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Hurry, Sundown

June 02, 1996|CAROLYN SEE

Up in Victorville, out of town, the highway and old Route 66 run parallel across the scorched sand. Truck crunch by and the ground shivers. The air puckers up in folds. It's impossible for it to be so hot, but it is so hot. In town, during the day, kids hang out in the high school pool until noon, then stagger home under blinding sun and nap, in stifling bedrooms, until the sun goes down.

Then, because they're young and full of hope, they come to life again. Bobby Mullen and Don Corson put on white shirts, starched and ironed by their moms, and bike over to Delores Alexander's house. A bunch of kids are driving to the gravel pile tonight, out by the highway. There's nothing else to do until the pool opens at 9 tomorrow.

That stuff about the desert cooling down at night is a lie. The air is so dry it fluffs up the hair on your forearms. Sitting in the back of the pickup truck as it drives the modest one mile out of town, you feel the breeze, ticklish and electric. A trillion stars, and the booming trucks. It's fun and interesting to be alive.

The boys are so darling! Sunburned faces, chlorined hair, starched shirts, faded Levi's clinging to their twinkling little butts. The girls--chaperoned in spirit by their stern dads--seem sedate. They've done their own ironing--off-the-shoulder cotton blouses, peasant skirts they've made in sewing class. There's nothing to do out here but hug and kiss, but how to go about it? One boy had the brains to bring a Coke bottle, which he puts down in the sand and spins. The actual kissing is done on the other side of the gravel pile, to avoid embarrassment.

Bobby Mullen chooses me. Crunch, crunch, crunch in the gravel. Look up into his wide eyes. The kiss is like a damp washcloth. The trucks rumble by, stars shine, centipedes and scorpions scamper about. We turn around and crunch solemnly back, without saying a word.

Tomorrow, at the pool--that's another whole story.


See's memoir, "Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America," is in paperback from University of California Press.

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