I brought a “civilian” friend with me to the James Ellroy public speaking event in the grand auditorium of Glendale Community College. My friend asked me, “have you ever seen Ellroy at a public speaking engagement? Like, on YouTube or anything?” When I replied, “no,” he laughed like a goon.
Some professor gave a rambling introduction that highlighted works from Ellroy’s career. When Ellroy took the stage he boomed into the mic, “what’s up, MOTHERFUCKERS?” He then called the entire distinguished staff and student body of GCC, “perverts and pederasts” and went on delivering an extemporaneous style speech about nothing and everything, before taking questions from the student body.
He is a peculiar man, by his own account, who lives very much in his own world. He proudly proclaimed that he does not own a cell phone, let alone a computer, and has never been on the internet. He handwrites his outlines and manuscripts, types them on hundred fifty pages at a time and ships them off to his publisher. He is an absolutely unique specimen in the common era, and practically a dinosaur in terms of his workflow. Rails against modern technology and Obama unsurprisingly made their way into his speech.
I found myself lining up to meet Mr. Ellroy after the speaking engagement. He perched himself at his podium onstage while tens of students formed a line agianst the auditorium wall. Thankfully, my friend lent me a copy of L.A. Confidential for its author to sign. My heart began to pound and a lump of a question formed in my throat when I shook Mr. Ellroy’s hand. The only words I could form were, “I’m from dog dick dog breath San Gabriel Valley, too.” He told me that being from Monrovia is better than being from El Monte (although the southern unincorporated Monrovia borders El Monte). I then asked him if he was in an Anonymous program, based on his continuous mentioning of believing in God and a Higher Power during the question and answer forum. He said yes, and we shook hands on sobriety. I consider that one of my many oaths to abstinence.
I then went about asking him the difficult question, the one that had lodged itself in my trachea. I asked how to go about investigating a cold case, as he once did for his memoir Mr Dark Places. He informed me that the Los Angeles County Sheriff handles all homicide investigations and that they would gladly let me see the files for my brother, I simply need to speak with a detective and file an inquiry. I’ll let it be my summer project.
Ellroy said that although his mother’s murder was the “formative even in [his] life” that “more urgenct, recent memories have surpassed it.” He eloquently summarized my unspoken feelings about a murder in my family. It is something that is always gnawing at the back of your mind, wanting and trying to understand the how and why. I needed to make this assignment about me somehow. Ellroy said he never received closure but that does not mean that the investigation process wasn’t worth it. I think that it allowed him to heal and to process his grief. He chalked everything up to having faith in God – that God would take care of things. Having familiarity with the twelve step way of life, I could sense that Ellroy’s High Power was the Anonymous fellowship’s nondenominational idea of God. This is a man who led a life of drug abuse and crime, and could not run on self will alone. Part of that sentence is a paraphrased aphorism from one of the Anonymous fellowships. The God from twelve step program literature is not a Christianity-based God like one worshiped by fanatical characters in a Mario Vargas Llosa novel. I wonder how Ellroy would feel if justice had been brought to his mother, though. Whether or not that would bring about closure. I feel that maybe this lack of finality is what leads him to profess his faith so devoutly.
Enough postulating. He was a nice man and it was a nice time.
He signed it to “Donkey Dave,” and told me to start going by that nomenclature. He said it would lend “an air of mystery” to everything but the size of my genitals.