(From his new novel West of Eden: A Life in 21st Century Los Angeles)
I don't want to do anything forever.
In my first fifteen years in Topanga Canyon, Memorial Day was a bacchanalia, the culmination of three days of Canyon celebration called Topanga Days. In the morning there was a parade of a hundred homemade floats. Bands played on the backs of trucks. People dressed as animals. They rode unicycles and walked on stilts. War veterans marched carrying the flag while women danced around them baring their breasts.
But the best part was the water. Folks armed themselves with squirt guns and water rifles, or extended hoses from their homes and shot at the floats. And the floats shot back. Fire trucks loaded with kids moved in the parade line. The kids pointed out their parents and had them blasted with the water cannon. Yet with the right timing you might slip under the angle of fire and nail your son or daughter, or better, your neighbor's kid who you had to be nice to 364 days and twenty two hours a year and put a column of water right between his eyes.
The nudist colony, Elysium Fields, had a float where the members covered themselves with only mud. You can imagine how that ended up.
Some years we lined the street, other years we turned my truck into a float, one year robots, another Hair; we duct taped a CD player to the roof and played theme music, we filled garbage cans full of water so we could replenish our pump rifles with a simple dip and pull. Our friends Mingo and Gabriela and their daughters Eva and Anahi, Serum with Ashley and Celine, me and Diosa and Jesus; we filled the back of the truck. The adults took turns driving. Commandante Mingo organized us so we always had half of us loading and half firing while Serum and I dropped off either side of the truck bed and assassinated acquaintances up close. For two hours on one Monday morning out of the year we got to go stone sober crazy.
Then it ended. A coalition of Prius drivers, the Topanga Elementary Charter School PTA, $500 baby carriage owners and farmers' market types bound together to outlaw water on Memorial Day. That's right. Liberals. They outlawed water.
In Topanga Canyon it's now illegal to carry a squirt gun on Memorial Day. Because if you carry a squirt gun you might squirt somebody. Worse, it's a bad example for children who might observe adults having a good time. You can carry a .44 Magnum in the Topanga Days Parade, but not a squirt gun. Armed State Troopers line the parade route. In the first year of the prohibition I stood in the back of our float with a plastic bottle of water. I raised it in the air. "Water!" I yelled. "Water!" I was arrested. Confined. Prevented from attending Topanga Days.
I vowed never to attend again, but you know what happens when you make a vow like that. Diosa agreed with me until Memorial Day morning.
"Come on, Shark," she said, "let's go."
"I have a hangover," I said.
"Everybody has a hangover. We'll drink beer at the carnival."
"Beer's a liquid," I said. "It's probably outlawed."
"Only in the parade," Diosa said.
"It's not a carnival anymore, it's a shopping mall." This was truth from a madman. In the water fight days you could drive your float right into the festival for free and park it on the baseball field. Now the baseball field was lined with merchandise booths, the floats banned from entering, and it cost $20 a head to get in.
"I'll go with Serum," Diosa said.
"I'll let him give me a Hindu massage in public."
"You're not scaring me," I said.
"Everyone will think the worst." "Everyone already thinks the worst."
"Do it for me, Shark," said Diosa. "I'll wear a skirt."
That's how easy I am.
Parking for Topanga Days is hell. Cars stretch down the canyon for miles. The road is clogged with State cops and tow trucks ready to ticket and tow any vehicle parked within a hair's width of the pavement. You walk a mile or so through all that, then up the hill to the Community Center, pay your twenty bucks. The theme this year, on a banner at the entrance: "Immortal Topanga."
Inside the place is mobbed with people pretending to be Topangans, men in odd hats, hippie chicks with cleavage. Booths sell scarves, crystals, beer can sculptures, scarves, crystals, ceramics, scarves, crystals, jewelry, henna tattoos. There's food, too. It used to be homemade on site, now it's restaurant outlets. Between the booths the aisles are thick with humanity, body to body. Once, everybody brought their dogs and horses, but that's not allowed anymore. Now they bring children, though it's not the best place for them. There's a little row of kiddie booths behind the Community Center building -those everybody wins games like Fish Pond - a clown paints faces. I don't like kids or clowns so I stay clear.
Inside the Community Center building there's a stage with picnic tables where the local kids belly dance, perform karate, or play in pre-teen rock bands. Jesus' first band, Tinkle, played here. In back there's a stage for acid bands and out front there's a big stage at the bottom of a hill where the featured bands play, mostly Seventies rock or reggae; people dance in front on the dirt, chicks on shrooms, guys barefoot and shirtless, they dance and dance all day; you can walk up to them and have a dance if you want. There's not much shade but for a big oak tree behind the stage. That's where you want to be, but that's where everybody wants to be.
