Be careful what you wish for.
Have you ever seen Bedazzled? It’s a marvelous, wacky, 1967 movie starring and written by the brilliant British comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. (There is also a 2000 remake, starring Brendan Frazer, with Elizabeth Hurley as the devil in a red bikini, a sight that is alone worth the price of admission, though the remake is not as charming as the original.) The premise of the movie is that a little nebbish (Dudley Moore), who is in love with an unattainable girl, sells his soul to the devil (Peter Cook) for seven wishes (corresponding to the seven deadly sins), which he uses in an attempt to win the girl.
Of course the devil grants each wish, but never exactly as it was intended, with the entirely predictable result that Dudley Moore never gets the girl, while the devil always does. It’s a masterpiece of the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore team, a team that produced many classic and lunatic comic gems (a routine about a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan; another that has survived as a recording about a man opening a restaurant in the middle of nowhere—“Parking isn’t a problem.”— called The Frog and Peach, where the only dishes offered are frog à la pêche, or pêche à la frog), as well as appearing together in another delicious movie, The Wrong Box.
But the point is to be careful what you wish for. All of California has been praying for rain, and God—who evidently has a very wry, very British, and rather distorted sense of humor Himself—responded last night.
Darleen and I were at a dog training class last night, a class that got cut short after urgent calls started coming in on various cell-phones. Thunderstorms were producing flooding all over southern California, including in our little corner of the golden state. This morning, we saw some of the results on the news.
Interstate 5, the primary north-south artery in California was completely shut down by mud-and-rock slides, with hundreds of people needing to be rescued. The alternate artery over the mountains, Highway 58, the road the Joad family took on their search for a paradise that did not exist in The Grapes of Wrath, has also been closed by mud-and-rock slides, with scores of people needing to be rescued. The California Highway Patrol, interviewed on a local television station this morning, recommended no one drive anywhere, but that people who simply must get to Los Angeles or points south, take the 46 over to the coastal route, 101, and take that road south. I happen to know these routes quite well, and that little detour turns a two-and-a-half hour drive into about a six or seven hour drive, not allowing for traffic which, if everyone is doing the same thing, will become like a nightmare right out of Bedazzled, minus the charm and the humor, but with the dubious addition of frayed tempers.
The storms actually began night before last, with a display of pyrotechnics that made any fireworks created by the hand of man look pretty lame: bolts of lightening hammering the ground all around us with such violence it shook the house. Darleen and I were scurrying around, closing windows, when suddenly the whole world went black. Not just our house, but not a light to be seen anywhere, not even any ambient light bouncing off the clouds from distant towns, a blackness as complete and absolute as our Paleolithic ancestors must have known. We began groping our way to the stored flashlights when, just as suddenly, the lights came back on again, revealing each of us with our arms held cautiously out in front of us like Neanderthals in a cave playing “pin the tail on the donkey” or “blind man’s bluff.”
This went on most of the night, power on, power off, brilliant flashes of God-made light splitting open stygian darkness, and thunder like the final trump; if there is no time interval between the flash and the sound, and the house trembles, you know the strike was close.
At one point, before the serious rain began, I stepped outside to see if I could smell smoke, fire being very much on our minds. It was one of the most dramatic nights I have ever had the pleasure of living through. I was tempted to do a little King Lear:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow,
You cataracts and hurricanoes…
But it occurred to me that reciting Lear outside in the middle of an epic thunder storm might not be the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I could see the headline in Variety: Former Actor Killed by His Own Performance. It seemed a poor way to make my final exit, so I opted instead for sitting by a window and watching the show from the safety of home and hearth.
Good show, God! Good show.