Angels and Aliens: A California Journey

Angels and Aliens: A California Journey

by Mary Morris, Morris

Angels & Aliens is Mary Morris's long-awaited memoir, confirming her status as a master of the genre.

In Angels & Aliens, Mary Morris once again explores her experiences as a woman on the road, this time as a single parent, wandering with her daughter through Southern California and struggling to make it on her own. Posing as a…  See more details below


Angels & Aliens is Mary Morris's long-awaited memoir, confirming her status as a master of the genre.

In Angels & Aliens, Mary Morris once again explores her experiences as a woman on the road, this time as a single parent, wandering with her daughter through Southern California and struggling to make it on her own. Posing as a believer, Morris infiltrates New Age groups, flies as an angel through the Crystal Cathedral, and becomes a member of the earth-based unit of the Ashtar command.

As her relationship with her baby's father unravels and she is confronted with personal and financial setbacks, Morris tries to understand how other people cope with their lives, and places these systems of coping withing the broader context of American culture.

Written with humor and hope, this travel memoir is both a life-affirming story of one woman's journey through the emotional terrain of the heart, and a clear-eyed journalist's account of the true nature of California as a state of exodus, home to sun seekers, spiritual believers, and cults. Combining her gift as a story teller, which is apparent in her fiction, and the powerful sense of place she brings to her nonfiction, Morris gives us a traveler's tale for the millennium when there's no place to go but up.

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Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Going to California Mary Morris has earned a deservedly large following, especially among women readers. She has six novels to her credit, but it's her travel-oriented nonfiction books for which she is best known. Those books, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone (which, by the way, has a particularly good section about her stay in Miguel de Allende in Mexico) and Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail, crystallized for many readers a uniquely feminine take on the experience of travel. Morris describes the reactions and attitudes she encountered on her wanderings. But — and it's this that makes the books special — she also writes about travel, with all of its stresses and revelations, as a prism through which a modern woman can discover herself. She's been away from home again, this time leaving New York for southern California, and she's chronicled the experience in Angels and Aliens: A California Journey. This business of going west — quite apart from the story of our nation's westward expansion — and settling in the sunny SoCal region, as the TV weather mavens there like to call it, is a remarkably common American experience. I know. I once did it myself. (I deny responsibility for the old joke that the country was once tilted and everything that was loose rolled into California.) Have you ever landed at Orange County's John Wayne International Airport? Mary Morris did and was greeted appropriately, in this icon-rich land, by its gigantic statue of the actor, looking pleasant enough but packingasix-shooter. Within minutes of landing, and in the shadow of John Wayne, she is thinking: "I've made the mistake of my life." This, too, is a remarkably common American experience. For one thing, Morris is hauling more than a typewriter and luggage. She is carrying her ten-month-old daughter, Kate. Back in New York, on the other side of the continent, is the life she knew before and also Kate's father. He was going to be here, too, but it seems he didn't take the professorship after all and they've separated. And now she's here, locked into a university teaching job created for her in the hopes of getting him, alone, and starting over. Now some readers will argue that, if you have to start over in adverse circumstances, you might as well do so in a house in Laguna Beach with a patio that offers a view of the Pacific Ocean. And that may well be so, but of course you still have your battered luggage in the closet of your mind. But Morris does start over, amid the varied and seemingly meaningful images of California: everything from the La Brea tar pits to the Christmas laser show at Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral to dolphins playing in the surf at Malibu. And where her California journey, vividly recounted in Angels and Aliens, ultimately leads her is yet another very common story, so common that I think many readers, both male and female, will find it hauntingly familiar. —Alan Ryan

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.77(w) x 8.57(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

From the window of the plane I follow roads that zigzag through the middle of nowhere. I try to imagine where they are heading. Below me a desert stretches, red and cracked. As we fly across the country, I watch the east recede. When we crossed the Mississippi, childhood slipped away. I am a grown-up now, with grown-up concerns. My daughter, Kate, sits on my lap, her face pressed to the window. My arms ache from holding her.

    It is mainly a flight of businessmen, and the man beside me has been working since we got on this plane. When he first saw that he was sitting next to a woman with a baby, he said, "They should have special seating for you." Then he looked away, turning to his papers. I wish I could turn to mine. I've always worked well on trains and planes, in motion. But we are crammed in here.

    I point to the clouds. What do you see? Dinosaurs, a rabbit, Superman? My eyes follow the roads, searching for towns, a house, someplace where they go. There is so much space, so much room in between. Lonely houses stand on hills. Nothing can grow here. We may as well be flying over the moon.

    As I left the East Coast, my brother pressed a book into my hands. A longtime science fiction buff, he wanted to convince me that I cannot teach literature, or writing for that matter, if I am not familiar with this remarkable genre. On the plane to Orange County, as the baby dozes in my arms, I read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury--a former Midwesterner like myself, who also moved to Southern California.

