Ten Days in The Devil’s Asshole

The body dysmorphia of heat

Darling, pour me a whisper…

Every couple years in the Valley we are visited by a fortnight of heat, unrelenting, merciless.  Usually around Labor Day.  A high pressure system rolls in, then sits on you and sits on you and sits on you, burning the leaves off the trees, browning the succulents, killing the grass, yellowing the bamboo, refusing to relent until your spirit breaks.

The kind of heat to quote Raymond Chandler, meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.

There’s a ridiculous saying about the Valley:  Ten degrees warmer here. Nonsense. If the beach is 72° with a marine layer in the morning, Hollywood is 85° and balmy. Van Nuys is 107° and barely cools off at night. The Valley might as well be in Nevada.

The class structure is never more evident than during a heat wave.  The gentry enjoy a different climate entirely. To know that in the abstract is one thing, to have the ugly truth sweated from you like a peasant is another.

Darling, pour me a whisper is Mrs. U’s antidote to class discomforts and I reach for some chilled rose, from Paso Robles, where we briefly stopped earlier in August. Leaving the car was like stepping into an air fryer. Walking two blocks to the tasting room my skin began crisping. Like chickens escaping a rotisserie we collapsed upon air conditioned stools and panted for water.

Paso Robles is bone dry, perhaps the most inhospitable location in California for viticulture and yet they are overrun with vineyards fed from aquifers.

We’re told to let our yards die and not to flush after we pee while Big Grape has its giant straws in the earth.  Thirty-four gallons of water to produce one glass of wine, don’t you know.

And here we are in Van Nuys, air conditioners rattling, drinking a Paso appellation as a way of coping with nature’s wrath while failing to heed her limitations. It’s the California way.

I spent the week down in the crawlspace under the house wiring in new electrical circuits for my new service panel to create capacity for more square footage, more appliances, including, yes, more powerful air conditioning, in the assumption juice will always be available from the service feed snaking through the elm tree to the house. Normally a safe bet, but this year maybe not so much. What nation is more prudent and technically proficient than Germany? Yet they are facing a looming winter rationing heat.

We carry on as though the old paradigms were still operative, and for now they are. But at 107° you realize you are living at the co-terminus of fragility and misplaced certainty.  Everything works, but only because of the geo-engineering of the last century. The pipes and reservoirs and transmission lines of the Pat Brown era are fruits of a problem solving ethos which has fallen out of favor.

We could have sold in 2021 at the top of the market. We elected to double down on Los Angeles. Am I the ant or the grasshopper? Or to continue the chicken analogy, is it battery cage syndrome that keeps me here?

A new era begins…

Yesterday afternoon, in a severe mercy, clouds rolled in, dropping rain. But the thermometer stayed over 100º, like the tropics. Like Florida. Very un-Mediterranean.

Listen, Mrs. U said, and turned the fan off and scurried to the window like a child, watching the rivulets course down the pane with the wonder one would greet an unexpected snowfall.  The angry spell was breaking. The time before we would once again share a bed was reduced from days to hours.

All over the city last night, young women were out and about in crop tops and mom jeans, skipping on heels across glistening sidewalks, perfectly delighted to bare wet shoulders in the tropical air. Filled with intrigue about elusive young men and treacherous roommates and doubts about the right blend of SSRIs and alcohol, but little worry about pipes and wires and power generation and where food comes from and how this fragile republic hangs together.  It was like Blade Runner meets Instagram.

Their lack of seriousness is a welcome tonic for my middle-aged ruminations.

When they ask me where I’m from I am honest, and so are they.  Van Nuys? Oh God, you live in the Devil’s asshole. Not really. But I understand why someone might think that.

8 thoughts on “Ten Days in The Devil’s Asshole”

  1. “the co-terminus of fragility and misplaced certainty.” Chandler references. The poignant photos. This is why I love you.

    I have sharp memories of my adolescence in Canoga Park. Let’s not call it Van Nuys’s redheaded stepchild. That would be cruel. Instead, Canoga Park is more like her strawberry blond middle sister. It’s 1987 and the temperature hit 108 degrees. I lived with my aunt, cousin, and grandmother in one of the ubiquitous beige stucco apartment buildings endemic to the Valley. Heat rippled off black asphalt out every window. Vegetation was a luxury the management withheld from working class tenants. We had a single elderly air conditioner built into the living room window that had long ago lost its freon. It made a humming noise and pretended to cool the space. We slept on the floor because the beds were too hot. Poverty builds character, don’t you know.

  2. “Yeah, but its a dry heat.” That disappeared for SoCal in the 1990s. People from northern and eastern regions often say that “Southern California has no seasons.” We actually have seasons, just different than other climes. Fire, Flood, Drought, and Earthquake. Some people add more to the list.

      1. Here in Florida it is the hurricanes. The weather channel does a good business with us from June to November. So far this year it has been unusually quiet. We have been judged as the most progressive state in fire control. They do controlled burns continuously so there are no wild fires even though we have the highest number of lightning strikes in the country.
        What you say is true. The humidity in the summer is oppressive. I grew up here so it doesn’t bother me but my wife suffers. I would rather swim in 84 degree water than the California warm of 70. The swimming pool is at 92 which is too hot.

  3. I have been receiving your writings for several years and enjoy them immensely. I have escaped. We had a house in Venice 5 blocks from the beach and that was our final move. That was until the homeless moved in and Mike Bonin, our councilman, decided that all should be done for the homeless and nothing for those who pay the taxes. Finally we forced out when my wife felt unsafe and the sidewalks were homeless encampments. Young mothers in a section 8 complex across the street were forced to walk with strollers along the center of a busy street, 4th Avenue, to avoid the homeless. We are not in Florida and it is great. The police enforce the laws, we are free to do what we want, it is clean, and people are genuinely nice during the summer. When winter comes the northerners come down and politeness takes a back seat. BTW I renovated the house where “Cheeck and Chong Up in Smoke” was filmed.

    1. Tore! I wondered where you went. It’s good to hear from you. Where in Florida, approximately, if you don’t mind my asking?

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