Monday, October 24, 2016

Peepers, Prowlers, Pederasts, and Panty-Sniffers

The night I got locked out of Santa Monica Square, I slept inside an adjacent low-walled flower bed, close enough to the beach I could smell its pungent whang, equal parts-seagull, parts-piss, parts-pollution.  Each time I'd punched in the security code trying to gain after hours entry, I was off by one measly digit.  I couldn't get my car.  I couldn't drive home.  I wasn't even drunk.  After bar hopping with a personal assistant I was just tuckered out.  I slept in the flower bed, waking to fog thick as fire season smoke.  Hours later, I went to a job interview on Wilshire, wearing the slept-in clothes.  I didn't get the job, but I think I actually tried to participate in that one instead of skipping eye-contact and uttering single-syllable responses, my interview technique for a prior industry employment opportunity: a production runner gig on the blink-or-you'll-miss-it Almost Heroes.

If I'd had a succession of nights like that then I might qualify for living life like one of James Ellroy's L.A. characters.  But that kind of sordid experience was the outlier. I kept my head down. I used my Ralph's card obediently. I looked like a freak walking places, but I didn't stick out plunged deep into the ever-replenishing thicket of perennial post-college, post-small town wanna-bes.   

Ellroy was at the height of fame while I worked at Brentano's. Courtesy of the film adaptation of L.A. Confidential, the same grim though hip aesthetic of Tarantino's work leap-frogged. Ellroy yet another storyteller gifted in holding a mirror up to a sordid, corrupt society hopping with sex and violence and anti-heroes.

Right around his ascendancy from crime writer to personality, Ellroy came into Brentano's, an agent attached to his hip, performing a none-too-irregular author walk-in. Back in the late '90s the intersection of La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard provided estimable access to a broad swathe of book retailers. Brentano's inside Beverly Center. BookStar at Beverly Connection. A Borders a block down between W 3rd and W 4th St. The Mysterious Bookshop on Beverly, just west of the Tail O' the Pup hot dog stand (I'm not sure if it actually was a Tail; the only hot dog stand I ever ate at was the Pink's on Melrose).

Interactions with celebrities were part of the daily Beverly Center grind. Author interactions were the times where my heart went a-flutter and I forgot wordsmiths went to the bathroom just like normal stiffs, and some, like James Crumley, given that penchant for booze, probably with leagues more difficulty.   

Wisely, I didn't so much as peep at Ellroy. Even though I owned several of his novels, I still hadn't read one lick of him. Conveying false familiarity and love threatens introduction to the tar pit. I'm still struck dumb remembering the Hubert Selby, Jr. interview where the 20ish interviewer admits he's seen Selby film adaptations only; he's never actually read the novels.

It's been years since I've seen a copy of L.A. Confidential other than the official movie tie-in trade paperback or the trade missing the movie promo, but sporting the same dark tidings crime scene photo.  I snagged my yellowed paperback from a Pomeroy thrift store sometime within spitting distance of high school graduation. At the time I had zero knowledge that the cover girl was Veronica Lake homage. Courtesy a roommate with a Rocket Video membership, I watched Lake in This Gun For Hire and The Blue Dahlia. I don't remember if her estimable panache informed or warped my experience when I finally read L.A. Confidential.  

Soured on Los Angeles, frequently embodying the drunk dick persona much to my housemates' dismay, I embraced the Missing Persons refrain "only a nobody walks in L.A".  The Larchmont neighborhood was easy walking distance from the duplex.  Funny thing about L.A., not only did almost no one walk, but all those beautifully manicured lawns were almost always unoccupied outside the landscaping outfits.  One night far too deep into my angry young man constitutional to make it to a public toilet I made use of the bushes in one of those pretty, eerily still million dollar neighborhoods.  Five minutes later, private security was pointing a flashlight beam in my face, wanting to know the p's and q's of my existence. By then I was up on Ellroy's biography and knew he'd spent years breaking and entering in such posh neighborhoods, exercising a penchant for rifling dresser drawers and performing ghastly acts upon undergarments. The real cops didn't show. The rent-a-cop drove off. Shuffling down the sidewalk, I probably entertained brimstone and apocalyptic finalities and more than likely shed tears over my lowly twenty-something existence.   

Last I saw, Ellroy was living in Denver, this after abandoning L.A. for Wisconsin then moving back before breaking off for Colorado, attempting to get back in the good graces of an ex-wife. Los Angeles is deep cored in his bones. It's not enough to write about the place. He'll be back before he's in his grave. I don't know how he can stand not to be there. Less than five years residence under my belt and the place worked fingers into me no one and nowhere else has or will.   


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