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A Threat from the East

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
— Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

“Weekendsville.” It’s a word I saw on the TV screen during a commercial for, I think, barbecue supplies. I liked it, though the word was followed by “Togethersville,” which could give you diabetes — at least put you off your franks and burgers. Weekendsville evokes a place where we all reside between Friday afternoon and Sunday night. The trouble with Weekendsville, even in San Diego, during mid- or late August (even into October) is that it is located in that sargasso of time known as the dog days.

Given, dog days in San Diego are relatively benign. But Raymond Chandler, talking about the desert winds in Los Angeles, could as well have been describing a barroom on El Cajon Boulevard or a kitchen in a Huffman apartment on any summer night right here.

Santa Anas — dry, electric, and nerve-wracking — are the flip side of Southern California’s imitation of the Philippines, when the air turns into a damp, too-warm, and choking blanket over the face of an old man in a greenhouse. Days and nights like that will turn a San Marcos ice cream truck driver into a sniper on a downtown rooftop.

Scallop-studded nimbus clouds the color of necrotic flesh and bruises invade from Mexico, reminding us that our malls and our pools are built on their sweat and their dead and that we owe for the flesh. Beneath this dirty cotton ball quilt, the frail, argent-haired, and aged woman on the 901 bus catalogs silent ways to kill, with lifeless eyes trained on the shaven-haired, swarthy, and tattooed boy.

New moon on the 20th. A scimitar in the sky like a threat from the east. A sideways Cheshire-cat grin above a reprieve of an ocean breeze intimates a promise to be broken before 8:30 a.m. the following day.

The fourth panhandler doesn’t deserve your response to “Spare change?” You see a man wearing a do-rag and a T-shirt that reads, “Don’t Ask Me Shit,” and for the first time in your life you consider wearing such a shirt. The sweat from your hairline descends from your brow, your sunglasses slide down your nose. You stab them upward until you give up and remove them. Maybe the do-rag as well, you think, maybe you’d wear the do-rag, too.

An SUV pulls in front of you too quickly as you step off the curb. Its license plate is from the 50th state (or is it the 49th?). “North to the Future.”

“Go back to Alaska, dipshit!” You’re shouting in the street and hearing it as if from a stranger. “And take me with you!”

That night at six, the blonde airhead on the news turns to the old weather twinkie who seems astounded at the string of humid days and nights in this part of the world and who has just said, “I guess anyone who complains is spoiled, heh-heh.” The blonde says, winking both eyes and shrugging both shoulders, “Well, I love it! I just love summer! I think most of us do.” “Well, heh-heh, we’re certainly blessed here,” the twinkie says. His smile, you think, is faltering.

On the back porch, you look up at the scimitar and Cheshire moon surrounded by stars like scattered and static sparks. The ocean breeze again offers an unwelcome hope for a cooling trend you know will not come. The air conditioner labors that night, creating only a puddle beneath it but little relief in the bedroom. You turn from side to side, revolving the pillows to find a cooler side to either of them. Sleeping, after a fashion, you dream of snorkeling through cooking oil.

By 7:30 a.m. there is every indication that today, Friday, will be what your coworker calls “another egg-fryer, yessiree.” Momentarily you’re grateful that this is casual Friday at the office, but you’re grateful for little else (aren’t you?) as you blink into the sun and feel its clammy early-morning touch on your skin, like a companionable hostage-taker. You think about lighting the first cigarette of the day, but already there seems to be too little air on the planet.

You recite to yourself, as you have since late June, for the first but not last time that day, “This too shall pass.”

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There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
— Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

“Weekendsville.” It’s a word I saw on the TV screen during a commercial for, I think, barbecue supplies. I liked it, though the word was followed by “Togethersville,” which could give you diabetes — at least put you off your franks and burgers. Weekendsville evokes a place where we all reside between Friday afternoon and Sunday night. The trouble with Weekendsville, even in San Diego, during mid- or late August (even into October) is that it is located in that sargasso of time known as the dog days.

Given, dog days in San Diego are relatively benign. But Raymond Chandler, talking about the desert winds in Los Angeles, could as well have been describing a barroom on El Cajon Boulevard or a kitchen in a Huffman apartment on any summer night right here.

