The Fire Inside

How many of us secretly love the ashes

That's the only way I can explain the ready recourse people have had to apocalyptic sentiment once the fires hit. Not that I sympathize much with it, though I certainly used to. I remember almost exactly 20 years ago, November 1983, when the Reagan rhetoric about the Evil Empire was at its height, when The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept its doomsday clock locked at a minute to midnight, and I watched the nuclear-war feature film Testament the same week that the TV movie The Day After, about a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange that ends the world, was broadcast. I was young, a love affair of mine had just blown apart, the Santa Anas were blowing, and I was getting my car fixed at a garage on Sunset and La Brea in LA (a location that I later learned, to my amazement, Joan Didion had called the "dead still center of the world" and "the quintessential intersection of nothing"). The night before, I had dreamed about a mushroom cloud that bloomed in the park next to the house in South Gate where I had grown up, and as I sat in the greasy waiting room, itching to get my junky Datsun back so I could drive home and get high, I couldn't get the cloud image out of my head. And I was scared: not so much because the image itself was scary but because my desire for it to come true was. Yes, blow this shit up, and let's start over is what I thought at the time. For minutes, I could barely move.

You can't seriously stay in that psychic space for long without testing the borders of madness, and I didn't. But, to quote Frost again, I'm acquainted enough with the night by now to know that the madness I skirted then runs rampant in many more minds than my own, that the blazes lighting our dreams these last couple of weeks come at least as much from our own haunted hearts as they do the winds, the arid brush and the beetle-addled trees.

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