|red dream at the riviera, palm springs, 2010|
Most people don't plan a big trip to the desert in August. Afternoon saw the mercury hovering between 112 and 115 degrees F. Nights, the needle dipped all the way down to 97. The pool retained the comfort of a gargantuan bath and we had to keep the dogs inside so they wouldn't fry their little paw pads on the stone surrounding our floating adventures. Downtown streets throbbed in the heat of deserted mirages. In fact, it occurred to me that maybe the word "deserted" came from the absence of people in the desert because it's so deadly. Maybe I'm a little linguistically slower than I like to admit. Summer here: it's like living in a toaster. And that's why I planned it. It's hard to be miserable with a pool two steps away and everything humming with freon, your loved ones bobbing up and down all around you. Wiffle ball. Fantastic homemade dinners. A rented house crammed with laughing. Happy hours at fancy hotels, we, a fantastic amoeba of quiet mirth amid bored, friendly service and astounding chandeliers. I love Palm Springs. I have big pans to retire there, with many other old Jews, gays, sculpted succulent gardens and my deafening, beautiful, fascinating friends, the cicadas.
|The Magic Cicada, Tony Fitzpatrick,|
Cicadas are the oldest insect in North America. They look like dinosaurs, kind of, probably because they have such a sound design, they haven't had to evolve so much over the years. The tribe of cicadas were shedding their shells long before the US government declared the city founded in 1896, and long before the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians spent a thousand years in the Coachella Valley, surviving just fine, thanks, before the Spaniards and the reservations. The cicadas saw it all. Emerging from the ground in August to hang out, shed, and mate for a few months, these insects, at least the dudes, rub their wings together and bang them on their hollow abdomens to get chicks. Some dudes play guitar, some bang bellies. The Palm Springs cicadas are on various 3 or 17 year cycles, but overlapping, and so each summer they show up, vibrato and horny, filling the entire valley with song. The house on Sagebrush Road sported several cicada hollows, former homes of the crooners still clutching the white adobe of the walls. The things are indestructible, perfect. Together, the band creates a sound so cacophonous, panicking visitors often telephone city offices reporting the sound of fallen electrical wires.
On my fortieth birthday, I lay on a bright pink floaty covered in spray on SPF 50, my eyes behind a pair of Ray Bans I have somehow managed to neither crush nor lose in the last four years. I roasted, I mused, I sang myself little songs from the last decade. I thought about the notion of beauty and insects, how the great American fear of ugliness has robbed me of so much experience. The hum of the insects is so constant, the human mind can edit it out for hunks of time, filtering unnotables to make room for new thought, but then at rest, their song returns, a sunstruck overture of regeneration.
I spent my twenties trying to figure out who the world would want me to be, and setting out to be all those different versions each day. Exhausted by the impossible task, I spent my thirties trying to figure out who I wanted to be, and then who I actually was. Soothed by the task, I hope, like the cicadas, my cycle has come to just being, doing what I do, and showing up to do it, slicing away the figuring, the posturing, the relentless disappointment of the impossible. It was my wish then, on the blistering raft along under the sky in a borrowed body of water, witnessed by the massive congregation of bugs, to spend my forties accepting all the ways fear will come, and not to employ the infertile sidesteps and jigs that have done me no good over the years, but to stand in the fear and sing the song that comes naturally to me. No matter how off key. No matter how ugly. Just warble the deafening chorus I have to offer.