overhaul / undertow

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

a very lynchian morning

Drove off from the apartment this morning, up the hill, to the freeway, and further over the mountain into the valley. I always get off at Barham and drive by the studios there--Universal and Warners--and then the landscape opens up to the rear side of the mountain to your right, and the Los Angeles river running in its cement gutter to your left. Despite the cement trees have found some place to put down roots in the canal, and so since your eye level does not permit you--until you get back on the elevated freeway--to see down into the gunk and cement and concrete outflows that make up the channel, all you can see from the tiny two-lane road is what appears to be a semblance of an actual river: ground stops abruptly, then a row of trees. On the other side the land is zoned for horses and so people who are really into horses--you know those people--have their stables over there, dusty and slightly decrepit.

Going over the hill this morning there was a dead deer by the side of the road. Someone had struck it in the night, but not too long ago, 'cos as I sped by down the incline you could smell its weird musk following you in the air, even with windows closed and air filters operational. And then, feeling guilty for reasons too abstract to quite articulate--should I have slowed down respectfully as I spend by the deer, lying there on the pale grey prefab sidewalk, so recently poured down in the hillside that once was complete wilderness but now hosts overlarge homes like a swarm of insect eggs, laid in perfect rows conveniently close to places of work--

and then the road turned and I turned the car with it and the hills were on fire.

A huge stratus cloud of brown and purple laid itself blanketed over the hills, and you could see little licks of red fire sparkling around the edges as the fire seemed to try to burrow itself deep into the heart of the mountain, for safety. A few helicopters with long arms that hung low--presumably to drop water--circled over it, mosquitos in the huge cloud of smoke, and then overhead at complete perpedicularity to my eastward drive flew two huge potbellied planes, yellow-orange and low, also to drop water--the "super scoopers" they talk about.

I work in Glendale. This eastern part of the San Fernando Valley moves inland and southeast, becoming drier and hillier, less like the table-flat, spooky overwhelm of valley to the west where bleach-blondes get their toenails done and search for the perfect pair of jeans; this end of the valley used to be the property of one or two ranchers, who divided the land around San Fernando Road and Broadway and Glendale Boulevards, all roads that travel far beyond their points of origin into very distant bits of the city. You can take San Fernando all the way west to Northridge, where the earthquake split the valley into shatters some years back, and Broadway and Glendale head southwest into the heart of the Los Angeles Downtown, which at the time of the Spanish ranchers was a den of sin, I hear, and dirty water, with oil barons buying the newspaper. Which was and still is today the Los Angeles Times.

Now this bit of the Valley's a weird composite of nature--impossible to ignore as the hills pound up through the concrete, the river winds along planting trees in its path, deer run stupidly across the roads at night, and fire eats up the landscape where the Gabrieleno Indians used to live--and man, tackily obvious in the concrete river walls painted with graffitti, the entire hillside dedicated to burial (Forest Lawn and Mount Sinai cemeteries flank the river on the inner slope of the hill, turning what should be and once was scrub brush and sumac bushes into perfectly manicured, macabrely nourished green lawn worthy of a golf course), the disgustingly large movie studios dedicated to the pursuit of things like perfection and immortality and immunity from nature.

As I drove past the cemetery a taxi driver had pulled his car up along a particular headstone, and he paced along its edge wearing what looked, even over the distance, like a pyramid on his head. It couldn't have been a turban because it was rigid with corners. Nearby a custom-designed machine removed earth from to-be-filled holes in exactly the right shape for a casket. Then slightly further along I was stopped in my commute by police sheperding a train of cars for a funeral. The people in the cars drove by, most Latino, some with sad faces, other joking with friends or relatives in their cars.

As I write this the fire is still burning up on the mountain. I'm sure they'll get it put out by today, but as I've seen growing up around these mountains, there is always another fire, always a way life ravens itself back up again, and no concrete walls or perfect green lawns will mitigate that or take it away.


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