Raymond Chandler

Damn, man, I forgot.

I was gonna pass by Raymond Chandler’s place in Silverlake. Just drive by it. Slowly. Pass by slowly and think that Raymond Chandler used to live there. It’s was his birthday. He’d have been 125. People don’t get to be 125 years old. Not yet. And certainly not writers. Too many vices. Too little money. Too much truth, and lies. A lotta lies. But if you’re good no one can tell you’re lying.

He lived on Redesdale, on the eastside slope of Micheltorena Hill, maybe a third of the way down. The streets are like switchbacks there, the way they wind, and they send you back and forth, never really getting anywhere. You can get stoned and be lost forever up there, wending your way this way and that, at random. If you get to the top of Micheltorena Hill you can pull over. It’s dark there, with a view that goes all the way to Japan almost. The lights are intoxicating, scattered across the city’s plain, over that vast flat expanse of one story houses all the way to the beach. There would have been less lights in Raymond Chandler’s time. Less houses then. Less trees. Less cars. Less people, too. But the ones there were, what a lode of characters they must have been.

I started this a long time ago. I was gonna write about Raymond Chandler’s procrastination. But I waited so long I can’t remember just what I was going to write about. So now I’m never going to finish it. They call that irony. Like those pretty orchids reeking of corruption. Me, I like orchids. But I don’t write hungover.

The wife drew open the drapes and the sun is pouring in through the windows. There’s ten feet of window across, I think, another six feet high. You could see the whole city all the way to the ocean but for that ridge in the way. Because of it the rest of the world besides our hill and that hill and the little valley in between appears cut off from the rest of the city, the state, the planet. There’s just us and it, that ridge. It’s steep and green and cluttered with houses that go back to the late thirties and through the war years. We breathe art deco around here, scarcely notice it. The slightest little shop is deco, the fronts of houses, even an old gas station they just tore down and left an empty lot. Famous architects went nuts around the lake, building crazy wild modern homes for the moneyed hipsters of the day.  A lot of movie star money here once, long ago, a lot of industry people. A couple guys–now dead–told me about the old days. The castle across the way–it has multiple floors and a turret, and while it looks like a house from the front over there, it looks like a castle to us over here–would throw huge parties, with orchestras, and Judy Garland would sing into the wee hours, echoing everywhere, keeping people awake. Drove them nuts.

Raymond Chandler was gone by then, dead, unfinished. A little forgotten. Drunken writers, I mean the truly sodden, generally have to wait a generation to be discovered again. The people that knew them die, the fumes dispel, the sad later years are forgotten. Kids read the books, the wonderful classic books, and try to figure out what the hell is going on in The Big Sleep (I’ve watched it a dozen times, easy, and still I’m lost by the time he leaves the bookstore) and they marvel at just how good a writer Raymond Chandler was, and how he shaped in many ways who we are. You don’t live in Hollywood and thereabouts and not have your Philip Marlowe moments. The dame wraps her stems around the barstool and no way you’re not gonna answer her look, buy her a drink, take her up on the smoke. You might not even smoke cigarettes but there you are, looking cool, smoke wreathed around your head, thinking of detective novels and jazz and sex. I told a little prick off once, he was being an asshole to a couple dames next to me at the bar. He scuttled off, scared. I let him go. He gave me the eye. I laughed. The women laughed. He stumbled backward, fell. I reached out and helped him to his feet. Careful fella, you can break a leg that way. He laughed nervously and thanked me and came back to the bar. Scene ended. Just one of those things. Phil Marlowe wouldn’t have handled it that way at all. Phil Marlowe would have socked him one, the little wop, and the punch would catch him straight on the chin, knock him out cold. Glass jaw. The barroom beef would drag his crumpled form out and dump him on the sidewalk. The cops would pick him up. He’d come to, spluttering, say the wrong thing, get the hell beaten out of him. Thirty days. Later he and his paisans would come looking for revenge. Vendetta   A rough town this place used to be. Nothing hippie about it then. Men were men. Women women. They’d fight and fuck and cheat and fall in love. That took care of everything by the end of the book or the closing credits. The sad divorce tales were a generation in the future. Lana Turner. Mrs Robinson. One word: Plastics. But for now, two words: It’s Chinatown.

