California VII: Red Wind

hearstYesterday, Dad and I spent the morning at Hearst Castle. We took the “Experience Tour,” which gave us a glimpse at the outdoor Neptune Pool, inside one of the guest houses, through several rooms in the Casa Grande, and in the indoor pool. (Well, not in it, exactly, but….) One of my former students, who now lives in Santa Barbara, urged me to watch the movie Building the Dream, which we did (and enjoyed), and to “be sure you drink out of one of the water fountains — even the water tastes expensive….” I did, and it did. Dad said a couple of times that the house “needs a lot of work,” but even for a “fixer-upper,” it impressed me.

After that, the rest of the day was spent along another stretch of Highway 1, and I have to add that one of the pleasures of the drive down was discovering KPYG 94.9 on the radio (KPIG in other markets) — great music and I loved the squealing pig for their station identification. (Turns out they’re on the web too and available for streaming audio.)

With the magnificence of Hearst Castle yesterday and our first full day in Los Angeles today, it might make sense for this post’s quote to come from the opening of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Philip Marlowe’s entrance at the grand Sternwood mansion. But I’m going to choose another of Chandler’s  works instead: “Red Wind,” a novella really and one of my favorites. Here are the closing passages:

chandlerred-1I went out of the bar without looking back at her, got into my car and drove west on Sunset and down all the way to the Coast Highway. Everywhere along the way gardens were full of withered and blackened leaves and flowers which the hot wind had burned. 

But the ocean looked cool and languid and just the same as ever. I drove on almost to Malibu and then parked and went and sat on a big rock that was inside somebody’s wire fence. It was about half-tide and coming in. The air smelled of kelp. I watched the water for a while and then I pulled a string of Bohemian glass imitation pearls out of my pocket and cut the knot at one end and slipped the pearls off one by one.

When I had them all loose in my left hand I held them like that for a while and thought. There wasn’t really anything to think about. I was sure.

“The memory of Mr. Stan Phillips,” I said out loud. “Just another four flusher.”

I flipped her pearls out into the water one by one, at the floating seagulls.

The made little splashes and the seagulls rose off the water and swooped at the splashes.

I know you may not know who the “her” is that the narrator walks away from, or who  Stan Phillips is or what all of it means. But there’s beauty in this ending, I’ll assure you, and I’d urge you to go back and read the whole story to discover it for yourself.

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