Thursday, April 12, 2007 | I have to say that of all the discussions going on in San Diego right now, I’m hopelessly biased in the one about Fiesta Island and whether that weird expanse should be transformed or not.

I love it, like many, just the way it is.

Not too long ago, I took my dog to Fiesta Island. Most of it is a leash-free area.

Cali, my dog, has a passion for swimming. I throw something into the bay, she goes and gets it. It’s a nice arrangement.

Throw after throw, she’ll paddle out to grab her toy — a long fluorescent “Air Kong” that looks like a tennis ball that has been stretched to form a fuzzy baton with a rope coming out of it.

But for some reason, at some hard-to-define point, she just stops doing it. I’ll throw the toy out, and she’ll just stand there, on the shore, looking up at me.

I used to be able to trick her, to grab a rock and wave it in front of her as if it were the coolest little rock and then throw it out. By the time she swam out there to get the rock, her small brain wouldn’t realize that she wasn’t going after the Air Kong and she’d grab it.

But that doesn’t work anymore. With age — she’s three — she’s grown wise to my sleight of hand.

So I lose a lot of toys. I feel terrible each time. The Air Kongs and similar ropes with long, buoyant bright batons on the end all cost about $10. They turn to litter if I don’t find a way to retrieve them myself.

And then I lose them in other ways. I’ll put them on top of the car while I’m toweling her off and drive away without remembering. Or I’ll do some other boneheaded move.

It’s $10 each time.

It got ridiculous. I compulsively pick up trash now at the beaches — that corner of my mind is paranoid that an Air Kong is trapped in some whale’s blowhole.

Before this notorious trip to Fiesta, I stopped by the store to get yet another Air Kong. I had resolved not to lose any more. I’ll throw it out a few times but cut her off well before I know that she might be getting tired of swimming.

But when we got to Fiesta, we had the best time in a while. I lost track of how many times I had thrown the toy. All around the long walk circling the island, I threw and she fetched. It was a beautiful Saturday. There were many others like me around. Big dogs, little dogs. Older women, young couples, a family.

Then it happened. I threw one pretty far out there. Cali ran to the edge, trotted into the water, and turned around. She looked up at me almost smiling.

I felt sick. You have to understand, this has turned into an obsession. Sometimes, in life, you have to just decide that you’re not going to compromise on something, no matter how minor it seems. I felt like I had challenged myself not to lose the damn toy anymore and here I was losing it. I don’t like losing.

But the toy wasn’t drifting toward the shore. It was floating away.

Ideas raced in my mind. Maybe one of the water skiers would grab it. Is there a kayak rental? Maybe it will go all the way to the other side of the bay.

No, there was only one solution.

Do I want to do that? The thought of walking in wet jeans repulsed me. Should I just let the toy go — swallow my pride?

No. I had to go get it.

I stripped. Shirt, shoes, everything down to the boxers. I trounced into the bay and dove into Mission Bay. It was the kind of cold water that gives you an ice cream headache. But I swam out.

My indecision had allowed the Air Kong to drift pretty far. But I made it out there and grabbed it, only to turn around and see the stupid dog right behind me, paddling away, breathing hard. It was a view of her swimming I had never had. She came up to my face, licked me, and proceeded to try to climb on top of me.

I pushed her away and swam back. As I came to the shore, I put my feet down into the gooey mud and thought of all the stories I had heard about how polluted the bay is. I didn’t really care. I was content.

But as I came up, I felt a breeze on the one part of my body that shouldn’t have necessarily felt a breeze at that point.

It was then that I remembered tying my shoe earlier during our circumnavigation of Fiesta Island. As I crouched down, I had heard a ripping sound and felt something give. I suddenly realized that the sound had come from my boxers. I was now, in fact, flashing Fiesta Island and all the nice people who were enjoying their Saturday near my little cove.

I crouched down, waddled to the beach and sat near my clothes. There I was: a curled up, shivering, weird, 90 percent naked guy with a dog licking his shoulder. I figured it was better to wait until my little region of the island was desolate to stand up and arrange myself.

A woman walked by and I nodded. She nodded back with a half smile, which was something of a reassurance that I wasn’t going to be arrested.

It was clear. I hurried and dressed.

My jeans were wet and sand seemed to grate everywhere.

But I had the toy. It was one of the little victories.

Fiesta Island didn’t need anything more to ingrain itself in the nostalgic part of my brain. It’s an oddly parched weedy field surrounded by sandy ridges leading down to the bay. If you ignore the water (nearly) surrounding it, Fiesta Island is the kind of unruly field that you’d expect to find in an abandoned part of a downtrodden city — minus the litter. It’s got that awkward look of land that has been used and abused by man but never cultivated or improved.

And that’s what makes it so nice. In a city of form and systems, Fiesta Island is just an open space with a few rules that mostly have to do with respect. Your dogs can run around, just clean up after them. You can Jet Ski and barbecue, just be safe. Other parts of the city are clearly meant for shopping, or doing business; others are meant for eating and walking or surfing. Some neighborhoods are meant only for shelter: You can walk past them but not much more. You’re directed to move on.

But to enjoy Fiesta Island, you have to have an imagination and you have to relax.

I hope to always have a place that makes me do that on sunny Saturday afternoons.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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