Benefield: Why this former Hollywood actor now sells flowers out of his car in Cotati

Michael Larrain has been at it for nearly 50 years.|

Where can you find Michael Larrain’s works?

Want to read the works of Michael Larrain? They can be found on www.amazon.com and www.gettextbooks.com.

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.

The name?

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.”

I also imagined what kind of home library one could accumulate.

It’s not a problem, he says.

“A good way of getting rid of books is telling friends they can borrow them,” he says. “They never return them.”

He spends most days in his car. He stays there until all the bouquets are gone. He spends most evenings sharing a meal with his ex-wife and their 16-year-old daughter.

“We are a curious family,” he says. “I spend almost every evening with them. We managed to grow closer by separating.”

I ask about his daughter, who was born when he was 59. A “grandfatherly” age to become a father, he says.

He starts with her name: Wilder Kathleen the Rage of Paris Larrain.

He insists that is all on her birth certificate.

Wilder’s mom was deeply enamored with the name Wilder for their child.

“She mentioned it so emphatically that I realized I didn’t get a vote,” he says.

But no matter, he liked the name Wilder.

Plus, the bargain gave him dominion over the rest.

“To placate me, she put me in charge of the middle names,” he says.

Adding “the Rage of Paris” was whimsical, but purposeful.

He said it’s an oft-used phrase to describe the “it girl” of the moment, the one who shines brightest even in the city of light.

Who wouldn’t want that permanently in their moniker, he thought.

“I thought it would be fun, you know, if you were going through a bluesy streak in your romantic life or work life, no matter what may be, you’d always be ‘The rage of Paris,’” he says.

And why Kathleen?

“I just liked the sound of it,” he says.

Larrain has slowed down some. He’s got some back pain. And he no longer makes his own bouquets. The folks at Sequoia Floral on Santa Rosa Avenue make bunches up for him before he arrives for pick up each morning.

When I ask how he hurt his back, his reply is quick.

“I’d like to think it was because of dancing and romancing but it was probably because of leaning over the tailgate,” he says.

I ask him about any plans to retire, perhaps take more trips to tropical isles. To gain fodder for future stories, of course.

Likely not, he says.

“My retirement program calls for stepping in front of a bus, I think.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Where can you find Michael Larrain’s works?

Want to read the works of Michael Larrain? They can be found on www.amazon.com and www.gettextbooks.com.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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