Book Simple: The Accidental Denizens of Los Angeles Feb02

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Book Simple: The Accidental Denizens of Los Angeles


a blogumn by Amy Brown

One of my favorite things to do in Los Angeles is to watch the sun set from the bar at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica.  I’ve lived here for five years now and still feel a tremendous sense of awe looking out over the curve of the shoreline stretching up to Malibu.  Somehow the view of the stucco and the roofs feels timeless, as though nothing has changed since the early days of civilization here.  It seems like I could walk out and meet my father in the ‘sixties, going to work at Ramo Woldrich, now TRW, while Anita, his first wife, took care of their children in a ranch house on Euclid Avenue.

It’s the same feeling I have reading Raymond Chandler, a lingering nostalgia sinking me as a reader so deeply into the time of the novel that when I draw up my head, I expect to find the people around me wearing gloves and carrying guns, rather than Ugg boots and Macbooks.

highwindowThe High Window, published in 1942, opens on Dresden Avenue in Pasadena.  Mrs. Elizabeth Bright Murdock, “the widow of an old coot with whiskers named Jasper Murdock who had made a lot of money helping out the community,” has lost an antique coin, the Brasher Doubloon.  She’s quite certain the culprit is her disliked daughter-in-law, who has mysteriously disappeared.

This is not Philip Marlowe’s first case, and from the wealth of Pasadena, the detective is soon drawn into Bunker Hill, where “there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets.  They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt.”  No matter how far back in time you go, Los Angeles is wistful for a more radiant past.

Marlowe finds the coin, but along the way discovers two murders, that of an inexperienced detective and a coin dealer fencing stolen goods.   The younger Mrs. Murdock has some unpleasant friends – being a lounge singer necessitates that.  So Phillip Marlowe drives back and forth across the Los Angeles hills, from rich neighborhood to poor, in search of the hidden truth.

lasttycoonThe view from the Huntley reminds me as well of a passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon.  The narrator, Cecelia Brady, daughter of a wealthy movie producer, describes descending into Los Angeles on an airplane: “I could see a line of lights for the Long Beach Naval Station ahead and to the left, and on the right a twinkling blur for Santa Monica.  The California moon was out, huge and orange over the Pacific.”

The view makes Cecelia think of how the tycoon of the title, Monroe Stahr, arrived to the city. “You could say that this was where an accidental wind blew him, but I don’t think so.  I would rather think that in a ‘long shot’ he saw a new way of measuring our jerky hopes and graceful rogueries and awkward sorrows, and that he came here from choice to be with us to the end.  Like the plane coming down into the Glendale airport, into the warm darkness.”  That’s the best part of being a part of Los Angeles; the sense that life is an ongoing adventure, and that we “accidental” denizens of the city are among the lucky few to see its potential.

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