It was funny to go to Tucson for their Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB) after such a long and nasty Chicago winter. No big coats! The snow had finally melted out of our yard. But flying in, we saw snow on the Arizona peaks. Hmm. No snow in Chicago, but snow in Tucson. It's a topsy-turvy world.
This was my second TFOB, and frankly, I was wondering who would want to see me again. I got some suprises, though. Like, a few hundred surprises. The first one was our rental car--a bad-ass metalflake blue Dodge Charger. Now, I will say right here that I have rented a billion Focuses, KIAs, Hyundais, even a few Chevy Malibus. But I was never handed the keys to a metalflake monster. Go, Dollar! I'm a true-(metalflake)blue San Diego boy who yearned for a hot car to cruise Clairemoint Drive and astound Prudence, Rockie Lee and my beloved Carol Moore. Oh, I would have probably made my girlfriend Colette really giddy in a Charger. But I was driving Keds and Converse hi-tops and never even had a car.
The Charger was vicious. Evil. Fat and bulgy. In short: I was in love with myself. Mr. Male Menopause, announcing to Cinderella that it wanted to kill the BMW beside us. I composed poems about it eating Priuses. She Twittered: "That's just sad." But my car UNDERSTOOD ME. We rolled up to the El Conquistador resort (TFOB knows how to take care of its authors) and rumbled around like a jaguar robot, scattering terrified quail. Um, she was driving, actually. But I was the baddest possible passenger in the desert, casting wicked ass-kicking passenger stare-downs at all other drivers, especially those bastards in Mustangs.
We went to the get-together/banquet. The blessings began to shower down right away. Saw our beloved Robert Boswell, and Bozzed it up w/ him. People kept stopping me to say hi. The editor of Hummingbird Review (you'd better start reading it!) came along. Hugs all the way around. Then Mr. Desierto, the reigning genius of flora and fauna, Gary Paul Nabhan showed up. Turns out he's doing a book: Teresita's Plants. Yes! The Yaqui sacred plants of Hummingbird's Daughter and the real world. Asked me to write the intro. All monies to go back to Yaqui women's groups. How utterly perfect is that?
On to the banquet. We were at table 11. Sitting at the table next to us was mystery queen, JA Jance. One of the coolest people at TFOB. Cinderella whispered, "There's Janis Ian!" Yo! I used to be all crushed out on Janis when I was "At Seventeen" (nudge nudge--witty authorial reference) and watching her on stuff like, what? Midnight Special. Maybe Mike Douglas. At one point, when they forced all us writing wretches to stand and be applauded, she said, "Hi, I'm Janis Ian." I said, "I know. I love you." She squinted up at me with a HUH? look. Later, during a break, she said, "Do I know you?" I said, "No. I was just one of those boys who could cry over your songs." Yeah, baby. Me'n'Janis. BFFs. I had the best time gossipping with her and JA Jance.
We dragged off to the hotel and fell into bed, totally exhausted. I was awakened the next morning by Cinderella gone psycho on our TRX exercise system and suqatting and push-upping and deep-knee-bending. Are U kidding me??? I was doing the patented Luis Pillow On The Head exercise routine. But I LEAPT from bed in my blue underpants BY GOD and showed her a friggin' thing or two about EXERCISE! &*%#@$!!! We did planks and high rows and high curls and whatever blood-squirt out of your eyes morning torture. We'd show all the happily relaxing people attending TFOB! "Keep your core tight," my peach gasped. I replied, "I HAVE NO CORE." Ug, grunt, huff, grrrg.
Trucks, motorcycles and Toyotas fell to the curb in fear as the Charger awoke and paced around Tucson looking for fresh meat.
I had my morning event at 11:30. Tom Miller was doing the onstage chat w me. There's no way to tell these stories w/out feeling like a jerk. I think of the Bonzo Dog Band song, "Look at Me I'm Wonderful." Sorry. Nuff sed. So, um, the theater was full, actually. About 350 peeps in there. They tossed out over 60 people, and one of the escorts told me there were 100 people outside being barred from entering. I was shocked. The great master, Simon Ortiz was there. I was thrilled when Simon stepped up to ask a question and I said, "the Master, Simon Ortiz," and the audience broke out in applause for him. Yes. You have to pay your respects.
