This Town’s Been Burning For Years

“He has to go through the motions,” Father says as he peels a carrot over the sink. I myself hate carrots and pray it won’t incorporate itself into my life later in the day, when some kind of meal is served.

He’s referring to the governor of California, and his need to endure this absurd recall process for the sake of a few birth defects in the form of Republicans being allowed to go up against him and show that this whole damn state could turn Reagan again in an instant. Worse than that even. I reply to his statement, “Don’t we all?” Have to go through the motions, that is. Father rebuffs, “Some more than others.” And it is at that moment I choose to go outside. I feel like crying or dying, I can’t tell which. Maybe this oncoming truck will decide for me, I think as I cross the street hurriedly toward the nearby meadow. Only in California do you have to cross a highway to find some kind of nature. But when you do find it, one has to admit it’s worth the trouble. California will surprise that way. One minute, you’re wondering why you bother with a place as desolate and arid (both literally and often intellectually), and the next you’re seeing some primo Bambi shit to make you realize you’d be a fool to leave such a paradise. Yet Paradise so often gives way to Inferno. Eve knows all about that. For she grew so bored with the tableau she had to stir things up by biting the apple.

I was feeling a bit like Eve today. Sitting on a giant rock in an unkempt field of yellow grass, I can smell the burning in the distance. And yet, it always smells like that. As a Californian, a person must grow accustomed to the odor of smoke in their nostril—a scent that would put most people on high panic alert, but, to Californians, is merely part and parcel of living in the state. We’ve all grown more blasé as opposed to more concerned when we smell and see the destruction coming. It’s almost as if we’d all like the other shoe to drop already, and this whole damn behemoth to just go up in flames as it’s been threatening to do since time immemorial. 

I live in a small town, like so many California towns: Tarzana. There’ve been a few notable people who have managed to escape from it, but many of them seemed to do so when they were still in their teens, like Selena Gomez and Hailee Steinfeld. Maybe it was too late for me now. I had just graduated from college and nothing seemed to arise from a degree in Comparative Literature. I don’t know why that was shocking to me, and Father warned me I would be fucked. Which is partially why I had to go through with it in order to try to prove him wrong. I knew I should have opted for Mortuary Science instead. People will perpetually die, it’s an ironclad industry… and I’m not squeamish. But look at me now, working at the Ralph’s. I suppose I should be grateful even for that, for we all know these types of places only hire disinterested high school students as opposed to disinterested twenty-somethings for the oh so “hallowed” role of cashier. As though it takes some kind of “youthful” ability to scan some fuckin’ boxes. What amounts to the disgusting food pellets people choose to ingest. And half of them don’t want to interface with real humans anyway; they prefer to just go to the self-checkout, where everything is less depressing. Yes, I have become aware that customers seem to look upon me with pity. Or am I just projecting?

Anyway, like I was saying, this town—this state—has been burning for years. Nobody is shocked by it anymore. So it also seemed like trying to “make” us shocked about it now was too little, too late. Yet something about this recall did appear to scare the Californians who still had any brain cells left. You might not believe it, but there are plenty of us. It was as though Gavin actually was the last prayer for making the state aware of its mortality, with all his talk of climate change, water conservation and shifting over to in-state sales of zero-emission cars and trucks by 2035 (will we all even be here by then?). This was a big statement to make in a state that housed the Republican extremists who wanted their penis size-compensating trucks and for “America to stay America.” Most of them lived in Orange County.

But then Gav had to go and have that fat cat dinner at the French Laundry and make everyone forget about all the plans he was dreaming up to make California (“California Dreamin'”) a better place. Everyone, that is, with conservative leanings. But I hadn’t forgotten. I still had faith in him. Even still had faith in this state, if not the town I was forced to live in by non-virtue of poverty. And just as I was having this thought, a bird shit on my head. Like some kind of omen. Contrary to popular belief, I did not see it as a sign of good luck.

Calmly, I proceeded to wipe it away with a tuft of grass. I would have to go home immediately and shower. Water conservation be damned. And as I was bent over to rip off some more of the greenery (that was yellow) to create another makeshift “wipe,” the “faint smell” of smoke became an overpowering waft that made me whip around and see that a fire was spreading all through the hills and coming straight at me. This was it. The truck hadn’t killed me, so now a fire would. Life in California had become too reminiscent of Final Destination. And I wasn’t one to outrun “Death’s plan.” Like I said, this town had been burning for years—the flames were bound to catch up to me—to us all—at some point. Plus, I really didn’t feel like eating carrots or going to my middling job that day. 

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