From the moment I step out of my building, I can see something strange is going on in the world.
Perhaps it is because I was playing Fallout 3 – the new painstakingly detailed First Person Shooter for Xbox 360 about the world after a nuclear apocalypse wherein a dictatorship like American government known as The Enclave continues to broadcast euphemisms over any available transmission source long after the holocaust – that I am particularly off-put by the ominous red glow hitting the bottom of the cumulus clouds – at noon on a sunny day.
Los Angeles sunset through volumetric fog from the fires, 2008. Photo by the author.
I comment on this to the cashier at the Lebanese Pizza/hookah lounge, about the color of the clouds and how hot it is and he assures me that where he comes from in the heart of Mexico, this would be considered a cool, moderate climate. I get my food, and stop in to the Russian deli where I purchase some pelmeni and a jar of pickled mushrooms.
It occurs to me, as I drive down Sunset Blvd. on a very hot mid-November day, that John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie just wouldn’t make any sense were I at my cottage in Northern Ontario, Canada amidst the soft blowing tips of the spruces and the gentle rippling of the lake, but they sure do here; punctuating the frenetic activity of these Hollywood streets as hundreds of drivers negotiate one another’s hierarchy and whether to let one another in, race past leaving a wake of exhaust and dust, or simply pull over for an iced mochaccino.
I am at a gas station where the price of gas is exactly ten cents less per gallon than the one directly across the street. I pay the attendant and notice a flashy picture of Barack Obama, newly elected president of the United States, on the cover of TIME magazine flashing a suprisingly smug smile, with a monocle and cane, driving a Rolls – an article about Barack and FDR. As I exit two gangstas climb out of their polished SUV, shuffle through the parking lot in their unlaced Timberland’s, giving me a once over. No problems here. A woman dressed like a gypsy sifts through the garbage at the bus stop. Across the street people brunch on the sidewalk, discussing their screenplays.
I reseat myself behind the wheel, and the DJ from the radio is talking about how it is a tough day for Los Angeles: Sylmar, a town just north of the San Fernando Valley (that’s the porn capital of the world to those of you living on Mars) is on fire – six hundred families have lost their homes overnight in a trailer park. In Montecito, a paradise-like town near Santa Barbara, forty homes have been lost to the fires. Similar stories in Corono, and Olive View – where patients ran from a UCLA hospital when a wild fire raced down the foothills of Los Angeles, burning nearby office bungalows. There are several dozen more stories like this today. I wouldn’t have known had I not turned on the radio. Mom will probably call at some point to see if I am still alive.
I turn onto Hollywood Blvd. and spot a twelve-year-old kid with headphones like earmuffs jogging, red-faced, down the sidewalk, followed a block later by his chubby, aging father, who struggles to keep up. I recognize that I am now closer in age to the father than to the son. I got carded when I purchased cigarettes yesterday.
Jim Dickens plays “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Blues” – his telecaster snaps back in anger, but he keeps beating it down; mean, and sultry. It reminds me of a song by a band that used to play at the Whiskey – a racous epic having to do with L.A. women and how her hills are filled with fire.
Given the heat, I decide to close the venetian blinds in my apartment, smoke a cigarette and play Fallout 3 until it cools off outside.