Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Elsinore Princess

I have lately made very good friends with a big green reptile with razor sharp teeth and a hefty appetite. What he hungers mostly for is watermelon, and purple cabbage, and green grapes, but now and again he pretends to want to eat from my hand just so he can get a taste of my fingers to determine whether or not he’d be better off just eating me and forgoing all social niceties. Here in this special place, he looks at me from behind alloyed bars and nods to his empty food dish while I try to press all of the stray voices out of my head…
I am the lake Elsinore princess, imported from Long Beach to be made a spectacle of in a mud hole imbued with mystical powers. From my glass bottom, the denizens of this fair town have enjoyed looking down past their sandals at the murky green water fed by over 300 hidden springs and the San Jacinto river. When it dried up before 1880, Charlie Sumner still lived in the old adobe Machado house, built by that late great Californio, Augustin Machado himself. Then it transgressed to the rank of puddle, lost at the center of a pestilent pit of mud laden with decaying fish, their eyes eaten out by the very gnats that they themselves had once supped upon. The cattle got stuck in the muck in search of water, and there they mooed mournfully until the heat did them in. Then the gnats could start on them too, joined by the turkey vultures and crows, who cleaned away the carcass until only the bones gleamed white under the glaring sun, before returning to their post in the big blue sky, circling and waiting for the next bovine to expire. At the heart of the puddle a small geyser erupted and a fount of sulfurous water the color of blood gushed wretchedly, flaunting itself before the thirsty herds.
The Mexicans and the Indians had the smarts to stay clear, they know the work of a demon when they see it, but old Sumner wasn’t fazed. With a bit of British tenacity and a fair helping of humor, he set to poking around the choking little valley with a walking stick striped from a water starved cotton wood. Determined to make the best of a curse, he engaged in an exploration of the dried up lake bed, taking care not to get swallowed up in the gunk like a common cow, and thus he discovered those more than 300 secretive springs.
Oh, he had known about one or two of these geothermal water holes before the lake up and evaporated. He’d even tried to fence one off to keep the cows from drinking the hot stinking water, but one of his Indian vaqueros kindly informed him that the water was good for the cows, and that they were drinking it because they were sick, so Sumner bottled it up and sent it off to Los Angeles to be analyzed by a bonefide chemist, and lo! The chemist verified officially what the native had known without the use of a test tube, (which just goes to show- there’s no better way to get good help than to beat and enslave an indigenous people with a little help from the Catholic church).
At any rate, no Mexican has ever set foot on my clean glass bottom, except for the woman that cleans it and her son, a clever handyman. Only clean white feet have had the honor of dancing around on me after a wedding. I am after all, a movie star. Well, I was in one movie anyway, and the stars delivered their lines to one another while standing on me, and that is probably more than you can say. They dragged me overland to set me down on this little pea soup lagoon, and here I’ve been moored ever since.
Once upon a time, I ferried folks around Santa Catalina Island and the briny sea lapped at my chops. They retired me though, and sent me to die where everything else dies, here at the bottom of this valley. Everyone, every creature, every thing that has come here and died, came for the water and got stuck in the mud. This is how we have all met our fate; in search of water. They come for the water, and the water comes up from the hot depths of the earth, smelling of sulfur. How is it that no one has put two and two together? Didn’t they think that the devil would ask a price for his warm life giving elixir?
They used to cart people down here in wheelchairs to dip them in the lake. The hot sulfur ran from the tap in every house in the valley until the 1960’s turning the children’s teeth yellow. At the bathhouse built in 1884 they built a swimming pool in the 1920’s. A little boy drowned in it though, (I’m told he was an idiot anyway) and after that they filled it up. But you see, he came for the water too.
And what is water, my precious? Tell me that. What is water in a dream? The water and the sun set to work on me long ago, eating away the paint, rotting my wood. I fell apart in the wetness. They had me dismantled, because the water had made me unstable, unsafe. Now, if you want to see me, you will have to look through ghost eyes. Pick any that you like, those of a cow, those of an idiot boy at the bottom of a pool, those of an old gambler that died alone in a trailer near the lakes shore, or those of a prostitute wandering away from the old rodeo grounds where her remains were hidden among many. Look through any pair of dead eyes that you choose and you may see me moored out on the Laguna Grande, a phantom on a liquid bed of diamonds, paddlewheel still and silent under the moon’s ivory glow.

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