I grabbed a couple beers and Diosa and I walked among the hundred merchandize booths outside the Community Center building. Shopping, shopping, shopping. Diosa can shop in a closet; it's in her genes. But you run into people you know; it's still a small community and most of us are here, including all the water fight anarchists who vowed never to come again. I wander with my beer, wander back, find Diosa at the next booth over. Get us more beer. It's better than the mall. We're outside. There's beer. The hills of Topanga, filled with sage and manzanita and oak trees, roll and roll, appearing infinite if not immortal; the sky is California blue. Tomorrow everyone will be gone and I'll ride my horse and run my dog down some abandoned trail.
We've passed through the hundred booths and stand at the top of the hill above the stage. The shroomers are dancing. Hippies age fifteen to sixty-five are swaying. We're partying like it's 1973. Beyond the stage, on the baseball field below, five hundred more booths of scarves and crystals stretched out like the bazaar in old Mosul.
"Think there are any shoes in there?" I said.
Diosa's eyes glistened.
"Okay," I said. "Let's do it."
We circled the stage and headed into the booths. Hours, days, weeks; what is time? What is money? Or as a rug merchant in Old Delhi said to me, "You give me your money and I give you a rug. I give someone else the money. They give it again to yet another person. It goes on forever and the money disappears, but you, for the time being, you have a rug." Time, time, time, as Vegeta said on Dragon Ball Z. Time to send me to the next dimension.
We were making our way back toward the big oak tree when we ran into Serum. He was wearing his ridiculous turquoise jinni shoes with the curled up toes that came to a point. He wore a badge that said "staff." The pockets of his linen pants bulged. He reached into the right pocket and pulled out a wad of twenties the size of a soft ball. "Look who they trust with the money," he said.
"What would you do with more money?" said Diosa. "You're rich."
"I suppose you're right," said Serum. "I could steal some on principle."
"You don't have any principles," I said.
"Okay, then let's smoke a joint," Serum said.
"Here?" said Diosa.
"Somewhere else?" I said.
So we sat down on the ground and lit up. It was really good pot. My head swam and I passed out. I woke up a little. Serum and Diosa dragged me into the shade under the oak tree. Serum had a bottle of water and he poured water on my forehead. I stared up into the branches of the Live oak, into the blue, blue sky. I felt pale. It was crowded. Serum and Diosa had to sit near my head as people walked by so they wouldn't kick me.
"He did this at a party," Diosa said to Serum. "Me and Mingo had to drag him out of the hot tub so he wouldn't drown. Remember? The tub was on the bottom deck then. We had to drag him naked step by step all the way up to the bedroom."
"I left my body," I said.
"You were fucking heavy," said Diosa.
"I was visiting my ancestors," I said.
"You were no help," Diosa said.
"I couldn't help. I wasn't there," I said.
"Are you here now?" said Serum.
"You don't choose when," I said. A wave of cold came over me.
"Pour some more water on him," Serum said.
I couldn't help thinking that I should lay on my back in the middle of crowds more often. The water felt good. The dirt beneath me turned to mud. I felt the cool mud up to my eyes as I stared past people's legs and into the waving branches that etched onto the blue, blue sky. I was going to pass out again. Maybe I'd passed out again already.
Suddenly Jesus was there.
"A guy wants to make a movie of you, Father," she said.
I looked across the way where stood a tall, thin, very pale fellow dressed all in white.
"He's making a movie about immortality. I told him you're the guy to talk to."
"He just wants my hat in his movie," I said.
I often wore a straw cowboy hat with lots of feathers in it, feathers I picked up on the trail as I rode: vulture feathers, red shouldered hawk feathers, dove feathers, an owl feather, pigeon feathers, raven feathers, red tailed hawk feathers, a pelican feather that I found on the beach in Malibu, one California Condor feather that Diosa and Jesus found for me in Big Sur; I sure had a lot of feathers; and people loved that hat; they loved it in Paris, they loved it in Prague, they loved it in Kathmandu. They love it in Malibu. It's been in fashion shoots, TV commercials.
"You should do it," said Diosa. "He knows a lot about immortality," she said to the tall, white man. We were standing in front of him now.
It must have been my movie month because I'd just interviewed for a documentary called The Death of Writing in America. Two young guys did that.
"Why me?" I asked them.
"Because you're famous?" said the director, Miko Shay, an Irish red head.
"Because you're smart and funny!" said the other guy, Marco Polo, a dark Italian.
"I'm not that funny," I said.
"We shoot for ten hours, we use a few minutes."
"You're a good story teller," said Miko.
"I hate stories," I said.
"Your familiarity just bred contempt," said Marco.
"Will it make me rich and famous?" I said.
"It will make you immortal," Miko said.