Raymond Chandler didn’t write Chinatown, of course. Getting way off track. Free associating made up stories. They didn’t free associate in Raymond Chandler’s L.A. That was far in the future. Things were too tough to wander off into random connections. Stories needed structure, narrative, had to make some sense. Even The Big Sleep‘s screenplay pretends to follow a narrative. Bogart pulls it off. The breathless pace that allows it to work. Had they stopped still for a couple scenes, the unconnected dots would stand out, drive you nuts, ruin the movie. But they don’t. You blow through that like Illinois Jacquet blowing through Flying Home in 1946, the Basie band a great roaring machine behind him, unstoppable. That’s Bogie in The Big Sleep. Unstoppable. But you couldn’t fool Raymond Chandler. He sat in his upstairs studio office, smoking, pouring rye after rye, wondering if he could ever write a good story again. The secretary walked in, said something, walked out. He watched the seams disappear up the back of her legs. She swished, each step perfectly placed, like choreography. He wondered if her lipstick tasted like apple or strawberry. He wondered, wandered, stared out the window, and a story disappeared, forever.

Raymond Chandler’s pad, on the left hand side, in 1934. Great view of the Silver Lake reservoir…which he called Gray Lake. “The last time I had been in the Gray Lake district I had helped a D.A.’s man name Bernie Ohls shoot a gunman named Poke Andrews. But that was higher up the hill, away from the lake…. [The house] stood on a terrace, with a cracked retaining wall in front….” (The Goldfish, 1934)

This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.

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Wallace Beery

(2013)

As I fell asleep Wallace Beery was yelling and when I woke up Bette Davis was yelling and now I can’t fall asleep again. So I tried looking for a photo of them together, to see the loathing. No luck. But I found a picture of Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford, and she hated the both of them, Wallace and Bette. Hollywood was a minefield then. Everyone hating and sniping and drinking and fucking.

We live in an old Spanish style duplex on an old street in and old neighborhood in Silver Lake. That’s next door to Hollywood. They lived here, those movie people. There was no Beverly Hills then. There’s old studio buildings everywhere around us. Silent movie studios full of silent ghosts. What to you are old movies to us might have been drunken arguments right outside. Parties spilling out into the street, singing and laughing and fighting. Shut up, we’d yell. We’re trying to sleep. Irene Dunne lived down the street. Her place is surrounded by an immense wall. If the parties spilled outside her house they’d wind smack up against that wall, trapped. Servants would come and sort things out. People would get home eventually and all would grow quiet again, interrupted only by the mockingbirds. There are nuns there now in Irene Dunne’s place. No parties. Just prayers and reflection. I wonder if they watch TCM and imagine Irene’s fabulous bashes.Those old Hollywood mansions have kitchens like medieval castles. Vast feasts were prepared there. You stand at the stove frying your eggs now and feel small.

I look out our bay windows and reality ripples, the glass is so old. Glass is a liquid and flows with gravity at a very slow speed*. It shatters in our time, but oozes downward through the centuries. The people who looked through that window unrippled are long dead now, probably buried in Forest Lawn over the river there, between rows of movie stars. Wallace Beery is over there. So is Bette Davis. Jean Harlow is too. Not Joan Crawford, though. She’s back east somewhere, New York, I think. Not the city, but outside, White Plains or something. I don’t know if that is sad or not, but you’d think that if any movie star ought to be buried in Hollywood it’d be Joan Crawford. But then this piece wasn’t about her, was it? It’s not even about Jean Harlow, sweet Jean Harlow, and William Powell placing flowers on her fresh grave. No, this post is about Wallace Beery, or at least the title is.

It’s funny, you say Wallace Beery in this town and the first thing people will tell you is what a jerk he was. They don’t like him, Wallace Beery. Even if they love the movies he’s in, they can’t get themselves to admit he was good in them. Not even Robert Osborne and he loves everybody. No, not Wallace Beery, that unlovable brute. No, not him. Like Wallace Beery would have given a fuck what they thought. Shut up, he’d say. Shut up, shut up, shut up.

No, you shut up, Jean Harlow yelled. Everyone yelled. Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, both Barrymores. Joan Crawford yelled. Greta Garbo swooned, but Billie Burke yelled, and Billy Burke never yelled at anybody. Bette Davis yelled, and she wasn’t even in the movie. Or movies. It was a Wallace Beery film festival and they’re all mixed up. As am I. So I’m going back to sleep, and hopefully no one will be yelling at anybody. Not even movie stars.

Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford.

Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford.

* Alas, I’ve been informed, this is a myth. Glass does not flow. But it is such a pretty couple lines I’ll leave it in. Literary license.

This can also be found on Brickspicks.com.

Rock’n’roll Ralphs

(2013)

We go to the Rock’n’roll Ralphs for the thrill.

