There’s nothing I can say about it that hasn’t been said before (but don’t bring up that misattributed Mark Twain quote again). It’s a constant worry. It creeps up, or it sprints in, or it just settles, or you wake up and it’s there. Anytime, any month, any mood. There’s no such thing as an easy BBQ in the park or a guaranteed vista on a hike. There is only Karl.
It can be cozy and comforting—to be wrapped up in down and hear the horn on the Golden Gate Bridge, tucked away in bed or on a Sunday morning. My love for the foghorn has endured even in my most frustrated moments.
But god can it ever be oppressive. The rotating plaint, fading in and out. It drives my sister crazy.
We measure time by it, if not seasons. In the Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan’s Jing-Mei Woo, Chinese-American daughter of a tiger mother before that was a term, tallied the fog horn calls it took her each day to exasperate her mother into abandoning her efforts to make her a child prodigy:
“I performed listlessly, my head propped on one arm. I pretended to be bored. And I was. I got so bored I started counting the bellows of the foghorns out on the bay while my mother drilled me in other areas. The sound was comforting and reminded me of the cow jumping over the moon. And the next day, I played a game with myself, seeing if my mother would give up on me before eight bellows. After a while I usually counted only one, maybe two bellows at most. At last she was beginning to give up hope.”
I get tired of having to wear a scarf and a jacket every single day. I have to plan my bags around how many layers I need to shove into them. I want sundresses and a wallet. I want the certainty that comes with being a southern Californian, that perfect, uniform times aren’t even just ahead—they’ve arrived. Here, summer is a deception and a disappointment.
It means that every moment is fleeting and precious. It means that nothing is certain. It means that you never get effortless days. This is not southern California, where you get mid-70s and blue skies, where it’s guaranteed to be precipitation-free for at least six months of the year. It’s ominous. It’s a mindset.
It makes us crooked. We get that California chill, and then actual chill. I think it’s why we’re weirder than almost anywhere else in the U.S. (Austin, don’t get upset, and has anyone ever been in the Deep South or the Far North? Cause that shit is next level). We put up with the freaks because we put up with the fog. And we become freaks because of the fog.
It’s always there, on your best days and your worst. It makes the misery a little deeper; it makes the times of sunshine a little brighter. It’s a reminder. It’s a curse. It’s constancy. It’s what we have. It’s what we are. No optimism allowed—we have to snatch our warmth when we can, and keep a weather eye out for its departure.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Page 135. Originally published 1989.