I've known Kevin for years, since we were both ink-stained wretches at the Los Angeles Times. Then he went off to write non-fiction books and I took the low road and started writing crime novels. When Kevin launched L.A. Observed, I got hooked. It was a wonderful procrastination ritual. I'd sit at the computer, intending to write the next scene in my book that was due in four months, but somehow I'd find myself checking L.A. Observed instead, clicking through on lots of interesting tidbits. I'd walk downstairs for lunch, then have to check L.A. Observed before getting back to work. And so on.
When Kevin asked if I'd like to contribute to L.A. Observed, there was this weird moment where I felt like I had fallen into a looking glass. Me? On the other side? I sit at the desk in my walk-in bedroom closet all day, making stuff up. Occasionally I'll run an errand. Then my two kids come home and it's like the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, a whirling, eight-limbed cloud of dust, scabs, Lego, homework and dinner. At night, after David and I read to them and put them to bed, I write and I read some more. Then I get up the next day and do it again. With the exception of that maniac Charles Bukowski, and he's dead now, most writers I know lead pretty sedate lives. Especially if, like me, they're under contract from Scribner to turn in a book each year. Right now, I'm also editing an anthology called "Los Angeles Noir" that's coming out from Akashic Books next spring, so I'm swimming in a sea of words.
But it's high summer now, and my thoughts have turned to...apricots. Proust had his madeleines. I've got apricot jam. We had a tree in our backyard growing up, in North Hollywood, and it gave heaps of smallish, mottled, roseate apricots that I only learned much later, as an adult, were a variety called Royal Blenheims. They are the nobility of their kind, and sadly have been eclipsed in recent years by bigger, hardier strains that look perfect but lack any real taste. You pretty much have to go to a Farmer's Market to find Blenheims anymore. But it's so worth it.
That's why I found myself in the car last week, girding for a 1.5 hour rush-hour trip from the Valley to Santa Monica. The traffic was so bad, especially at the 101/405 connector, that I jotted down one-third of a new short story while inching along and managed to plot out the entire thing in my head. I always keep a notepad and pencil in the car. I don't think I was being reckless, certainly not any more so than a cell phone user. OK, so maybe that's not a good analogy. But the traffic was just plain stalled.
Why do I drive all the way out to SanMo? It's because Cirone Farms is at the market now, with cases of the best apricots in the city. They come down from See Canyon in San Luis Obispo County. I've given Michael Cirone more than a hundred bucks for 'cots in the last couple of weeks. That buys me three boxes. And he's so honest, God bless him - I handed him a $100 bill last week, thinking it was a $20, and he pointed out my error. So I love him and his mottled fruit too.
When I get home, I have to haul the 'cots in the back way and stash them in the garage fridge so David doesn't see.
"I think you went a little crazy with the apricots," he says the next day. He's right. There are jars of frozen jam filling the freezer, pots of
half-cooked jam in the fridge, boxes of apricots waiting to be 'rendered' and apricot cobblers and crisps for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kids don't seem to mind.
I tell him he just doesn't understand. Apricots have a very short season. By next month, they'll be gone. Until 2007. You only get a two-month window. That's why I make the jam. So that long after the leaves have fallen from the trees, and winter has settled in, I can reach into the freezer and resurrect a golden bit of summer, spread it on a croissant, on oatmeal. I love homemade apricot jam so much that I put it in my most recent novel, "Prisoner of Memory." There's a whole page in which my heroine, Eve Diamond, reminisces about the summer ritual of making jam with her Russian grandmother.
People have come up to me at signings and asked if that scene was autobiographical. Yup, I tell them. We could tell, they always say. Because we used to make jam too, in our youth. And that's just how it was. We beam at each other across the book-strewn table. We're like a secret Blenheim society. From back when LA was a younger, more down-home place, and people had time to put up preserves.
I'm thinking maybe I'll photocopy those pages from my book and bring them to Cirone's booth this week, show him what his fruit has inspired. I don't know if he reads much, maybe he's too busy overseeing his 70 acres of trees. But just maybe, he'd get a kick out of it.