Days Like Today
There are days that you wonder why you’re still here. You sit in your car, idling in traffic on Sunset or Santa Monica and feel like bashing your head against the steering wheel. You imagine some other city you love and how easy it is to get around. You think about the rent and how much cheaper it is. You think about how much easier it is to meet people. You think about things you don’t get here in Los Angeles: seasons, a sky full of stars, a restaurant that doesn’t require a reservation for dinner.
The more you think about these things, the more impotent and out of control you feel. There is nothing for you here, no inspiration — nothing. Los Angeles is a farce.
You are jolted back to reality by a honk, you’re so busy looking at plane tickets, you’ve failed to notice the car in front of you has moved a whole seven inches.
And then, there are days like today. You felt it coming even though you couldn’t have put your finger on any given sign. There were many. First, humidity was sucked out of the air and your body, seemingly from one moment to the next. Then, a few days later, the monotonous cold of winter was shattered by a warm day. And then another.
And then, on the third day, the sky — choked with gray — made all the leaves on the ground all that much brighter. You didn’t understand why your heart was beating faster, why everything merited more thought than usual. You even had a conversation with a stranger on the street. On the street? Why were you on the street? We don’t do that here. We don’t walk. We drive. And we certainly don’t talk to anyone who is not in our cars or on the other end of our phones.
But you did. Today, you walked on the street. You walked and you talked to someone standing at an intersection. You’d forgotten what it was like to talk to people who didn’t want anything from you, and from whom you didn’t want anything either. It had to be the most pointless thing you’d ever done. It felt amazing. You wanted more. You wanted — what? You have no idea. More. More of everything. You want to live.
You have no idea what that means, you realize. You’re paralyzed by the the crushing truth of it, yet simultaneously aware that you will stop at nothing to get it. Nothing.
Then, without warning, dusk comes as you stand there — the bright red skies heralding the return of the devil winds. That’s when you realize what is happening. This city has never been one for peace or quiet, but the winds make it that much worse. They pull leaves this way and that like so many castanets. Flags whip, street signs swing back and forth like a door on squeaky hinges, signs are blown away along with scattered pages from a copy of the LA Weekly that someone disowned on a table somewhere. It’s not long before the sirens start.
“There was a desert wind blowing that night,” Raymond Chandler wrote in his short story Red Wind. “It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”
Santa Anas — they say the name comes from the Spanish word for Satan: Satanas. No one’s really sure. But Chandler is right: anything can happen. A scientist in the 60s correlated the change of ions in the atmosphere with negative moods. An overview of crimes in Los Angeles then seemed to suggest homicides and suicides increased when the winds blow. Anything can happen.
Standing in front of your favorite cafe, the one you never check into on Foursquare because you want to keep it to yourself, you hear the roar of the wind, the squeals of the street signs, the flapping of banners, the swooshing of trees and sirens of ambulances and firetrucks, and you see the leaves — so many little leaves — swirling red and white in the lights of cars coming and going, and you remember — this. This is why you’re here. The sudden weight of life and death on every choice. You’re alive. Yes, the dream is paramount, but you, the human, you’re still here.
But you won’t always be here. You won’t always be this young, this ready, this able. Why have you spent the past year in a car?
The question flattens you against the impertinence of time and liberates you at once. You pull out your phone and dial a number you told yourself you’d never dial again. Oh, yes — the ideas born under the devil winds are never good ones, but as we all know, it’s the bad ideas that make the best screenplays.