The Wastelander's Notebook
The Wastelander’s Notebook:
Book Tour Edition, 2006

“Wastelander” came from an out-of-date synonym book. It was once, apparently, a term for “writer.” Knowing my enthusiasms and my lusts for wastelands and gravel parking lots, fumaroles and tundras, it felt like the perfect word for me.

I did some minimal editing for clarity and occasional touches of grace. Nothing’s pure in this world, and nothing’s perfect. So this isn’t a virgin forest—it’s a garden. And some of the bushes in my garden are topiaries. But, like the gardener I am, if I find a weed that has a nice bloom on it, I leave it among the lavender, the butterfly bushes, and the big fat nasturtiums. I even leave the mushrooms, and I’m always hoping for toads, dragonflies, hummingbirds.

I thought you’d like to know what it’s like to go on book tour. Since I can’t take you with me, I jotted you a few notes. A couple of days from My Year of Living in Airports and Hotels.


Naperville to Chicago to El Paso to Las Cruces.

Cinderella left first with the girls to Eric’s drum-corps
world championships in Dayton. It was
me ’n’ the animals in the house. 6:30, standing outside,
enjoying the morning birds. A guy went by,
walking his dog. He called out: “I love
The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Every page!”
Holy crap. They know where I live.

Cab: on time. Cab driver and I laughed our asses
off all the way to O’Hare. Got here and found a stack
of Hummingbirds in the airport bookstore. I said to the clerk:
“You want to know something cool? You
have my book over there.” He cried,
“Which one?” I said, “Hummingbird’s
Daughter.” He said, “We have
Devil’s Highway too!” I told him
I’d never seen my books in an airport bookstore
before. “The cover,” he said,
“is so beautiful.”

Oh, cool.
Auguries of things to come?
Bought the new
Michael Gruber mystery.


10:00/ in this dream
all these large Americans
drift by like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day
parade balloons.

2,000 Egg McMuffins
transported in
the intestinal matrix.
The terminal hallways
teem w/ McMuffin
encodings: we are a vast
digestive internet.

Paperbacks and
shitty magazines: that’s
What I like.

[Even when we’ll meet up in a few days, I still hate
parting & get choked up seeing Cinderella drive away.]

Aboard: cryptic scripture:
seated near the galley in 27D:
one flight attendant says to the other:
“It’s like menstrual cramps
times five thousand.”

Bald old bastard in 26D
puts back his seat
to snooze and sticks his
mottled scalp right under
my nose. The seat back
pushes skin from
the back of his head
toward his brow
in pale wavelets, like
some desert pond of meat
being rippled by wind.
His hair fringe is a
reedy bank where tiny
skull-mallards could
lay their eggs.

Insane Dutch honeymoon
couple beside me brought on giant
veggie burritos and gobbled them
w/ a rabid fury
in the loudest chomps
I ever heard. Now
they consume
each other’s faces
the same way, w/
huge toilet-plunger
schlurrps! They turn
in their seats. She fondles
his neck. Good God—
they’re going at it
right beside me. He’s got wood!
No! Somebody
get me some Lysol!

I think he’s milking her.
Gack! Kind of weird
to be reading Outside
magazine’s piece on cannibalism
while this anthropophagous erotica
gurbles and furbles away
in my ear.


The Coca Cola cart
Interrupts the mile-high orgy. One
other glimmer of hope:
Lake Grandpa brought his
seat forward & got his head
out of my lap.

The glorious writing life.


El Paso. Daniel meets me with
The Mosca-Mobile. We speed to Cruces:
radio interview for local NPR followed by
local TV talk show w/ Diana Washington
Valdez. On to the hotel: freshen up: dash
to performances.


Late night. Back in the La Quinta.
Writing with my Border Book Festival
gift basket pen. Did the radio show,
then the TV show. Took a few minutes
in the room, a.c. blasting, before the
big reading: watched Lou Dobbs
attack those wily illegal aliens. Hot & tired
but ate some chips & pistachios
from the basket and went out to give
Denise Chavez a home run at the reading.
I was in full Mexican Richard Pryor mode.
I missed the whole celebration afterward
because I was signing books
for two hours. I signed
so many books I was actually



2,000,000 doves in Las Cruces.
All of them going off
at once. Solid
tapestry of sound.

“Buenos dias,
nalgas frias.”

Watching bombers
spread chemtrails
across the highest
turquoise sky.

Mesilla Plaza, ten minutes later—
staring into the empty eyes
of Mexican luchador
masks. $25.00—
worth twice that
any day.


