Lilith's Rain Quest

January 4, 2008

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.

... Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Call me Lilith. Somehow on my journey from spurning by Adam to rejection by Spenser I never made the acquaintance of Ishmael or the sailing life. Instead, I ended up in the middle of the desert, where virtually the only water is brought from a distant river and pumped into giant square lakes where it sinks listlessly into the ground. No placid meadow here with a stream to sit by and meditate, and nor will anyone find peace of mind contemplating Tucson Water’s Clearwater Project.

There is, however, the rain, elusive like the great white whale, sometimes violent and destructive, mocking human efforts to tame it, but often soft and sweet-tempered, nourishing the earth. (Even whales, after all, are tender with their young.) I seek rain like Captain Ahab sought Moby Dick, determined to find it, capture it, and record it.

Last night’s rain, the first of the new year, kissed the earth gently and resisted my effort to measure it. There was, as the weather people say in flat bureaucratic tones, a trace of precipitation. I longed to call Spenser to tell him, but I knew I couldn’t. At least not yet.

Call me lonely.

January 8, 2008

I had nearly given up hope by late Monday, but but mother nature finally came through with .24” of gentle, female rain. A bit of a let down after all that huffing and puffing and promising by the Weather Boys with all their fancy toys and weather wheel of fortune in their windowless room on 6th Street, but welcome nonetheless.

Back in the day we didn’t have to worry so much about whether we would get rain, or how much, or when. But then spineless Adam kicked me out of his bed, and Ms. Goody Two Shoes Eve came along, and there was that messy business with the serpent and the apple. Before we knew it we were out of the garden and worried about all sorts of things.

And just so you know. All that stuff about me being made of filth and sediment and not pure dust, and spawning demons and such, it isn’t true. None of it. And Eve didn’t come from Adam’s rib either, I can tell you that.

January 28, 2008

In spite of a week of heavy breathing by the weather boys down on 6th Street, all we got from the weekend’s storm, according to my electronic gauge, was .04” on Sunday and .12” overnight into Monday. If I squint hard enough at my cheap plastic gauge, I can see maybe .2” or so.

Feeling peckish for a little weather talk, I decided to visit weatherman Chuck down at Channel 13. Always eager to show off his maps and fancy computer graphics, he invited me to visit First Alert Team headquarters, and greeted me with his patented cheery smile.

“What happened to the heavy rain you were so excited about?” I asked. “We got only light showers in my neighborhood.”

“I’ve been trying to figure that out,” he said, showing me a map he’d been studying. I looked closely at the isobars and isotherms.

“I see your problem,” I said. “You’re looking at a map of the East coast, and it’s upside down. It looks like a classic nor’easter headed toward Massachusetts.”

His smile morphed into a look of bewilderment and then embarrassed relief. “Thanks,” he said. “Now it makes sense.”

“My pleasure,” I replied. “And if you need help again, you don’t have to do anything or say anything. Maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle don’t you Chuck? You just put your lips together and blow.”

As I left I looked over my shoulder, and there was Chuck, practicing.

February 4, 2008

The 6th Street weather boys said it would rain on Monday, and it did, .35” on my electronic gauge and almost a half inch on El Cheapo Plastico. Why, I wondered, did they sometimes get it so right and sometimes so wrong? I decided to cozy up to one of the boys and see what I could learn.

Noah turned out to be a charming geek with a pocket protector and a sincere public servant face. We got together in an upscale downtown saloon, the kind of place where people with more dollars than sense pretend to enjoy Laphroaig and Caol Ila and other brands of Scotch whisky whose names they can’t pronounce.

“It looks like your wheel of weather fortune did ok this time,” I said. “But why do you use it when it’s so often wrong?”

“We don’t have a choice.” He looked around the room to see if we were being watched. “It’s one of the President’s ‘faith based’ initiatives. We’re told that if our faith is strong enough, it will predict the weather accurately and we won’t need scientific instruments. It’s our fault when it doesn’t work.”

“You do realize it’s chance and not faith that governs the outcome?”

“Well, duh! But even a broken clock has the right time twice a day. And sometimes we give the wheel a few extra spins to get closer to what we want.”

“Do you pray?”

“We pray for Inauguration Day, 2009.”

February 16, 2008

After Friday’s (2/15/08) rain event (.59” digital electronic, .8” analog plastic) I called über-cute weatherman Noah, who agreed to let me treat him to lunch. He wore his earnest face and carried a shiny new Macbook Air, the better to show me weather patterns. I wore a slinky dress and carried a seductive air, the better to help him shed his innocence.

