I come from a place in California that has been criticized for having no history.
It’s as if the story began there with the houses, the suburbs, the sprawl. I grew up in the last district of the San Fernando Valley to suburbanize. Porter Ranch sits on the very edge of what, for many Los Angelinos, passes for the wild. New settlements are still being built, gauche gated communities of potted palms and Spanish tile roofs, rows and rows of the same house lining up like so many school children.
Some thoughts on what it means to have a body:
One: All the good street art faces east. We are riding the train north, passing one of the Red Line burning men—long-faced, suited men engulfed in pink and green flames—when the suited middle-aged lady beside me extracts a roll of toilet paper from her large straw bag. She begins to blow her nose, emitting this percussive, unrelenting, glottal-sounding sound, the relentlessness and percussiveness of which I am powerless to describe.
Then there’s this pressing question about the things we look to to get us through our days.
As if days, weeks, months, years are only things to weather—to hunker down and power through—the uncharactered middle lengths of a road trip. In February I live by false peaks, and it ticks by fast, danced forward by its quiet drumbeat of minor celebrations. But now the Valentine flowers are dying. The office holiday Monday flickered away with the insouciance of a flaking dinner guest. We barely noticed the passage of the Lunar New Year; our city was buried, my family lived in a different world. And yesterday a birthday came and went, the saddest celebration of all, hungry as birthdays are, bloated as they are with exaggerated significance.
“Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is to watch the year repeat its days.”
That’s Anne Carson on loss. A quote for the first days of the new year. And if that quotation does not sing to you the kind of swaggering, obvious, the-past-is-the-past, dead, caput; the-future-is-now New Years zeitgeist we’ve all loved and trusted and grown bored with, or worse, wise to, well, you’re welcome.
“I can feel that other day running underneath this one like an old videotape.” My mother has been running through the tapes. Last year she lost a great love, the great love, her mother. There we were in January a year ago. Here we were. “On the 2nd you took a red eye to Chicago. The next day we took her to the hospital.” The year after is the freshest. Next year, we’ll say two Januaries ago, and we’ll feel emptier about it, somehow, maybe. The tape will play in fading colors. But still it will play, on and on.
Skin-on fatty pork simmered with ginger, soy sauce and rock sugar until the skin is supple and shiny and the meat falls apart. Before my grandmother died, we had this all the time. Now, less. Chinese women of her generation believed that eating a small hunk of pork fat each day was the secret to a long life. Chinese women of my mother’s generation believe in eating as little meat as possible, and fill in the gaps with French pastries. Go figure. Guess which view I have more sympathy for.
Can that possibly be rain? In Los Angeles? In October?
Around this time every year, the mountains circling my suburb catch fire. Our October rain is ash and ember. There’s a patch of white pines north and west of here that has not, for many years, lost its blackness, its burn. In 2008 a fire that started in the Santa Susana Mountains burned south and west until it blackened the tennis courts across the street from my parents’ house, where it stopped.
More than heat or wind or drought or earthquakes, fire is what I think about when I think about California. But today it’s raining, and this morning I lit a fire of my own with false wood, and from my greenhouse of an office I can look out and behold a likeness of winter.
Spaghetti, yolk, cheese, pork, pepper.
A classic Italian carbonara has these things in it, only these. American women add mushrooms, onions, cream, the ubiquitous English pea. The bold use butter. The insipid use milk. I overlook them all. Who needs vegetables? The simple communion of pork fat and egg yolks is perfect; more intimate and seductive and delightfully nasty than much of the sex one is likely to have in one’s life.
I made a wrong turn somewhere.
Somehow in my life I have managed to know only a couple real sensualists, despite being an enthusiastic one myself. There have been moments in the last four years–many of them, and vivid–of walking into rooms full of people, all of them supposedly having fun, while a single sad mantra runs through my head, almost insane in its insistence: Where are my people? Where are they?
There is something more than joyless about this: you walk into a party, and find no one at home. I mean, there are people. Kind of. There are bodies, and some of them smell, and most of them are too drunk. There’s beer pong. The beer is warm and flat and tasteless and has bits of carpet fiber and crumbs of Cheetos floating in it. The music is loud and misguided. The whole thing is thoughtless–supposedly fun, but designed in no way to induce pleasure. For you, for the sensualist, who loves to drink well and eat well and laugh with good companions, it is worse than walking into an empty house. What you do is, you feel alone.