I meet small press people
in booths
who never heard
of me or my books or Little,Brown
or Teresita—even
the “expert” on supernatural
doings in El Paso.

Keep walkin’.

Told yet again
I look just like
Michael Moore!
Hey! When I was 19,
they said I looked
just like Greg Lake. Now
Greg Lake probably looks
just like Michael Moore, too.
Emerson, Moore, and Palmer?

A parade of masked kids went by
in 91 seconds. A disgruntled woman
in the crowd said: “So much
for that.”

I hug fans. I hug La Minnie. I hug
Bobby Byrd who kisses me. Me?
I look
Steve McQueen.


To stretch it out for three more minutes, the kids’
parade goes around the square again. Denise
leads them wearing a wrestling mask.
You don’t get to see that
every day.


After 11:00. My feet
hurt. In the hotel.
The place you go to hide.

I hung out with hundreds of peeps all day:
Bobby Byrd, Lee Byrd, Micaela & Luis, Daniel, Denise,
John Crawford, La Minnie, Jody from Humane Borders,
Denise’s movie-star sister Margo, Aristeo Brito, Rich Yañez,
Anonymous, anonymous, anonymous. Rudlofo, Michelle,
Diana, Librarians, Filmmakers, Vatos, luchadores, Paco
the x-perimental Mejicano poet. A 14 year old girl, Jessica,
The Taco Shop Poet(s), Norma, Momotombo Press, Luis
from the bookstore in CT, anónimo, anónimo,
anónimo, Ben Saenz, Patricia, Rubén Martinez, Roma,
Barbara, Margaret, etc. etc. etc. & waitress #1, waitress
#2, waitress #3, waiters 1 and 2, mariachis, a cultural center
guy, professors, cultural center woman, ghost book lady,
etc. ect. Autograph #1, #2, #3, #4,
#5, #6, #7, #8, & #9, etc. manuscript meeting
etc. etc. etc.

I woke up at
Till 6:30.

Wondered if all the people
I had ever loved
who were still alive
were awake—you,
were you in your beds
with your sweet smells
on the pillows all across
the world? And even
those who were dead—
were you all
How could I call you?
How will I ever speak to you

The best part of the day was the masked
Wrestlers. El Rey Escorpión and El Muñeco
Infernal! Mexican luchadores are divided
not between Babyfaces and Heels, but between
Rudos y Técnicos. And these boys were giant
Rudos! They ka-blammed each other
all over the plaza, taking hard falls
on thin foam mats
on the concrete slab, giving it all
for the fans while mock-insulting them,
which is why I love wrestlers, for the strange
nobility of their ethic—their suffering
for my cheap entertainment. Uff! Slam!
I’d like to see Lou Dobbs
waddle in here and try to
excoriate these boys. We’d see who got
All book festivals
need a Lucha Libre component
in the middle of
And if the writers
are A) pretentious
B) divas, or
C) rude (not Rudos, which is a nobler thing)
They should get their
asses kicked.


I reluctantly pulled myself away
from the wrestling
to do a historical duet w/ David Romo. It
was moving—people cried when Romo
cried. Signed more books. More
big love.

It’s late now.


and then, like




Breakfast w/ Ben Sáenz and Patricia, Pedro,
Elsa Cross & that scamp,
Rubén Martinez. Much pleasant
famous writer chatter. A minimum of posturing/positioning/
competition. Just—

Back at the hotel, met w/ Aristeo outside. He had put
a banana in the brick planter & I eyed it
nervously in the heat, thinking it might
explode! As we talked, the Rudos suddenly
strode into the morning. We had a driveway
Figure-4 Leg-Lock clinic right there, then the boys
showed me their scars—El Rey had a muscle torn
out of his arm one time. El Muñeco’s family
has been wrestling for 45 years: grandpa to dad
to son. The grandpa used to wrestle
the legend
the myth
the one
the only
the deadly
the beautiful
El Rey gave us lucha libre
t-shirts. Aristeo seemed
nonplussed by these giants.

Barcelona TV was supposed to come and interview me,
but they got waylaid by their discovery of Sasabe. Now
every journalist who wants to cover illegal immigration
hustles down to sasabe—we did it when there had never been
journalists or white faces in there. Now, they might as well
put in a reporter Burger King or Dairy Queen
to handle the crush. Play catch-up, boys
and girls—the border is mine.

to stay alive.

So easy
to be

David Romo comes & I abandon Aristeo’s
dangerous banana to go to El Paso
& visit
Teresita’s house.