“Goodness, what a lovely dress,” he said.

“Goodness has nothing to do with it, dearie!”

I winked. He blushed.

“How did you like our forecast?” he asked.

“Très précis,” I said. “I’m thinking you went against policy and used actual scientific instruments.”

“We did. Bush is on his way out. People are starting to ignore him. He’s irrelevant.”

“What about the next President? How will that affect the weather?”

“Well,” he said, if it’s McCain, I predict lots of violent storms but little rain. Clinton has a ten point plan to eliminate the drought in the southwest, but the best laid plans of Billary ... well, you know. And Obama just says there will be a change in the weather.”

“And Mother Nature?”

“She hasn’t voted yet.”

March 20, 2008

I returned from a trip to find my electronic rain gauge recorded just .04” on Monday, March 17th, and my plastic gauge contained only a damp dead fly. There were rumors of thunder and spitting, but it didn’t seem to have amounted to much. Clearly the rain dancers had been shirking.

I decided to call Noah from NOAA, who had been trying to call me.

“Lilith, dear Lilith, girl where have you been?”

“I’ve been to London!”

“To visit the queen?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“So what did you there?”

“I had a few pints with my bangers and mash: Old Speckled Hen, Bishop’s Finger, and more.”

“Did it rain in London?”

“Is Bush an idiot? Is Cheney barking mad? Do bears poop in the woods? Of course it rained. I was in heaven!”

June 26, 2008

Noah from the National Weather Service and Chuck George from Channel 13 were becoming anxious. Fickle Mother Nature, who in three months had reluctantly spat only a few drops of rain, dumped an awesome mixture of rain and quarter-inch hail, doubling the year’s total in one storm, full of sound and fury, signifying the monsoon’s impending arrival. But neither of her faithful admirers had heard from Lilith.

“I’m worried, Chuck,” said Noah, “this isn’t like her. With this much rain she should have called. Several times.”

“I know,” said Chuck, “and I wanted to have her on my show. Local! Late-breaking! Lilith!”

They went to her house in a trendy neighborhood west of the Tucson Mountains. The rain gauges had an abandoned look, as if no one had paid them attention in months. The house was closed and dark, and it looked like it had rained furiously. The plastic gauge stood at 2”; the digital gauge was inside, but by peering through the window they could just make out its reading:1.46”.

“Maybe she moved away,” Chuck offered. “Too bad. I’ll miss the old gal.”

“She didn’t move away, pretty boy,” Noah replied, “her stuff is still here. The rain gauge is still working. Something has happened to her.”

“So what do we do? Call the Sheriff? The Border Patrol? The FBI?”

“The Sheriff’s chasing tweakers, the Border Patrol is obsessed with poor Mexicans, and the FBI can’t find a handkerchief to blow its nose.”

“So you’re saying....”

“It’s up to us to find her. More precisely, it’s up to Spenser. We need to get him here, and quick.”

July 8, 2008

They burst through my office door like a pair of yellow lab puppies, all feet and eagerness. Hawk was standing behind my desk. I was in the corner, brewing a fresh pot of coffee.

They addressed Hawk and chorused, “Are you Spenser?”

“No,” he replied, “are you?”

They looked startled. “I’m Chuck George,” one said in a cheerful voice only a TV weatherman’s mother could love. “I’m Noah,” added the other.

“One of you have two first names, neither have a last name,” Hawk observed.

I decided it was time for me to join the conversation. “I’m Spenser,” I said.

“We’re friends of Lilith,” Noah began. “I work for the weather service, he works for Channel 13 in Tucson. We need your help. Lilith has gone missing.”

“Are you sure? Maybe she took a vacation.”

“Lilith? At the beginning of the monsoon? I don’t think so! We had a two inch drenching rain to start the monsoon. And another .12” on the 4th/5th of July. And overnight on the 6th/7th we had another .59”. She didn’t call us once. Her house is deserted. Duh! Something is wrong.”

I thought about that. A year and a half ago Lilith hired me to find rain. Now two blushing young acolytes were asking me to find her. I thought about Tucson’s summer heat. I thought about the giant chimichangas at Los Nopales.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll fly out and take a look around.”

