Bill Lawrence, Issue 48, Editor’s Letter

Well dear readers, I bought the house. Two issues ago (Issue #46), I began the tale of the mythical, mystical Jay Stellar, who was born on a mountaintop in the Los Padres National Forest. When I left off, I’d just seen the house of my dreams that until that moment, I had no idea I was dreaming of. But a powerful force inside me took hold of my logical, pragmatic self and shook it until I opened escrow on an oversized three-story A-frame house on an acre of land with a huge deck surrounded by mature Pinon pines and views of a national forest.

Signing those papers was a huge deal in my mind. The deep, booming, voice of disapproval in my head was practically screaming, “Abort!” while simultaneously stomping on the neck of the excited, tenor kid voice that would have said, “Go for it,” if he wasn’t being choked. And really, that big bass voice had a point. I was a freelance photographer with no family, living job to job with a decent-sized mortgage on a house in Santa Monica. And with a few employees in my backyard office, I had sizable overhead to contend with. What was I thinking, buying a second house in an obscure mountain community three-quarters full of retirees and hermits two hours north of Los Angeles? Clearly not logical. And yet something strange was happening inside me. Somehow, this spur-of-the-moment, life-changing decision had to be seen to fruition. I was powerless to stop it, nor did I want to.

When you make a big decision, it’s kind of amazing how many other decisions have to be made as well. Once I opened escrow I found myself driving up to Pine Mountain every week making plans for the house. I would need to paint it, change out the carpet and the kitchen floor, and figure out minor details like utilities, phones, and cable. I couldn’t help noticing that my Volvo was somewhat of an anomaly among the trucks and SUVs in the neighborhood. I also came to the realization that I couldn’t really put a motorcycle into the Volvo, which I of course would have to trade for a Ford F150 4×4 truck. A few motorcycle purchases followed soon afterwards. I bought a Suzuki DRZ 350 for the roads and trails around the area, and a Fantic Trials bike for backyard fun. Soon a Honda CRF450 (a full on race bike) for the local motocross track joined the herd, but that’s another story.

I started leaving my home office in the middle of the day to shop for furniture, beds, kitchenware, a barbeque and snow equipment. I needed a whole new house full of stuff, and despite bouts of pure terror and mortification at the money I was spending, I had a giddy bounce to my step as I made one questionable purchase after another – a hammock, an easel, a birdfeeder. I even bought a second turntable so I could bring some vinyl up to the mountains. These were strange and unsettling times.

To top it off, I was experiencing a lull on the work front. It was as if the Voice of Disapproval had swiped my Rolodex and told all of my clients I had lost my mind and would not be available for any photography jobs and would henceforth be up in the mountains growing out his beard and painting still lifes of blue jays and pinecones. I was being tested. I don’t think the phone rang for a month. Was I making the dumbest decision of my life?

And then about three months after all of this madness started, I took ownership of the house on Ironwood Avenue. I’d been counting the days to when I could walk out on my deck, take a deep breath of mountain air, crack a beer, and gaze out over the forest. At about 3:00 p.m. on a Friday, my new truck loaded with stuff, I drove up the I-5, exited at Frazier Mountain Road, and wound my way 19 miles west into Pine Mountain with a sense of freedom and possibility filling my heart. I literally did not care anymore about the logic of my decision, or the list of pros and cons I had made and revised a thousand times. I stopped worrying about what it cost, or how my poor cat was sitting at home in my Perfectly Good House in Santa Monica wondering where I had gone, or how long this fever dream of a life would last. I rolled down the windows, turned up the Gram Parsons on the in-dash 6-cd-changer stereo of my F150 (Lariat Edition, no less), and sang along: “It’s a hard way to find out that trouble is real, in a far away city, with a far away feel. But it makes me feel better, each time it begins, calling me home, hickory wind.”

This was a new life – so new it still had price tags flapping in the wind – but I could get used to it. And I was sure I would grow into it. That mean old voice in my head was finally quiet, and I experienced a feeling of deep satisfaction as I drove through the winding, fairly treacherous descent into the valley of Pine Mountain known as the “S-curves”. The song ended, and I thought I would see if I could get any radio reception. I fiddled around with the FM channel, and was greeted by almost uniform static across the dial. “Wow,” I thought, “this place is so secluded that even radio waves can’t find it.” And then, bizarrely, Billy Joel’s voice filled the cab of the truck, and in the middle of the forest, I was suddenly in a New York state of mind. What was this radio station at the left end of the dial? The break in the solid wall of static was shocking. Curious, I waited for the song to end so that I could hear call letters or some other identifier. But instead of talk or a commercial, there was about four seconds of silence, and then Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”. What the hell?

But at this point I’d started up Ironwood Avenue. I turned my attention to the driveway of my new house, and checked the cup holder for the hundredth time to make sure the shiny new single key was still where I had stashed it. It was time to walk out on that deck and crack that beer. The mystery of the radio station would have to wait; but little did I know that solving it would bring the mythical Jay Stellar to life.

– Sam Jones, December 2015