El Paso’s city council is planning
to demolish the historic Segundo Barrio
where much of the Mexican revolution was
plotted and planned, where Pancho Villa
ate ice cream cones and his men got drunk and went to
church, where Francisco Madero plotted & where
Mariano Azuela finished the classic novel, Los de abajo. And
where Teresita and Tomás went to live after the
older city council forced them out of their house
up on the hill for attracting too many unsavory Mexicans.
Same as it ever was.
So now the city wants to tear down the historic
Mexican village in the heart of the city and at the heart of the
history of both countries, and they want to replace it with
a “Lifestyle Center.” A shopping mall. I was sad when my ol’ pal
Susie Byrd explained: They will tear down the Mexican village
to build a faux representative Mexican village!
Teresita’s house, for example, will be a parking lot.

Plastic adobe! Clean authentic Chinese
Mexican paving tiles! Burbling fountains!
Sanitary “Mexican” restaurants serving the best
blueberry margaritas and processed cheez-food
mega-nachos! La Gap, La Banana Republic,
El Tower Records Superstore selling the latest in
peasant music and fashions! 7-11 could concoct a new
authentic “Mexicanny” guava Slurpee! No beaners in sight!
No unsavory smells of caca, frijoles, dogs, goats,
history, or cigarettes. No borrachos. No putas. No friggin’
lowriders, though the lowriders could probably get a gig
taking tickets at the Teresita parking facility.
Wandering Puerto Rican and Guatemalan mariachis!
Chocolate shops selling cowshit and burroshit
joke chocolate patties! T-shirts of Pancho Villa
hanging out where there is no trace of his having been anymore
or ever again! Go, El Paso, go!

I wondered aloud if they were going to install
animatronic Mexican robots. They could have robot
women nursing android babies and old fiberglass cobblers hammering
nails into rubber cowboy boots, bandido droids
rolling by at 10:30, Noon, and 3:45
on solar-powered electric hybrid

Churros! Git yer churros rat cheer!


We walked miles in the heat while Romo and his compadre Carlos
Showed Susie Byrd all the historical buildings. No doubt
The barrio is rough and tumble. Winos and crack-heads
squat on corners and steps of rooming houses. Ugly muffler
shops & crumbling bodegas. Yes. It’s true. But also
our history. Our ghosts. Our legacy—all of ours. It’s
America, after all.

Then we got to 500 S. Oregon St. (If anyone reads this
& is a Hummingbird fan, get down there before it’s
demolished, because it’s the last place on earth still standing
where Teresita and her father lived. All other sites are gone.
Gone. And the tractors are coming.)

is the ugly red brick rooming house where she lived. Here,
where she did miracles for the pilgrims who would not let her be.
Where she greeted reporters from around the world and sat for interviews
and was often insulted by the wise-ass bigoted U.S. press of the day.
where she looked out the window—that window right there—
held the curtain back with her hand as she looked upon El Paso and the hordes
that had followed her. Same hills in the distance. Same colors.

There was still a painted sign on the
wall, fading: ROOMS $1. It was chilling.
I lay my hands on the walls. Listened for voices
between the bricks. “Tía!” I whispered. Teresita, can you hear me?
Across the street was a vacant lot where her
followers had set up their tents. And now—
there they were again, the same Mejicanos, all rascuaches in the same
dirt lot, nothing changed. Tents. Motley colors. Now the camp
is a swap-meet and flea market. It could have been (was) still 1896.
I was standing in two worlds at the same time.
I looked at what she looked at: Mexicans gathered in bright tents,
primary colors, the sun-seared mountains behind. Barring
skyscrapers and cars, it was exactly the same view.
She could have been standing beside me.
Maybe she was.

The owners of the building had poured
filthy motor oil on the steps
to keep the dope-fiends from sitting
on the stoop. But they sat there anyway,
oil soaked into their butts. What was a little oil
to them? Their pants were already dirty.
And nobody thought of the ancient anointings with oils.
Some kind of strange new sacredness.

The doors were splintered from kicks
and bad history, splinters of wood peeling off.
I collected a bundle of fragments,
idolatrous, perhaps…but
I had to have physical evidence of her presence, not just
words or old pictures, not just stories but hard splinters
where her shadow had fallen.
Stupid bits of wino flophouse about to be demolished?

I said to Susie,
“Can’t you at least save Teresita’s house? Make it a museum or
gallery or something?” She snapped,
“Are you going to raise the funds?”


shirt pocket full of wood,
I walked away.

