Thursday, September 13, 2007


While others solemnly commemorated the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Tim and I cheerfully headed downtown to hear local author James Ellroy speak at the Los Angeles Public Library. A native son of El Monte and Hancock Park, Ellroy is most famous for his darkly complex stories about the seedy underbelly of mid-century Los Angeles. “L.A. Confidential” and last year’s “Black Dahlia” are film adaptations of two of his better known works. Although we have never read his novels, we know him by reputation and were anxious to see him speak. But first we had to get downtown.

L.A. is, of course, notorious for its impossible rush hour traffic. Ellroy was speaking at 7PM, so we left the house at 5:40PM, motivated by a curt email, received earlier in the day, threatening to give away our seats if we did not arrive by 6:50PM. As natives ourselves, we knew better than to take the freeway and so flew down surface streets. It looked like we would arrive with plenty of time to spare, until we got to Figueroa and waited ten minutes to turn left. We then came to a screeching halt as road construction forced everyone to merge from four lanes down to two. At 6:40PM Tim looked at me and asked if we should just turn around and go home.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss James Ellroy after coming all this way!” I exclaimed and zoomed down a side street. Ten minutes later, I pulled into the library’s parking lot.

“Run ahead,” I told Tim. “I’ll catch up later!” It had taken just as long to travel the last mile-and-a-half as it had taken us to drive the eight miles from Culver City to downtown.

We checked in at 6:55PM and got the last pair of seats. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The man sitting next to me, however, was a nervous wreck, frowning at the door and looking repeatedly at his watch. There was an empty seat next to him. Obviously he was waiting for someone.

“Traffic is horrible,” I offered, trying to put him at ease.

“No, it’s my son-in-law. He went to validate his parking and I’m sure he got lost,” he said, wagging his head as if he still couldn’t believe his daughter had married this guy.

Meanwhile, Tim, who had run off to the restroom, came back with news of food being set-up in the courtyard outside the auditorium.

“Oh, yeah,” my seatmate explained. “They always have great food after these things.” The son-in-law then appeared and the man finally relaxed—so much so, in fact, that he slept through most of the program.

Ellroy was outrageous—ribald and profane and definitely not PG-rated. The woman who introduced him reminded the audience that the event was being taped for radio. All I could think was that every other word would have to be bleeped out! After an insanely crazy 20-minute speech, Ellroy opened the floor to questions.

The audience seemed more interested in his movies and sordid past (drugs, alcohol, jail, extramarital affairs) until Ellroy demanded they start asking about his books. The errant son-in-law raised his hand and, to my astonishment, Ellroy called on him by name! Apparently they were friends. I was dying to get the inside scoop, but he and his sleepy father-in-law ran out of the auditorium as soon as the Q&A ended. We saw them a few minutes later, noshing hors d’oeuvres at the head of the reception line.

The food in the courtyard was surprisingly good, especially since the program was free. Hordes of people crowded the salmon and tamales table, while Tim and I headed toward the desserts. We piled our plates high with fruit and pan dulces (Mexican pastry) and then stepped aside as the swarms descended. Ellroy mingled with his fans, but we couldn’t even get close. We left after eating our fill.

James Ellroy has called L.A. an ugly place where people “come to vacation but leave on probation.” Still, I saw only beauty as we emerged from the library’s parking lot. No sporting events or concerts congested the streets on this sixth anniversary of 9/11. There weren’t even any film crews diverting traffic. Just a strangely serene city.

We rolled down the windows and drove home.



Bruce said...

Drunk in the library
    James Ellroy's bio in Contemporary Authors tells us that before writing his first novel, "he had spent many hours in public libraries, where he drank discreetly while poring through twentieth-century American literature."
    He wrote in the LA Times, "I got sober in '77. I saw a way to honor L.A. and repay my big L.A. debt. A story had come to me. My sober state had allowed it to build. I knew it was a novel. I knew I had to write it.
    "I wrote it. I titled it Brown's Requiem and sold it. Avon Books scheduled it for September '81 and gave me a chump-change advance.
    "I blew town with the money. L.A. was too old, too new..."

Cyn said...

Yes, Ellroy actually talked briefly about being drunk in the library, but I can't remember the context at this point.