Beat Points

What is The Opening Image? That's the First Beat of the Save The Cat formula. The opening image here is me. Lean old writer looking like Mark Twain: in rocker, legs up on old carved Pegasus kid's rocker, watching The Sixties, the CNN documentary. She has taken off her bowtie, opened collar, has large pitcher of water. Splashing face. The heat wave must come first.

In L.A., the deadly threat now is drought. I do not see much evidence that we have heard this is an emergency. We should be on alert. Would I were twenty years younger and I would run for governor of California. When I first moved back here from London in 2007 I was excited to work the campaign for Barack Obama. His fortitude glowed. He'd get us to stand up, and, by God, he tried. I do know very well how politics goes. I watched my father run a film studio owned by bullies and bureaucrats who had no conception of the world outside their financial reports. I was delighted to see California had two women Senators. Where are their fervent voices now? Could we have marches? Rallies?

Some of us, like me, are ratty about people who refuse to believe in global warming. But when the heat choked the air conditioning I have the nerve to take for granted, I went to the gym. Another option I take for granted. The pool was jammed. The air soggy. Then last week I read the story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. About the 72-year-old woman up in Porterville, California, lugging jugs of water she filled from wells, to take to children in her town who have no drinking water. In Sixties' mode (using late blooming 21st tech skills) I posted "Water Wagons: Those of us with SUVs, let's pick up distilled water, wagons west sort of." Three people responded. Two from the East Coast. Hardly a surge.

And then, in Ken Burns' stunning epic The Roosevelts, I heard "This day will live in infamy." I remember these words as a kid. They were connected in my mind forever with FDR's voice. The urgent command to war, announced on the big radio. My father stood up, watching the radio. This was wartime. I was 5. The impact of World War II on our lives as children in California was striking. The culture around us was involved; There was this park of old buildings for soldiers in West Los Angeles, near the Japanese neighborhood. Now the landscape artists who ran businesses there were gone. Jackie, the young man who lived with us, was Filipino. He had gone to "camp" with his family up north. It was clear, from our father's expression, this was no summer camp. The Veterans' Park was surrounded by barbed wire. We were respectful and even saluted young men in uniform. The radio war news bulletins were part of our education. My parents and their friends were very politically involved. Could this have been because their own parents, as children, were thrown out of their houses, their cities, torn from families, huddled onto boats, for America. There was no Ancestor Google to find out what did become of the cousin who wrote notes back and forth with you at Temple.

Last week when I heard of flash flood warnings, or the mandatory fire evacuations going on up north, I looked around my room. Which pictures, which books would I take. I sat on the steps where I stack books I want to refer to as I write this historic novel, and, in every book, I find references to families, to details of life left behind. And, too many of their families who hadn't come to America were dying. We felt the undercurrent of fear, and, also, fortitude. It is this fortitude we need to save our state.

In my own long life, there have been, as in any good story, "15 Beats" (up points, down points, stakes, victories, and fake victories). The Sixties was a false victory. It seemed to offer new freedoms. People charging themselves up, people asking questions no one had dared to ask. Freedom, feminism, the war in Vietnam. The segments of The Sixties I saw over a long Thursday night were in black and white and were all about emancipation; segregation and voting rights, names I'd forgotten -- Medgar Evers -- so many. Scenes at diner counters, restaurants, shops; smoke-filled church, the hoses, the tough training courses. How you do a sit-in? Scenes of people walking fifty-five miles, no Marathon with water stands here and there to keep you going. Most of all it was about Martin Luther King. Many of the marchers were older, you can feel the aching backs, the sore feet (no Nikes then) and there had been no training program, unless we remember that the basic training program which serves war well is outrage. Here, their legs were muscled with sinews made by centuries of rage. King emerged, out of the fever, the Freedom Marches, and there's this moment I'd forgotten -- when he slipped his prepared speech away. And stood there, speaking in that radiant voice. His speech -- his dream -- rose over the throngs of people around the Washington Monument and I was breathless, crying. "One day maybe fifty years from now," he said, "a young black man will be President of our country." And that day has come and the young man's ideas are being hosed off him, and this Congress has beaten him up with the same garish hatred of every face leering between shoulders at the marchers. And there isn't anyone honest who won't agree. There's only one reason: he's black -- and I don't see, when I watch the news, much that's changed. From the beginning of my life there's always been a war calling to us -- and deadly threats somewhere: in our own town, state or country.

Since the beginning of time religious beliefs have torn people apart; race has torn people apart, and we the people turn to leaders to fix it all up, even as we are wary of the leaders, they seduce us, using their dynasties, their fortunes, so we turn to them for the tools to beat us back, for they fear we are people waiting to have our turn at the podium.

I remember, when I look back at a small window of time -- The Sixties -- when sexual freedom arrived. Suddenly there was access to birth control measures so women could feel free enough to enjoy sex the way men seemed to. We no longer felt alone -- no longer afraid to teach American men real sex is best when not approached in the manner of a football game. All races, and genders felt the rising tide of hope for equality across the board. Somehow, removal from Vietnam seemed accomplished by the Peace Movement, an extension of the battle against atomic weapons -- which in the Fifties strangled our hopes for our young children. Inevitable terror loomed in their future as we considered which bomb shelters we could afford. On tricky days, rumors flew. We'd keep them home from school. In case.

I watch palm trees we took for granted, drying up, and dying on the rooftop of the nearby gym. Maybe if we each limited showers to five minutes we could save these trees. Just one tree. I have some plants which look rather like mice in safari outfits. Succulents. Yes. Not delicious to view. But, then, as in all else it is up to me to change my attitude.

The Sixties was an era of grief, terror and hope; but all of that basically exploded with the three big Assassinations we knew of. Not to mention the thousands of Veterans sent to wars we did not want or the people imprisoned for crimes committed to ease the desperation of helpless lives; their faces electrified by rage, clamped tight by anger and the dream that clearly was impossible, dead in the shadow of their cells, still being smothered by "rehab" meds, truncating any sign of spirit. I see this in new generations around me, in vacant voting places, in shrugs and the fizzled connection to cell phones cocooning voices into the muttering tap sounds of fear gone sullen with despair.

It seems here in California we need a leader who will create a rationing system, place taxes on country club golf course lawns. I read about Mike Bonin, City Councilman where I live. He talks of Hikes with Mike. Closing Image: Mike with small flyers, Down With Drought, Five Ways To Save Water Today. He's hiking, kids behind him, right across the road.