I grew up in Los Angeles and I never heard a word about the Santa Ana winds. I certainly never noticed them. I found out about them much later when I lived in New York and read Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." What is she talking about, I thought, what weird desert winds?
Perhaps my not noticing is a comment on childhood--there are so many more interesting things to discover than the wind; and on the banality of adulthood--I now not only notice but discuss the weather. Or maybe when I was a kid, no one knew about the Santa Anas. Nevertheless, when I moved back to Los Angeles, I found myself engaged in wind talk, which mostly consisted of saying knowingly, "It's the Santa Anas," whenever the wind blew dry and hot. I, like a lot of people here, drop the name of the wind as a way of identifying myself as a local. It's L.A. "in" talk. But thanks to Joan Didion, who managed to give a weather pattern mythic status, I believe the Santa Anas are spooky. That strange things happen when the wind comes from the wrong direction and blows hot, not cool.
It was a night of the Santa Anas recently, or at least a hot wind was blowing when, at 4 in the morning, our burglar alarm went off. My husband and I were sound asleep and this is what we did: We shot out of bed and ran in different directions. I was screaming, "Oh, oh, oh, there's a burglar in the house," and I tore into my office, which is next to the bedroom. My husband raced into the hall, and, as the alarm blasted, yelled into the intercom system to Westec Security headquarters, "Help, there's a robber." Then he turned the alarm off.
Standing in my office, panicked and hysterical, I suddenly realized I was naked and ran back to the bedroom to get my robe. And then, only then, did I think, "Call 911." Later, thinking back, the order of this did not surprise me. I can't imagine a threatening circumstance in which I would first call 911 and then get a robe. But once 911 came into my head, it started going off like a beeper. "Call 911, call 911, call 911." So I did. And after saying to send someone quick and why, I enunciated my address clearly and loudly. 911 asked, "Would you repeat that?" I shouted my address at the top of my lungs.
Then 911 asked, "How do you know there's a robber in the house. Have you seen him?"
"No," I said. "Should I go look?"
"I'm terrified," I said.
"Calm down," said 911.
Which I did, because now I was actually awake and couldn't help noticing that, except for my own shouting, the house was still. Perhaps there was no burglar. I hung up and waited for the police to arrive.
Five minutes. Endless. I actually had time to figure out what my husband had done wrong, tell myself that I was not going to mention it, and then mention it. My poor husband. In the middle of a burglary, he gets pointers.
"Why did you turn the alarm off?" I asked gently, so it wouldn't sound like the accusation it was.
"I didn't want to wake the neighbors," said my husband.
Did I leave it at that? I'm not absolutely sure because it was late, I was nuts, the winds were blowing, and what I felt and did are all mixed up together. I might have added, "That doesn't make sense." I couldn't possibly have shrieked, "What? You're more worried about waking the neighbors than scaring the robbers?" I'm sure I didn't, because we are still married.
The police car pulled up outside. Two cops got out and started looking around. Neither my husband nor I waved or called to them from the upstairs window. No. Instead I walked downstairs in the dark.
This is something I would never do under normal circumstances. I am always a little anxious in the dark, and the stairs are steep. Why did I do it? I suppose because, if there was somebody downstairs, I didn't want to know. I certainly didn't want to see him. So before my husband could stop me, I walked down in the dark, possibly into the robber's arms. When I reached the bottom, I heard something. Spooked, I raced to the front door and threw it open. To find a cop's flashlight in my face.
The cops, my husband and I looked around. All we found was a door open just a fraction, with the screen behind it still locked. No one had tried to break in, but somehow the inside vertical bolt had disengaged and the door nudged open. "It was the Santa Anas," said one of the cops.
"Oh," we said. "Of course."