Big Sunsets & Red Wines

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:22

    But stick with me here a second. It's not the celluloid image I'm talking about, it's the personal picture. Film, within the larger context of California?and what I'm getting at here is the place?is a perversion. The movies (and television, too, I suppose), as they're formulated in Hollywood, make no sense, not to my eye, not to my view of life in this part of the country. The production of entertainments: baffling. A gang of chalkfaced scriveners in white Nikes, Boston Red Sox caps, needlessly snug Levi's (over which loll their beginner bellies, the hinting jellyrolls of their late 30s, not yet alarming, but there nonetheless), buttondown oxfords worn as jackets, an unthreatening stylelessness, a self-conscious refusal of fashion, and why not, no one cares what the writer looks like. And that's what they are: writers. They write for the movies, they write for tv. They churn it out, from cloistered warrens on a studio lot. The tapestry of L.A., for them, consists of a ride to work in the car, the writing part and a ride home. They miss, in other words, everything: the flat golden mask of the sun on the ocean, the gusts in the sycamores, the furrowed San Gabriel mountains. The perversion of these writers: that what they do matters, that their surroundings can be denied. That lines composed by committee under the stern tyranny of fluorescent lights and the dictatorship of 10,000 coffees, then cast and shot and edited and shown or broadcast?that this represents, in some way, where they actually are. How can work not function as an expression of where the workers exist? How?

    It makes a sort of sense in Los Angeles, where work made in relative darkness is then featured, again, in darkness: in movie theaters or beamed to underlit family rooms where the Cheetos of yesteryear lay crushed in the filthy weave of lamentable carpet. But the paradox?the paradox of Hollywood's business?is obvious, because Southern California is positively brutalized by sunshine. By climate. By an exterior precision of atmosphere, a reliable collection of effects, outside, that?in my case, anyhow?provokes a kind of drop-jawed joy, a borderline reverence, sensual, expressive. Holy fuck. HO-lee FUH-huck. The sky. The sky. It's boring, but it's also the kind of boring that could become a religion.

    So I'm out in Los Angeles again. Autumn in L.A. is a precious secret. Fifty-five-degree mornings, 75-degree cloudless afternoons, and then 55-degree evenings that commence with soothing sunsets (though dramatic, too, the oceanic heavens ablaze, the burning sphere fat as it declines toward the vaporous horizon), evenings that later wrap one in velveteen night, a clarified blackness, crisp, pure, moondrunk. It's sex weather, perfect sex weather. I've been in town for nearly a month, and the peck of carnality comes daily to my door. A horniness devoid of stress. A horniness as bright and tasty as the bright and tasty air. A magical thing, this variety of horniness, at the age of 32. I feel now what I felt then, at 22, but?as the cliche has always hoped?I know what I know now. Stress is nothing more than a irrational yearning for youth. I have fallen hard for waitresses, I have craned my neck at intersections. Airbrushed blondes with fire-forged abdomens, cheekbones that could chop wood, no visible pores. Built like the storky giantesses that prowl Prince St., except that out here they buy their Starbucks and fold their weightless legs into Porsche Boxters, then shake hair the texture of wind and bat lawn-rake eyelashes and drop a narrow hand delicately to the gearshift, then merge with swift-speeding traffic eastbound on Beverly Blvd. I have eyes for everyone, and only the weather?the exquisite weather, the optimism it spurs?to blame.

    My situation is enviable, but austere. I've been living with a friend, a friend I've written about before. I've been living in a single room. A futon. A desk. A wicker chair. A pile of paperbacks: James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, and also his Dusk and Other Stories. Mark Twain's Roughing It. John Gardner. Some guidebooks, postcards. Here's how things go: I wake up early. I play golf, or else hit some balls at the range. I take it all in. Explore. Ignore the cinema, and tv, too. Function in solitude. Read. Drive. Cook. Drink wine.

