© 2018 by Valerie Morton.

Low Life in the High Desert - a California Memoir

Some weeks ago I contacted the new owner of Boulder House to ask for some photos as ours are not immediately accessible. I was also curious to see what was happening out there. I had read in the LA Weekly that it was now the go-to getaway for hip young Los Angelenos seeking some desert vibes, and old friends had confirmed that with up to 27 people staying there at a time it is party central. Bill Lavender who built the place wouldn’t disapprove. Bill enjoyed a party and came to ours, perched high upon the rocks, a gal on each side, watching the action below. He would occasionally drop in for a visit and we encouraged him to bring anyone he liked to show off his creation and former home. Each change we made to the old fortress was given the hairy eyeball. He agreed that we hadn’t wrecked it, but did warn that if we ever painted one of the big boulders he would have to kill us.

David had sent Low Life to him in manuscript, and was relieved to get an enthusiastic thumbs up from the old cold warrior. You never knew with Bill. Now, from his home in the low desert where he sits and reads all day in retirement, he’s delighted the book has been published. Despite initial reservations about going down a sad road, I am too. Most of all, I’m glad that David captured a moment in time in a unique place that has now passed, and has put that on the record. He was a great one for including his mates in everything, and in this way has immortalized once-in-a-lifetime characters  like Buzz Gamble, Ed Gibson and Ernie Kester who are now gone.

Not all the locals were David’s mates. Some couldn’t stand him and on occasion threatened to shoot him. In this deep redneck republican country his liking for Bill Clinton and loathing for Bush Snr and junior made him a target for someone with “a wild hare up my ass” and a big, liberal-lovin’ Australian in their sights.

Having worked at the Australian newspaper, David’s business card read “The Australian.” Americans often thought this meant that he was the Australian - a professional Aussie – or Ossie as they say, and he soon became known as Ossie Dave. Visitors to Boulder House wondered if we were going to take down the Stars and stripes flying on the world’s tallest flag pole in the cactus garden and replace it with the Australian flag. We never did. Instead we had a friend send us an Aboriginal flag which we hung beside Old Glory, unlikely mates twisting in the desert winds and dancing wildly when the earth shook from a quake at the nearby San Andreas Fault. We told people that this was the Australian flag and they craned their necks to look up and admire the beautiful colours.  When we left we gave it away. Nothing lasts long in the vicious desert heat, but maybe it’s still fluttering away on a flagpole above a desert 12 thousand ks away from home.