We have our own Ralphs here in Silver Lake, but it’s all normal now. Silver Lake is all normal now, Silver Lake used to be Silverlake and edgy and new and leathery gay but that’s long gone, gone with the punks and the freaks and the vatos. It’s all rich people and hipsters with kids and beautiful single women. Ours is a nice Ralphs. There’s a couple Ralphs across the river in Glendale…there’s an Armenian Ralphs and an upscale Ralphs and between them an eerie underground Ralphs that always make me think of Beneath then Planet of the Apes. You enter the parking lot above ground and way in the corner there’s a winding driveway that leads you into the Stygian darkness below. Inside, though, it’s just a regular Ralphs.

But Rock’n’roll Ralphs is special. We always park on the roof and take the elevator down. That’s fun. Our Ralphs doesn’t have an elevator. And our Ralphs doesn’t have all these people either, these Hollywood types, who can’t even roll a shopping cart down a grocery aisle without looking like they’re trying to hustle something. There’s a lot of rock’n’roll types, hardened roadie looking guys with too much thinning hair and baskets full of beer and TV dinners. There’s Hollywood lifers, people who have obviously lived in Hollyweird their whole lives and have that sort of otherworldly jadedness that comes from too many nights and not enough days. There’s wackos that talk to themselves or each other and you think they might smell funny but they don’t really. There’s gorgeous starlets buying healthy little things and a bottle of white wine. There’s children with dad for the weekend picking things mom never lets them have. And there are celebrities who slip in underdressed and un-made up and try to pass as just another extra. Which works with me, as I can’t tell a celebrity from a ham sandwich.

This was Oscar nite, too, and just a couple blocks down the street from Rock’n’roll Ralphs the street was full of ham sandwiches. They come in big limousines and wave at the crowds and a zillion cameras flash. The women shimmer and the men don’t shave. I don’t know who almost any of them are, but the crowd does, and they ooh and ahh and scream and yell and hold on tightly to their autograph books. They take pictures from afar with their cell phones and post them on their Facebook pages. They cram together on the sidewalk, stomping all over stars of people who probably once walked that red carpet. Billy Barty’s there, and Valerie Bertinelli and Bing Crosby and Dane Clark whose face you’d recognize even if you can’t place the name. The Doors are there, and the Carpenters, and Zsa Zsa and Jean Harlow and Godzilla. This scene was made for Godzilla. This scene was made for Nathaniel West. He set the final act of the Day of the Locust right here, in front of Grauman’s, where the mob got ugly and out of hand and deadly. Not now. The fans are well behaved. No one gets drunk. No one gets tased. The stars wave, and the people wave back.

I did see a genuine Day of the Locust out there once. In this very place. We had just turned left off Orange onto Hollywood Blvd and into a phalanx of slow moving squad cars, lights flashing and utterly silent. They followed the saddest little Toyota you ever saw, running on fumes and four flat tires. The car rolled to a stop right there in front of the Chinese theater. It was the middle of summer and there were a zillion tourists and they couldn’t believe their luck. The line of cops couldn’t hold them back and they poured into the street like ants. The lady got out of the car exhausted and broken and laid down on the pavement as ordered. The cops rushed in and cuffed her before the crowd could get to her. They stuffed her into the back of a patrol car and took off. The remaining cops tried vainly to clear the street. Last thing I saw was Granny posing in front of the dead car. We headed east down Hollywood Boulevard, away from the crowds of tourists, till only locals walked the sidewalks and winos begged for change.

But that was then. The now was inside this Rock’n’roll Ralphs. I wheeled the cart up and down the aisles people-watching as my wife shopped. There were none of the glamorous starlets…they were all at Somebody’s watching the Oscars and dreaming and sniping. In fact there weren’t many movie looking people at all…this was the rock’n’roll side of Rock’n’roll Ralphs. These people didn’t go to Grammy parties, they worked them. They might look like hell here, rumpled and unshaven, but give then twenty minutes and they’re the sharpest bar tender you ever saw, smiling and cracking wise, shaking, not stirring, raking in big tips. I know this because there on the frozen food aisle two scruffy dudes were perusing the pizzas while their even scruffier buddy stared at his iPhone. Hey check this out, he said, they want me to tend bar at Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party. His friends hmmphed a cool, you like pepperoni or cheese? I knew right then that Seth McFarlane’s Oscar party was a big deal. No one would hmmmph a cool at something insignificant, not at Rock’n’roll Ralphs. Their mumbled cools said volumes. It meant movie stars, big tips, maybe even getting laid. Or an audition. Or both. It didn’t mean a score necessarily, but it did mean the possibility of a score, which is what the Hollywood hustle is all about. The score, the gig, a step up. It meant his buddies would be at home eating pizza and watching the Oscars while he was getting hit on by you’ll never believe who. It was a Hollywood moment, an Oscar moment, right there in the frozen food aisle at the Rock’n’roll Ralphs. This doesn’t happen at the Silver Lake Ralphs. It doesn’t happen at the underground Ralphs. It certainly doesn’t happen at a Von’s.

