Last night I saw up and watched a movie I had already seen. Not that this is of any interest, or even unusual, I have only recently stopped watching movies I've seen like 87 times already. Such is the lure of cable: "Oooo, "The Dark Knight Rises" is on. Again. Because I just finished watching it on the east coast feed, how cool is that?"
Not very cool, I've decided, although I admit I have a Batman thing and always have. I think it's because the Caped Crusader (and no, I'm not big on the 1960s TV show, fun though it was) has no super power. He's rich. He's a progressive soul who likes to use his billions for the good of the 98%, he supports widows and orphans and all sorts of green fuel alternatives. He's single. He's easy on the eyes. What's not to love? My son said I have a "lady boner" for Batman. Maybe. Although Christian Bale runs a close second.
Anyway, the Batman has to buy shit. He didn't get bitten by a bat (as they're vegetarians, or does one use herbivores? I'm not sure) and he didn't get merged with a bat in a lab and his father didn't mate with a bat, he's just a rich do gooder. Some would call him a vigilante. But he would kick the asses of the Texans who carry assault rifles into the local Walmart just because they can, so I'm good with that.
Besides, he's hot. And, unlike superman, there's an air of sexuality about the Batman, he does not stand for "Truth, Justice and the American Way", he stands for ass kicking. But I digress...
Last night, as usual, I stretched out in bed, and ate a taco (that's not usual) and spread my stuff all over the bed and turned on the television. I didn't watch HBO, but I went to the network. I think I watched Jeopardy!, I'm not sure. It was on late, after the basketball game. So I was going to turn on the late news and decided to check out Turner Classic Movies, you know, just in case. And there it was.
I love that damn film. Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean. All at their peak. I sat up until 1am and watched it, just in case it ended differently this time. It didn't.
And today I've been thinking about James Dean. My son and I have discussed him more than once, he thinks that Dean would have been a "whatever happened to him?" long ago, I think he would have matured into a hell of an actor, much like Paul Newman did. We'll never know.
But what I was thinking about was a grey, drizzling Sunday about 10 years ago. I had seen in a newsletter that Hearst Castle, one of my favorite places to visit, decorates the place at Christmas the way that the magnate himself did. Okay, he didn't do it himself, the staff did, but you get the idea. There are something like 20 decorated Christmas Trees set up all over the place: Downstairs, upstairs, in the lady's chamber. I wanted to see this. We made plans to drive up on Sunday and take one of the tours.
The hubster sneezed and therefore, being a man, went to bed for a week. So he wasn't going. Because he had a cold, I got a late start with the boys, we didn't leave until after the requisite grocery store, drug store run. Because we got a late start, I took the short route, I didn't want to get there and find the last tour had just left. The short route, btw, takes over three hours, the longer, more enjoyable drive about a half hour more. I shot up the 5, over the grapevine and headed west on the 46. This isn't a very interesting drive, it's a lot of nothing, but it doesn't meander up and down the coastline either.
It was grey, chilly and drizzly, the kind of day I live for. I was driving carefully, not as fast as I usually do, and I have a lead foot people, it's not like I was poking along. The 46 was quiet, a bit of traffic but not a lot. One of the boys was dozing in the back seat, the other in front, there wasn't any radio reception and we were quite cozy, just enjoying the ride, the light rain, the warmth in the car.
I'd been driving on the nice, straight if small highway for about half an hour, maybe 35 minutes when a feeling I can only describe as creepy beyond anything came over me.I checked the car. Trevor was next to me, his headphones in, Owen in the back seat snoozing. A truck up ahead, doing his thing. I never knew what "the hair on the back of my neck stood up" really meant until that instant. There was something off and I knew it. The car sounded fine. The mist was fine, I wasn't going too fast or too slow, I wasn't going to hydroplane, the road wasn't slippery. And out of nowhere, the thought popped into my head: James Dean died here.
I thought no, I thought yes, I wasn't sure, I didn't really remember. But about 30 seconds down the road I saw the sign, "James Dean Memorial Highway" and there was the intersection of the 46 and the 41. There's also a bar with a tree in the parking lot with a really weird kind of fence thing around it that says "James Dean " with some dates, one of them being 9.30.1955 of course, and was, I read somewhere, paid for by a rich, obsessed Japanese businessman. I don't know that for a fact. h
It's kind of quiet up there now, but I was there right after the 50th anniversary of Dean's death, not by choice, but, you'll pardon the term, by accident. I knew I MUST have read something about the accident so the location would have been rattling around in the dusty index cards I think I keep in my brain, I'm not so vague as to never have come across the information. But what really stuck with me was the time and place I got the weird feeling. It wasn't AT the junction, ti was before. It was before I saw the highway sign, before the Jack Rabbit cafe with it's steel tree fence thing. There was nothing really there.
Except the old road.
The roads have been reconfigured since 1955, which is unusual for California rural roads, but then this one probably got more action than most, not only from the lookey Lous, but it's a pretty straight and direct road between the I-5 and Paso Robles. The junction has been moved a bit west, I found out. The spot where I got the willies was the spot where one can see traces of the (now dirt) road that WAS the 41. I must have been within 25 feet of the place he died. That was the day I changed my mind about ghosts.
Was it him?: Who knows, I sure don't. I know that, out of the blue, SOMETHING touched me. And it wasn't one of those fun pokes either. It stuck with me and to this day I remember the odd sense of something going on. If it was him, maybe he thought it would be funny, you know, lets scare the chick behind the wheel in the mom mobile. Maybe we were related, my family always claimed there was a distant relationship, because, as we all know, Dean is SUCH an uncommon name. But it's my maiden name.
And maybe it was an ill timed hot flash, who the hell knows?
All I know is that, since that day, I believe in spirits, or ghosts, or whatever one wants to call them. Oddly enough, it's never anyone I've ever MET, I suppose my mother knows running into her wouldn't be the best thing in the world for either of us, although I'm getting kind of tired of having her in my dreams, she's been dead for almost 14 years. Hell, maybe she ran into Dean in the afterlife and told him it would be funny to poke me on a two lane highway on the south end of the Central Valley. I absolutely adore the California Central Valley, btw, I just love to see the fields and smell the garlic and alfalfa and watch the mature cotton sway. I love the vineyards and the orange groves. This probably annoyed my mother, who claimed to be allergic to everything and always wanted to go home to the Midwest, she was always annoyed that I didn't want to go with her, because if I didn't go she wouldn't either.
Well, that all came back to me as I sat up watching "Giant" last night, knowing I would regret the lack of sleep today but not regret watching the film. Although it ended the same way. Always does. Except that once Jett Rink passes out drunk in the ballroom we never see him again and I've always wondered how he got home.
I've always loved this picture of James Dean. I actually had a tee shirt with Mickey Mouse in that pose. Everyone thinks it's a screen capture from the film. Know what he was looking at? George Stevens. There are other stills taken at the same time, he was listening to his director. Which is why I think he would have stuck around.