Hometown on Fire
Parents: have you ever spent the entire day counting down the minutes until you can see your child? And have you ever, once you finally see this child, started counting down the minutes until you can be away from your child?
It's awful, I know, but sometimes it happens, especially if said child is lacking sufficient sleep and has a side cramp from P.E.
"Time do you your homework!"
"AaaAAAaaa...I can't get up! Here. I'll try, no NO NO AAAAGH! I can't do it! (slumps dramatically onto the floor)
If, by some strange quirk, they one day remake the old World War II movie where the Sarge calls out to his ethnic rainbow of grunts for some last-minute bonding just before battle, you can be assured that my child will not be the Jewish soldier. Stoic and uncomplaining he is not.
Eventually, though, he fell asleep on the couch, victim of his own exhaustion. The moment his eyes closed, he turned back into my amazing flawless little boy for whom I would step in front of a bullet. Whew.
Some other things I noticed today:
Tougher than me -- guys who bring only a hand towel into the showers at 24-hour fitness.
Not tougher than me -- emasculated dads who speak in high-pitched voices and dance around while holding their kids.
Have I ever been this guy? Perhaps. I hope not. If I have, I'm sure the Flush Puppy will let you all know.
Something I like doing -- walking around wearing a loosened tie. It makes me feel as though I've just completed a tough day of work and am now relaxing.
Something I am tired of -- my cold. Day 4 and it's still hanging tough.
Something that freaks me out -- 75 degrees in February for the third consecutive day.
And you may say, "Why, Lefty? Why must you be a pessimist who prefers gloomy and cold to sunny and warm? Are you damaged beyond repair from living in Seattle for all those years?"
Or maybe it's just that warm weather at weird times reminds me of the Santa Ana winds of my Orange County youth. Every year in Autumn or Winter, the hot winds kick up, bring with them static electricity, chapped lips, weird moods and, inevitably, brush fires. So you wake up one morning and it's 85 degrees in November. Your mouth hurts because you've already lived through 8 hours of wind minus your Blistex. Everything you touch gives you a big shock, and everyone is edgy and irritable.
And then you smell it: fire. It smells like a campfire, which you would think was reassuring, but there's this undercurrent to it, a smell more stucco than marshmallow, that makes it unsettling and not reassuring. You stop and look up, turning in a circle until you see the black cloud rising in the sky. It could be far away or it could be close. If it's close, you'll also notice ashes falling all around. If it's really close, you'll be inside the black cloud and might see the fire line as it advances. It leaves a mark: I once wrote 2/3 of a novel where two brushfires were basically main characters.
I bring this up because for the past couple of days a fire has been threatening my old neighborhood in Orange County. Fortunately, no homes were destroyed this time, which is a total crapshoot because since I left, they've built about 10,000 new homes, plus a freeway, out in the formerly empty canyons between Orange, Tustin and El Toro.
Last time a fire got this close, I was a senior in high school, waiting for a phone call to see if Kris Erickson was going to go to Homecoming with me. It was a Saturday, and I had to drive to school to pick up my friend Mike, who was working on some photography thing there and couldn't go home because they'd been evacuated. It took me about twenty minutes to make the 2-mile drive to school because there were cars parked sideways in the road, fire trucks, smoke and people all over the place. It was, I imagined, what the end of the world would look like.
I admit that, like my child, I was a dramatic youth. He had to get it from somewhere, right? Still, anyone will tell you that it's pretty intense to have a fire get that close. We sat in lawnchairs and watched the flames climb the hills in Villa Park, a couple of miles away across a gully, swallowing up a bunch of expensive houses.
In the end, we were spared. Kris Erickson went to Homecoming with a Swedish exchange student named Ulff and I stole the girl who would be my first true love from her date, Jeff Read. Mike got home okay and is now a Missionary in some country that ends with "-istan."
The big secret about California is that it's not the earthquakes, it's the fires. Everyone who grew up here has a fire story. As of today, a bunch of people in Orange County have a brand new one.