Happiness is a Warm Gun
Bang, bang, shoot, shoot.... I met one of my several Mark David Chapmans in Washington. Memo to self: when going out to talk about Devil's Highway, always travel with Sheriff Ogden, or get our BP big-man Head of Urrea Security, The Warrior, to come along.


It's over, the marathon Flu Tour of Spring '08. I feel like I've been on the road...forever. Hope the posts haven't been too prosaic for you, or dull. I always want to expose the writing life in all its glories on this site. This bit of travel for blab and profit was extraordinary for a couple of reasons: of course, the opportunity to represent Rudy Anaya and Bless Me, Ultima. But also for the sheer number of miles. Especially in cars. Man! Every trip to the airport is at least 40 miles. Start there. The NH gigs, as you'll recall, included 200 mile round-trips in vans. Then the drive from Chi to Detroit, and another bushel of miles driving aruond between Jackson and Ann Arbor. Then driving to San Antonio from Austin and back. Then the 180 miles or so from Denver to Aspen, and back, and the drive to the airport from Tony and Pam's bucking beef ranch.

Here, ultimately, is what it's like: it's your own personal episode of The Amazing Race. You face all these challenges and strange developments, and really, it's up to you to adapt, improvise, and overcome. My personal challendes are always the same: bad eyes, bad sleep, bad stomach. I can't see a damned thing. My gut always goes haywire when I'm out there. I can't sleep worth a darn in motels and hotels. Plus, you're always getting up at 5:00 or 6:00. So the sleep sucks, and you don't get enough of it! Ha ha.

It's strangely envigorating, though. When you're exhausted, and you can't see straight, but you still have a 9:45 post-gig supper with nice profs and students, you have to dip deep to find the source. This is a good thing, ultimately. You have no way of knowing how deep your source goes till you think it's empty and you have to scrape. And you come up with more! (I sound like the trainers on The Biggest Loser--ONE MORE SQUAT THRUST! DO IT! DON'T BE A QUITTER!)

The world becomes a giant puzzle to you, as you figure out all the moves you have to make to get through each event. Mega-Pong.


So I dragged my sorry booty out of bed at 5:30 on Wednesday. We had gotten in from Aspen Monday night--kid's still sick. I have to take her to the doctor today. Taught on Tuesday. Drove to O'Hare (O'Snare) in death-traffic. I was sure I wasn't going to make it. It was dead-stopped at 7:00, and my flight was at 8:20. But somehow I got through the snags and went to park and the lot was full. Doh! I ended up parked somewhere I don't even know where, then hoofed it to the terminal--in the wrong direction! Doh! Got to the gate as they were boarding. Challenge One Complete! The Urrea Team Moves On!

Into Dulles. Wandered around squinting. Magically hooked up with my guide and driver, a hiking woman. We had a good time, though we got lost. Went to a nice lunch next door to a Virginia place called Fast Eddie's. I remember the stupidest details. Don't remember my hosts' names, but I remember Fast Eddies. Plus there was a small ravine behind the place with a gorgeous little green and gold stream that I just know was full of turtles.

Hotel! Bathroom! CNN! Iron shirt! Take a bite of the Otis Spunkmeyer or whatever it was cookies the hotel gave me that throw them away! THE URREA TEAM PASSES THE SECOND CHALLENGE! Although he has been on a diet since 1972, Urrea loses weight! The crowd goes wild! Only 947 pounds to go! Urrea scores extra points when his pants fall off as he tries to walk over to the bathroom! He steps out of them and tells himself, "You are v-shaped! You are a solid slab of mightily-thewed muscle and gristle."

To the lobby to be picked up for the reception with strangers and the vaguely confused public!


At George Mason U, a fine institution. Even though my psychotic attacker lurks thereabouts. I stood around sipping ice water at the art installation. Very nice people spoke to me. And we then hied over to the theater.

I drew an OK crowd. Not the audience ctaclysms of UC Davis or Austin or even Hope College in Michigan. This wasn't an REM concert--it was more like a Lovehammers concert. But it was funny, I think, and we seemed to get along very well. I went over the time limit. I always go over. Someone warn the venues I will go over. And the Q&A session will go long too. And the signing line will be very long. I could hear my host off stage waving his arms at me, but I couldn't see him in the gloom. Just heard his feet squeaking.

Look, my mind was still processing the bulls at Tony's house, Jay Marvin's astounding 120 pound diet, the Mexican meal in Aspen, the snow, the lovely and sacred Sara Labadie at Gallagher's in Paw Paw, Michigan. I cannot catch up to myself. It's a time-warp out there.

