Friday, March 16, 2007

Bill Arney at 891 Post Street #401

She looked at his unblinking yellow-grey eyes and her face became pink and then white again. She drew herself up tall and began to undress. He sat on the side of the bathtub watching her and the open door. No sound came from the living-room. She removed her clothes swiftly, without fumbling, letting them fall down on the floor around her feet. When she was naked she stepped back from her clothing and stood looking at him. In her mien was pride without defiance or embarrassment.

He put his pistols on the toilet-seat and, facing the door, went down on one knee in front of her garments. He picked up each piece and examined it with fingers as well as eyes. He did not find the thousand-dollar bill. When he had finished he stood up holding her clothes out in his hands to her. "Thanks," he said. "Now I know.

The excerpt is from Chapter 19 of The Maltese Falcon. It describes Sam Spade's (very direct and unorthodox) response to Casper Gutman's assertion that one of the thousand dollar bills he intends to give Spade in return for the falcon has been stolen by Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

The photo is from the very bathroom where the scene takes place, and the man sitting on the tub where Spade would have sat is Bill Arney, current resident of 891 Post Street #401, Sam Spade and Dashiell Hammett's apartment. Bill is also the actor who read the first chapter of my latest novel, Candy from Strangers, for the Writer's Block, a podcast produced by NPR affiliate KQED.

Bill got in touch with me recently and was kind enough to invite me up for a private tour of the apartment. Afterwards, we adjourned to Bill's favorite bar, the Red Room, a few blocks away on Sutter near Leavenworth. Turns out one of the bartenders on duty that night was Craig Clevenger, who is an author himself.

Bill told me his work on the podcast attracted the attention of a well-respected agency that represents voice actors. They encouraged him to cut a demo tape, have signed him to their agency and there's a good possibility he will be doing more voice work on a professional basis, all of which is very exciting!

Bill also told more about more about the apartment and his experiences living in it. Here are a few representative fun facts:

  • Bill is listed in the San Francisco phone directory as, "Spade, S."

  • When mapped to letters, the last four digits of his phone number are "-DASH"

  • He moved into the apartment in the early 90s and pays a (controlled) rent of under $1000 a month for it

  • He appeared in Herb Cain's column twice

  • He is one of the few tenants in the building who have retained the original murphy bed, which folds out in the living room/bedroom

  • He stopped the building management from refurbishing the bathroom and removing the original fixtures

  • He's stripped the paint off the original wainscoting and trim, and has retrieved and restored one of the building's original pebble glass doors from the basement for use in the apartment

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