What's wrong with this picture?
Sheets of rain pour down outside my bedroom window. As I drive on the freeway, I fiddle in vain for a higher warp-speed on my windshield wipers. Earlier on the morning news, the weatherman looked scared as he hurriedly glossed over the five-day weather forecast. (Why was he scared? He was scared because he was worried a bunch of people would mistake the messenger for the message and wring his scrawny little neck.)
Oh, and by the way, here's what's wrong with the picture--the date on the calendar. It's May 5. In Los Angeles.
It rained that day and the next day, and perhaps as you read this it's vaguely sunny or vaguely cloudy--to go with those fuzzy predictions about more precipitation to come.
It doesn't matter. The damage is done. I'm suing. This rain is a scathing violation of my contract with Los Angeles.
I'm not naive. When I arrived from Washington in August 1989 (back when the medfly was the worst problem and the drought was in full swing), I knew L.A. would offer hardships: people with too much money conspicuously displaying it in my face, watching people get that money from writing bad television shows, people with too much money and time on their hands, alternately starving and working out so they could flaunt their uber-perfect bodies on the cardio floor of my health club.
I understood that, under the terms of my agreement with L.A., I would be compelled to grapple with these things. I knew someone would always be richer, thinner and better seated at the boite of the moment. I accepted that my car would almost always be the most humble the valet drove up and that the rent I paid to live in my tiny Brentwood apartment would be high.
And, of course, the fine print in the contract warned me of the requisite fires, earthquakes, pestilence and celebrity-related crime--all virtually guaranteed to occur at irregular and unpredictable intervals.
But I thought that Los Angeles and I had an understanding: In exchange for putting up with all the aforementioned tribulations, there would be no rain. OK, there would not be much rain. I know: winter, there's rain. Some. A few days here and there. A bad week in January. A bad night in February. An occasional terrible flood. And it would all be done with by spring--
certainly by May.
And yet, in the first five measly days of May it rained more than three times the normal amount. Granted, the normal amount for May is 0.3 inches--or less than the hair on your head grows in a month--but you get the idea. This was simply unacceptable behavior after a rainy season that doubled the normal precipitation.
Of course, I've made allowances for El Nino, but not all this rain is El Nino-related. The rain this past week was merely the product of a "lackadaisical" storm, as a reporter wrote in our paper, stalled off the coast of Southern California like some confused slacker whale tardily migrating north to Alaska.
I didn't move here just for the weather, but the weather is definitely part of the deal. Generally, no matter what happens during the day, no matter who doesn't return your phone calls, you can count on the balm of perfect weather to soothe your soul.
You rarely have to suit up for the elements. (The only girding for battle here is psychological). You can wear suede and soft slipper-like shoes year-round. Going home on the San Diego Freeway, even the Wilshire Boulevard exit is pleasant with its flank of majestic palm trees standing like sentinels in the twilight guiding you home ("This way to your crappy apartment in, nonetheless, nice weather. . . .") In the storms, the palm trees seem to totter against the beating of the rain.
I never expected--nor wanted--total sunshine. I sometimes find the sunshine relentlessly oppressive, as if the day is shouting, "Hey, come on, you must put on a bikini and roller-blade!" But that's what clouds are for--to evoke a little soft gray moodiness. I like that. Good writing weather--without the moisture.
The record may show a division of opinion. One native-born Angeleno, a colleague, is delighted it's raining. "I like swimming in the rain," he waxed cheerfully. "And it makes the temperature in Pasadena more bearable. In fact, I was hoping it would rain through July."
Right--this from a guy who grew up in Malibu, lived the last six years in Venice and spends most Sundays of his life playing volleyball on the beach. For him, the rain is a lark. He's just weather-slumming.
All my life I've battled wet weather. I grew up in Chicago, where the summer sky routinely turned slate black with the threat of a tornado. I wintered in New England for college. I ruined shoes standing in the rain in Washington, covering events as a reporter--and once walked home from the supermarket in my gym socks so I wouldn't ruin another pair of shoes.
Hey, I've done my time in the rain. (I thought I made that clear when I signed my entry papers at LAX.) If I wanted rain, I would have stayed in Washington. If I wanted rain and the West Coast, I would have moved to Seattle. If I wanted rain and California, I would have moved to San Francisco.
My editor--who grew up here--just laughs when I talk like this. "So how much rain would make you move?" he asked as we stood on a terrace of the Getty Museum on Monday, waiting to attend a symposium and enjoying the city panorama under gray skies that threatened to drop rain.
There, of course, L.A. has me. I still believe, in the end, I've got the best weather deal.
"Not until the rain washes me down to LAX," I replied ruefully.
Still, L.A., don't push it.