Terribly sorry, but it went swimmingly well, and everyone was in a high state of hilarity. Did I mention that the Bonzo song says, "I'm not a bit like you or you--I'm a super show-biz star"? Like, dude, how do you talk about this stuff? Break out the cheese whizz, man, 'cause it's gonna get cheesy in here. Perhaps I will simply say that the signing line thereafter was 1 1/2 hours long. After this, though, I had to go to the UA bookstore for another signing, and this was more classic in nature. That is, you sit at a table looking embarrassed, and folks drift by, look at your book(s), smile wanly and condescendingly, and head off for the diet book section. Cinderella was standing with that damned king of editorial cartoons, Fitz, and they enjoyed mocking me every time somebody walked by. "Hey Luis Urrea!" Fitz hollered. "Don't you need to go to the BATHROOM?" Since I am the sensitive shaman who wrote Hummingbird's Daughter, I can't be seen shaking my fist at my wife or Tucson's most famous cartoonist. But I mouthed wicked threats at them. (More on shamans in a moment.)
Then it was time for my second public event of the day, my "workshop." I wasn't sure what to workshop, so I decided to simply tell them of my own experience and answer questions. It was across the campus, in a lecture hall, and I was astounded to see SRO again. What's up, Tucson? Clearly, Teresita was punishing Cinderella for mocking me by making her sit on the floor. It was a wonderful hour with very sweet, kind people. I loved it to death. I think we shared a lot of valuable stuff. It's hard to remember, because to speak to so many people, you have to fire up the reactor. You have to jam in the dilithium crystals and attain warp drive. It fries the circuits. However, afterward, I had my third signing of the day. It was a nice line, not as giant as the first, not as sparse as the second. But big-time blessings showered down.
Representatives of my beloved Yaqui tribe came. they brought me cool presents. Note to people standing in autograph lines: Luis likes swag. They brought me Yaqui tribal flag pins for my jackets. Cool! It's like a secret code. We took senior-prom snaphsots all hugs and grins. And then a handsome young agent of the US Border Patrol appeared. How's that for a day, Yaqui bessings AND Border Patrol blessings! But about that shaman.
The man was silent. White haired. Dark faced. Hawklike, if a hawk could almost grin. He stepped up and gripped my hand and wrist and stared in my face. Then he stepped back and made the sign of the cross over me and walked away. Somebody next to me muttered, "Holy shit."
Off to the author's dinner/beer blast. We sat with Kathleen Alcala. I ate fish tacos. We found our beloved Charger, its mouth hideously dripping with oil from the Mini Cooper it had eaten, and we made it back to our room to pass out again from exhaustion.
In the morning, quail were rampaging all over the grounds. It was all delight. All joy. We discovered Jamie Ford and Masha Hamilton in the green room. It was a Twitter-pal Tweet-up. I had a third appearance and a fourth signing ahead. We walked all together and found Darth Vader, so we took our stoopid writer pix like kids at Disneyland. How delightful it is when you hook up with writers who can simply be joyous and free and not wrestling for prestige or position. Wish we'd had Janis Ian in there too! Well, the next event was also really good. Probably 300 folks again. Nice signing line. More swag. A stunning Yaqui hummingbird pin to go w my tribal flag. We met "Tucson Cowgirl," another Twitter pal, and Mary Beth Dawson, one of my healer-world friends from Hummingbird days--she lived on Rancho Teresita. Could it have been better? I don't know how.
Oh, wait--I do know. Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush was ready, and Bobby Byrd was selling it like Chocolate-Covered Dodge Chargers. My li'l exquisite graphic novel out early for its Tucson debut. A small way to pay back the love. Thank you, Christopher Cardinale for such beautiful artwork.
Had to drive around in the Charger for a while, so we snuck out and I floored it on out to East Saguaro, where I used to hike w javelinas, coyotes and a white ghostly roadrunner as I was wrestling with Hummingbird. Just...driving. No music. Window open. My wife and me, free upon the land. There was a party ahead, and a hang with dear friends, and a ghastly five a.m. wake up for our flight back. But the desert was all green and red and purple and gray and yellow and orange all arund us. The mountains were saffron and mauve. And the snow was dabbed on them as if a great painter had stepped down from heaven and, against all odds, laid grace on the land.
Love to you,