Day 149: Bay City Ditty

Like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler was a member of the “hard-boiled” school of detective fiction writers. He was born in England to an English father and American mother. At some point his mother brought him to the United States. During the 1920s he was an oil company president in southern California. When the company failed during the depression, he began writing short stories for a pulp detective-fiction magazine calledBlack Mask. When his stories and his detective, Philip Marlowe, became popular, he wrote some novels. Some of them were made into movies like The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Chandler’s stories are mostly set in southern California. Many of his settings are real places with fictional names like “Poodle Springs” for Palm Springs and “Bay City” for Santa Monica.

Laetitia met her group at the Guggenheim Museum. While they were touring the exhibits, a man in her group sidled up to her and whispered that he was a writer too, and wondered if she would read the beginning of his manuscript. It was only a few lines, so she sat on a bench to read it while the rest of the group viewed the things on display. It read:

“She said her name was Angel, and it sounded like she was looking for men interested in being missionaries. But there was something about that platinum blonde hair, those inch-long scarlet nails, that dress that would make the clerks at Frederick’s of Hollywood blush, and those four-inch spiked heels that didn’t add up. Maybe it was that while we often see angels in the City of Angels, we don’t see many missionaries. Or maybe what she actually said was something about men for the missionary position.”

When Laetitia handed the manuscript back, she said, “Angel could be a Raymond Chandler blonde, though he seemed to prefer ladies with lapis lazuli or cornflower blue eyes. Before the author could comment, the docent announced that the tour was over, and the group went back to Santa Monica, where they were spending the evening.

It was shocking to all Santa Monica
When a wife by the name of Veronica
Was had by her Fred
Though not in their bed
But in their yard near their Japonica.

Day 143: Frisco Disco

No visit to California would be complete without a visit to San Francisco. Laetitia took her group across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, then to Muir Woods to marvel at the sense of peace and harmony one gets when standing in silence under the towering redwoods. They rode cable cars, went to the Presidio, and, in the late afternoon, had drinks at a place on Fishermen’s Wharf overlooking San Francisco Bay.

In Laetitia’s group was a budding novelist whose newly chosen pen name was Cora Charles. She admired Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon, which is set in San Francisco, but thought it needed a sequel. Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, was a member of the “hard-boiled” school of detective fiction that flourished from the 1920s through the 1940s. Cora was collecting material for her soon-to-be bestseller.

At this point it seemed people were beginning to view Laetitia as someone with literary expertise and soliciting her advice about writing. It was a mistake, of course, but what could Laetitia do? Cora gave Laetitia what she had written so far for review and comment. It was less than one page, so Laetitia decided to read it.

“Behind the pebbled glass window that advertised his name and business in peeling gold letters, Samuel Spade shook a line of Bull Durham into a cigarette-paper trough, wet the edge with his tongue, rolled and sealed the paper, twisted its ends, lit it, blew a smoke ring, and let it dangle from his lips as he eyed the bundle wrapped in yellowed newsprint that Brigid O’Shaughnessy clutched like a newborn baby. She related—in the voice of a mature woman, but not entirely lacking in schoolgirl innocence—how she had finished her sentence in San Quentin, wormed her way into Kemidov’s household as a maid, purloined the Maltese falcon, made a harrowing escape across Europe pursued by Kemidov henchmen, and hidden out in San Francisco until yesterday, when the sight of a Kemidov gunsel nosing around her neighborhood suddenly reminded her that he, Sam, was the only man she had ever loved. Oozing charm and concern, Spade confessed that he’d had more than a few bad nights since he sent her over; that Miles Archer would have died eventually anyway; and that if she’d cut him in for half of the fortune, they could escape to a comfortable retirement in South America. She agreed, but when he insisted—with the professed interest in ensuring its safety while she went to pack her things, that she give him the bird—she did exactly that, as she walked out of his office, bundle in hand, to seek love and protection elsewhere.”

Laetitia’s advice was, “You might try to drag the story out a little instead of trying to tell it all in one paragraph. I doubt that there is much market of a sequel of less than one page. Terse is great, but there are limits.”

Fortunately, the maitre’ d arrived and told Laetitia that her group’s table was ready, so she didn’t need to pursue the conversation any further. During dinner she heard a story about a local resident named Max that provided the day’s limerick.

After drinking all night in a bar
Max sought love in locations bizarre
‘Neath the Bay Bridge in Frisco
In the loo of a disco
And atop a Powell Street cable car.