July 9, 2008

A tad reluctantly I flew from Beantown to the Old Pueblo, landing at TIA after a raging thunderstorm had blown through town on July 8th. I learned later it had dumped .75” on Lilith’s forlorn house. I could tell from the look on their faces that Chuck and Noah had big news when they met me at the curb in Noah’s Toyota Pious.

“She’s been kidnapped!” Chuck exclaimed.

“Hold on boychik,* how do you know this?” I asked.

“We have a note from the kidnappers,” Noah replied.

They showed me the note, written in letters cut out from magazines and pasted onto a sheet of white paper.

weE havE LilleetH. IF u Wont heR baak u weel haVE to PaY. Wee weil kontakt u. Tucson Rayn Liberation Leeg

“What do you think?” Boy Chuck** asked.

“We know whoever wrote this note has a bad case of irritable vowel syndrome,” I replied. “And originality isn’t their strong suit. Beyond that, I can’t say. We’ll have to wait until they contact us. But worry not. Lilith will be too much for those jerks to handle.”

Boychik: Yiddish term of endearment for a young man or boy.

**Shameless pun.

July 15, 2008

I decided to camp out in Lilith’s hacienda and await word from her kidnappers. With nothing else to occupy my time, I could at least help ease the worldwide glut of Heineken and track rainfall totals.

Lilith’s rain gauges recorded .75” on July 11th and another .24” on the 13th. Depending on the rain gauge, the year-to-date rainfall totaled somewhere between 4.84” and 5.39” -- better than the normal 4.27” by July 15.

The phone rang, but it was just Noah checking in.

“Any word from the kidnappers?” he asked.

“Nada,” I replied.

“So what are you going to do?”

“What Yogi Berra said about baseball also applies to detective work -- it’s ninety percent mental. The other half is physical. I’m going to think for a while, and then I’m going to act. Just keep your shirt on.”

“And what if you don’t hear from them?”

“When I come to that fork in the road, I’ll take it.”

July 20, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night. Really, it was. Lilith’s rain gauge said we had .36” overnight on July 19th and 20th, and the incessant patter of raindrops on the roof confirmed it. Not to mention lightening bolts and crashing thunder loud enough to annoy the dead if not to wake them.

Sometime in the small hours an impressively big thunderbolt awakened me, and its quickly fading light for a moment illuminated what seemed to be a human form standing outside my window. It was quickly gone, and I was baffled. Whoever or whatever it was seemed vaguely familiar, yet I couldn’t figure out why.

The next morning there were no signs anyone had been there. And I still hadn’t heard from Lilith’s kidnappers -- if there were any. I was beginning to wonder.

Noah called to learn if there was news. I told him there was nothing to report.

“Pretty good MCS* we had last night, eh Spenser,” he said.

“Whatever you say, Noah,” I replied. “How are the animals this morning?”

For the meteorologically challenged, a Mesoscale Conductive System (MCS) is a persistent, organized system of thunderstorms. Noah thought you’d like to know.

July 22, 2008

When the next storm approached, I staked out Lilith’s house, ready to pounce if I saw anything suspicious. It was a brief storm, dropping only two tenths of an inch of rain.

Not long after dusk, the rain already over, a human form appeared standing just outside the bedroom window. I flipped on my flashlight and a figure with a deer-in-the-headlights look froze in place.

It was Lilith. “Don’t move,” I directed.

“How did you get here?” I asked after I brought her inside. “Where are the kidnappers?”

“Let me explain,” she replied.

And she did. There were no kidnappers. She had written the note herself, and then waited to see if I would come to rescue her. It was all a ruse. I’d been had. “Why?” I asked. “What possessed you?”

“I was lonely,” she said. “I thought to myself, you’d be so nice to come home to, you'd be so nice by the fire. While the breeze on high sang a lullaby, you'd be all that I could desire”

“Here we go again,” I thought.

July 27, 2008

A subdued Lilith spent a quiet Saturday and Sunday with me at her house, where she passed the time gazing out the window and hoping for a rainstorm that never came, notwithstanding the weather boys’ enthusiastic prognostications. It looked like the monsoon intended to take a holiday.

I tried as sympathetically as I could to draw her out about her recent behavior. “Let me try to understand,” I said. “You faked your own kidnapping just in order to lure me back to Tucson?”

“Yes,” she replied, looking sheepish, possibly for the first time in her life.

“That’s illegal,” I pointed out. “I could prefer charges.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t,” she said.

“It’s very touching,” I observed, “that you need me so much you would do something like that.”

