Monday, April 23, 2007

What am I reading these days? Glad you asked.

There are times when I think that the glue that holds me together are the police procedural novels I keep on my nightstand. Books like Michael Connelly's latest: Echo Park. Oh sure, I read other stuff. Just finished Kurt Vonnegut's last book ( Literally his last one; he died last week ) . I'm slogging through Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Lincoln. Two " literary " novels beg, like a dog wanting to be fed, to be read. I've started them, but they're like marathon courses for 60 year olds. Starting them is one thing; finishing them's another.

If I wrote as much as I read, I'd be a prolific son of a bitch. Then again, what would I write? Might be what Jack Torrence's wife saw in that big old hotel in the mountains.

" All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy... "

That's from Stephen King's The Shining. Which I always have thought was about writer's block and what happens as a result of not being able to get it all out. On paper. There have been so many times when I've chased Donna around the house, wielding an ax...

Where the hell was I?

One of the book's I've been reading. Michael Connelly's Echo Park.

This one's the latest in a series of crime novels set in L.A. The hero, anti-hero, whatever you want to call him is Harry Bosch. He's the defective detective Connelly's been writing about for years. Bosch doesn't smile much and is haunted by the cases he has yet to solve. His pleasures are few. He likes jazz and an occasional vodka. He likes smart, sexy women, who don't ask lots of questions.

Before Connelly started writing novels he was a newspaper reporter. Covered the police beat, as I did once upon a time...

His beat was L.A. Mine was Holyoke, Massachusetts. But that's another story...

Back in 1972, soon after I was discharged from the U.S. Air Force, I flew out to L.A. I'd saved up some money when I was in the service. Had this fantasy. Wanted to travel, head west when I had the time to do that. So that's what I did. This was in the first week of May, 1972.

The first thing that happened to me when I got to L.A. was this: I learned that my luggage had been lost. I caught a cab to a cheap motel near the airport. And waited for my stuff.

Looking back on all that, I'm thinking: Pretty freakin' fitting. How many Americans head west to L.A., with the thought in mind: All that shit that happened to me, far east of L.A., all that baggage. I wanna start over, reinvent myself like some west coast Great Gatsby.

All that baggage. I wanna loose it.

And I did.

This was 1972. It was before Jack played Jake in Chinatown. It was long before Michael Connelly started writing his police procedurals. It was after Raymond Chandler wrote about lowlifes and long legged dames in L.A. It was after Nathanael West wrote Day of the Locust...

It was 1972. I was 25 years old.

The airport guys brought me my bags. I got a good night's sleep, woke up, walked to a car rental place and rented a car. A Gremlin.

I recall driving up to Sunset Boulevard, parking the Gremlin on a sidestreet. Walking down a steep hill. Thinking about what had happened just before I'd flown out to L.A. The actor Sal Mineo had just been murdered. He'd lived on a side street, just off Sunset. Sal Mineo, the nerdy friend of the character played by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

I recall walking up and down Sunset. Hitting some clubs. Having some drinks. Then walking back to the rented car. Driving the car back to the motel near the airport. I remember coming to a stop at a stop sign. A gray haired, middle aged man, approached the car I was driving. Tapped on the window. I rolled the window down.

" Can you give me a ride? " he asked.

I said, " No, " and drove off.

I've thought of that often in the years that have passed. I've asked myself: What would have happened if I'd opened the door?

I was a wet behind the ears kid back then. I was a veteran, who'd spent two years in England. Got to know that town like the back of my hand. L.A.? Piece of cake. I felt safe there during the two weeks I tested its waters.

There's a line, a memorable line from the movies. " Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown. "

Next to the screenplay for Casablanca, it's supposed to be the best screenplay ever written.

Chinatown. It's part of L.A.

That much I know. Understand it? Hardly.

Forget it, Jake. Forget it. It's Chinatown.

L.A.? I've never been back.

2 comments:

Terrance Collins said...

good stuff

Terrence said...

Terrance Collins knows L.A. And if I'm not mistaken, he's a Michael Connelly fan as well. Thanks for the comment Mr. Collins.