I squatted at the signing table, and my buds appeared. My new friends, and my old friends. The loyal and fierce Grace and Clarke were there. Hugs and kisses! (Is the best part of the tour hugs and kisses? Well, it'll do till the best part gets there.) And my friend Mary Blanchard, whom I had met in France years ago. Yay! And Kyoko Mori, the fine writer.

So I was signing, and I was making the students sign my autograph book. This new feature has been a raving success. It turns the whole event into a yearbook graduation party. And then Travis Bickle stepped up.

Now, your star-killers are not dudes in mohawks. Not tattooed maniacs with chains and face-piercings. Those guys are always in the line, too. And they are the ones who actually read and think about the books. They might toss me a devil's-horns sign, but that's like a hug and kiss.

This freak son of a bitch was a slender man. 46 or 38. Pasty-faced and smiling. Little dark sixth grade haircut, all nicely combed. Little polo shirt and little zipped up windbreaker. Looked like mommy had dressed him for the event, except he had mommy's mummy in his closet.

The thing starts with a few innocuoucs, yet slightly critical, questions. I am fully in my Boddhisattva-Boy mode out there. I have tried to quash the monster within. My werewolf first wife once quipped, "Most people have in inner child. You have an inner serial killer."

Oh well, the slow whine of the engine of rage in his head started to engage. He wouldn't get out of line. He ratcheted up, faster and faster: I had lied, I had failed to explain reality, I had shirked my responsibility, my heritage was corrupt. Mexican culture was debased, I was debased, filthy Mexicans were invading his pristine country, Mexicans were murderers and deserved to be executed en masse, I had a brain of some sort but I obviously could not think. Little mists of spit and demonic orgasms squirted out of the corners of his mouth.

I was trying toi be polite; I started to go all Bill Clinton and turn red and snap. The kids in line stood there agog. What--Buddha is going to give the psycho killer a Tombstone Pile-Driver?

If I have a bone to pick with the fine folks at Geo Mason, it might be that my hosts all stood there observing this scene with the mildest, Why isn't this interesting, looks on their faces. Good ol' Grace and Clarke were about to jump Mr. Bill Zebbub.

Somehow, he was shuffled aside so I could sing the rest of the books. "I'm staying right here!" he called. "I'm talking to you after you're done!"

Hey, great. Just my idea of a swell night.

And he came for more. It got to the next videogame level of repressed assassin wind-up. He got very loud. The Yuma 14 had died coward's deaths. They deserved their deaths. In fact, 14 died, but all 26 deserved to die! We were outside, and he was shrieking from the shadows. Then he stormed off.

I know how this goes. Usually, the cowards who attack on the internet attack at this level, They're bolder when they are hidden in their apartments with their GI Joe action figures and their stained tighty whiteys around their ankles. The next step is, they tell you you're a traitor. And traitors, inevitably, have earned the patriot's bullets. There is only one fate for a traitor to AMERICA, and that is the bliundfold and the firing squad. Oh, yes. I have gotten these messages. And then--get this, fellow writers--they will move on to your wife and children. The kids must go, because that's the only way to stop vermin like me from spreading my gospel of hate, treason, and beaner-loving.

That was coming, as soon as Bill Zebub came back from his car.

With his .38.

Kind of tiresome.

So the friendly prof swooped me up and we went to an Indian dinner and I tried to focus on the questions. After my crazy stalker in Tucson, I have to confess I kept one eye over my shoulder, expecting my new pal to take a pot-shot from the street. (Later, when I told my boy Eric about it on the phone, he reverted to Rock And Roll Asshole Mode, which is what I need when I'm being Buddha-Man: he was upset at first, then started to laugh, and said, "Dude, take one for the team! Let the guy, like, shoot you in the shoulder or the leg! Man! You'll be on the news! They'll be like, He was shot by racists for his humanitarian stance! You'll sell millions of books!" I couldn't stop laughing. Thanks, E.)


Adapt, improvise, and overcome.

Up at 6:00. Five minute shower. Into the cab at 6:30. African driver. His father had three wives. He maintained four houses. One for each woman, and one for the 16 children. Poor papa never did get a house of his own.

I had vowed to my students that I'd get to Chi in time to drive to them and teach class that morning. It was hard to find the car at O'Hare, and it was storming. But somehow I got in the Honda at 10:00. I had to be at UIC at 11:00. I was on it! Challenge Number 101!

I kept thinking about what the pilot said to us. It was one of those moments when Grace descends from an unexpected place. He came over the cabin intercom and did the usual we're landing thing. But then he said: "Remember, every day is a gift. That's why they call it The Present."

How about that.

I made it to class, too. The students applauded.

Today, me and the cat are watching it rain.


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