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?
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.