Then I got a call from the people making Children of Men.
"We were told you were an expert," said the woman.
"I don't know very much, I just read them,"
I showed up at the studio and went through make-up. It took me a half-hour of filming to realize all they wanted me to do was repeat their questions as answers. "Do you think movies about dystopias are going to be the next thing?" "I think movies about dystopias are going to be the next thing," I said. Anyway, they hadn't read the book and didn't know the difference between post-apocalypse and dystopia. Neither did the movie.
Now this very tall, very white bald fellow dressed all in white picked me out of the teeming crowd and wanted to interview me about immortality. "This will be good for you," Diosa said. "You need the practice."
"For my movie or for immortality?" I said.
"A movie is immortality," Diosa said.
"Don't kid yourself," said Diosa.
"You should interview her," I said to the white fellow.
"I want you."
"I think movies about immortality will be the next thing," I said.
The white fellow turned with a wave and Diosa dragged me by the hand, past the beer booth to a cameraman who pointed a big camera at a young woman who sat on a big rock under a little tree. The woman had long black hair that swept behind her bare shoulders and she spoke to the camera, leaning back on her hands, tan legs stretched out, breasts forward, like a mermaid. "I want to live forever," she said.
"We represent the Oxford University Program for the Study of the Future," said the white fellow.
"You can't study the future, it hasn't happened yet," I said.
"It's happening this very moment," said white fellow.
"This is the present," I said.
"The technology exists right now that will transform everything. Everybody alive right now will be able to live forever," white fellow said.
"Even if they don't want to?" said Diosa.
"Everyone wants to," said white fellow.
"I'd like to be about twenty-five years younger when I live forever," said Diosa.
"You will be! The technology exists!" white fellow said.
"Where?" I said.
"They can't even build a car," I said.
"Or fix a leak," said Diosa.
"The Japanese already have robots who can do everything for us!" said white fellow.
"I think that's the South Koreans," I said.
"So we'll all live forever with nothing to do?" said Diosa.
"Heaven!" said white fellow.
"Have you heard of The Talking Heads?" said Diosa.
"You don't think it will be a bit crowded?" I said.
"Wouldn't you want that for your children?" white fellow said.
"Where did Jesus go?" I said.
"I'd like my dog to live forever," said Diosa.
"Not your daughter?" said Jesus who seemed to appear again out of nowhere.
"You'll have it," white fellow said. "No poverty, starvation, illness. Humans will live like gods."
"All of them?" I said. I scratched my stubbled chin. I looked at Diosa. "I don't want to do this," I said to her.
"Just fucking do it, Shark," said Diosa.
"Yes," said white fellow. "Just do it!"
"Even in polytheisms the gods are only immortal in situo," I said to him. "They don't survive their cosmos. For the Mesoamericans that could be as brief as fifty-two years. In some Hindu stories like the Puranas, immortality is a boon that Brahma gives to individuals after years of their practicing austerity, but every time it's given the person turns into a horrible demon who tortures gods and humans alike until everybody begs Shiva or Visnu to kill him."
"I told you he knew stuff," said Jesus.
"No, tyrants will be eradicated. Everyone will rise up to crush them," said white fellow.
"Like they do now," I said.
"Yes!" said white fellow.
"And what else will they do?" said Diosa.
"We'll all fall in love. Because love is the only thing faster than the speed of light," said white fellow.
"I like that all right," said Diosa.
I felt Diosa's forehead. I looked at white fellow. "That's just silly," I said.
"I made up the speed of light part," said white fellow.
"No shit," said Diosa.
"What do you want me to do?" I said.
"Just sit on that rock."
"There's somebody on that rock."
"When they're done!" white fellow said.
"You going to ask me questions?"
"Just talk about what you'd like to do once you're immortal," said white fellow.
I looked around. I looked back at white fellow. "I'd like to get rid of all these other assholes," I said. "It's hard enough being around them temporarily."
Me and white fellow had a very brief, quiet moment.
"Face your fear," he said.
"You're just some fucking Scientologist," I said to him. Then I took Diosa's hand and turned away. "I don't want to do it," I said.
"They wouldn't use anything you'd say anyways," said Diosa.
I shifted my eyes and found Serum's Dravidian face looking down at me.
"I'm back," I said.
"You're back all right," said Diosa. "Where'd you go this time?"
"Want more water?" said Serum.
"I have to pee," I said.
"So what?" Serum said.
Diosa took my hand and felt my forehead. "You're cold," said Diosa.
"I have to pee really bad and I can't stand up," I said.
"We can't carry you," said Diosa.
"I could have been immortal and instead I'm going to piss my pants."
"You piss your pants here and you'll be remembered for quite awhile," said Diosa. "Quite awhile. Maybe that would do."
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.