Children of Summer


rainy window.jpg

It’s rained a lot this year.

We’ve had a deluge of water plummet from the sky.

I’ve only lived here for two years but this much precipitation seems odd for Southern California.

We’re starting to find the cracks in our buildings. Things grow in the dark places under benches and rocks, in the nooks and crannies we didn’t even know our homes had until we detected a strange odor and opened a cabinet to find it full of green.

I had a teacher. Ms. Something-or-other. I remember she was a Ms. and not a Mrs. more than I remember her name because she rarely said her name but she told us all the time about her failed marriage.

We we’re in sixth grade. We just wanted to lay on the floor and watch the overhead fan spin. If you watched carefully you could trace the individual blades with your eyes and it would look sort of like it wasn’t moving at all.

Ms. Something-or-other told me that a lot was a bad word because it didn’t mean anything. I told her it did. She asked me what it meant. I just said more than some.

She didn’t like that.

Better, she opined, to use words like many or several. These words, she told us, had meaning. They had a more concrete value than the lackadaisical a lot.

We didn’t care, though. We just wanted to go catch coquina shells on the beach. They would all sink back under the watery sand when the tide went it. If pressed, I would say there were a lot of them.

Ms. Something-or-other probably wouldn’t have liked that.

But we were children of summer.

South West Florida didn’t have seasons back then. It probably still doesn’t. It has summers. There is, starting from the top of the year, the pollen summer, followed by the wet summer, followed by the hot summer, followed by the good summer, the greatest of them all, dry and temperate, sometimes even cold.

The good summer was nice even though all of the old people came down and clogged-up out roads. Sometimes they would drive the wrong direction on I-75. That wasn’t much fun.

We didn’t care, though. Instead we were in the mall, eating pretzels and chasing the girls around.

I had never understood summer or spring. In music class we would wear romantic orchestras blasting out lovely melodies in honor of the rosy spring and verdant summer, but none of us ever got it.

“Why do they like summer so much?” I would ask Joe Quinn.

“It’s just a bunch of rain,” he would say, her nervous eyes narrowed in skepticism as a flute tweeted and twilled like a bird.

“You can’t even go outside,” I added over the oboes.

Maybe that’s what they liked. Orchestras spent most of their time inside. All they needed was an excuse.

I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham is a place that has four season, but their all terrible except for fall. There is so much pollen in spring hat I could see it wafting across the quad in great yellow cloud, engulfing freshman fooling enough to try to enjoy the good weather. They would come out the other end on all fours, coughing and clawing at the ground, begging God to open up their air passages. Tears streaked their faces.

Summer had the heat of Los Angeles with the humidity of Florida and the bugs of the Amazon basin. You could only go out at night, and my, those nights were magical. We would prowl around the quad, smoking cigarillos and laughing off the buzz we picked up at the J Clyde.

Sometimes we wold kick things, things like lamp posts or tree trunks, not out of malice, but simple to test if they were really there and this all was’t part of a dream or movie.

Fall was the only tolerable time of year, but it lasted for about two weeks in mid-November.

Winter was cold enough to bite but warm enough to rain. It would be wet and 43. It felt like the heat-death of the universe.

I moved to Los Angeles and expected eternal summer. What I got was perpetual drought. Sometimes it was a cold drought. Sometimes it was a hot one. Most of the time it was a pleasant drought, like the countryside had gotten into a classy hospice.

But this year it rained.

If pressed, I would have to say a lot.

People don’t talk about the drought anymore.

They talk about the unrelenting rain and the perpetual cold. They talk about the holes in the roofs and the green in their cabinets and the brown water-stains on their ceilings and their wet bike seats and how there’s no reason to go outside if you’re going to get wet.

They talk about dreams of summer.

I do too.

For the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to spring and summer.

For the first time in my life, I get why the musicians played.

Because I’m a child of summer, a boy from a land of heat and water, a creature of the everglades and the beach and the sand and the golf courses and the estuaries and the boats and the water skies and the tubes and the wave riders and the pools and the slides and the sprinklers that fired off droplets that would catch the late afternoon light and explode into sprinkles of magic golds that would tumble into the grass that was quickly turning into mud but you didn’t care so you kept jumping and jumping and someone would come out with the water balloons and the kids would screech and for a moment, just for a moment

time stopped.

It froze.

And you wanted to kick something.

Not out of malice,

no, not that,

but just to make sure

that this

was real,

and not a dream

or  just

a part

of some movie.

Advertisements

The Rainwalker


(the following was written while listening to Closer to the Edge by Yes)

When you live in Los Angeles and you tell people you walked somewhere, they look at you like you just told them you own five copies of Mein Kampf, one of which is signed.

