You hear it in the way Michael Larrain speaks.
He is a man who loves to tell stories.
Larrain’s sonorous voice and his careful elocution are striking. There’s a dash of old East Coast, maybe even a hint of a British accent.
All of which is intriguing because he was born and raised in Southern California.
When he says he used to do a dead-on Richard Burton impersonation in his other life, you can’t not believe him.
His “other life” was in Hollywood. Larrain, 75, was a contract actor in his early 20s.
He’s got an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) page and film and television credits to his name.
He had a decently critical role in “The Last Child,” a movie released in 1971 that starred Lou Grant himself, Ed Asner.
He appeared in two episodes of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and two episodes of “Ironside.”
He’s worked alongside Lloyd Bridges and Tim Matheson.
“I had to buy a whole season of ‘Gunsmoke’ recently to see an episode I was in,” he says. “I was very impressed by my own hair.”
But the lifestyle, while fun, was not fulfilling, he says.
“So I ran away from home and my acting career in order to write books,” he says. “My true drive was to write sentences.”
So he left the lights and the action of Southern California for a much quieter life.
But he didn’t abandon his Southern California roots entirely. He still is regularly togged out in head to toe Los Angeles Dodgers gear, celebrating his hometown team.
“I loved being a Hollywood pretty boy and I got to romance very lovely ladies and that was thrilling, and I got live in Topanga Canyon, which I liked a lot but the work itself seemed kind of paltry and silly,” he says.
Plus, what he describes as “a young marriage” hit the rocks and ended.
So he headed north. First to Marin County to sell flowers and write, then to Cotati.
I ask him how he came to choose Cotati.
“The Press Democrat of course,” he says.
“It was an easy choice for me,” he says of dropping any aspirations connected to acting. “I was young enough that I didn’t care that I went from being very well paid to being stone broke. It just made no difference.”
He describes his adopted home as a funky, remarkable frontier town.
“It was agreeable to me,” he says. “It’s the same silly little town as when I got here.”
So he stayed.
But he had to make a living.
So, as a friend had done in Marin County, he started his own roadside flower stand.
Flowers Not to Reason Why, a play on the famous line from “The Charge Of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Five days a week, occasionally fewer, occasionally more, Larrain sells bouquets out of the back of his car.
Just enough, he says, “to keep a bottle of wine in the cupboard and dinner on the table.”
“Sitting on your ass in the same place for 48 years? It’s a testament to being unhirable,” he said. “It’s pretty fair to say I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s a fallback that became permanent.”
While the small profits from selling 8-10 bouquets a day give him what he calls “operating capital,” the job, such as it is, gives him infinitely more.
It gives him time.
Time to read, time to write, time to think and dream.
Larrain has spent the last five decades sitting in the front seat of a string of different cars on his stretch of East Cotati Avenue just east of Highway 101.
These days his office is a green 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
“I’m qualified to do almost nothing on earth besides write and sit on the side of the road waiting for customers,” he says.
His Linkedin profile cheekily describes his current employment as “poet/novelist/children’s story author/wedding minister/unlicensed private eye…”
As a flower salesman, he had to move once when they were widening the road, but other than that, he’s stayed put. He’s licensed and legal and makes nary a fuss.
He parks on the south side of the road, puts out a weather-beaten sign against his back bumper, climbs back into the drivers’ seat next to Puff the Wonder Pup, his 16-year-old daughter’s papillon-Chihuahua mix, and waits for customers.
But mostly he reads. And writes.
He has self-published books of poetry, books of prose. Twenty in all.
He writes emails to friends.
His writing has slowed of late, he says. Nowadays his hours are filled largely with reading.
He’s making his way through the 27-book Jack Reacher series by author Lee Child.
When we talked he was on book number 15.
“I read a great deal,” he said. “Imagine in 48 years what kind of reading you could do.”