I was in the basement of the downtown Los Angeles courthouse, where I was researching a possible nonfiction book about an overlooked film-noir actor whose offscreen brawling and balling led to occasional trouble with the law, as well as comparisons to his better-known colleague at Warner Brothers, Errol Flynn. The basement is where old case files are stored on microfilm, and one of the files I needed was lost, so that I kept returning to the courthouse to see if it had been found. I was out of luck again that day, headed to the elevator when I was stopped by a nondescript man of sixty or so. He couldn’t find his way out of the basement, he said. I told him to follow me. He did, remarking on the flatcap I was wearing.
“I used to know somebody who wore a hat just like that,” he said. “She was a big racing-car driver back in the thirties. She was friends with my family.”
He repeated that. He repeated everything he said. Something was clearly wrong with him, though whatever it was, he was in no way menacing. Apparently obsessed with height, he informed me, apropos of nothing, that he was six feet tall. Then he asked how tall I was, and before I could answer, he said, “Six-one, right? You’re six-one.”