“Understand this,” she said, recovering a more familiar Lilith persona. “I don’t need you, Spenser. I do want you, but I don’t for a moment need you.”

“In other words, you’re not needy, you’re wanton,” I responded.

“Guilty as charged. Most guys today, that women prize today, are just silly gigolos But when it comes to you, Spenser, anything goes.”

August 4, 2008

Mother nature played raindrop footsie with us for several days, finally dropping two-tenths of an inch of gentle rain the night of August 3rd.

Lilith, however, had more than footsie on her mind.

“Let’s do it, Spenser,” she exclaimed. “Let’s fall in love. Birds do it. Bees do it. People say in Boston even beans do it!”

“Lilith,” I said, “what part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand?”

“But Spenser,” she protested, “you do something to me. I think of you night and day. Every time you say goodbye, I die a little. It’s true love.”

“Lilith,” I said, a note of exasperation creeping into my voice, “there’s no fire here. You can throw all the Cole you want to on it, but it’s not going to burn.”

“But Spenser,” she said, “I’ve got you under my skin.”

August 29, 2008

Lilith continued to woo me night and day with Cole Porter song lyrics, so in desperation I fled to Beantown. Her friends kept me posted on Tucson rainfall -- only a trace, they said, with a storm on August 9th, and lots of sturm und drang but only .1” to perhaps as much as .17” on August 13th/14th.

Then a call from Noah: “She’s gone again, Spenser! No word, no note, just gone.”

Like a moth drawn to a flame I returned on August 28th. I arrived at Lilith’s house at 8PM, just in time to watch an angry mother nature pound us with a severe thunderstorm that dumped between .39” and .47” in a half hour.

At the height of the thunder and lightening the door flew open with a bang and Lilith herself stormed in. When she saw me, she barked, “What are you doing here, gumshoe? Get lost.”

First mother nature and now Lilith, I thought. Congreve* had it about right:

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned

Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

Sometimes the way of the world** just confuses the hell out of me.


*The Mourning Bride (William Congreve, playwright, 1697)

**The Way of the World, (Congreve, 1700)

September 1, 2008

The voice on the telephone was bright and energetic. “Spenser,” Lilith bubbled, “we had .08” on Saturday, August 30th, and .39” on Sunday. The monsoon just keeps rolling along!”

“You’ve changed your tone,” I said. “A couple of days ago you threw me out of your house!”

“I’ve grown, Spenser. I’ve found a new focus for my life.”

“And that would be?”

“Reality television. And politics, too.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” I asked.

“Be serious, Spenser! I’m going to produce a reality TV show where a group of women compete to be their party’s vice-presidential nominee. It will take place on Milf Island on the Alaska coast. We’ll have moose hunting, snowmobile repair, Alaska combat fishing, dog sled races, shooting contests, personal religious testimony. The winner gets to run for Vice-President.”

“What about President?”

“The winner chooses the nominee -- but he has to live in an old-age home in Arizona.”

“Have the political parties signed on to this?”

“Only one so far.”

September 12, 2008

Lilith called me again on Friday, September 12: Another half inch or so last night, Spenser, but I think the monsoon may be starting to wind down.

“How’s the political reality show going?” I asked.

“The VP tryouts were great. The whole women’s cheerleading squad from Iowa State turned out. Liddy Dole was there muttering about wanting to escape Bob and his damned Viagra. Rudy Giuliani showed up in a frilly dress and carrying an AK-47 shouting ‘Bring on the Rooskis!’ It was a hoot!”

“And the winner?”

“A hot number from our largest state, where she heads the local Know Nothing Party. A cocky wacko, if I ever saw one. But she’s a crack shot and knows how to skin a moose.”

“And she chose as her Presidential running mate.....?”

“An old goat from Arizona. He thinks she’s going to be his rich next wife, but he’ll be medicated to keep that problem under control. And we’ll put some lipstick on him.”

“And the other party?”

“Still talking about issues. Boring!”

September 20, 2008

In the middle of the afternoon I noticed a cloud that looked like it might be in Lilith’s neighborhood, so I gave her a call. “Did it rain on you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said excitedly. “Out of a clear blue sky we had .16” late this afternoon” -- I think maybe it rained only on my house! Mother nature must be trying to console me!”s

“Console you?” I asked. “Why would she want to do that?”

“The election,” she replied. “The campaign.”

“Things not going so well?”

