Flog & Blog: Passing Buttonwillow

Closing in on L.A...

Kipen boxI’m now in the central valley of California, the bread basket, passing some flowering pear trees. It's cloudy but in the distance the coastal range has a nice system of sunlight coming down through the clouds.

On the left hand side of the highway there are high tension wires thanks to former governor Pat Brown’s public works projects. Speaking of public works projects, it seems that Governor Schwarzenegger is modeling himself after Pat Brown these days (since trying to be Pete Wilson didn’t work out) with his enormous public works project that he’s trying to get onto the ballot so that the California infrastructure can be rebuilt.

But let’s talk about movies! Have you ever seen Albert Brooks’s DEFENDING YOUR LIFE? He dies in the first scene of the picture while driving in Los Angeles — he’s just gotten a new Barbra-Streisand-sings-show-tunes CD and he’s trying to get it out of the jewel box while driving. He drops it, reaches down to pick it up and we see him emerging behind the dashboard screaming as he drives into the grill of an 18-wheeler. If I keep emailing and reading and taking photos and driving, this is what is going to happen to me! But anything for Melville House (my publisher)!

I’m just passing Buttonwillow, and hey! There’s another snowy egret! That makes 2 today, one of which I took a photo of. But the best photo so far is this one of the semi. The semi reminded me not only of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, but of Richard Matheson who wrote “Duel,” the TV movie where the great and unfortunately, recently departed, Dennis Weaver ( plays a suburban driver of a compact car who is menaced by the driver of a semi truck. Richard Matheson’s work exemplifies that of writers I highlight in THE SCHREIBER THEORY because it is challenging and unmistakably consistent.

Pyrrhic victory comes up a lot with him: at the end of “Duel” Dennis Weaver succeeds at luring the semi over a cliff, but only at the loss of his own car; at the end of “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” Grant Williams impales the spider on the knitting needle, but he’s doomed to remain a shrunken man; at the end of “The Omega Man,” based on his own novel “I Am Legend,” the human race has a shot at redemption because Charlton Heston has passed along a sample of his blood which will serve as the antidote to the plague that has wiped out most of the human race but he himself ends up losing his life.

Richard Matheson figures in the last half of the book where I dole out 40 or so case histories of likely “Schreibers.” Matheson is a great pop existentialist. There’s an episode of "The Twilight Zone" that he wrote called “Nick of Time” starring William Shatner and Phillys Thaxter. They stop in a diner and there’s a fortune-telling mechanic gargoyle on the table and they keep feeding it quarter after quarter to try to make it tell their fortune. Of course in the end their fortune is their own to determine and not that of some gargoyle in a jerkwater greasy spoon.

I think I would be thinking about diners anyway since I haven’t had a single bite to eat and I never stopped for gas. So I am maybe within 5 minutes of a truly-disgusting-but-I-don’t-care bite to eat. I am coming to the Tehachapi Mountains which separate Southern Califorma from Northern Californa. There’s a road here called “The Grapevine,”the ruin of many a poor automobile, and at the base of it, there are a few dining options. I need to avail myself of these options. Wait, here’s a signpost: Los Angeles 108 miles. Its 4 pm. That means barring any nasty traffic I should make it to Book Soup on time!

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