September , 1956 / Los Feliz, California
I first met Mallory Walker high in the hills above Silverlake,
at one of those parties where Luis Barragan announced his continued existence to
the world. It was during the Labor Day weekend, and Luis, such a figure, almost
a legend in architecture, was pretty much at his wit's end, in danger of sliding
off the map. He was in his late fifties by then, maybe sixty, and it was years
since he'd designed a building. He still lived large, considering he was a man
for whom so much had gone wrong. But, then, in life, as in architecture, Luis
had a reckless disregard for convention and the niceties. And luck never quite
"Good of you to show your face," he said, reeking of gin and sweat and about half a gallon of lemony eau de cologne. He was rumpled, with hair flowing like milk out of his ears and from the open neck of his blue silk shirt. "Come in here," he said, dragging me into the kitchen, where it was quiet and a tray of filled martini glasses stood on the counter, waiting for the help to take them out. Beer dripped from a chubby keg on the breakfast-nook table and a fly buzzed, drowning in the dregs of a tequila sunrise. "I dreamed about you last night, Maurice. You were lying dead in the desert."
"I'm touched, really I am," I said. "But you should worry about yourself."
"Don't I know it," Luis said with a deadpan, almost dazed expression. He was big, a belligerent man with multiple chins, eyes set far apart, and scars on his forehead, and his face puckered as he reached for a glass and saw the fly dying there. He thrust this glass aside and took instead one of the martinis, draining it in three long, slow gulps. He shut his eyes and swayed like a tree about to topple. "Oh, God!" he announced with drama.
"How much do you need? Five grand, ten?"
His eyes popped open again. "Jesus, Maurice! How long is it since we've seen each other?"
"It's been a while."
"More than four years."
"Really? I'd no idea it was so long."
"After all we've been through together ... "
Sometimes Luis had a voice like a phone ringing. He could give you the idea that once he got going he'd never stop. This was one of those times. Righteous indignation warmed him to his task.
"After all the trouble we've known, all the ups and downs, all the water under the bridge, and I finally decide to call you, and you offer me ... money."
With me he couldn't pretend. He was almost beaten and he was afraid. Sure, he'd swallowed his pride and invited me to the party. That meant something, but I enjoyed seeing him on the hook. "I thought you liked money, Luis," I said. "I do."
"I need work," he said. "There -- I've said it. I'll design a fucking toilet if I have to. Anything."
Luis had mentored me in our chosen profession. He'd been my partner, my friend, and, later, the rival I left behind, at least in terms of wealth and the acclaim of the wider world, and I knew no other terms. My wife had turned up her nose when she heard about the party, and my solo attendance more than hinted at condescension. But I liked Luis, and not only because he reminded me of struggles I'd overcome. He was exuberant, alive, and he had a childlike enthusiasm in spite of everything. Though often angry, he was never jaded. Besides, he and I understood one another. People don't know much about the private lives of architects. We're not like actors or politicians, but we have our feuds, our traumas. Believe me. We're in the tough position of trying to be artists and practical men at the same time. This particular juggling act had left Luis with his balls all over the floor. Practical was something he knew about but couldn't quite bring himself to achieve. Once, years before, when I'd started working for him, I'd asked for the single most important advice he thought he could give a young architect. "Marry money," he'd said, maybe meaning it, maybe not. I'd gone ahead, allying myself with several millions of dollars and the daughter of a U.S. senator.
From The Devil's Wind by Richard Raynor. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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