Saturday, December 31, 2022

Point of origin


Medical issues have compelled the household’s attendance to Southern California—specifically the San Fernando Valley, more specifically Northridge, a postal designation therein—since early summer. We have spent two or three weeks out of each five in the Southland as the spousette receives treatment for a life-threatening disease (Cedars-Sinai proposes to cure this; our local HMO was prepared to slot the patient straight into hospice care).

I quit the Valley for the first time—I was raised but not, as I tell friends, cultivated there—in 1970; found myself couchsurfing at various addresses within its boundaries in summers 1971, 1972 and 1975 before I finally shook its grit from my desert boots. Until this year I had seldom thereafter passed more than a few consecutive nights in the Valley.

A kind friend vouchsafed us her vacant, somewhat spartan condominium in Northridge (how is it that some people end up with multiple homes and others with none at all? It’s a conundrum as well as a condo). Here we sheltered in place over the therapeutic regime, cowering under the brutal SoCal heat, which hovered within a few degrees of 100°F all summer and a few weeks into autumn. Not until November did the weather abate.

The entire summer was oppressive. Come the autumn, though, I was distantly tickled by the cooler weather, the clear days, the brisk air between them summoning up my formative years: not to the degree that, visiting the region decades past, a sense of my salad days would occasionally descend upon me there with almost shattering immediacy, but sufficient to put me in mind of Mole from The Wind in the Willows when he catches a whiff of his old burrow, not hitherto missed, and the scent summons his attention, poignantly, to the memory of that abandoned past.

I’ve never wanted to live in the San Fernando Valley again, not the sprawling whitebread suburb I quit the first time in 1970, nor the polyglot slum, the wilderness of strip malls, into which it has devolved today, but I am obliged to acknowledge the tidal tug that even now, weather permitting, causes the hindbrain to twitch in response.

Above: Sunset from near the borrowed condo. More strip malls’n you could shake a stick at.