I checked in to room 718 at Casa del Mar carrying only a small leather handbag, not much larger than what you might take to the gym. The room was smaller than I expected, the view more generous. The almost-vacant beach was just beyond the small pool below me; with the windows open I heard seagulls crying and smelled the cold salt air.
The best sunsets in California always come in the winter when there is a faint layer of marine fog marbling the sky, refracting layered sheets of purple and orange and red atop the distant horizon like a kaleidoscope. I sat on the bed, facing the ocean, watching the wobbling sun drift downward, slowly, the colors flaming briefly just as the light touched the dark shadow of the ocean before everything cooled to a luminous bruised twilight.
Then I got up and poured myself a whisky from the hip flask I’d brought along, a birthday present gift from someone a long, long time ago, and walked around the room looking at the odds and ends on the shelves like a colorful tin windup Ferris wheel, a child’s toy, on the desk next to the telephone.
Of particular interest to me were the books in the room. Not at all the normal sort of fare you’d expect in a hotel room where designers go out and buy old books by the pound, rather than by the title, and arrange them by the color of their spines. On my bedside table was Poems of the Sea and on the shelf next to the desk was a first edition of Fishes: Their Journeys and Migrations, published in 1933 by a professor at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. There was also Fly-Fishing for Trout by the perfectly-named Richard Salmon, from 1952, and The South Seas Dream by John Dyson.
In how many hotels in Los Angeles—or anywhere for that matter—would you expect to find reading material like this in your room? The thing is, I wanted to read these books. All of them. I wanted to curl up on the clean, warm bed, covered in a white duvet, and drink my whisky and read the French professor’s tome on fish migration and listen to the waves roll across the beach in the darkness and not worry about unpacking my bag or answering the phone or going downstairs to join the dinner party I’d been invited to or making pleasant conversation with strangers. I wanted to just stay in my room—for the night, for the week, for a month—and let my thoughts pull away from my consciousness like the water slowly receding from the sand during low tide.
The room got darker and it became more difficult to read the words on the page. My drink was gone. When the maid knocked on the door for turn-down service, I got up and answered, telling her I didn’t need anything.
“Your room is dark,” she said with concern.
“Do you want me to show you where the light switch is?”
“And there’s nothing you need?” She looked at the empty glass I was holding in my hand. “Perhaps some ice?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
She shrugged. “Well then, good-night.”
I closed the door and made myself another drink. I still had time to decide whether I would go downstairs or not. I still had time to think about it. All of it.
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