“Miss Moose Skinner thinks she’s the one running for President. Mr. Magoo is clueless. Can’t remember his name some days, has no idea what he’s saying, keeps contradicting himself, still thinks she’s running for wife number three.”

“I thought she was going to shake things up, energize the base!”

“Oh, she energized them all right. As Yeats wrote, the worst are full of passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction.”

“Old WB was right on the money. I take it Mr. Magoo is the rough beast slouching toward Washington? And Miss Alaska is the second coming of George W. Bush?”

“Bingo! I’m worried, Spenser. Nobody ever lost an election underestimating the intelligence of the American voter!”

“H.L. Mencken is chortling in his grave.”

November 21, 2008

“SPENSER, IT’S SNOWING!” The words flew into my ear almost before I picked up the phone.

“Maybe where you are, Lilith,” I replied calmly, “but it hasn’t rained in Barrio Sapo in over two months.”

“I heard it almost rained once,” she said.

“There were a few drops. People were so excited they drove around the neighborhood taking pictures of them.”

“What’s happened to the rain dancers?”

“They’re shirking, big time. Speaking of shirking, where have you been? And when are you returning?”

“I’m in a state that’s round on the ends and high in the middle,” Lilith replied. “We got out the vote for Obama, and he won!” she added proudly. “I’ll be back soon.”

“And Sarah Palin is back in Alaska hunting moose,” I pointed out.

“Yes, and she doesn’t even use a gun. She tortures them with her syntax.”

December 1, 2008

After a half inch of sweet rain in the last week of November, I called Lilith at her hideaway. “I have good news and bad news,” I said.

“The good news?” she asked cautiously.

“A half inch of rain mid-week. Maybe we’ll get some spring flowers.”

“The bad? No wait, let me guess. The I-10 Bypass is back and they want to put it in the Avra Valley.”

“Bingo,” I said, “your friend Si Schorr’s Transportation Board term is almost up. He must be thinking of his legacy.”

“Legacy, schmegacy!” She spat out the words. “That nogoodnik should grow like an onion with his head in the ground and his feet in the air. All his teeth should fall out except one, and that one should have a toothache. He should turn into a pancake and the cat should snatch him......”

“Stop!” I commanded. “You’re getting carried away.”

“Hah!” she replied. “I have worse! He should marry Sarah Palin.”

“That’s going too far, Lilith” I said, “just come home.”

December 18, 2008

“So how much rain did we get this week?” I asked as we dug into our eggs benedict at a local eatery. Lilith had returned.

“The digital gauge says we had .04” on Sunday, December 14th,” she replied, “and .04” again last night, the 17th, into today. My el cheapo plastico says a little better than .1” each time. Take your pick.”

“You seem a little out of sorts,” I observed.

“It’s the season, Spenser. The State Transportation Board wants to shove a four lane highway up our ... er.. valley. The whole financial system has become a giant Ponzi scheme. And if I hear “The Little Drummer Boy” on the radio once more I’m going to throw my shoes at somebody.”

“Pa rum pum pum pum,” I replied.

“I told my ex, Adam, it would turn out like this,” she sighed. “One bite out of that apple that bitch is offering you, I told him, and things will go downhill fast.”

“He didn’t listen.”

“No offense, Spenser, but men never listen.”

December 27, 2008

I had returned to Beantown to celebrate the holidays, but I called a manifestly out-of-sorts Lilith to see if December rains had materialized.

“Not nearly enough for the month,” she complained. “We had .08” on December 23, and on the 26th we had .28” (that’s .16” and .45” on my pollyanna plastic gauges). That’s going to be it for the year.”

“I hope you at least had a nice Christmas,” I said.

“Bah, humbug!” she growled. “Schorr and his pack of sniveling yes-rats voted for the bypass, the stock market is so far under water no one can find it, and it’s too friggin’ cold here this morning. At this moment it’s warmer in Ohio than in Arizona.’”

“Anyway,” she continued, “I didn’t celebrate Christmas. I celebrated Festivus. I put up a Festivus Pole and held an inspiring Airing of Grievances.”

“What’s Festivus?” I asked.

“Spenser,” she said, obviously exasperated, “your cultural education has been sadly neglected. You need to get out more. Google it, dummy!”

I told her I would look it up. And then I asked brightly, trying to change the subject, “Do you have any plans for the New Year?”

“Plans? I suppose I’ll go places and do things.”

“Where will you go? What will you do?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Then she hung up.