Santa Anas — dry, electric, and nerve-wracking — are the flip side of Southern California’s imitation of the Philippines, when the air turns into a damp, too-warm, and choking blanket over the face of an old man in a greenhouse. Days and nights like that will turn a San Marcos ice cream truck driver into a sniper on a downtown rooftop.

Scallop-studded nimbus clouds the color of necrotic flesh and bruises invade from Mexico, reminding us that our malls and our pools are built on their sweat and their dead and that we owe for the flesh. Beneath this dirty cotton ball quilt, the frail, argent-haired, and aged woman on the 901 bus catalogs silent ways to kill, with lifeless eyes trained on the shaven-haired, swarthy, and tattooed boy.

New moon on the 20th. A scimitar in the sky like a threat from the east. A sideways Cheshire-cat grin above a reprieve of an ocean breeze intimates a promise to be broken before 8:30 a.m. the following day.

The fourth panhandler doesn’t deserve your response to “Spare change?” You see a man wearing a do-rag and a T-shirt that reads, “Don’t Ask Me Shit,” and for the first time in your life you consider wearing such a shirt. The sweat from your hairline descends from your brow, your sunglasses slide down your nose. You stab them upward until you give up and remove them. Maybe the do-rag as well, you think, maybe you’d wear the do-rag, too.

An SUV pulls in front of you too quickly as you step off the curb. Its license plate is from the 50th state (or is it the 49th?). “North to the Future.”

“Go back to Alaska, dipshit!” You’re shouting in the street and hearing it as if from a stranger. “And take me with you!”

That night at six, the blonde airhead on the news turns to the old weather twinkie who seems astounded at the string of humid days and nights in this part of the world and who has just said, “I guess anyone who complains is spoiled, heh-heh.” The blonde says, winking both eyes and shrugging both shoulders, “Well, I love it! I just love summer! I think most of us do.” “Well, heh-heh, we’re certainly blessed here,” the twinkie says. His smile, you think, is faltering.

On the back porch, you look up at the scimitar and Cheshire moon surrounded by stars like scattered and static sparks. The ocean breeze again offers an unwelcome hope for a cooling trend you know will not come. The air conditioner labors that night, creating only a puddle beneath it but little relief in the bedroom. You turn from side to side, revolving the pillows to find a cooler side to either of them. Sleeping, after a fashion, you dream of snorkeling through cooking oil.

By 7:30 a.m. there is every indication that today, Friday, will be what your coworker calls “another egg-fryer, yessiree.” Momentarily you’re grateful that this is casual Friday at the office, but you’re grateful for little else (aren’t you?) as you blink into the sun and feel its clammy early-morning touch on your skin, like a companionable hostage-taker. You think about lighting the first cigarette of the day, but already there seems to be too little air on the planet.

You recite to yourself, as you have since late June, for the first but not last time that day, “This too shall pass.”

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Comments
5

Brizz, you ever think about writing another novel? You have this Mickey Spillane meets Tom Robbins style; I didn't read you twenty years ago so I don't know if your previous novels were written in the same way you approach this column. It would translate well into a sort of a fictional autobiography.

Aug. 26, 2009

Refried, you ought to pick up Brizz's "Wirecutter" off Amazon or some such source. I grabbed a copy a while back - just a few bucks, used - and enjoyed it. Ultra-hard-boiled PI mystery set in San Diego, with a heavy Mexico theme. Might be right up your alley.

Aug. 26, 2009

I'm already on it, shizz. Just as soon as the wife comes home with the credit card (I don't carry those plastic cards, I hate 'em, but I reckon they come in handy for the internets).

Aug. 26, 2009

Thanks for sharing some of your serious stuff with us Reader folk! I knew you had this kind of exphrastic bent!

Aug. 26, 2009

I agree that John's fiction is superb. But he has a great sense of humor about it. Years ago, when we were discussing "Wirecutter," I told him that he should do an aftershave commercial.

Instantly, he came up with this whole "Mayhem: when you want to smell like all hell is breaking loose" pitch. It would have been great on television.

But yes, I think the world of John's fiction.

Aug. 26, 2009

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