Joe Brandt's Dream Of The 'Big Earthquake' in 1937

I woke up in the hospital room with a terrific headache—as if the whole world was revolving inside my brain. I remember, vaguely, the fall from my horse—Blackie. As I lay there, pictures began to form in my mind—pictures that stood still. I seemed to be in another world. Whether it was the future, or it was some ancient land, I could not say. Then slowly, like the silver screen of the "talkies," but with color and smell and sound, I seemed to find myself in Los Angeles—but I swear it was much bigger, and buses and odd-shaped cars crowded the city streets.


I thought about Hollywood Boulevard, and I found myself there. Whether this is true, I do not know, but there were a lot of guys my age with beards and wearing, some of them, earrings. All the girls, some of them keen-o, wore real short skirts. . . and they slouched along—moving like a dance. Yet they seemed familiar. I wondered if I could talk to them, and I said, "Hello," but they didn't see or hear me. I decided I would look as funny to them as they looked to me. I guess it is something you have to learn. I couldn't do it.


I noticed there was a quietness about the air, a kind of stillness. Something else was missing, something that should be there. At first, I couldn't figure it out, I didn't know what it was—then I did. There were no birds. I listened. I walked two blocks north of the Boulevard—all houses—no birds. I wondered what had happened to them. Had they gone away? Again, I could hear the stillness. Then I knew something was going to happen.


I wondered what year it was. It certainly was not 1937. I saw a newspaper on the corner with a picture of the President. It surely wasn't Mr. Roosevelt. He was bigger, heavier, big ears. If it wasn't 1937, I wondered what year it was. . . My eyes weren't working right. Someone was coming—someone in 1937—it was that darned, fat nurse ready to take my temperature. I woke up. Crazy dream.


The next day: Gosh, my headache is worse. It is a wonder I didn't get killed on that horse. I've had another crazy dream, back in Hollywood. Those people. Why do they dress like that, I wonder? Funny glow about them. It is a shine around their heads—something shining. I remember it now. I found myself back on the Boulevard. I was waiting for something to happen and I was going to be there. I looked up at the clock down by that big theater. It was ten minutes to four. Something big was going to happen.


I wondered if I went into a movie (since nobody could see me) if I'd like it. Some cardboard blond was draped over the marquee with her leg six feet long. I started to go in, but it wasn't inside. I was waiting for something to happen outside. I walked down the street. In the concrete they have names of stars. I just recognized a few of them. The other names I had never heard. I was getting bored, I wanted to get back to the hospital in Fresno, and I wanted to stay there on the Boulevard, even if nobody could see me. Those crazy kids. Why are they dressed like that? Maybe it is some big Halloween doings, but it don't seem like Halloween. More like early spring. There was that sound again, that lack of sound. Stillness, stillness, stillness. The quiet is getting bigger and bigger. I know it is going to happen. Something is going to happen. It is happening now! It sure did. She woke me up, grinning and smiling, that fat one again.


"It's time for your milk, kiddo," she says. Gosh, old women of thirty acting like the cat's pajamas. Next time maybe she'll bring hot chocolate.


Where have I been? Where haven't I been? I've been to the ends of the earth and back. I've been to the end of the world—there isn't anything left. Not even Fresno, even though I'm lying here right this minute. If only my eyes would get a little clearer so I can write all this down. Nobody will believe me, anyway. I'm going back to that last moment on the Boulevard. Some sweet kid went past, dragging little boys (twins, I guess) by each hand. Her skirt was up—well, pretty high—and she had a tired look. I thought for a minute I could ask her about the birds, what had happened to them, and then I remembered she hadn't seen me. Her hair was all frowzy, way out all over her head. A lot of them looked like that, but she looked so tired and like she was sorry about something. I guess she was sorry before it happened—because it surely did happen. There was a funny smell. I don't know where it came from. I didn't like it. A smell like sulfur, sulfuric acid, a smell like death. For a minute I thought I was back in chem. [Chemistry class].


When I looked around for the girl, she was gone. I wanted to find her for some reason. It was as if I knew something was going to happen and I could stay with her, help her. She was gone, and I walked half a block, then I saw the clock again. My eyes seemed glued to that clock. I couldn't move. I just waited. It was five minutes to four on a sunny afternoon. I thought I would stand there looking at that clock forever waiting for something to come. Then, when it came, it was nothing. It was just nothing. It wasn't nearly as hard as the earthquake we had two years ago. The ground shook, just an instant. People looked at each other, surprised. Then they laughed. I laughed, too. So this was what I had been waiting for. This funny little shake. It meant nothing.


I was relieved and I was disappointed. What had I been waiting for? I started back up the Boulevard, moving my legs like those kids. How do they do it? I never found out. I felt as if the ground wasn't solid under me, knew I was dreaming, and yet I wasn't dreaming. There was that smell again, coming up from the ocean. I was getting to the 5 and 10 store and I saw the look on the kids' faces. Two of them were right in front of me, coming my way.


"Let's get out of this place. Let's go back East." He seemed scared. It wasn't as if the sidewalks were trembling—but you couldn't seem to see them. Not with your eyes you couldn't. An old lady had a dog, a little white dog, and she stopped and looked scared, and grabbed him in her arms and said: "Let's go home, Frou, Frou. Mama is going to take you home." That poor lady, hanging on to her dog.


I got scared. Real scared. I remembered the girl. She was way down the block, probably. I ran and ran, and the ground kept trembling. I couldn't see it. I couldn't see it. But I knew it was trembling. Everybody looked scared. They looked terrible. One young lady just sat down on the sidewalk all doubled up. She kept saying, "earthquake, its the earthquake," over and over. But I couldn't see that anything was different.


Then, when it came, how it came. Like nothing in God's world. Like nothing. It was like the scream of a siren, long and low, or the scream of a woman I heard having a baby when I was a kid. It was awful. It was as if something—some monster—was pushing up the sidewalks. You felt it long before you saw it, as if the sidewalks wouldn't hold you anymore. I looked out at the cars. They were honking, but not scared. They just kept moving. They didn't seem to know yet that anything was happening. Then, that white car, that baby half-sized one came sprawling from the inside lane right against the curb. The girl who was driving just sat there. She sat there with her eyes staring, as if she couldn't move, but I could hear her. She made funny noises.


I watched her, thinking of the other girl. I said that it was a dream and I would wake up. But I didn't wake up. The shaking had started again, but this time different. It was a nice shaking, like a cradle being rocked for a minute, and then I saw the middle of the Boulevard seem to be breaking in two. The concrete looked as if it were being pushed straight up by some giant shovel. It was breaking in two. That is why the girl's car went out of control. And then a loud sound again, like I've never heard before—then hundreds of sounds—all kinds of sounds; children,