“Why?” Is almost always their first question.

“Are you okay?” People sometimes ask, as if you something might have slain you while you perambulated around the city.

“Are you crazy?” Still others say.

L.A. is a city of cars. You need one of two things to get around: a vehicle or a lot of extra time. A ten minute car trip can take an hour on the bus.

The buses smell. The people on the buses smell, but in a different way then the bus. The places where you wait for the buses smell, but in a way other than the other two, so that on any different bus trip you have to put up with at least three different kinds of smells, all different, but all similarly colored in varying shades of urine and body odor.

They’re all bad.

So when my registration expired and I was waiting for my tax returns to re-register my car, I decided to not ride the bus, but to walk places. I had become very hermit-like and inactive over the winter months. This happened because I wrote a novel (I’m now in the process of revising it and preparing to send queries to agencies!) and any free time I had not writing a novel was spent sleeping, working, or feeling guilty about not working on my novel.

I was fat and happy so I decided I needed to be unhappy and thin. I would walk to work. It was two miles. Then I’d walk back from work. That was also two miles. All in all, I would walk four miles every day, which I judged to be a sufficient amount of exercise for someone who never exercises.

The last time I walked to work Julian, a co-worker complemented me on how tan I had become. “You look great!” He said. “What’s your secret?”

“Oh, you know,” I lied, “I’m just a creature of the outdoors, really.”

He gave me a shifty look.

Ah, my co-workers. Thou knowest me too well.

“My car broke down so I’m walking to work.”

“Oh,” Julian said, “Why?”

The city is different when you walk. You catch the breeze, the smells, the sounds. You get to witness first hand the furtive looks people give you as you pass them; the quick, downward glances that practically beg you not to murder them.

“Oh, please,” their eyes beseech, “take whatever you want, stranger walking beside me, just don’t take my life.”

I don’t look frightening. I have long hair and wear all black, but so do lots of people. Maybe I achieve alpha street villain status because I sing along to folk music and David Bowie as I walk down the street. Maybe that’s something only crazy people do.

I waited for my refund and I walked to work. I loved it. It gave me a break form writing that I didn’t have to feel guilty about. Sure, I had to leave an hour early and get home an hour late, but that didn’t matter. The stress evaporated from my pores as I walked. It floated up above the power lines and past the clouds. It wafted into the stratosphere and drifted away, eventually becoming not a thing. Nothing at all.

One day it rained.

It was a drizzle. They would have said it was spitting if I was in London.

I wasn’t, so everyone said it was raining. They warned each other to drive safely and, god forbid, no matter what you do, don’t go outside unless it’s absolutely necessarily.

I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never met people that could be so blase about terrifying natural disasters like Earthquakes, sometimes even bragging about how they slept through it.

For a native Californian, I suppose, water is a thing that stays in the sea or comes out of sprinklers. Anything else is just unnatural, proof that the spirits are displeased with us.

The rain doesn’t scare me. I’m was born in Oklahoma, a place where tornadoes wipe out whole towns.

I grew up in Florida, where the rainfall in July would bust California’s drought. I’ve swam in the rain. I’ve drank in the rain. I’ve walked outside in the eye of a hurricane and looked up at the solid black walls of cloud and wind and lightning and water and I’ve laughed, not at the storm, not in any mean way, but just at how utterly bizarre it all was.

I’ve been on top of a mountain on the Appalachian trail during a thunderstorm. Lightning was striking so close that I thought my ears would split. There was so much electricity in the air that all of my body hair was standing at varying degrees of attention. My Dad and I avoided stepping in puddles for fear of getting blasted.

You’re supposed to lay down in lightning storms. You dot this so your less of an attractive conduit for the lightening. I remember my dad looking at the flooded trail as the storm started and saying “Well, we’ll just have to keep going. We can’t lay down because if lightning strikes any of this water, it’ll kill us.”

So we walked up a side of the mountain in the lightning and the rain.

So I decided to walk to work in a drizzle.

Everything is different in the rain. It’s darker, not just because clouds block the sun, but also because the water stains everything it touches a darker hue of whatever it was before.

There’s a smell in the air. It only happens right after a rain, or during the first rain in several days. It’s a crisp smell, a clean smell. The smell is amplified in Los Angeles. The air is so dirty that when the rain knocks some of the dust and smog away it smells like you’ve been transported somewhere else all together.

I put on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” and walked to work.

It was wonderful. It was the best walk I had in a long time.

“Did you catch a ride?” Steven asked me when I got to work.

“No.” I said wetly. His eyes widened.

“You walked?”

“Yeah. It was nice.”

He blinked. “But it’s raining.”

“Yeah.”

“And you walked.”

“That’s right.”

“Why?”

