Sunday, July 29, 2007

Desert Dreams ... and Nightmares

Someday, Noodles' Mom will be free of the Mojave Desert, and someday, Sandra Bullock's layabout husband will be a major wage earner, capable of whisking his family away for exotic vacations every summer.

Until one or both of those days arrive, the Jawa and I will define our summer vacation as a week at Edwards Air Force Base, deep in the evil, sandy heart of the Mojave, 25 miles from the nearest town.

We have been here since last Saturday, and will return home to San Francisco -- and its soothing, oft-maligned by many but not me 65 degree fogginess -- tomorrow.

Noodles' Mom does a good job of keeping everyone busy normally, but this time both Noodles and Count Burpalot were laid low with "walking ammonia," limiting our entertainment options. For example, there were no visits to the local (that is, Air Force-sponsored and 25 miles from the next closest) swimming pool. Instead, in a moment of sheer genius, Noodles' Mom went to the "BX" and bought a ten dollar swimming pool, which the suddenly oversized and teetering on the edge of adolescence children splashed in happily for hours.

Truly enjoying this trip has been Shack. Free of his concrete jungle of a yard, he's spent hours in the heat, running roughshod through my sister's huge backyard. Seriously. When he gets home, he's going to feel very ripped off.

Me, I blasted my way through about a half-dozen books in a week, stayed up later than everyone else and slept through breakfast. Some nights, lying in my neice's bed with the Jawa, four thousand pictures of horses looking down at us, I'd put down whatever book I was blazing through and watch my son sleep.

I know that the days of it seeming very cute for the father-son team to share a bed are dwindling. Before long it'll seem kind of gross, just two hairy guys with the same DNA squished into a bed.

But for now, I can look over and watch him lie there and look like a miniature, male version of our own Sandra Bullock, who at this very moment is applying another coat of "Brown Bag"-colored paint to the new archway.

Unfortunately, once you get past the waning days of cuteness, sharing a bed with my Jawa is no pleasure cruise. The child is a whirling dervish, rolling around restlessly, wrapping himself up in the covers, sweating badly enough (and sleeping deeply enough) that I can amuse myself for quite some time by running my hands through his hair until it stands up, Heat Miser-style, or fans out in the manner of the look favored by Cure frontman Robert Smith.

Today I was driving through the desert, trying to convince myself that all of those Gram Parsons, desert-loving, headband-wearing or ATV-driving types aren't insane. As I drove, I passed the occasional beat-up gate with a sign saying stuff like "Caliente Ranch," indicating that there are people for whom the great dream is to chuck it all, buy some land (from Van Ness Brokers' Mimi Song, perhaps? Her name dominates a stretch of the Palmdale Highway outside of Llano) and wake up to peace, quiet, Road Runners and the sun's unforgiving rays.

Good on them, I guess, but I still think they're nuts. Even the mis-named town of Lake Los Angeles, with its run-down shacks and weird, giant piles of rocks peaked my interest only in that it looked like the kind of place you'd use as a setting in a story about two people who've been so beat up by the world that they think they no longer have any chance at love.

Even weirder: I was driving down Avenue O, twenty miles from anything, and every mile or so I'd see someone walking. Didn't matter what age -- young, old, kids, adults -- people walking. Run down, messed-up, beat all to pieces. Walking down a desert road, miles from anywhere.

And a thought about these desert communities -- Victorville, Palmdale, Hesperia, Lancaster -- so let me think about this: I'm going to go home tomorrow and duck down while Prius drivers tsk tsk me for driving a big heavy car. Meanwhile, they're building thousands of new houses in Victorville, and there's no water there.

Someday, hopefully soon, we will spend our summer vacation at a butt-kicking beach house somewhere, either in California or one of the mysterious (to me, anyway) beaches of the Atlantic Coast, with my sister and her family. No one will worry about going into bankruptcy or getting their plans crushed by the United States Air Force. Everyone, in other words, will be happy.

Except Shack, who's really going to miss this huge backyard.

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