I tell my friend Quetz, “Count as soon as the screen lights up. See how far you can get.”

Sometimes we’re lucky. Quetz says, “Music doesn’t matter, does it?” and I shake my head no, waiting for voices. We can count to twenty or thirty when it’s a movie we like. Even Quetz says, “It’s too easy to have someone speak.” Even Quetz says that.

I say, “I don’t like voices in the dark, and then the face showing up.”

Neither does Quetz. “The voice never matches the face. It’s disappointing.”

We’ve come to like: orchestrations by Miklos Rozsa; inventive title designs, like the office building and the arrows in North by Northwest; what we think are Joan Crawford’s legs turning at the carport gate. Quetz detests bland landscape shots and credits typed over open fields. I hate John Williams.

What’s best are the aerial shots, even the sloppy ones from helicopters and their dragonfly shadows skimming along the terrain. We like the way that the camera descends from nowhere like a sudden cloud. Everywhere below is just rigid lines and intersections until the camera gets closer and closer, or the scene clips to the real story, and all that geometry suddenly means something.

So how to begin this, without a camera? Just yesterday I was flying back home after seeing my mom in L.A. and all below me was the giant square of Fresno. And all around it more squares—orchards and vineyards and farmers’ cattle grounds. How to begin a story out of this mess of order? (Quetz and I have been taking classes at Fresno State from an old crudgy professor. Abstract art. He says a couple things about the impossibilities of geometry. He says, Geometry, not figures. He says, Shapes, not stories. And then he looks blankly at all of us when we stare back.)

I flew in yesterday and saw where I lived. I want to be able to say that it’s like the Robert Altman movie I rented where an army of helicopters is spraying for Medflies over L.A. It made L.A. seem dangerous, contaminated. But L.A. is where a lot of us say we will go someday, four hours south of the Central Valley, crossing the Grapevine on I-5 and descending straight into a city of limousines and lights. In winter, when the entire floor of the Valley is shrouded in the thickest fog, only the rising of the freeway breaks through into the mountains, and then suddenly Los Angeles and you’re reminded that there’s sun after all.

From way up, even in my descending plane, I would have never guessed that the trees hide things. Small things: Robert Altman didn’t show the tiny triangular fly traps put out by the farmers. But we have traps here and the farmers look at them, sometimes with a local television crew filming as they open a triangle and see if a black speck is stuck to the lining. We’ve been lucky. None of them has been trapped here.

From Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press) © 2003 by Manuel Muñoz.
All rights reserved.