Not that I had a clue who Seth McFarlane was. No idea. A ham sandwich maybe. Somebody who scored. Someone who wasn’t tooling around a Ralphs on Oscar night like it was Disneyland. Today I find out he was the man. He hosted the damn thing. Some people liked him. Some hated him. Whatever. I imagine it was a hell of a party, crawling with ham sandwiches. And George Clooney. And Meryl Streep. No ham sandwich she.

Marlon Brando’s gardener

So I was watching Charles Owen’s quintet jam at LACMA on Friday–they were really cooking–and Marlon Brando’s gardener was dancing up a storm, a crazy expressive beatnik gonzo dance, all in his own world. Some hipster is filming him and trying not to look like he was filming him which made him really look like he was filming him and you couldn’t help but stare, like he was the lamest spy ever. It made the lady archaeologist mad. Made her really mad. She wanted to hit him, that hipster. She wanted to punch him in the face. It’s an odd thing, a mad archeologist. Somehow anger and archaeology don’t seem to go together. Simmering, maybe, or grudges even, but wanting to punch some goofball hipster in the face, I dunno. But it reminded me of George Zucco. George Zucco? She’d never heard of him. I explained how there was a movie called the Feathered Serpent in which George Zucco played a mad archaeologist. There was, too, and it was a perfectly lousy movie, except the villain was a mad archaeologist. A very limited genre. A jazz critic pal of mine on hand seemed to know everything about George Zucco. Weird how that happens, but he did. All his roles, even as a grave robber. He’d played an excellent grave robber, that George Zucco. Not many do. Chevy Chase would play a terrible grave robber. As would Richard Burton. I mentioned neither, so not to ruin my pal’s spiel. (If a guy’s playing a hand, I let him play it. I’m no kibitzer.) By now all the archaeologist’s rage had dissipated, the goofball hipster unpunched. Which was good. It would have ruined a perfectly splendid afternoon. We retired for drinks and babble, talking about Marlon Brando’s gardener again, and what a wonderful, wonderful town this is.

William Holden

Was watching Stalag 17 again tonight. I love that movie. William Holden is great in it. But wasn’t he always. A great actor and a real movie star. Not sure if he was too nuts about being a movie star. He seemed kind of conflicted. He certainly drank enough. I don’t think he was a happy drunk. He was a moody and temperamental drunk. Not a lot of fun to be around. Certainly no one was around when he fell and hit the edge of the table. It was teakwood and immoveable. He hit the sharp corner edge of that table and his scalp split wide open and gushed blood. It bled and bled. He was awake for a good thirty minutes there on the floor, thoroughly drunk, his lifeblood draining out of him. He would have slipped into unconsciousness eventually and finally his blood pressure would have dropped to a point where it could drop no more and he died. There on the television he was so tough and cynical and independent, a perfect postwar anti-hero, but I saw him on the floor bleeding like a stuck pig.

All this ran through my mind as I was laying on the floor tonight bleeding like a stuck pig. I had awoken there, or woken when I bashed my head against the corner edge of our own immoveable coffee table. I had fallen asleep and rolled off the couch and my head had crashed against the coffee table. I wound up face down on the floor. Bang. I put my hand to my forehead and felt wetness. A lot of wetness. I looked into my hand and the blood was pooling there, a deep gorgeous red. It began sloshing onto the floor. I yelled for my wife to bring a towel and tried to inch away from the sofa. Bloodstains are a drag. Meanwhile, I’m seeing Bill Holden and thinking man, what a ridiculous way to go. Him, a big movie star and me doing just what he did.

It was really bleeding. Soaked a towel, soaked through several paper towels. Soaked a facecloth. I asked my wife how it looked. It looks nasty she said. Do I need stitches? I’d rather not go the ER. That would be a couple hundred bucks. She said maybe if we use compression you won’t need stitches. We tried compression. It kept bleeding. I said OK, just call the neighbor and see if he can take me to Kaiser. But he wasn’t home. My brother wasn’t home either. After all, it’s Friday night. I said OK, let’s not worry about it. She brought me ice. After an hour the compression and the ice stanched the bleeding, How’s it look I asked. It looks like a cut. How much of a cut? About an inch and a third long. Up in the hairline? No, right in the middle of your forehead. Cool, I said, I have a hockey wound.  Like I caught a high stick in the face. Blood on the ice. I’d be back in the locker room getting stitched up. That’s the kind of wound this will be. Though I didn’t get the stitches. I’ll probably regret that in years to come, though. Maybe I’ll think it’s cool. Some alpha male thing anyway. I’ll retell this story, each time with more blood. Men will say dude..that’s fucked up. Women will study the scar and coo maternally.