Turned back.

The upstairs windows had white curtains.
The window at the front corner: the curtain
Was pulled back as if by a hand, as if
By someone watching us go.

“Vato!” Romo said.

“Look at that!
is looking at


Bush Haiku:

I’m the decider!
Conservative compassion.
I’m a uniter!


Awake at 4:30.
Snooze till 6:00.
Up at 7:00.

To car rental office.
To Albuquerque.



The American neighborhood: anywhere you go,
There’s Matt Lauer!


Went to the La Quinta lobby for the “breakfast,”
but it was so full of grunting
road hogs I brought my
“food” back to the room.
One of those weird
papermill byproduct
motel bagels w/
petroleum refinery effluent
cream cheese; cold coffee;
one rubber hard boiled egg; a tiny
bran muffin. Where do motels
get this tiny food?

Now, I will begin to live
according to Bonnie Hannah’s
itinerary. The Border Book Festival
just a warm-up
for The Amazing Race.


Private Thoughts on Writing Fame:

Last night, one of the kind ladies at the farewell dinner
Gazed at me lovingly and said: “I am entranced
by you. By everything you say.” Damn! I thought:
really? Everything? And for a moment, I became
large. Huge. Magic. FAMOUS. She loved me!
Then I thought: how about when I say to Eric: I gotta
take a big dump! Or I hate my day job. Or
Take out the fucking trash RIGHT NOW! Is that
100% magical and famous?
I am such
A fraud!

Another curious thing: now that Teresita has had a full year
to work her peculiar hoodoo on readers, their responses are
ripe. “Sainthood must run in the family” somebody said.
Women read my aura from the audience.
A warrior Xicana woman tells me my book is the only book
by a male she will read. And I didn’t know Teresita
would turn the world into a vast potential dating-service.
No wonder the book could not have happened in my ho past.
I’d have lost it in about three days flat. No question.
Torn asunder
By romantic blunders.

It aint money, it aint drugs, it aint booze, it aint power or BMWs
or fame—it’s people! People! Soylent Green
is People!!!

Like Patsy Cline,

I couldn’t have written this book without a family. It’s a fact.
One of those puzzles of life.


Outside, 9:40. Waiting for Daniel in the loyal
Mosca-Mobile to take me to the rental place.
The La Quinta fountain is
full of thickening green
cigarette-butt swamp water,
yet it’s still trying for a soothing
trickle of cool sound.
Aristeo’s banana is now well-baked
and looking like a Dali melted watch:
I push it in among the geraniums—
hope God’s beetles and
illegal immigrant ants
have it for breakfast.

Birds sounding like kisses.
Birds sounding like Mexican songs.
Birds sounding like machines.
Birds sounding like birds.
Morning choirs. Dove hosannas.
All that singing
in freeway rumble.

cigarette filters:
McDonald’s coffee cup;
chewing gum wads.
This is God’s green earth
In 2006.


Swamp-fountain reflection
cast upon the bottom of the portico
arch: crazy
writhing spiderweb of light.
Sparrows fly across the face
of the water, & their shadows look
like a dawnspider caught
the last moths of midnight.



That’s what I call life—
I-25 and nothing ahead but
226 miles of open freeway, bad
80s music on the radio,
nothin’ but time.


I’m gone.


A truly humane
freeway system
would provide


In Radium Springs,
New Mexico!
Wish you were here!


Consorting with ghosts
at abandoned Fort Seldon

Apache fighters.

The dead still slyly
in a potters




Lonely forever.


I bid the shades of those cavalry killers
farewell, told them I hoped
they were all right
& left them on the Jornada del Muerto.

Pleasant chat with Border Patrol agent
at his windy check-point—
he w/ no idea I
am an undercover Beaner, no
idea I’d
written a book about


Delighted to hear
Héroes del Silencio on the
radio. Did Shakira
really just sing:
“I’ll give you a slice
of my body”?


I’d swear that roadside sign


Creepy sight: vultures
fly circles above a roadside


Lunch at Elephant Butte. Big noisy diner:
two blonde waitresses know everybody—
“Hi, Hon!” Making jokes
w/ old miner-looking desert rats
about their dating lives. Old fishermen
off the oddly milky lake. Cowboys.
Uproarious Mexican families in the
corners w/ their 100 kids. Big-bellied
federal law-enforcement-looking dude
putting a serious hurt on the
lunch buffet.

