It's fall here in Southern California. I can tell by the arrival of the Santa Ana winds, the hot dry days, the crystalline-clear air. And the smell of fall is here, which for me, during a Santa Ana event, is not the smell of apple cider or fallen leaves, but the smell of my own hair.
For years and years I've noticed that when the Santa Ana's come whipping in from the desert east, my hair gets a very specific scent -- not unlike the creosote of the desert, mixed with a flat, metallic tang that lasts for the duration of the wind. I think I've read that something funny goes on with the ozone level of the air during the windy days, and perhaps that's what I smell in my hair. (I should point out that I have extremely thick, curly hair, that easily traps strong smells anyway. I need to tie it back when flipping pancakes or bacon, or risk smelling like a Denny's all day.)
Like any good little bookish L.A. girl, raised on Joan Didion and The Doors and Dr. George Fishbeck hopping up and down with glee over the weather, I can't help but get excited during a Santa Ana. Well, excited isn't quite the word. Restless, is more like it. I'm always about 2 heartbeats away from "restless" most days anyhow, but during a Santa Ana, it's more urgent, and irritating, too.
Those hot dry winds 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. (Raymond Chandler)Or,
Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.
Thank you, Joan.
Perhaps that's why I've been feeling that bitter mix of wanderlust and trapped-out-here-in-the-godforsaken-Inland-Empire discontent so keenly this month. Growing up so close to the heart of Los Angeles, I sometimes miss it terribly. I miss feeling part of the action, part of that "scene." I'm a born and bred L.A. county native, and it's home that I miss right now.
I've leave off with Mr. Mojo Risin' himself. It always felt like he was singing this part straight to me, as I cranked up the radio and sped down the freeway in my primer-gray little Nissan, a cigarette clenched in my left hand:
I see your hair is burnin' /
Hills are filled with fire/
If they say I never loved you /
You know they are a liar.
Oh, it's all such a cliche! And yet, that doesn't make it hit any less close to home.