When I first moved to San Diego in 1990 I was prepared to write the great American novel. Or surely the great American mystery. In the 25 years since I've written two "half ones"...but I guess that doesn't count. But the hope was still there back in 1990. I had retired from the Air Force and figured I could allot more time to the endeavor.
I had read everything Raymond Chandler had ever written...at least twice. The only mystery writer given respect by the critics, Chandler produced magic whenever he sat down to the typewriter...at least when he was sober.
"There is nothing so deadly as the trap you set for yourself".
"To say goodbye is to die a little".
"From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something to be seen made up to be seen from 30 feet away."
Sober or drunk, Chandler was one of my favorites. So, once I settled in up in the North County, I set off for a Raymond Chandler day....figured my muse would be entertained by visiting the former home of a "great."
So I got in the car and drove over to La Jolla, the home Chandler occupied when he died. I parked my car and wandered through the glitz and greenery of La Jolla, then followed the short road behind it, to a modest ranch style home situated close enough to the Pacific Ocean to smell the scent of salt and seaweed. I stood in the middle of the street in front of Chandler's home and tried to imagine the author pounding the keys forty years ago and turning out "Farewell My Lovely." The only remarkable thing about the house was that it was unremarkable; a 50's era ranch house that could not have been more than 1500 square feet, even with the add on study. Still it was Chandler's and as I stood there in the street, a freshening breeze at my back, and was transported back four decades...back to Film Noir...when men were tough and women were sometimes tougher.
The sparsely travelled road afforded me time to stand and think, but before long someone next door to Chandler's place came out to retrieve the morning paper and eyed me suspiciously, so I figured it was time to move on. I retrieved my car and drove down to Mt Hope Cemetery where Chandler was buried. I consulted the cemetery records and found where Chandler rested and walked through canopies of shade trees until I found the grave. Looking down on it I was a bit peeved. The modest headstone had been neglected....yellow fescue growing up around Chandler and wife, Cissy's resting place. Likely someone else later thought so too as his marker has now been replaced...in stately granite, the grass around it carefully tended.
So I sat down there beside Chandler and took an old "Farewell My Lovely" pocket book out of my back pocket, and read to Mr. Chandler.
"It was a blonde...a blonde to make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
"Pretty good, Raymond", I whispered "may I call you Raymond?" He didn't answer me so I guess he didn't mind. After an hour or so I rose stiffly and walked back to the car and drove down to the downtown waterfront. I was thirsty so I stopped off at a little place adorned with Schlitz and Miller Lite signs out front. I went in and sat down at the bar and started to order a Miller draft. Then I thought about Raymond back there at Mt. Hope. So when the bartender came over to take my order I order a Dewars on the rocks. When he brought it to me I raised my glass in silent toast to a fellow that gave me Los Angeles in the 30's, who taught me tough guys have a heart too, and showed me that words, whether of guns and gun molls, or fair maidens on balconies, can still be lovely indeed.
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”