Kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”.
Said “California’s the place you outta be”.
So they loaded up the truck
And they moved to Beverly.
Hills that is, Swimming pools, movie stars.( Flatt& Scruggs, Metrolyrics)
So sang Jed Clampett and Elly May when I was a girl. Followed by Green Acres, these TV shows introduced new worlds to their viewers When I was 15, I boarded a train one night, changing at midnight in Chicago, and sat in the back row of a train headed for LA and my cousins who had recently moved from Toronto. Surprisingly I was befriended by boys with dangling ear locks and skullcaps who shared their meat sandwiches with me during that long ride.
Arriving dishevelled , I was greeted and hugged by my cousins who introduced me to the world of teenage freedom. I learned that parents existed in the background of adolescent activity, that kids ruled, especially at hunting grunions at night and at loud dances, that mountains were for purple sunrises, that something called Big Macs were the food of the gods if paired with chocolate shakes too thick to suck up in a straw, that motorbikes were the best method of transportation to the beach-and that Americans really believed that Canadians lived in igloos and drive dog sleds to school. Oh Well, that was 50 years ago.
So, it was no,wonder that when my mother left us an inheritance that I wanted to return west.
Even as an aged baby boomer, California still stirs my soul. Like the immigrants who came here in the 30s and 40s, believing that the sidewalks were paved with gold, I too am enveloped in this golden landscape. In spite of being informed that San Diego is fourth in the nation for plastic surgery , few of my cohorts here wear makeup or even dress up.
Sometimes in Toronto I find this annoying as when we venture to a more upscale restaurant or a play and the cool people are wearing torn designer jeans and je ne sais quoi shirts that might have been scavenged from a second hand shop in India.Besides which, owning a lovely frock or carrying an interesting bag provides delight to the owner, and feeling a little dressed up somehow smoothes the laugh wrinkles in one’s cheeks or directs focus away from a less than taut tummy. Yet, it is always the case that eyes that smile and nod, that acknowledge welcome can brighten up the dullest outfit so in the end, clothes do not make the person. Still the wise words of Dolly Parton sing in my head: even an old barn looks better with a coat of paint.
There is truly the lotus land vibe here of those who imagine that they will live on forever, extending their days. I hear of magic operations that will restore ruined and herniated disks and whippets that forestall the spread of disease and even drugs that ( although symptoms name include blindness, impotency, sudden death, permanent loss of sensation…) that will terminate cancers.
About twenty years ago and fresh from white water rafting on the Truckee River in Lake Tahoe, I found myself with terrible back pain. A friend knew someone who knew someone who had a friend whose issues had been resolved by a doctor in Santa Monica Beach. Unable to even perch comfortably and as luck would have it – invited to a cousin’s daughter’s wedding in LA, I sought out the much praised healer. The waiting room reeked of pot and the seats were overflowing with clients, many with little dogs, all looking relaxed and far from suffering. As we waited our turn, we observed the doctor float in and confide to a grinning patient, “ Yesterday I discovered the cure for prostate cancer. Would you like to try it?” The fellow, pupils large, nodded agreeably and clapped the good doctor on the shoulders, wildly grinning.
For me, he suggested we fly our own doctor down from Canada and he would teach his technique that included daily ultrasounds. He shared a phone number of a producer from SNL who had been successfully cured by his technique. Fortunately for me, I had begun Guy Voyer’s Eldoas that target every vertebra by creating tension between leg and arm positions and wrest tortured nerves from between punishing disks. Thus, stretching the spine. And I was beginning to experience some relief so I decided to forego the opportunity.
But the feeling was similar: everything is possible in California, even cheating pain and death.
We have been introduced men here in their 70s who bicycle cross country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and even falling from their vehicles and breaking ribs, resurrect themselves and continue on to successfully finish. No less than Olympians, I think of Pascal’s Les Pensees: of the importance of the journey as opposed to achieving the destination.
Strangely, here few wear hats and I must look rather peculiar trying to keep the brilliant rays off my thin skin. Still eccentricity rules in la- la land and just last week while munching my harvest salad at Tender Greens, one very weird lady emerged from the crowd, swathed in scarves and carrying an umbrella to shield herself from the sun. Finding a cool spot, she arranged her bags and unwound some of her outer cocoon.. She appeared to be selecting with her fingers something from cardboard containers A and B. On closer scrutiny, I could discern her delicate manipulation of peanuts as if they were fragile treasured gems much like cultured pearls or tiny diamonds. So engulfed was she in her process, she had no awareness of my prying eyes.The young girls at the table in- between us cast one look and then returned to their self- absorbed chattering conversation, hands and eyes flying towards one another in animation. Although alone, I did not feel, but more part of the fabric of this patio of people, different but the same, sane, insane, quirky and unique.
But this is California, where even the impossible is possible, and I am no longer the awkward adolescent, happy to be me at any age.