Friday, May 22, 2009


In my underwear for eight hours in front of the computer ...

And resenting the upcoming holiday weekend. How dare the post office be closed on Monday? I've got packages to send. I have a book coming out, and it's about Lena Horne, as all of you patient readers are quite tired of hearing. My fingers are almost bleeding from pounding out emails every day to radio hosts and book editors, asking if they'd received the galley. Many have not. But what a joy when an interviewer whose mercy you've begged hits you right back with a yes, as did Kris Welch, host of Living Room at KPFA in San Francisco.

"This sounds great!" wrote Kris. "I LOVE Lena Horne, her fire and her style, not to mention her prodigious talent. Send me the book!" Just as excitingly, has finally corrected my grossly botched listing. Pre-order away!

On this sultry afternoon, I am flashing back to my recent trip to sunny Southern CA. On April 23 I moved from my friend Joel Thurm’s rustic Laurel Canyon home to Fountain and La Cienega, and to the old-Hollywood-style glam apartment (see below) of my friend Darren Ramirez, the most debonair man in Los Angeles. I was there to cat-sit during Darren's ten-day visit to Costa Rica. Before he left, though, we were taken to dinner by one of his longtime friends, retired couturier-to-the-stars Jimmy Galanos (at Darren's left), now 84. Jimmy outfitted Nancy Reagan, Rosalind Russell, Diana Ross, and other renowned women of means in his class-chic designs. Having closed his design business eleven years ago, he now does art photography, for which he has a genuine flair.

The nattily dressed, ascot-wearing Greek welcomed Darren and me into the Beverly Hills house where he has lived for over forty years. We walked through room after dark room of shiny black marble, gaped at the hundreds of art books and biographies on display, paused before the little sculpted heads inside lit glass cases.

After showing us lots of his colorful abstract photos, he took us to Murano, a West Hollywood restaurant with Murano glass chandeliers and reasonable prices. In the opposite corner we spied Janet Jackson sitting with boyfriend Jermaine Dupri. She wore a wide-brimmed white hat but no dark glasses or other camouflage, and sat facing the room. She gave off a friendly and relaxed vibe; I heard her laughing with the waiter. Nobody bothered her. Angelinos are used to seeing stars.

I’ve seen a lot of them, too, in my twenty or so trips to Los Angeles, a place that seduces me even as I turn up my nose at it. In L.A., almost every creative effort is judged in terms of the grandiosity of movies and TV. Smaller endeavors are smirked at, even greeted with hostility, if they’re noticed at all. A cabaret act in Los Angeles, for instance, is roughly tantamount to a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a park bench. “I could never live here,” say I, Mr. Labor-of-Love, to anyone who will listen, adding: “I’m a New York guy.”

In many social settings there I am asked, “So what do you do?” – less in a tone of curiosity than of interrogation. The subtext is, Should I be spending this moment talking to you? What can you do for my career?

I’m a writer, I say.

“Oh!”  Their attention is piqued.  “What do you write?  Screenplays?  TV?”

No, I write books.

Oh.” The disappointment is obvious. Their eyes shift instantly to a place beyond my left shoulder, and I am switched off like a bathroom light.

So imagine my surprise when I took the bus (I can’t drive) to UCLA on Saturday, April 25, to attend several panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Booksan annual weekend event. There I wandered through grassy grounds amid thousands of clearly book-loving locals. “What the …” I thought. "We sure don’t have anything this fabulous in New York!" I saw white tents galore, housing the wares of big-time publishers and many others I’d never heard of, one of them specializing in Satanic books. Inside the halls were panel discussions and one-to-one interviews galore. Many were sold out. 

I attended one panel, “City Life:  The Manufactured West,” specifically to accost the moderator, Patt Morrison, a local smart-cookie NPR host who interviews many authors. There she was, so Southern California in her sombrero and shades. She carried a tote bag filled with notebooks and pens and such; with her NPR training, everything was timed and prepared to a fare-thee-

well. Afterwards she left quickly, with me in hot pursuit. I caught up to her and introduced myself, commending her on the great job she’d done. She responded warmly. I dropped my big, red Stormy Weather galley into her already heavy bag, and off I went to my next stops.

Inside Broad Hall I attended an interview between Dave Ulin, the L.A. Times book editor, and Dave Cullen (right), the Denver-based investigative reporter and author of the ten-years-in-the-works Columbine, his first book.

Was I impressed! Dave Cullen is passionate, tireless in his search for the truth, unguarded, and smart as hell. As Marianne Faithfull once replied when asked what had drawn her to Mick Jagger:  “He was just my kind of guy!” I’m reading Dave’s book – a page-turner that inspires trust from page one. He accomplishes the unimaginable: In his hands, mass-murderers Eric and Dylan emerge as humans, not monsters, monstrous though their deeds.

Afterwards I waited on line in the sun as he sat inside a little tent, signing copies. He chatted with everyone on line, asking them where they were from and answering questions about Eric and Dylan. When we met I told him of my efforts at self-publicizing my book. He asked me if I was on Facebook, and if I blogged.

Facebook ... ugh. That bastardizer of the word "friend," that

instigator of needless dialogue. I barely knew how it worked – and the Los Angeles Times had just dismissed it as “so yesterday”; Twittering was now the thing.  The thought of badgering people throughout the day with the trivialities of my life makes me want to heave!

But because Dave told me to, I joined Facebook. Within 72 hours, felicitous connections had resulted. And I am writing this blog, to add to the dense, sky-high thicket of overcommunication. If you like what you read, post a comment. It gets lonely around here. Then I'll tell you about Darren's haunted (by Marilyn Monroe?) apartment and stalking, yowling Sam the Cat ...


  1. Love you, James! Yes, I'm following you! Does that scare you? Looking forward to July 1st and you and Lena and Tom and Bart at B&N! Here's to a great weekend! Are you around Wednesday night?
    Richard Skipper

  2. Riveted to the reality we share the same lay out on Blogger and now having "pink eye" from reading every word of your west coast journey I must return to reality...but you look wonderful sitting at our mutual I MAC and I can smile a silent smile.

    Yes, you must blog, you must facebook, twitter and myspace because STORMY WEATHER is coming down the pike and, once again, you have topped yourself with your dedication, savvy strut, know how, panache, joi de vivre and dedicating yourself to putting the blob of gum under the park bench and flapping those gossamer wings. I saw you down on the strip but I didn't want to tap you on the shoulder because the Prince of Darkness was sitting against the wall and he was wooing his wife of all people...but you looked smashing all in the black for the Algonquin and what is waiting for you upon your return.

    Lady Haig

  3. Dick's Diana Ross Website:

    Check it out!

  4. Love the blog, Jim! And as for the "What do you do?" question---it's something that only seems to get asked here in the U.S. In Europe, it's considered rude. If someone wants to let you know what they do, they'll TELL you! I don't particularly like being asked what I do, and it's a question I try not to ask anyone I've just met. Instead, I try to get the answer through other means. I often take a cue from Arlene Francis, and ask, "Are you in show business?" Seriously! It usually works!

  5. Hey, nice job, James. I'm tickled that I played some role in getting you started.

    And thanks for the really kind words.

    I was also blown away, BTW, by all the booklovers there. I've never seen anything like it either. It was one of the highlights of my book tour.

  6. P.S. I'm still not sure I get the point of Twitter, though I'm enjoying facebook.

    I think that the pundits predicting that Twitter will be much bigger are goofballs. Do they ever get any predictions right?

  7. L.A is very competitive; truth is most people see social events more like "work", and are "working" to network and hopefully meet someone that can further their career (most likely entertainment).

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