This haunts me — Philip Marlowe, the hardboiled detective of author Raymond Chandler’s oeuvre, is 42-years-old and was born in Santa Rosa, Calif.. If I weren’t such a fan, these fictional factoids would be of little interest to me. But I am, so they are, and having chanced upon them only recently has caused no end of soul searching this past week. To wit, I’m going to admit something in pixels and print that perhaps I shouldn’t:
Despite bragging hither and yon about being a Petaluman, born and bred — I was actually born in Santa Rosa.
Don’t hate me because I’m mutable. It was just always easier to say “Petaluma” when asked where it all started, since I’ve lived here, off and on, for like 42 percent of a century. And frankly, I never thought claiming a Santa Rosan birthright was worth a damn until last week when I learned that Chandler’s creativity, and Marlowe’s nativity, coalesced in a suburb just a few miles up the 101.
To fully appreciate this, you must understand the whole journo-P.I. relationship. As I’ve often mused, the type of schmuck attracted to the private eye racket is the same as that for journalism — it’s a spectrum disorder, with, say, “merchant marine with a Moleskine” perhaps on the far side and something more genteel like “newspaper columnist with a hangover” on the nearside. It’s the difference of being possessed of either a wandering soul or a wandering mind.
Private dicks are in the middle, and I swear that was going to be my next stop had I not found gainful employment as a public dick stretching my column inches as far as they would take me. Which, at present writing, is right back where I started. In fact, I write for a paper which is now the sister paper of the one at which I began, so I’ve either come-full-circle or am stuck in an enormous rut, treading a rat wheel I’ve mistaken for a career.
Anyway, I first wrote about this newspaperman-detective-maritime-mercenary continuum thing in my letter of resignation to the Petaluma Argus-Courier. This was when I was getting whimsical about splitting for Hollywood to seek my fame and fortune, only to be defamed and unfortunate enough to return several promising failures later. Had I known I’d spend most of my days squatting in an office at Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevards, I might never have left. The only redeeming part is that it was there that I finally deigned to read genre fiction and discovered the majesty of Chandler and his creation. The fact the fictional Marlowe’s fictional office was also on Cahuenga created an enduring sense of kismet.
So imagine my surprise when a random Wikipedia expedition led me to learn that Marlowe was “born” in Santa Rosa. If I’d known I shared this creative kinship with a fictional P.I. how would my life be different? I might have been inspired to write detective fiction sooner. My mother, a-roll-up-her-sleeves, elbows-on-the-table kind of broad, always pushed me in this direction, which is naturally why I resisted. What do mothers know about literary ambition?
More than I realized. I was a teen then. I’m someone else now. Admittedly, I’m more poached than hardboiled in my proclivities when it comes to genre. Mine is the kind of work you spread on artisanal toast and leave unfinished with a wipe of your iPad. Chandler’s is hot buttered gun metal. One can only aspire. Especially if your life began in Santa Rosa — you kind of have to.