I could hear the rain hitting the skylight thirty feet above me. The pattern was soothing in its irregularity.

The thing about rain is that it falls all over the place. It doesn’t aim. It just hits a bunch of spots in the concrete. When it hits, it makes them darker, makes them smell fresh, makes them more interesting.

I ran a cross country race in the rain about ten years ago. It was at the park in the Vineyards. It was raining so hard that when I tried to breath through my mouth my lungs would fill up with water and I would have to cough it all up. I had really bad allergies and sinus problems back then so I couldn’t breath through my nose.

I coughed up a lot of water that day.

I was near the back of the race. All the grass was already obliterated. Instead of a well marked path, there was just a river of mud. There was a canal to my right that was about to overflow, and I wondered what would happen to the alligators that lived in it when the canal suddenly became the whole park.

Back in college, I walked in the freezing rain over the bridge into Beeson woods. I made the mistake of betting against the weather and showing up to German lab. I couldn’t afford to miss anymore. I had arrived just as Caitlyn was leaving. “Haven’t you heard?” She asked me. “Classes are cancelled. It’s not safe to drive.”

It wasn’t safe to walk either. I lost traction halfway down the bridge and almost slid into the ravine over which the bridge spanned. I managed to grab the sign that said welcome to Beeson Woods, and vowed to never leave my dorm again if it was twenty eight degrees and raining.

I walked in the rain down Tottenham Court Road with my friend Erich. We popped into a pub whose name escapes me in order to rewrite his whole screenplay. We got drunk on some fine English beer and by god we did it.I still remember laughing all the way home. I turned up my collar against the stiff wind and all that was in my mind was a cup of Earl Grey and some toast with Nutella and butter.

I walked in the rain on my last day in Florida. My flight had been delayed because of the storm. It was a short walk, just down the driveway to my Dad’s Nissan pickup truck. The driveway was covered in old shells we had brought in years ago. They would always get stuck between the treads in your shoes so that you’d click across our cheap tile floor.

I stopped outside the door and stood in the rain. My dad was doing something in the house. He’s notoriously hard to get going, but once he’s ready everyone else better be, too.

I stared down the driveway, out to Golden Gate drive. I looked over the palm trees and the pines. I remembered all the hot summers I spent walking in between them with a broom to knock down the plate-sized banana spiders who lived in our yard. I didn’t want them to ambush me when I mowed the lawn.

I remembered riding the shiny black lawnmower my grandfather bought me. I remembered the sound it made as it tore up pine cones.

I almost exclusively mowed in the afternoon, and I remembered the pretty, yellow-green color the leaves would take as the setting sun blasted through their chlorophyll.

I remembered imagining whole kingdoms in the grass, and wondering what they would think of the mower as it cut the grass.

I remembered sitting at the bottom of the pool with my sister. It was raining, and we watched water drop onto the top of the water. The ripples made the sky look like quicksilver.

I remembered that the next time I came back to Florida the bank would have repossessed that old house and it would probably be torn to shreds.

I stood there and it was raining. It was raining and, for the life of me I couldn’t think of a better send off.

The house might fade. The yard might disappear just like tears in the rain, but I’d remember. We’d all remember the fights and the love and the laughs and the everything all rolled into one glorious feeling.

It’d feel like home.

And the best thing about that feeling is that you can take it anywhere you go. You store it up in a little box and you walk to work in the rain and you bring it with you, because when you meet Steve at work and you tell him you want a latte and he asks you if you walked in the rain and he says why you can lift the box up.

It’s brown and sort of bowed out in the middle.

He asks why and you open up the box and you show him.

You’ll just show him.

You know… in movies and TV whenever someone opens a box and there’s something magical inside it glows gold.

Not this box.

I opened this one, and it was blue. Blue like water.

Blue like tears in the rain.

I had a professor tell me that that line is the sappiest line ever written in film.

You should take Viki’s word for it. She a genius.

It’s not sappy to me, though.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m not a genius.

I’m just a Rainwalker.

And I know exactly what Rutger means.

539b140ed13a9.image

A little bit of housekeeping:

I’d like to thank My Messy World for nominating me for a blog award. I’m very bad about responding to people’s awards. There’s actually been a few I didn’t respond to until months later and the person who gave me the award had shut down their blog.

How embarrassing.

I’d been meaning to blog for a while, but my novel keeps eating my soul. Messy World gave me a wonderful excuse to come back.

So thanks for that.

You guys should go check out her (her?) blog.

Anyway, I’ll hopefully be blogging more often soon.

Maybe someone cares about that other than me.

Maybe they don’t.

I guess we’ll find out.

When it Rains


rain

Los Angeles is a desert.

