's locker-an alternate view of America's second-most iconic photograph ( Nick Nolte 's mug shot is third).
The artist had to know what he was doing. Provocateur!
*In 1980, the editors of Life magazine asked that the subjects of the original photograph come forward. Eleven men and three women responded, with none of the men claiming to be the nurse. Edith "Hot Lips" Shain (1918-2010), who attended the sculpture's 2007 unveiling, was widely accepted as the nurse.