I half-expected the spirit of Dashiell Hammet to visit me in my dreams last night. He didn’t, but if he had, I suspect I’d have written something like this:
Hollywood reeks of hope hanging by a thread.
I’m killing time in the hotel lobby, sitting in one of these wraparound chairs that could’ve come from Laura Petrie’s living room. A threadbare-but-good-looking black guy in his early 20s walks in, sits down next to me, says nothing for about two minutes. My first urge is immediately to find another seat. I know he’s a pan-handler and I’d just as soon avoid his pitch. But I don’t want to give the impression that I’m the kind of person who gets up when people of color sit next to me.
So the guy tells me he’s had a hard day of interviews and is fresh out of cash. I know he’s lying but part of me admires the moxie of somebody who can walk right up to a total stranger and ask for cash. He mentions “if you could just spare me 3 bucks I could go to McDonald’s.” Then he starts inflating the figure, then he admits, “well, actually I’m going to buy beer with it.” He’s charming and cunning; with all that faux frankness he no doubt has a bright future in the music business.
I say nothing till he starts to give up on me, and just as he’s getting up to leave I surprise him and give him the 3 bucks he asks for.
He’s gone into the twilight in seconds.
We’re staying in a garish new hotel around the corner from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars’ names imbedded in the sidewalk have strange juxtapositions — grating TV cop Earl Holliman within 20 feet of beguiling screen legend Greta Garbo.
I’m here with a gathering of grammarians and headline writers. Most work for newspapers — an invisible, oppressed minority in our own newsrooms. We’re quiet people, prone to introspection and self-loathing. In the movie business we’d be the ones in charge of making sure all the names in the credits are spelled correctly, and that the gun introduced in the first reel shoots somebody in the third. But we’d get no credits ourselves.
We’re fish out of water in this town, for sure, but we’re safe here, in a way, because we’re not the kind of people who get mangled by the Hollywood machine. It’s easiest for us because we’ve abandoned all hope.
Well, not all hope, just the kind that keeps people hustling on these sidewalks. This town won’t give them a break, big or otherwise, but something keeps their engines running.
OK, time to stop this silliness before it catches on. It is kinda fun, though, to take on that hardboiled detective voice, contrived as it may be. But the whole town’s a contrivance, so it’s a kinda fitting.