I would like to begin this article by announcing a couple of promotions. President Lovezap and Secretary of Treasury Amy are promoting their asses right out of Toastmasters and Cosmodemonic generally. Maestro Toe was elected in Lovezap's place and shall henceforth be known as President Toe. As you know, he is particular about his titles so you may want to take a moment to update your files. Also on deck, one faithful Cobra reader (Aureng Zebe [currently known as "Cap'n Wiffle --ed.]), one who faithfully scans the newsletter for mention of his name (Scholar Lee), and one (John) who pretends to listen while Aureng excerpts from various editions, all have doctorate degrees pending. In fact, Aureng will be Dr Zebe by the time this gets out so call him that, or else "kind gentleman who gave Cobra a taste of Fresno." Nah, that's too long.

"Why Fresno?" you may ask. Well, it's the raisin capital of the world, but that's not why. I went because that's where the University of California Fresno is, and that's where Dr Zebe and John-partners in life and love, and yeah, I'm gagging a little too but let's just say it's envy-teach. And let me tell you, I love having university professors in my circle however hard they try to get out of it (Scholar Lee, for one, is fleeing to Ireland on a post-doctorate research fellowship in the School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which I think you'll agree is a mouthful). So I drop in on them between the last days of class and finals, nod my head sagely when I don't understand the words they use, and go home with a sore neck.

Actually, this time I arrived with a sore neck because a horrible woman stole my seat on the plane. She was a skinny blond chick going to Fresno but dressed like a pilgrim from central Africa with toenails filed into points and painted pink. For the whole trip she studiously stared out the window, from the window seat, which should have been mine but she got there first and TOOK it, and clearly felt guilty about it because she didn't look at me or even forward once while I sat on the aisle and tried to pretend that I was not the sort of person who got bent out of shape by these sorts of affronts. So I missed most of the overhead, nighttime view of Fresno, but saw enough to conclude that it's no dinky, grape growing burg. It sprawls. It's flat, and it's hot. Did you know it was hot? I'd heard, but, heck, I live in Scottsdale, AZ, and I know hot and figured anything in California that wasn't Death Valley would be a relief. Unfortunately, the drop from 106° to 103° was less refreshing than I had hoped. But it was perfect weather for hiding indoors, which is one of my favorite pastimes.

Not Just Another Tree-Hugger: Dr. Zebe with a Giant Sequoia

The first building to provide me refuge was the Fresno airport, which is a lot like Burbank's, but without the TV stars (I'm way taller than Courtney Cox), and I sprinted to it after a brief, Jackie O-esque descent down the airplane stairs onto the tarmac. I don't think much of Jackie O as a person, but my, could she de-plane! Dr Z was waiting for me even though I was late (I don't know how, but I'm sure it was that lousy seat stealer's fault), and whisked me off to Club Fred-Fresno's most notorious nightspot. There we saw two bands, one of which was Monkey to the Monster, but I don't know which one. The second performed a song about tacos called "I Hate Fresno," and suddenly tacos-nature's perfect food-were nudging out oxygen in terms of my basic needs. Immediately. I asked Aureng to take me to some, and he did his best, leading me though the lonely streets of Fresno at midnight whilst telling me of the strange scandals and murders (really urban legend sounding ones like the madman with the pitchfork) that regularly occur in the vicinity, of which the Condit mess is only the latest. Oh, and that's where Anne Heche was found wandering and babbling in an Ecstacy stupor.

Dr. Zebe & a Giant Sequoia in a shouting match. It got really ugly.
Now before I go on, the thing you should know about Dr. Zebe is he's the most personable person I've ever known. Ever since High School I've been watching people clamor for his attention-which begs the question of how I managed to get any of it, but I'll let that go for now. The point I mean to make is when I report that he delivered me to tacos in the middle of the night, and listened to, nay encouraged me to opine about movie monsters, you should believe me not so much because my movie monster rap is so engaging (though it's pretty good, try me), but because that's the kind of guy Aureng is. On the other hand, when I got back and Partick asked me what I did in Fresno and I told him, "Aureng and I watched Evil Dead II, and talked about books and movies so much," he let out a groan, rolled his eyes, and didn't speak to me again for hours.

Partick was also unsuitably impressed with the vintage Burger King Empire Strikes Back glasses I got at Fez Girls in Fresno's historic Tower district. (I found Luke Skywalker & Yoda, Darth Vader & Boba Fett, R2-D2 & C3PO, but I'm missing Han Solo & Princess Leia, so if you happen upon one and the price is reasonable, please get it for me-I promise I'm good for it.) Anyhoo, what I'm going to do is skip most of Saturday, because most of its joys were too subtle for me to adequately express.

