Dear Dirty America


You’re the Reason It Doesn’t Rain In California

You’re the Reason It Doesn’t Rain In California
January 16
14:53 2015

It rained for two and a half days. Gentle, pitter-pattering that we all should have been hoping and praying for. No mudslides, but a much needed dousing.

Yet my neighbor, when he stepped outside his apartment, said “Damn rain. Ruins the day.”

credit: Paul Harris

credit: Paul Harris

I stopped jiggling my key in the lock, trying to get the crooked thing to open.

“You mean it’s too dreary for you when you glance away from your XBox game and look out the window? Your head gets wet when you step out for a Big Mac? I’d say you’re the reason we’re in this drought,” I told him. “That prevailing thankless SoCal attitude magnified twenty-four million strong.”

My comment stung him, but he recovered. “I think the drought is more weather-based,” he told me, “than bland superstition.”

“That’s what deadened instincts would tell you, that material effects by material causes are the beginning and end of all earthly circumstances and existence, but I’ve got a spiritualist who says God holds back the most basic elements from nations of people who are wicked in their vast majority. In this case, wicked means unthankful, unappreciative, and solely rooted in the consumption mindset.”

My neighbor, who I’d counseled before in matters as diverse as the Ebola paranoia and rapist allegations against Bill Cosby, processed what I’d said. “That seems a little simplistic for a philosophy,” he said.

“It’s more nuanced than that, but I’m not going to hold an eight-week lecture series on ‘Material versus the Unseen’on our apartment landing,” I told him. “Especially not in the rain.”

“Well, if we’re so wicked and ungrateful for the rain, and that’s why we’re in a drought, then why has it been raining more so far this year?”

“For the animals, you imbecile!” I said. “My spiritualist said when the people don’t repent and thank the Source of all creation for their sustenance, they also fill up with false hope at a few days of rain. Rather, that rain is just to keep the animals going. It’s not the fault of the striped skunk, the wily coyote, the Western skink, and the dusty wing butterfly that their landmass we call California was massively populated by ingrates, gold diggers, and dope pushers.

“We’re turning into Las Vegas,” I warned him. “Shipping in all our water and producing record-breaking piles of turds. They don’t call it the Great Litterbox for nothing.”

My neighbor made his way down the stairs. “All right, all right,” he said without turning to look at me, “I’m thankful for the rain.”

“Then show a little enthusiasm,” I said. “And don’t be afraid to get wet, you’re not going to melt.”


I shouldn’t be so hard on southern Californians. There are a few left who carry thankful hearts beneath thin-skinned breasts. I met one the other day. I wouldn’t have expected a guy like him — torn, baggy jeans, soiled t-shirt, and matted, oily hair — to be one of the grateful humans on this chunk of land.

He knocked on the windows of our cars as we waited, trapped in our vehicles, for the car wash at the gas station.


Stiff-lipped to the rain

When he came to my car, I rolled my window less than half way. “Can you spare five bucks, brother?” His eyes darted to the ground, to my steering wheel, and to my hair. He breathed heavily.

Five bucks? I thought. Usually they only ask for spare change or an odd amount, like seventy-five cents. Before I knew what I was doing, I had my wallet open. I slipped him a limp five dollar bill.

“God bless,” he told me, as if he were in the state of mind and demeanor to be handing out divine grace.

“What, are you the pope?” I asked him with a smile. The car in front of me pulled forward. I stepped on the brake and put the gear to Drive.

“My week is sure looking up,” he said and held up the bill. He told me he was so thankful because not only had he just made five dollars, but earlier that week he’d gotten rid of his Herpes.

“When it rains, it pours,” I told him.

I scrutinized his filthy chin hairs and the smudges of dirt in his hair. I felt pity for the man, but I also wished I hadn’t rolled down my window. Should I tell him, I wondered, that one does not get rid of Herpes? But then again, who knows? I don’t disbelieve in miracles.

I cleared my throat. “Well, don’t get too excited yet,” I said.

“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s all gone.”

“Congratulations then.” I realized that sounded sarcastic, so I indulged him. “If you found the cure for that, you’ve got the potential to become a billion dollar man.”

He didn’t understand, so I raised my hand and said, “Good day.”

“You should be the pope,” he said.

“If I were, I’d endorse you for president.”

“If I were president,” he said, “I’d do a lot of cleaning up in this country. Too much crap!” he said.

The car behind me honked. I crept forward a foot. My friend took two steps to stay with me. “What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Like forks, knives, and spoons,” he said. “I’d halt all production of new utensils until all the old ones in thrift stores and garage sales are bought up. All that metal,” he said, “ending up in the dump. It’s time we reuse.”

“That’s a fair platform to run on,” I told him. “Tell me, do you like the rain?”

“We got to,” he said, “if we like to drink water.”

“I should introduce you to my neighbor,” I told him.

“Is she pretty?”

“I don’t want to get into those kinds of details,” I said.

I wasn’t sure how to get rid of him, until I saw the woman in the Lexus behind me. She gripped the steering wheel with white driving gloves. Normally, one shouldn’t judge a person on their useless accessories, but in that case I made an exception. She could use a little harassing from one of America’s least fortunate (at least in terms of possessions, but if you count that he kicked the Herpes virus, well, maybe he’s got more going for him than first appearances).

“I think that gentle lady behind us waved a twenty at you,” I told him. “She’ll probably make you work for it, though. You’ll have to knock on her window at least three or four times before she’ll see you really want it.”

He whipped his neck toward her. I said goodbye, but he didn’t hear me. He marched to her car and knocked rapidly at her window. The lady sat stiff, looked straight ahead. My friend kept knocking. “You have twenty? You have twenty?” he kept asking.

I rolled up my window, made sure the doors were locked, and watched the scene play out in the rear view mirror.

[After California Rain painting by William Keith 1890s; Japanese woodcut 1866; wet spider photo by Paul Harris]


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