OK, it’s been two hours and my wife dabbed it with alcohol and I winced and she stuck a big bandage over it. I can only imagine the beautiful bruise I have coming. There’s gonna be some funny times coming up. Especially job interviews. Did you ever have one of those lives I asked a few days ago. This is definitely one of those lives. But I need to finish this up and go get a few Tylenol, I have a headache that you wouldn’t believe. Something William Holden didn’t have to worry about.

William Holden's bruised face, Stalag 17.

William Holden’s bruised face, Stalag 17.

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Bing

Somebody just told me Bing Crosby was jailed for drunk driving in 1929. Right here in Hollywood even. I had no idea. 1929 was the middle of Prohibition. And Hollywood had been a dry town to begin with, before the movies came. So they hauled him in. They wouldn’t have dared a decade later, but this was 1929, and Bing was still a jazz singer then, and cops didn’t particularly like jazz singers. Or jazz trumpeters…the LAPD busted Louis Armstrong for marijuana possession a couple years later, in 1931. Vice cops were busy saving the city back then. They knew about Bing’s drinking back then. Who didn’t? But did they know that Bing and Louis would hang out smoking reefer in Chicago just a bit before? Probably not. That was a secret.

We didn’t know it, not in our family. Along with Jack Kennedy (or simply Jack), Bing Crosby (simply Bing) were icons in our house. Jesus and Jack on the wall, Bing on the Hi Fi. We didn’t know about the jailed for drunk driving, and we certainly know that he’d been a viper, getting high and cracking wise and singing with Satchmo…but we knew generally that he was quite the heller in his young days. That was a good thing, being quite the heller in your young days. It was expected. A drunk driving bust would have been perfectly understandable. Besides, the cops probably set him up anyway. That’s what we would have said. I don’t believe he was set up. I just think he was drunk. Bad luck. Somebody smacked into his car. Rear ended him. What can ya do? Looked it up–he was busted on Hollywood Blvd right there in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. No doubt I’ll think of that now every time I pass .Every time.

My mother called me the day he died. Bing died she said. It was like losing a grandfather’s brother, a relation you never saw in person, but knew all about. When my grandmother told my grandfather that Bing had died, my grandfather went pale. You aren’t gonna die on me too now, she asked. He recovered. No, No,  I’m not going anywhere. But he did not long after.

There’s never been Irish Americans as important to American Irishmen since Jack and Bing. Jack’s story is too sad for words (and Bobby’s even sadder), but Bing’s ended just right. That was a great game, fellas.  And it was.

Bing on the phone.

Bing on the phone.

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Harvey

You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space — but any objections! 

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey 

Facebook exists outside of time. It’s like the past and present are one. A story ten years old will be posted and commented on as if it’s happening right now. Yesterday I saw a thirty year old story that people assumed was new. I politely pointed this out. The commenters didn’t see the point. Thirty years ago or now, it didn’t matter. Forget it Jake, it’s Facebook time.

I keep seeing hoaxes and urban myths reappear. They  invariably are believed, often by the same people who knew they were hoaxes years ago when they went around via email. But email was a different universe. Different laws of physics. Time was sequential then. Email was how we communicated on the Internet, and the Internet was virtual reality. It followed the rules of reality. There was a then and a now, and what was then could not suddenly be now. People noticed.

People don’t notice now. And even if they do, they don’t care. They just hit the Like button. There’s time and there’s the like button. Liking trumps temporal reality every time. Facebook is becoming a whole other reality, devoid of linear time, devoid of objective truth, devoid of any standards of accuracy whatsoever. People will believe anything they see, and whatever is posted becomes reality, though only in Facebook. You repeat a Facebook story at a party and somebody will go to Snopes and make you look stupid. Someone else will go to Wikipedia and make you look stupider. There’ll be an orgy of smartphone fact checking at your expense. You’re not on Facebook anymore. Reality is harsh, real time is linear, and people can be rude, cruel and brutally sarcastic. They laugh, you turn red and retreat into the security of your iPhone. At Brick’s party, you post, surrounded by a**holes.

Sometimes I think that the Internet made people much more informed than they had ever been, and Facebook is rendering us all stupid again. But then again, Facebook is nicer. Pleasant, even. No one  trolls, and no one’s an a**hole.

Years ago my mother used to say to me, “Elwood, in this world you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey  

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