Okay, except for one thing: that's the day Aureng's dog ate my shoe. It's not a big deal. I still liked the dog, a black pug (the largest of the toy breeds, according to Dr. Z) named Wilbur. I still wear the shoe, for Pete's sake-but Aureng suffers from baseless guilt even more keenly than I do and I can't resist prodding it from time to time. Besides, later that night, he really got me. We were reminiscing about high school and I felt moved to apologize for my past behavior. I was a geek and a harridan, even worse than I am now. Boy, I sucked. So I said sorry for all that, and he replied, "Every experience in my life made who me who I am today, and I'm pretty happy with who I am so you only need to apologize if you don't like how I turned out."

I was to impressed with this masterly manipulation of guilt that I didn't even think to feel guilty. I just said, "Wow," and silently resolved to use this move as soon as possible.

Oh oh oh! That was also the night that I met John. He had been away evaluating high school students' essays. Remembering the essays I wrote in high school, I apologized to him as well.

The next day, Sunday, was my favorite because that's when Dr. Z took me to see the giant sequoias. They live about an hour away in the King Canyon National Park, which, counter intuitively, lies to the east; and which was a refreshing change from the flat, hot vineyards and orchards of Fresno.

Considering how big those trees are, they keep remarkably well hidden. At least I didn't see any until we drove right up to the rangers' tollbooth which sits across the inbound lane from a gigantic stump, and just beyond that a mature sequoia. Aureng paid the fee while I gaped at the trees. And they kept taking me by surprise. The only experience I can think to compare it to is Meteor Crater, which is sort of boring except for its enormity. "Will you get a load of that hole?" is about all you can say about it, but you can't stop saying it because it is one heck of a hole.

There is more context for the trees, that is to say there are lots of other trees to compare the sequoias to whereas the crater is pretty much just the crater, but that only adds to their strangeness. Unlike their neighboring pines, the sequoias aren't surrounded by baby and juvenile models that look just like the adults-and those just come in two models, huge and extra-huge. Near the parking lot where we stopped, there was a group of five or six of them standing around a brook, looking as if they expected a stegosaurus to stroll through at any time.

And there are signs all over that order you to ponder them. "Ponder this…," they say, or"…as you stand under this majestic plant, ponder the history it has seen…." Stuff like that. And if you think you might need assistance in your pondering you can buy a "Ponder Rock" in the gift shop to help you, but the rocks only have words like "serenity" and "joy" on them instead of something evocative like "big *$%#ing tree."

Dr. Zebe holding up General Grant--with one hand!

And for vegetation, sequoias (yes, I'm still talking about the sequoias) are positively loveable. That's why I've got a picture of Aureng hugging one a page or two back. I hugged one as well, but I'm trying to suppress the evidence because my ass sticks out about a yard in the photo. If you go, and if you feel the impulse to embrace one of them, you should be warned that sequoia bark is thick and sort of fluffy, which is why they have such success surviving fires, and which will likely get splinters in any piece of clothing or length of exposed flesh.

Unfortunately, our tree-gazing was cut short by car troubles. We were going to go to another site in the park, but Aureng's car wouldn't start until it was pushed down a hill by a group of handsome men with tans and foreign accents (how's that for a silver lining?) and he didn't want to risk stopping it again. I would like to go back someday and see more of the park, and hope my smart, buff, well-favored, and gracious hosts will invite me to stay with them again.

The next day, Monday, I got to see the University where Dr. Z works, and was very impressed even if he doesn't collect mail in as many places as Scholar Lee does. It was the day of his Introduction to English Literature class's final, and it was fun to see his students grovel before him when we met them on campus. Later in the afternoon when he administered the test, I stayed at his and John's apartment to enjoy the ac and read the latter's essay "'Is He No Man?' Toward an Appreciation of Male Effeminacy in English Dance History," which was appeared in Vol. 30 of Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture--a hard cover publication. We discussed the essay and other esoteric topics over dinner, and let's just say my neck was really hurting when I went to bed that night.

The next day my adventure drew to a close, and my return to the Valley of the Sun was marked by temperatures that made the Valley of the Raisin seem balmy in comparison, but that was the least of my reasons for missing Fresno right away.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 30
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