The air is deathly still atop our hill here in Silver Lake, till the hint of a breeze brings the smell and sting of a bad burn miles away. That’s not a little fire, that smell, that’s whole neighborhoods, and jillions of molecules from burned houses fill the air in brownian motion, we inhale them, exhale them, they stick to our skin till we wash them off in the shower and they flow toward the ocean and infinity.
The fires up north are 600 miles away. The ones around Lake Elsinore an hour away but the winds are blowing the smoke inland, away from us. Until the winds begin blowing from the east we’ll smell very little smoke here in Silver Lake between Hollywood and downtown L.A.
But when the winds do begin blowing from the east, they’ll be bone dry and our local mountains and hillsides will go up like tinder. Our eyes will sting, our clothes will smell like smoke, ash will come down like a light summer rain. By day the sky will be filled with palls of smoke and by night the mountains will glow orange with rippling flame extending for miles. It’s weirdly beautiful. Sometimes we’ll drive the freeways that follow the foothills just to watch the eerie sight of fires burning in the mountains all around us, like we’re a city besieged. All day long sirens follow caravans of fire trucks hurrying to the front and sometimes immense helicopters hover over the Silver Lake reservoir like dragonflies drinking their fill before soaring off to drop the water on some doomed foothill neighborhood. They pass overhead in a roar every ten minutes. Flip on the local news and you can watch them drop their load with Norton bombsite precision. Minutes later they’re back overhead. The dogs bark excitedly and the neighbors watch from their sun decks awed and concerned.
Fire season is an overwhelming sensory experience, even the coyotes pitch in to howl and keen at every screaming, honking fire truck, and the local television stations follow it all day and all night and it’s all anyone talks about. Fire season is as Los Angeles as Raymond Chandler and as unnerving as The Blitz. An earthquake would almost be a relief. But that is all still to come: the air is clean now and a tad humid with the sea breeze and we sit here nervously waiting our turn.
I gotta dig out that Bitch Magnet cassette. Not the midwest Bitch Magnet, but Santa Barbara’s, with George Davison and Cecil B DeMille III. I’ve been meaning to do that since I heard George died. Hope I still have it. I remember loving it back then, playing it for everybody. Blasting it in the car as I took Edwin on a beer run down to a Mexican grocery in Lincoln Heights prepping for yet another party. It was Edwin Letcher’s pad where years later I ran into George on that riotous 4th of July. We recognized each other as we passed a joint. I can’t remember if he was passing it to me or vice versa. Brick? George? we spluttered in clouds of smoke. It was very Santa Barbara actually, tho’ downtown L.A. loomed large in the distance, and just added to the beautifully surreal experience, the sudden brush fire just across the street, two stoned old pals, hipsters fleeing in every direction in blind panic. What a perfect day that was. What a perfect bash.