The desert valley was filled with fish. Chrome fish, bronze fish, plastic fish, gold fish. All frozen in space and cemented to trunk lids and bumpers; dangling from necks and rear-view mirrors. No one knew how many fish there were here, only that there were more than in any other part of the Mojave. American flags with fish for stars. Fish topiaries and libraries and cemeteries. Enormous fish on outdoor signs for hardware stores, mattress outlets and the like. Lacking mouths — and eyes and gills and fins — the fish couldn’t easily explain themselves to a newcomer, and to make matters more confusing, some of them were decorated with the Greek characters iota, chi, theta, upsilon and sigma, which approximated the appearance of Roman characters IXOYE. Ixoye?
Since no one here felt the need to explain the significance of these fish in a small desert community otherwise devoid of marine life, I was left to investigate on my own: A friend‘s father ran the Desert Mailer, an 8 12-by-11 ad paper delivered by, as the name implied, mail, and featuring lots of fish-embellished display ads. I finally worked up the courage to ask Steve, one of the desert’s only other Jewfolk and heir to the Mailer monarchy, what the deal was with all the fish.
“My God! You seriously don‘t know? They’re Jesus fish. They‘re like saying ’We like Jesus.‘”
“What about the IXOYE?” I demanded, pronouncing it “ick-soy-yee.”
“ICQUS” — he pronounced it “icthus” — “is Greek for fish.”
“And nothing. They’re Jesus fish. Eat your lunch.”
The Desert Mailer‘s office bungalow was situated on the town’s Main Street, which locals called Lancaster Boulevard on weekdays and The Boulevard on Friday and Saturday nights. During the 26 months I was detained in the Antelope Valley, the Mailer‘s parking lot became one of several default hangout spots on weekend nights — a place to convene with peers to determine the night’s main event. As often as not, the main event was hanging out in front of the Desert Mailer, drinking, sometimes, and observing or participating in an activity called cruising. The point of cruising was to drive up and down the street over and over and over, wearing a fish on one‘s bumper and listening to bad loud music until the point of deafness, exhaustion, incarceration or, of all things, orgasm. For in this strange corridor, this solar-powered outdoor blow dryer halfway between Los Angeles and the Olduvai Gorge, cruising — or loitering adjacent to cruising — was a form of foreplay.
It was early ’79 and I was 16. My older brother had just died, and I‘d inherited the 1971 Fury III four-door sedan that my father had given him. Fuel was getting expensive, so I sold the Plymouth and bought a ’72 Toyota with bucket seats that went all the way back. It happened one night that a girl named — through no fault of her own — Julie Andrews and I drank too much bad whiskey there in the parking lot, and then spent three full hours sharing drunken tongues in the ‘72 Toyota with bucket seats that went all the way back while around us the windows steamed the traffic lights into a soft, stained-glass kaleidoscopia as white people in tight jeans and pickup trucks drove up and down and up and down, blasting Foreigner and Journey and REO Speedwagon, hooting and hollering and vomiting, detonating firecrackers and so on. Julie was a year younger than me, and every bit as wholesome and lovely as her namesake. She was bright and wore geeky glasses and seemed as unlikely an explorer of a fifth of Early Times and a foreign tongue as I did.
And I remember emerging at last from the car, straightening up in front of the Desert Mailer Gang, feeling a bit silly to be feeling a bit proud of myself, standing curbside with Julie Andrews, watching people in their 20s and 30s and even 40s driving away their weekend nights, up and down and over again, with their fish and their Firebirds, wondering when or if I could return home.
Experience the Antelope Valley as you never have before with the new Desert Mailer Gang Julie Andrews Instant Multimedia Memorial. Download (1) a zipped QuickTime movie of the real Jesus walking on water (www.fmz.de3dmoviesjesu_mov.zip) from German visual-effects firm Mackevision 3D, (2) a crucial sonic excerpt from the song “The Sound of Music”(www.thesoundofmusic.comcast-recordingwavsom-som.wav) from the institution of the same name, and (3) some cartoon fish and their friends (www.briq.frbriqpagesVirtAnimationVirtSpritesFilmsfish.mov) from Briq, a French multimedia production house. Unzip Jesus with your local Stuffit Expander or the like, then open the resulting QuickTime movie and the other two downloads in your registered QuickTime player. Placement and size is important: Jesus goes at the top, Fish below and “The Sound of Music” off to the side; resize the movies so that the Fish frame mirrors the Jesus frame. Set everything to loop, crank up “The Sound of Music” and select Play All Movies.