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was driving in from the West, up and over the mountains, and careening down the 210.  We were coming up from Vegas, Jared, Sonia and I, and had just come through the Mojave desert, where it was so hot that my Garmin wouldn’t stick to my windshield.  I had to awkwardly wedge it up against the dash.  The smallest bump would send it tumbling.

I was coming off a night of heavy Vegas drinking and a bad chicken sandwich that I bought from a gas station in Nevada.  There were signs all over it that told me aliens were real.  I should have taken that as a sign, but I was starving, and ready to make it to my new home.

I crested over sandy hill and there it was, stretching on forever.  In florida, I was used to greens and blues.  In Los Angeles, it was blue and tan, the dry khaki of dirt and sand.

It was a dry land, a land without rain, where it’s tough for things to grow.

It rained once on our trip, on the way back from the Grand Canyon.  It was almost otherworldly.  The Arizona landscape didn’t know what to think.  Here we were, Arizona and I, in a desert, and it was raining.

I love the rain.  I used to sit out on the back porch with my dad during thunderstorms.  This was about every weekend, because, if there’s one thing South Florida has, it’s thunderstorms.  We’d watch the rain, and I’d wonder what would happen if lightning struck the pool cage.

We’d probably fucking die.

It was alright though.  I had a cup of taster’s choice instant coffee, and it kept me warm.  It was cheap, sure, but after years of drinking it, you can even associate cheap with being happy.

It doesn’t rain in Los Angeles.

I would take the 405 to get downtown to my internship every Monday and Wednesday for the first four months I was in LA.  The Santa Monica mountains are basically piles of dirt with a few dried up old scrubs clinging to their slopes.  It was so weird.  The last mountains I had driven in before I came out west were in Tennessee and Missouri.  Those mountains were green and had stuff you could grab onto if you fell off.  These though…

Internships pay you in experience, not money.  I tried eating experience for a while, but it left me hungry and feeling sort of dumb, so I started looking for a job.  No one was hiring.  Not even movie theaters.  It was tough, but I had some money left over from student loans, so I could afford cheap meals:  Ramen with a side of experience.  Chicken broth with a dash of practical skills.  Baked chicken marinated in experience sauce, and a nice cup of experience to wash it down.  Being an intern was working out pretty well.

And the days got hotter, and the nights got drier.

I had never really worked a highschool job.  I was always doing theater or sports or robotics or band, so I didn’t have time.  In college I scanned people’s cards at the gym.  It was amazing.  I worked at summer camps three out of the four summers I was in undergrad.  Besides that, I’d never really worked, so I wasn’t averse to working something like Panera or Chipotle.  McDonald’s was where I drew the line, though.  If I was going to work fast food, I’d at least like it to pretend it wasn’t fast food.

Days turned into months, and November rolled around, and it started to rain.  The city had no idea what to do.  There was a drought, and you think people would have been outside with pots and pans, running around, screaming, trying to catch all the water they could.

Nope.  They were just hitting each other with cars.  I wonder if the driver’s handbook for California recommends flooring it at the first drop of water.  “When it rains,” it must say, “stoplights don’t count anymore.  The only rules are what a man makes for himself.  Hit or be hit.  Him or me.  Blood in and blood out.”

It’s an old joke, but seriously, don’t drive in LA when it’s raining.

One weekend, the streets actually flooded, and I got a call from Starbucks.  My first interview.  I was hired later that week.  I was on fire with writing, too.  I wrote every day.  I finished three screenplays.  I finally got my film industry mentor assigned to me.  I was talking to some other industry people, too.  It was magical.

And it rained, and it rained, and it rained.

And then it stopped, right around my birthday.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months again.  The savings dwindled away, and I just kept working at Starbucks.  I didn’t place in a screenplay competition, and then in another, and another, and another.

I just kept waiting for it to rain.

Stephanie bought a basil plant soon after we moved into our apartment.  She set it on our kitchen windowsill, which gets light for a good portion of the day.  She watered it daily.

It got neglected when she got her editing job.  Either that, or it felt restrained in its pot.  Who knows what plants are thinking.  Probably “wow.  I wish I was something else.”

It was July, and I was home alone.  I walked downstairs for some water, and I saw the plant.  It was brown, and leaned to the side.  It’s pot was encircled by decaying leaves.

I stared at it.  I was holding a cup of coffee.  It was warm in my hands.

I stared at the plant and I wondered if it was waiting for it to rain, too.

So I watered it.  It was right next to the sink.  I can’t believe I never thought to do it before.

It’s getting close to rainy season again and, if the weather people are correct, this El Niño is going to make it a doozy.

I can’t wait to see what this next rainy season will bring.

I keep watering the plant anyway, though.

It seems to be doing better.

basil

%d bloggers like this: