Desert Patriot – Diorama & Photo by John Fraim
Anyone who has lived in the desert for a period of time have probably seen the lone trailers with some junk or cars surrounding them. Often, there is an American flag somewhere. With the gathered cars around the trailer, we can suspect some type of meeting is in place. Perhaps some new plan to keep the nation free. For out here, in the middle of the American desert, they know more about freedom than any other Americans today. You can call them as extreme representatives of one political party. There is no question they live an extreme life in the simplicity and isolation of their desert trailer.
A return to my first diorama scene that has sat in the basement since it was made last February. Since then, more than twenty dioramas have been made.
The modeling club meeting has a theme of creating something with an American flag in it. Of course, I thought of the square foot piece of desert landscape in the basement. It was made with a small hill in the back upon which the trailer would be positioned. A small parking area filled with gravel was below the trailer and in the parking lot were four olive colored cars. (The cars were made for the Witness diorama as government cars. I had some leftover and decided to place them in the parking lot.) A spray textured coat of Rustoleum paint over the plaster molding. Plants by Woodland Scenics and the bushes from overseas. Palm tree by Woodland Scenics as well as the trailer weathering of the N-scale trailer.
* * *
A road from the desert floor comes up into the desert mountains to the old man’s trailer. It changes into a parking lot below the trailer. Sometimes there are twenty cars up here. But today, there are only four cars. It is a small meeting. But perhaps an important meeting of just the top people.
What a view he has. He says the view gives him vision. “It is impossible to have a small vision up here,” he says.
He was a powerful man whose history was woven to the military like a piece of tapestry. He had stories and more stories about the war. There is talk he suffered a type of brain injury during the war that made him – strangely enough – recall more things rather than otherwise. He seemed to remember everything. On top of this, he knew how to string memories together and make his words about them dance like the great bonfire on the hill he would create a few times a year. That’s how he met a lot of new people. He was one heck of an inventor with words.
The old man didn’t have a television. He only had one solar operated radio, his only contact with the outside world. He listened to talk radio day and night. It reinforced his belief conspiracies were running rampant over the land. He had grown up in Los Angeles when Orange county was full of orange trees and the Pasadena Freeway was the nation’s first freeway with cars going no faster than fifty miles per hour.
* * *
He moved to Los Angeles right after the war. Like so many other young soldiers did. He got a job in the motion picture business. He started trying to sell his scripts until his few break-out scripts and films from them. He rose quickly through the ranks from writer to director to producer to an executive at one of the biggest studios in town. It was that rarified time when Hollywood still had a grand vision of expressing and then changing the vision of America. The old man remembered how true this had been at the time. His movies were shown in great cathedrals like the famous Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood.
The world began to change so much for him. He began coming to the desert from his big executive position at a studio in Culver City. The 60’s were a difficult time for the studio and for the old man. He left the film business in the late 70’s and began living in the desert. Full time. He has been living in this current trailer for five years now. Members of his desert group help him pay his bills and bring him his food. That is what the network is all about.
He seldom ventures from his trailer these days at 80 years old. In the early years, he had a car and drove into LA a few times a year to see a few close friends. But this was all. He could see all the traffic and new suburbs growing out from the old center of the city that he knew when he lived there. When he got older and had a hard time driving, he would hitch a ride into Los Angeles with one of the members of the group. He had certain places he wanted to see at first. But they had changed so much since those early years that it was painful for him to see them. After a while, he stopped asking his driver to see them. The trips from the desert to Los Angeles became shorter and shorter until they stopped altogether.
It was no use going back to Los Angeles he thought to himself. Like trying to go back to a time that no longer existed. The old city he knew was gone to the new generations. Like it should be he thought to himself. The patriotism and unity he had seen in the Los Angeles of the 1950’s was now almost completely gone: the grand vision of the film business; now gone and splintered into hundreds of tiny genre market places.
There was no doubt to him that the American civil war was coming. Followed, not far behind, by the end of times for all humanity. It was prophesized in the Bible he always reminded.
* * *
So, today, we sit out on the hills behind his trailer with the old man. The five of us the top people in the organization the old man founded twenty years ago. The organization now has twenty chapters around the nation. It is more than likely that its members will be found in trailers out in the middle of nowhere. Away from the cities. The suburbs. The areas where people have congregated. The small spaces they are always jamming themselves into, like passengers on an airline.
Out here, there is little compromise to the god of urban space. The old man always uses this word when he tells us stories. The god of urban space.
His first years in California after the war, the old man did a lot of hiking in Yosemite Park. He has stories about hiking along the John Muir Trail. He knows Yosemite like the back of his hand and has read everything by Muir. As well as all the great desert writers. The Muirs of the desert.
It is good to be sitting here and watching the beginning of a new day come over the world, over the desert.
There is not another place that a new day could come into being in a more majestic and elegant and magnificent way than in the desert.
In the early morning hours, overlooking the desert, we sit on the hill behind the trailer watching a new day begin.
I imagine most people will see the old man as an extreme representative of one political party.
* * *
The old man seldom saw it this way himself.
“I just want freedom,” he would tell us. “I don’t want the attachments to parties.”
He would tell us that political parties were just t back-and-forth distractors, like the ball in a tennis match, he would say.
“Out here is freedom,” he would say as he reached his outstretched hands towards the great desert basis below us. “Why is this such a hard concept to grasp?”
It was hard for me to understand his idea of freedom, especially since I was born and still live in Los Angeles trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. I was taking the same path as the old man.
They call me his prodigy, but I’d rather be known as the Bugle Man for the 107 Desert Brigade. The Bugle Man is like a type of flag carrier for a group, like Crane’s young soldier in The Red Badge of Courage who ends up carrying the Union flag. Maybe this has been my role in this organization. One gets new perspectives on life and things when this trip to the desert is made. More than anything else, it seems to me that the American desert still expresses the greatest idea of freedom possible. That’s why it is important to live in the desert if you truly believe in freedom.
* * *
In Los Angeles, it is hard to believe the old man even exists. But out here, he seems the only true thing that exists. He seems welded to this landscape as if he was born right here where his trailer now sits. Life out here is so simple yet extreme. The old man lives an extreme life of simplicity and isolation in his desert trailer. But, as I said before, he knows more about freedom than any other Americans. And, why not. He is living in the grandest undeveloped pieces of nature today. Why wouldn’t he feel a sense of freedom?
So, here we are on this early morning in late October. An important meeting with the old man. He’s quickly called all of us together. He’s agitated in a state I’ve never seen him in before since I’ve been an officer in the organization.
“Something big is planned for July 4th,” he says.
Early Version of Desert Patriot (With more of a morning sky. Suggest this background photo substituted for the above)
Desert Patriot (Shot With a Different Background)