I was able to catch a ride on Mr. Block’s coattails last night, as along with Lynne Block and my chair David Rachels, I accompanied LB to a reception on the far side of Real City. The reception was held at the home of Richard Layman, expert on all things Dashiell Hammett and the ultimate term in Bruccoli Clark Layman, producers of (among other things) the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
The intimate get-together (x<20 people) was held because of another well known crime writer’s visit to the area. James Ellroy, self-described “demon dog of American literature,” had been in town for a couple of days, giving a talk at Flagship U (the library of which is the repository of his papers, totaling somewhere around a million pages… so far), and promoting his latest novel.
Ellroy hadn’t yet arrived when we did — in fact, our carload from Mondoville was first on the scene. This gave us the advantage of first looks at the Laymans’ gorgeous home, and first crack at the impressive catered spread, provided by a local Italian restaurant. I grazed a bit, drank some water, and settled into eavesdropping mode.
I have to admit I was a little nervous. Mr. Ellroy has gained a certain notoriety for his combination of exuberance and willingness to push people’s buttons (not that those buttons are hard to push in these hypersensitive days, but he’s done it for quite some time.) His persona (like that of Harlan Ellison) is that of the in-your-face provocateur, and there was a part of me that wondered if I was going to see some contemporary version of Appointment in Samarra.
I needn’t have worried. Mr. Ellroy arrived, in his customary Hawaiian shirt. As he worked the room, I was struck by his height — maybe half an inch or so less than mine, though his posture is better (not hard to do; I slouch through life with the posture of cooked shrimp). We shook hands, and after a bit, he fell into a conversation with Mr. Block while I continued to lurk in a corner. The two of them hadn’t run into each other in years, but they seemed to be enjoying catching up.
After a bit, I got up to get some more water, and asked jokingly if LB was telling Mr. Ellroy to try for a Mondoville gig. We laughed, and Ellroy said that his sole criteria for judging colleges were mascot, colors, cheerleaders, and sweaters (presumably on said cheerleaders, but that was my inference, rather than a direct statement.) So I said, “Wolves, Scarlet and Gray, not shabby at all, and the sweaters are nice enough.” He laughed and said that sounded pretty good. They talked a bit about someone I’ve met before, and after a bit, I got my refill and fell back again.
Another of the guests happened to be a fellow with whom I occasionally play trivia, and so he, David, and I chatted about things in general, mostly of a literary nature, and after a while, LB took a seat near us and joined in. The time passed quickly, and after a while, we were ready to take our leave.
Before we headed out, I thanked the Laymans for their hospitality (“For putting up with us,” I believe I actually said) and went back to Mr. Ellroy.
“I’m glad to have met you, Mr. Ellroy. Enjoy the rest of your visit. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
“God bless you,” he said.
“And you as well,” I said, and we made our way out the door, and back to Mondoville.