Residents of the San Francisco Bay area often describe their location as “northern California,” thus distinguishing themselves from the Los Angeles area residents of “southern California.” Nevertheless, I would suggest that the real “northern California” consists of the forgotten one-third of the state stretching from Sacramento to the Oregon border. For those of us who call home somewhere between the redwood coast and the Sierra Nevadas, southern California doesn’t seem quite real, particularly during our cold, rainy, snowy, decidedly un-Californialike winters. The drive from the piney north to the Inland Empire and the Sonoran Desert beyond seems like a journey across multiple nations to a distant part of the continent. The map’s insistence that I have not left my home state is incredible, some sort of tall tale that necessarily involves the suspension of disbelief.
I once lived here, in the bleak emptiness beyond the enormous windmills of the Cabazon Pass that invoke images of Cervantes by day and blink their red lights in unison, like so many Christmas tree toppers, to warn off low-flying planes by night. A quick gust of wind blows sand across the freeway, while out of the corner of an eye, I barely detect a jackrabbit scurrying out of sight. As Michigan did to Simon and Garfunkle, the desert seems like a dream to me now.
I awake from the dream in a Motel 6 in Indio. Being away from home in a strange bed often leaves me sleepless, but after a twelve hour drive, sleep quickly overtakes me until I open my eyes with a jolt at three in the morning. Having slept deeply, I don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that the dream I remember hails from somewhere deep in my subconscious.
Back in 1970, we lacked even an inkling of the technology we take for granted today. Still, I dream that, back in elementary school, I text my teacher what I am too embarrassed to tell her in person, that I am ashamed that I have no clothes that fit me properly.
I have been obese since early childhood, a situation that proved far more challenging decades ago than it does now. Then, we didn’t have a Wal-Mart in every town where you can purchase size 4X and 5X shirts right off the rack. If you needed huge pants to accommodate tree trunk legs, your only hope was the local Army-Navy store, and even then, you might be out of luck. For fat kids like myself, everything you wore was always too tight. Boys with incipient man-boobs well-outlined by too small shirts would be taunted as really being girls. Sooner or later, you knew you’d bust a seam and your pants would split at school.
I dream I am reading our hometown newspaper in my parents’ living room, where I learn that the township has allocated funds to purchase tent material and tentmaking supplies to provide poor families with rough-hewn clothes large enough to properly cover their fat children.
No doubt this improbable dream is based on the fact that my father, taking me clothes shopping and coming up empty-handed, would often laughingly tell the salesperson that he would need to visit Ahmed the tent-maker to order custom garments large enough to fit me.
I begin to see a theme coming together here. Despite ordering clothes online and having them altered, even today most if what I wear fits poorly. And so, as I head east on I-10 into Arizona today, if from somewhere across the sand beyond the roadside saguaros I spy Ahmed approaching on camelback, I will surely stop and submit myself to his measuring tape.
Keep an eye out for me, Ahmed. I’ll be in the red Kia Soul.
Just tell me you take Visa.