Kage Baker regarded California as The Edge of the West. The reason is fairly obvious; head far enough west in California (at one point in our lives, maybe two blocks …) and you completely run out of continent. End of the line, end of the world, beyond which lies the Uttermost West and gods-only-know-what-for-sure.
The fact that the only town on Catalina Island (26 miles west of the continental edge) is named “Avalon”, Kage felt, only proved her point. Time seems to have stopped in that odd little town, at several points – the late 1800’s, the 1920’s, the 1960’s – and then been stirred with a big stick. The atmosphere of Avalon is a big swirled sundae of eras, fashions, technology, cars – you go there and the last 150 years come wandering down the street and pass you on the way to the candy store. Where, incidentally, during WWII when the Island was closed to tourism and the OSS was running a training camp there, the automated taffy pulling machine never stopped running …
I observed, in a conversation elsewhere this morning, that one of the things I love about Southern California is the pervasive atmosphere of alternate reality. One of my old friends (and Kage’s. Hi, Scott!) thought the statement was amusing enough to post on Facebook. That made me think, and smile a lot – because it’s a viewpoint I learned from Kage, an idea that has shaped my whole life, and a standard that California never fails to live up to.
Most everyone in the world thinks we’re odd, and they’re right, but they don’t really grasp the enormity of it. Costumed skaters at Venice Beach, the superheroes infesting Hollywood Boulevard, the walking neuroses that pass for entertainers around here, the entire atmosphere of the music and film industries – these are symptoms, not causes. Other cities have thriving music and movie companies, and they’re not like us. Reality is thin here, and I think the local gods double and triple it to cover the holes; then they gaffer tape it in place, shrug, and give it up as Good Enough.
Robert Anson Heinlein had a good description of it, which Kage cherished. You can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/y9grzk7. But even that is too narrow a view. The weirdness is less localized than even Mr. Heinlein realized.
It’s why Kage postulated an enormous quartz crystal giving off High Weirdness vibes under the Hollywood Hills. There really are outcroppings of crystals all over the place up there; we found lots, and I still have them even now. Some of them we dug up searching for the Spiderpool, in fact, up above Woodrow Wilson Drive.
It’s why a nice little semi-tropical microclimate along modern Sunset Boulevard prompted an early developer to build: not greenhouses, but a camel farm. It’s why various brain trusts decided mulberries, bananas, alligators and gojis were all destined to be the next big cash crop in L.A.; and all were assiduously, if temporarily, farmed. It’s why Hollywood was founded as a town based on total abstinence from alcohol (It was. Really.), in an area with no open water sources. People settle here and the weirdest things just seem to become logical and straightforward.
The Spiderpool itself, which we have been discussing here (and will again) is but one example of how inspiration takes a 90-degree turn from away from everywhere else here.
Los Angeles is so peculiar, on such a daily basis that hardly anyone even notices anymore. It’s all part of ordinary days in L.A. Yestreday we had thunderstorms sweep through the Basin, dropping rain – positively alien weather, for here, despite which we also managed to have a few brushfires in the same areas. At the moment, it’s nearly 90 AND we have a flash flood warning in effect: due to sudden downpours in the hills, and the fact that the last snow from the winter is only now melting … though until it does, there are people up there skiing naked. Ah, Los Angeles!
It was the perfect place for Kage Baker to have been born and to grow up. She absorbed all the peculiar vibrations and grew attuned to them. She may even have grown to need them, like electromagnetic fields. The other places we’ve lived were all certainly weird … and if they weren’t when we arrived, they got strange while we were there. Kage wrote what she knew, as she always solemnly assured questioners.
There will a full moon next Friday. It’ll be time for the big blue and green hairy guys to come loping down out of Griffith Park again. Maybe they can go for a beer at the Big Foot Lodge on Los Feliz …