Goodbye Chateau Marmont, you elusive cunt. Perched on a hillside overlooking a shapeshifting Sunset Boulevard, silent in your judgment. Dream invader, with your legends of greatness and tragedy. Desi Arnaz hiding out from his wife in one of your suites; Rebel Without a Cause conceived in a bungalow. Nicholas Ray, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable—such handsome lecherous men to grace your bedrooms. Their beauteous nymphets prancing your alley-like hallways, little more than fluff from a dandelion in a breeze. Stars were made within your walls. Bette Davis almost burned you down, twice. Wouldn’t that have been fabulous? You could have been a pile of ashes at her peep toe pumps. Instead, a new generation. Jim Morrison attempting coitus in your sycamores, Led Zeppelin shaking your walls, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s Friday night parties—Warren Beatty could cut a rug, I bet. John Belushi, of course, of course, admiring the fine frayed carpet as the fatal drug began to take hold.
Goodbye Chateau, goodbye. There will be no suite for this Los Angeles darling. A members-only hotel, indeed. Fine. Forever bereft of your love, left to the phantoms of your making. A reminder of heights not attained. But, ha! Joke’s on you. My grandmother’s ashes are scattered somewhere on your grounds. Now who’s haunting who?
Her wake was held in one of your suites decades ago when I was still young enough to be considered both precious and invisible. Shoving fistfuls of Jordan almonds in the pockets of my pinafore dress, excited because I’d only just discovered this candy. Sugary coated goodness, yes please. All the adults drunk on Gimlets and champagne. Music playing on a stereo, Pink Floyd probably. My father had just lost his mother after all, he was bereaved. Such a fun word for a child. Buur-eaved. Like a sassy beaver. Like Mr. Toad with a top hat and a fast car swinging around the country side. Poop poop!
Poor dad, his mother was elusive too. Silent in her New York City penthouse, an entire country between herself and her son, who was being raised in Los Angeles—on Los Angeles, I should say. It’s as much a state of mind as it is a place. I can see him swinging fast cars around the bends in Sunset Boulevard (Poop poop!), side eying the Chateau as he passed because to him you’re where his mother stayed when she visited—if she visited.
You see, before you pestered me, you taunted him. Your stories nurture the possibility of greatness, of fame, in all Angelinos. You are the embodiment of Los Angeles. Riding in from the East, having turned its back on the Big Apple with its phony aristocracy (hadn’t we fought to overthrow such things?). No matter, here the sun dips into the Pacific, palm trees sprout from concrete. A French chateau on a hillside sans Counts and Dukes, content instead to house misfits and outcasts. So Los Angeles saddles up and plants its flag. Brick by brick it begins. Those misfits become more exalted then any boring aristocrat ever could. Monroe, Bowie, Coppola, Hepburn, Clooney—the wall growing higher and higher. Angelinos on the outside looking in, believing they can be Dukes and Duchesses too. Because Los Angeles says, Here, you can be anyone. And with you singing back up, who can resist the siren call?
I witnessed your magic at that long ago wake. My mother and aunt—my father’s sister—did not like one another much. If prodded mom tells the story of their first meeting, when my aunt was tanning in the backyard of a Florida time share and greeted her topless. My aunt’s dislike was probably born from this same moment, when mom prudishly turned away from her full breasted embrace. Bourgeois, my aunt probably thought. Communist, my mother shrugged. But on this evening their vague dislike of one another dissolved. It wasn’t just death and booze and who knows what kind of drugs (dad was fond of cocaine; his sister, pills; their friends, all one generation removed from fame and so carried with them an inherited entitlement to consume it all). It was being within your walls, confident that because my grandmother considered the Chateau Marmont a second home, by association, they too had ownership—at least for that one night.
You probably knew my grandmother better than her own son did. Her childhood backyard butted up to your pool. When her parents, a model and screenwriting husband, did not make it home from whatever soiree they were at the night before, a close family friend was sent for and Artie Shaw or Ava Gardner or whoever would drop my grandmother off at your red carpeted entrance. You knew her by name: Susie. So on this night, with Susie in her gilded urn in the center of the suite (far from the Jordan almonds), everyone was transformed. Ownership was passed down. No imposters here. Mom and Aunt were Duchesses promenading your grounds. Anyone passing below on Sunset Boulevard saw their dancing silhouettes. Stripped of their animosity, they found themselves sneaking into your secluded background where they dumped Susie onto a bed of begonias. A story they still tell giggling and confused as to how the two of them ended up in cahoots.
Stories like this add to your allure, but they come with a price. That glimpse behind your walls confirmed our suspicions. Someone, somewhere, is doing something cooler and more important. I saw it with my own nine year old eyes. So we give chase, believing we won’t always be Dukes and Duchesses for one night only. Maybe we’re meant for greatness too.
Take poor dad, with his industry connections. At the door but never really at the table. Philosopher, poet, music manager, sound engineer. In the orbit of greatness but never great himself. Specter of the Troubadour, of the Formosa Café—of all those places that, like you, are little more than tourist traps now. An IMDB profile that would make your head swim. But ask him if he ever felt secure and his alcoholism will bark back. Alone now in a mobile home, soured from that endless race, from feeling left out and on the fringe. Poor dad is living miles away from you, hobbled and tired.
Of course I took up the baton. I’m a daughter of Los Angeles, my father’s spawn. But it’s your rolodex of literature greats who haunt me. Dad can keep your rock stars and industry ghosts. Fitzgerald had a heart attack just outside your lobby for Christ’s sake. Nathanael West tip-tap-taping the Day of the Locust on your patio, sequestered by your palms and ferns. Eve Babitz holed up in a suite with her lover(s), confusing the scent of a burning Los Angeles with
sex sweat. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge, lady writer after my own heart (“Sluts! Sluts!”), reclining, resplendent in her Monique Lhuillier, dewy from her burdensome Emmy win. Damn it, they sting. Feel that prick. Yow.
I’ve only managed to return to you once since my grandmother’s wake. It was a celebratory lunch when I published my first novel. A pilgrimage to visit grandmother’s ghost, what I imagined might be a sort of homecoming. Heels from Nordstrom Rack, a Diane Von Furstenberg dress. An actual published book with a profile in the Los Angeles Times. Did you approve? Am I allowed in? You took my reservation, charged my credit card. But nothing changed. I had a disappointing Crab Louie and left with some matches, which I stole from your bathroom.
Then it was on to book two, and now I’m toiling over number three. I can see how entire decades can get lost in the chase. Because there is always another table. Who’s over there? Why aren’t I sitting there? And the question that haunts me most, Will I ever be good enough? We are a hungry breed, us Angelinos. The chase never ends and now that you’ve shut yourself off from the city that made you, it must go on without you. Which is fine. We’ll build a new castle, we always do. So adieu, Chateau. Adieu.
Liska Jacobs is the author of the acclaimed novels, Catalina (FSG Originals), and The Worst Kind of Want (MCD). Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and the Hairpin, among others. She has an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. The Worst Kind of Want is available now in the UK. You can order it here.