San Francisco Dispatch (with stops in El Paso, Las Cruces, and Mean Old Chi-Town)
Dear Constant Reader:
I can't help thinking about Kerouac when I get to San Fran. The old pensive 11 hills, the rust and kites, the smell of coffee and the crazy jangle of noises all night on the street like some John Cage symphony of hookers and cabs and winos and laugher. I took an old copy of On the Road and re-read all that jaunty adventurousness hoping to revive my spirit and recalibrate my eye. That whole book is a big melancholy "Yahoo!" and that's how I felt.
I met up with Bobby Byrd (Cinco Puntos Press), poet and publisher and old friend and a bluesy Bodhisattva kind of guy, for yet another reading (reading #2,899) at the warm and wonderful Modern Times bookstore down in the blessed Mission district. I'd just seen Byrd a week or so before down in Texas. I went there for the Border Book Festival in New Mexico. All the many writers and pals and meals are swimming in my head now -- a kind of brightly-colored frenzy of memory. It's what I always wanted, growing up -- to know writers and to be writing and to call poets my pals. Where I came from, where a poet would have been as rare as a pterodactyl, the thought of even seeing a poet was astonishing. Maybe not as astonishing as seeing a great boxer, like Archie Moore (which I did once ... like shaking hands with God). But pretty monumental.
Byrd and I sped around town in a jaunty little red Plymouth, eating French food all alone in an abandoned Chinese French eatery late at night, Edith Piaf warbling on the soundtrack, the Chinese waiter charming with his tny gigolo mustache and his laugh: "More water ... Sirs ... tee hee hee ... heee?" Vietnamese squid. Ethiopian platters in the midnight hour. Climbing those evil hills because you can only park a mile away from whatever you want to visit, seeing naked dead pigs hanging in the back rooms of restaurants, ducks dangling overhead like lynched angels with fat booties and yellow feet. Big sloppy Mexican breakfasts with killer salsa ... no wait -- that was El Paso! Driving around in great good spirits, feeling blessed by the Guardian Angel of writing; writing all around me; writing bubbling up my veins like some sunny morphine. Byrd said: "Look at that guy!"
"Look at that guy over there trying to look like Ray Gonzalez!"
(Ray G, poet, writer, Chicano lit editor/anthologist).
"On the corner. That guy really does look like Ray."
"It IS Ray!"
Ray receding in a cloud of morning honking and pigeons as we rushed into the day.
So in El Paso and Las Cruces, it was warm, and writing again was the order of the day. I need to remember this when I'm feeling like English Teacher. In my secret life, I, like Bruce Wayne, go into seclusion and emerge as Another: Writing Man! It was the Byrd clan, where everyone, me included, is a Byrd. Looking under rocks and behind cacti for that wily Cormac McCarthy. no sign of pinche Benjamin Saenz. But true Good Guy, the NEA's Cliff Becker, was there, and we drove around downtown in the dark, drove up to the Bridge cultural center, and took in some Celtic music. In Cruces, writers writers everywhere. I saw my old darlin' Demetria Martinez, and hugged Denise Chavez as much as possible. Stayed with my dear friends Robert Boswell and Antonya Nelson. Their son said to Mom: "Hey, Mom. He wrote Nobody's Son. You wrote Nobody's Girl. Is it the same book?" On the last day, I was deeply gratified to finally meet my tocayo, the great Luis Rodriguez.
The only bad part about Writing Man is that sometimes I can't take my Cinderella with me. When my next fortune comes in (hell, baby, I burn through fortunes like a drunken sailor), we're going to get the RV from hell and just drive from reading to reading, sleep in parking lots and back streets, listen to loud music all day and swivel our antennas around and watch cheesy TV all night. We will have a fish tank with a pet catfish in it. We will have secretly installed flamethrowers to thwart evildoers and stalkers. And the entire back platform will be transformed into a king-sized bed.
So San Fran popped off like a sweet firework. Crazy young Xicano poet, Carl Marcum, rolled into the reading looking dapper as a card shark in 1899 Barbary Shore and about as tall as a basketball player. And afterward, as we were signing books and shaking hands, a lovely woman came over for a hug and said, "I am Daisy Zamora." I jumped! I leaped! Suddenly, I was a Sandinista too! I hugged her hello and good-bye and fell into the gathering lit crowd that was looking for food and laughs and whatever else the Mission could offer us at ten o'clock on a Friday night in this world of poems, verbs, and Kerouac.
On our best day, this revamped website has gotten 60 hits an hour. That's very gratifying, I must say. I don't think it's my dear bride checking in over and over just to make me feel good. So thank you for your interest, and I'll keep trying to come up with new stuff for you. Y'all are going to keep me on my toes.
Many folks have asked me who did all the illustrations on the site. I did! Cartoons and art were early obsessions of mine (as were the stop-motion monsters of Ray Harryhausen). To me, it was all art, from dinosaurs in Saturday matinees, to Batman and Superman, to Don Martin's crazy cartoon, to Bugs and Daffy, to Dali and Magritte. I was in love with the visual world. Album covers! Don't you just love album covers?
As always, it's been good chatting with you. See you in the next Dispatch. You bring the cheese; I'll bring the whine.
Ever yrs., L