    I read these words: "We've got to forget Earth and how things were. We've got to look at what we have here and how different it is. I get a hell of a lot of fun out of just the weather.... It's Martian weather. Hot as hell daytime, cold as hell nights. I get a kick out of the different flowers and different rain. I came to Mars to retire and I wanted to retire in a place where everything is different."

    That is what I want as well. A place where everything is different from what has been. Where I can forget what needs to be forgotten and begin again. Yet as the plane circles to land, suddenly I am not so certain. My mother's words from decades ago come back to haunt me. "You take yourself with you," she said in 1967 as she put me aboard the SS France. And, of course, she was right.

    At the airport, people mill about, smiling, in pastel shirts and khaki trousers, with rehearsed casualness. Everyone seems willing to help. A man in shorts carries one of my bags. "You'll be okay?" he asks.

    I blink, fighting back tears. Then I find myself, weeping, in the shadow of John Wayne. The Duke looms above me in his tengallon hat, boots with spurs. His statue at John Wayne International Airport where I have landed seems affable enough, relaxed and friendly, but looks can be deceiving, I tell myself, as I peer at the gun and holster strapped to his side. I have sought shade for my baby and me beneath the blinding noonday sun. "Are you all right?" the man in shorts asks again. Clutching the baby in one arm and my typewriter in the other, I nod, knowing I've made the mistake of my life.

    My car, which has crossed the country thanks to a friend, is parked in the long-term lot. Squinting in the brightness, I fumble in my wallet until I find the ticket stub and the map that indicates where the car has been parked. Then I push Kate and our luggage on a cart across the burning asphalt and locate my Volkswagen, baking in the sun. All the other cars have cardboard sunshades, designed as sunglasses, palm trees, a bathing beauty. I make a mental note to buy one of these (I never do). Opening the doors, I let the breeze blow in.

    When it is cool enough, I drive through this land of perfect climate and giant trees, of huge red hibiscus and purple bougainvillea, to my house at the base of what was once the great Irvine Ranch. I rented this house last winter, thinking I'd be living in it with Kate's father. Now I am here alone. Standing on the patio of my bungalow, I peer down at the ocean. To my left a hawk glides over Boat Canyon--a narrow wedge of a canyon where a few shops reside. Taking a deep breath, I can smell the sea.

    The key is under the mat, where my landlord said it would be. When we walk in, the rooms are stuffy. No one has been inside for a long time. I open the windows, and the wind blows right through. By evening the temperature has dropped and we are almost unpacked.

    I spend my first night with Kate in that cool house, swept with ocean breezes and the scent of jasmine. My daughter refuses to sleep in her crib and will rest only in my arms. Awake in the light of the blue moon, I listen to the howling of the coyotes that roam the hills above my house. A neighbor has a deep bronchial cough. Somebody's wind chimes jangle in the breeze.

    In the morning I wake to a stream of relentless sun. Outside, my neighbor (a woman I will never meet), dressed in a string bikini, zinc oxide on her nose, wears a cordless Walkman that projects two antennae from her head, and I know that I have come to Mars.

I try to settle in. At the bank, I open a new account, and they give me seashell checks. At a pharmacy, I buy sunscreen and sunglasses in the shape of dolphins for Kate. We head down to Main Beach, where surfers ride the waves and continuous volleyball seems to be in play. Kate and I pause to watch. Bodies slick and muscled slam the ball into the sand. Overhead, a plane flies, dragging a sky ad that reads: JEAN, WILL YOU MARRY ME? LOVE, DOUG. I scan the beach, looking for Jean, elated, clapping her hands. Or perhaps humiliated, turning away.

    My car needs minor repairs. An oil check, a windshield wiper replaced. The wiper on the driver's side has been a problem since I got the car. For some reason it flips out of alignment and wipes the side of the car. In the yellow pages I find Ralph's VW shop, which is on Canyon Road, and we drive out there, twisting through the dry, golden-brown hills that line the road.

    Ralph, a gentle man with rheumy blue eyes, says he'll take care of my car while I'm living here. He has a son who stands off to the side, holding his father's tools, as Ralph cleans the oil filter, replaces the arm of the windshield wiper. "You won't have a problem with it now," he says, patting the hood. Ralph watches as I make the tricky turn back onto Canyon Road, and the boy stands behind my car, waving until we're gone. Even after we are well on our way, I still see Ralph's son in the rearview mirror, waving.

    Kate and I return to Main Beach, where young men in DayGlo shorts spike a volleyball and someone taps out a tune on his surfboard. We head to the sandbox. It is huge, with dozens of mothers and kids, and I tell myself it might be a good place to meet people.

    As Kate is playing, tossing her head of russet curls, she lifts up a little boy's truck, spins its wheels. The mother taps Kate on the arm. "Excuse me, honey," the woman says, pointing a finger at my eight-month-old child, "but that's our toy."

    Scooping Kate up in my arms, I carry her along the beach until we come upon a wedding in progress. A bride and groom are exchanging vows on the sand. Beside them is a rocky cliff with a sign that reads: HAZARDOUS AREA. DO NOT CROSS.

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