Kage Baker was never lost. Never. She always knew exactly where she was, and could confidently state the direction we needed to go. She did get testy when her driver was unable to understand her directions, which were always precise but tended toward jargon and sacred language unfamiliar to the layperson – cult phrases like North, and Left, and Half a mile.
She eventually learned to reduce her oracular utterances to Over there and That Way. Supplemented by pointing, and given in a loud, firm voice so as to be heard over the panicked cries of said driver. I become upset when I’m lost, and also tend to get lost very frequently. Screaming and crying result, with much castigating of travel-inclined deities and blaming of the navigational staff. It hasn’t happened as much lately as it used to, but that is due only to accidental circumstances. I’m not traveling much right now (which makes it harder to be lost. Not impossible, though …) and I’m not traveling with Kage at all.
Because, while Kage saved me from being lost a million times, Dear Reader, a truthful narrator must reveal that she usually got me lost in the first place. We wandered the wilds of Hollywood afoot for years, and never had a problem – but as soon as I learned to drive, it became apparent that Kage and I were operating on different space-time referentials; our star-charts did not match, we swayed to different magnetic poles, she had magnetite in her hippocampus and I evidently had kitty litter in mine.
There are places in the Hollywood Hills where roads are sort of a generally agreed-upon convention. They are paved, in that at least one coat of asphalt (or at least Henry’s Roof Emulsion) has been laid on over the last 50 years; pot holes are filled by shoveling in local rock slides and driving over them once or twice. There is no stretch that runs straight for more than the length of two cars, which means that every six feet there is a blind curve and no one can ever park or pass. Of course, they do anyway, and so parked cars must be maneuvered around on the verge – which is usually either someone’s front garden, or the edge of a canyon filled with poison oak.
In the winter, these streets are streams – after a month or so, literally streams, as by then all the gravel and bitumen has been washed off, up, and into little reefs. In summer, they are full of drifting leaves, gravel and occasionally wild fires. Coyotes, deer, pumas and skateboarders race along them; passing cautious drivers with one sidelong arrogant gunslinger’s glance and then shooting effortlessly ahead to disappear amid the hillsides.
On every ridge, at bottom of every canyon, on every flat intersection of two vertiginous hills, are houses. They were built before it occurred to anyone to actually alter the shape of the land, and so were engineered to fit into the strange nooks and crannies between the oaks. They were built by people who did not know how to build, out of substances never intended to form housing – pieces of sets, stolen pallets from grocery stores, dead busses. Some illegal plumbing and a coat of stucco and behold! A house that stands, more or less, for the next 30 years; eventually someone gives a name to the stream bed by which it crouches, and paints an address on a rock in the front garden.
And the strange inhabitants continue to glue mosaic tiles and broken glass and salvaged chrome and chance architectural elements to it, until it glitters through the trees like an opium dream. At night its lights shines through blue tarps and Home Depot lattice, and sketch out walls wider and higher than anything that shows by day; they shine through the trees, hinting at streets and driveways and people with wine glasses in their hands, a vision to the two little girls in the wild dark garden down the slope, watching for UFOs between the eucalyptus trees. And some morning, they drive up there, the little girls, in their mother’s van, hunting for the windows that shone those summer nights.
We found a lot of these little architectural curiosities by being lost. At least, I was lost. We usually found them by operating on the actual expectation of my losing my way somewhere along there – knowing it would inevitably happen, we could forge on fearlessly and see what lay up countless new roads. Kage, after all, was never lost …