    Nothing too spectacular on the wine front, mind you. Sure, sure, the Beaujolais nouveau est arrive, I'm aware of that (you can probably put your eight dollars to use, more satisfyingly, elsewhere). Big blabbering whoop. And God in heaven if they don't have some fine juice in the stores out here. I could be up to my gills in the mightiest cabernet sauvignon the California Republic has to offer, and at Golden State prices. But I've been pulling back, these past weeks, from my homebound habits, from the tendencies of drink I practice in Brooklyn. No $40 pinot noirs, no atomic cabernets, no chardonnay spun from the yellow hair, distilled from the dewy perspiration, of postcoitally fuming Napa Valley vineland muses. No, what I've been avidly drinking are Australian blends that average $6 a bottle. Rotgut, basically. At home, anyway. In restaurants...well, a boy's got to play. The rotgut blends are all red wines from the same producer, Rosemount Estate, all purchased from the same establishment, the indispensable Trader Joe's on La Brea Ave. and 3rd St. in Hancock Park, on L.A.'s west side. I could go to Wally's, in Westwood?a genuinely awesome wine store?and spend hundreds, but a provisional neighborhood loyalty has overtaken me. Besides, I admire Trader Joe's enthusiasm for delicious rotgut; it's an everyday store, crammed with everyday foods, and everybody shops there, apparently. Put one in Brooklyn?in the Atlantic Center, say, between Fort Greene and Park Slope?and Brooklyn will well and truly begin to foment homegrown secessionist plots, at last, because its citizens will finally have all that they need, and to hell with Zabar's, screw Dean & DeLuca and burn the Vinegar Factory to the ground.

    Maybe you can find these wines in New York, maybe not. It's no big deal. I think I've seen one or two of them. Really, though, it's the ethic that matters. Good wine, cheap wine. Stock-the-closet wine, keep-a-few-bottles-around-the-house wine. They all taste pretty much the same, regardless of the grape varietals that make up the blends. Plenty of fruit, full-bodied, robust, ruby-purple food wines. Not wines to hang onto for any more than a year. In fact, a year would be pushing matters. Maybe three months. Maybe three weeks. Of the ones I laid my hands on?a shiraz/cabernet, a grenache/shiraz and a cabernet/merlot?I enjoyed the shiraz/grenache best, but only because it had the fewest thematic pretenses toward the Bordeaux style. More of a Rhone, which makes perfect sense given the varietal makeup, and I'm a great fan of the Rhone style, a style that has caught on big for affordable wines both in California and Australia (caught on so big, in fact, that in California it's now a little passe). The vintages on these terrific Aussie blends are young, young, young, 1999s all around, which is as it should be; a $6 wine must, as I've already argued, be consumed before puberty sets in. If you wanted to, you could probably discern subtle difference among these three Rosemount offerings?the cab/merlot perhaps a bit more leathery on the nose, with a heftier structure of tannins and darker fruit, berries and such; the shiraz/cab jammier, with more plum and less smoothness in the finish?but you'd really be wasting your time.

    The scheme here is simple, the plot unadorned, the characters streamlined. One passes the day in quiet fashion, a temporary suburbanite adrift in an immense city conceived, essentially, as a vast network of suburbs. Los Angeles is a suburb of itself, at least for long stretches. I get up early and go running, the air still so chilled that you wonder why frost has refused to form on the neatly trimmed, golf-course-green lawns. Sprinklers hiss. Water stands on the sidewalks. Water, carelessly expended, and this alarms me, this cavalier disregard for the resource that make this entire place possible. It's mid-November. The streets are a colonnade of sycamores, sere branches bending to shape a canopy over my head. Breakfast. Coffee. Further droves of oblivious Angelenos, thronging Starbucks for their exotic daily brews as the morning clouds dissipate, gradually fissure and fade, uttering thin blue yawns as they burn away. The huge desert sun is up there, somewhere. I read the paper, putter around, then jump in the rental and drive to Rancho Park and play the par-three course. It takes an hour. At the driving range, there's the usual bevy of scenes: the almost-pro launching giant draws with his long irons; the Hispanic homeboy, his swing a powerful event hidden for the moment inside a teenaged gangliness; the scrawny Prada woman and her superb equipment, her lesson-crafted cuts, an attractive stroke, smooth; a father showing his daughter how to hit. The sun breaks through, the heat comes up. I whack 3-woods 200 yards into the dry, dusty distance, lose the ball in the light. I feel good. Dinner will consist of roast chicken, polenta and a salad lightly dressed, I decide. There will be wine, hastily uncorked and unreflectively, pugilistically guzzled. It will fit the mood, as I shift my shoulders in the kitchen, fight the tiny cramps forming in my aging muscles, drink the ache away. Maybe tomorrow I'll go for a sauna. Enjoy some more of this wine. Enjoy the evaporation of stress. Study the sky for a rogue cloud. Dig my feet in the Pacific sand. I have, in the end, nothing but hours to waste.