Thursday, February 5, 2009

Desert Springs


When we wanted to get out of Los Angeles on a last-minute weekend trip, we would occasionally go to the desert—to Palm Springs, to Desert Hot Springs. It was more of the same, only much more of it: more sun, more hours by the pool, many more palm trees, drier climate. The only thing there was less of, thankfully, was the city's smog (which you forgot about while living in it on a daily basis, but that you saw unmistakably from the sky if you were flying into LAX on the way home from someplace else). We would take the car, because we were always in our car out there, it's unavoidable, and we'd drive east from L.A. on Interstate 10—excuse me, "on the 10." I don't know which season it was, though probably it was not summer. In my experience, the seasons were always confounded in Southern California due to the weather, which didn't qualify as weather at all as far as I was concerned. After having lived in Michigan, Connecticut, New York, and Chicago, it was hard to think of sunshine, generally mild temperatures, and rain as "weather"—although eventually our family did get a bitter reeducation on this point. We went to Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs several times, and nearly all the trips blend into one another in my memory now. We would usually break up the two-hour drive with a stop at the market of Hadley Fruit Orchards, where we would purchase dried fruits and nuts for snacking and consume the world's best (only?) "date shakes." Really, if you like dates at all, you have to try the shakes; they're fabulous. One time, I remember we were on the main drag of North Palm Canyon Drive, after dark, and we saw a couple of young Hispanic guys cruising the sidewalk wearing zoot suits. This was after Hollywood released its 1981 feature film by that name, so who knows if the guys were authentic (if that is even possible once "the business" dusts its glitter on a subject). The most memorable trip to the desert, though, was the one I took with my mother and one of my aunts—the third eldest in my mother's family, who is also my godmother. I remember my aunt, in those years, as impeccably coiffed, always. Her hair was auburn then, upswept, rolled, pinned, and sprayed. Never a strand out of place. She epitomized to my impressionable eye the highest standards in propriety, fashion, overall good grooming, and cleanliness. Which is why this memory of us in the desert sticks so particularly well: we were not there one entire day when our motel room served as temporary haven to the most colossal cockroach imaginable. It set us screaming, like the worst stereotype of hysterical women (well, two women and a girl), and yet it was my exceptionally refined aunt who proved her mettle and resourcefulness. Pulling out her purple and white-lattice-patterned can of AquaNet, she sprayed the insect stiff—immobile if not dead—and disposed of it efficiently in the great, arid outdoors. It was, hands down, the most action any of us ever saw in the desert. The rest was predictable: a blissful "far niente" under blue sky and palm fronds, with mountain vistas and all the UV rays you could wish for.

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