When I got done & gave Blondie my card,
she looked at the name on it then looked
at me with that open-mouthed you-don’t-look-
like-your-name-sounds expression on her face, but,
really, what the hell
& rang me up.
I gave her a $5 tip
on an $8 lunch
& walked into the
western sun
vast &
as a 20 mule


Mile marker 128.

Called Advantage on the cell when I couldn’t find
a tire iron in the trunk to work the
itty bitty toy jack in there.

Guy’s coming in about an hour.

“It’ll cost you $70 to repair the tire damage,” the woman said.
“Wait a minute! I was just driving down the freeway!
Your tire’s bad!” “Sir,” she cooed,
“It’s on you.”

At least the scrub brush is fragrant.

Apache spirits out there
laughing their asses off.

And look here: shattered
red pottery beside the freeway,
shards scattered
among the small bushes.

And now,
to wait….


I fire up the cell to report to Mi Waifa.


This is one of those moments
when you can smile—the
Teresita path stops you by force
where those rain-uncovered
pieces of pottery don’t
want to have beer cans
& roadside pee breaks
fall on them. I tell the ghosts
I will take some of the shards
& give them a good home &
remember their makers.
As a trade,
I leave them this:
my favorite


An unbidden thought filled my brain:
Watch the western skies—
They’ll be coming from that direction.
I had no idea what that meant
Or where it came from. But now,
out of the west, a deep explosive boom
rolls over the hills; it’s in the ground
like an a-bomb test.
I feel it through the soles of my feet.


Crow appears
on a barbwire fence
on a rise over yonder.

I yell, “Hey!”
He caws.
He yells back.
He takes off.
“Come here!” I yell.
He circles back.
Eyeing me,
cuts big square


Why is there a towel on this
empty old embankment?
What story’s in it? What
story is in that banner of toilet paper
caught in the bushes; what woman
hid behind it in the night?
Is this her cigarette
beside the dried puddle? Whose
blown out tire is that
down below in the sandy wash?
Whose can is this and who
flattened it?
I feel like I’m
In a haunted house.

You could do a whole writing workshop
Right here in Chimichanga de Caca, New Mexico.
Hot & boring.
Yet crawling
with story.

I could take a
bus full of poets
to marker 128
and kick ‘em out w/ no water
till they found
the song.


Tow-truck driver in cowboy hat aint impressed.
“Writer, huh,” he says. Somehow, his expression says:
It figures.

Having sucked all the story
I can out of this place,
I drive


Albuquerque. Little, Brown style!
The Hyatt. 14th floor. Big fat
pillows! “Deal Or No Deal.”
Killer views of the Sandias etched
in bloody red against blue china
skies. The sun sets, the bloodred rises.

I, happily, sink.



Awake at 3:330.
Snooze till 5:45.

News: Hummingbird is being carried by Costco!

Worried—trying not to worry.
Worried about the car.
Worried about the airport.
Worried about the tire.
Not worried about my reading.
I’m home, wherever
I crack open a book.

Talked to C last thing last night
& first thing this morning. Now:
poached eggs
and hash.
Pocho poached eggs
w/ chipotle sauce.
Oh crap—I’m middle-aged.
I keep thinking I’m
a 20 year old po’boy faking
his way through fancy hotel restaurant ways
when I am in fact a 50 year old dad
on book tour with a best seller
and the waiters are not mature kings of etiquette
but the 20 year old boys I think I am—
only they have mousse and really expensive


Spent the middle
of the day at Tomás Urrea’s house
up on the north side of Burque.
He showed me his painted
religious icons & taught me how
the ancient tradition of painting an icon
is a form of meditation and prayer and even
a kind of pathway to the spirit. Then, like
Teresita’s father, he took me to his beehives.
If they attack, he said,
hunch down near the ground and
cover up and
don’t make any sudden moves.


Went up Tomas’s veil and laid waste to his face.
I knelt on the ground as they
bombed my face, trying
to get in the veil and blind me—pure fury.
They circled and struck, dove straight
for my head and hit like Japanese Zeros
hitting a ship in the ocean.

Later that night, the exquisitely dangerous
Lisa Chavez came to my reading, fresh off
her big big motorcycle, all tattoos, poems,
and vision. And I thought:
how many writers can say
they got attacked by killer bees
on their way to the book store?

The Wastelander’s days are full.
The writing never stops.
Sometimes it’s in ink,
sometimes it’s in shadows.
Sometimes it’s in poison
dripping from a stinger.
But it sure beats going to work
in the morning. Our work is

We form the page.

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