How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part Two


As the first week of workshops wound down, several things happened in Aspen that were quite magical.  Of course, that magnificent bastard Colum McCann arrived.  It doesn't get much better than that--though everyone knew if Colum is here, we are not getting much sleep.

 And there was the usual awesome partiness, where we gathered at wonderful places to drink and eat and be faux Aspen billionaires of an evening.  Our dear pals Daniel and Isa opened their home to the Aspen Writers, and we went up early and took the Bourques to visit.  It's snuggled up close to heaven, where those kids live, and we took it all in like big draughts of mountain air.

Unexpectedly,  the great treat for me was that they had brought in The Three Louies.  THREE LOUIES!  Luis Rodriguez and Luis Torres, on the literary front.  And Louie Freakin Perez of Los Lobos!  They kindly and quickly dubbed me "The Fourth Louie."  YES.  The gents did their talk/comedy/history/musical thing for the possibly baffled guests.  Peeps stood there in the dusk with cocktails and eats, then a Brazilian jazz duo took the mikes and sang for us.  But a later, greater,  triumph was in store for Los Louies back at the Aspen Institute.

Me and Luis Rodriguez

Now, Isa and Daniel have this infamous bowl.  Everybody who goes there hears the whisper--"Look in The Bowl."  I found the Three Louies staring into it with awe and even fear.  This mysterious bowl seems to be full of milk, but if you watch the milk, it starts to ripple, and you hear it going "gloop gloop" and "splish splish" and then a naked woman appears in the milk, bathing and sighing.  It's BLACK MAGIC, I tell you.  It's something from Disney's Haunted Mansion ride...if the ride were rated R.

Isa and Daniel's little boy took the mike from the singers and announced to the crowd that his big sister was a criminal and not to talk to her as she ran around.


Back at the Institute, my writers were excellent--we had a joyous workshop.  Ben Percy saw a bear.  Mona Simpson was smarter than anybody around her.  Gioconda Belli...goddess.  We drank weird pink cocktails at the Bar Jerome.  I was lucky enough to do an onstage chat with Chip Blake, of ORION magazine.  (Why have you not subscribed yet?  I have a column in there called "The Wastelander."  Every other month.  I want to share it with you. Besides, I think it's the most beautiful mag in America right now.)  And The Three Louies did their show in the Aspen Institute's auditorium.

I cannot tell you how brilliant this was, for Aspen Writers to bring my homies into Aspen, into the seat of power.  Into the place where my people--me, if I had been lucky--were working hard cleaning their toilets and making their beds for them.  Lisa and the women of the Foundation knew it.  And they brought in the Louies to talk about the barrio.  About us.  About our humanity.  Talk about speaking Truth to Power!

They even gave a lesson in calo (Chicano slang) and read a poem by Jose Montoya, one of the grand-daddies and OG veteranos of the Chicano movement.  I sat there and cried.  I cried.  Like a bopper at a Beatles show in 1964.  I cried.

They had brought our disparaged and battered barrio cultura here, to this powerful place, and they gave it back to the audience as high art.  Art!  I never saw an alchemical process as powerful.  It ushered in all kinds of miracles.

At the end of my workshop, my students gave me a hand-carved boomerang that they all signed.

Did I tell you I destroyed my back?  The really big crunch didn't happen till later--my first Old Man Injury in Oregon.  But I had already thrown my back out somehow at our friends' ranch--every time I visit Tony and Pam, I end up lame.  Too many donkeys or something.  So I was hurting and stiff before we even got to Aspen.  And I got some kind of infection in my left eyelid that came and went and raged until, by the time I fell on my ass in Oregon and slaughtered my hip, looked like I had a black eye.  And I caught a cold.  Uh-huh.  I still had about 6,000 miles to drive.  Wanted to scream.  But my JOB was to be cheerful and try to offer inspiration.  Never let 'em see you sweat.  Or hear you shriek in pain.


Aspen Week Two saw a changing of the guard, as the teachers and students left, and new authors arrived, and we moved from the Institute to the Hotel Jerome for the Global Story Summit.  Colum, of course, presided.  But zowie, what a crowd descended.  CNN handsome man Reza Aslan came; Andy Greer stayed; Terry Tempest Williams joined us; Ishmael Beah; Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron; our skipper at TIN HOUSE Rob Spillman joined; the brilliant Ron Rash; Randall Keenan stuck around; oh, you know, Tobias Wolff.  Peeps like that.  I was staggering around like I'd been hit with a bat.  I kept confessing to Darrell Bourque that I was sure I'd be found out and sent home.  But I wasn't.

Ghost fans:  although you have to pay a small fortune a night to stay there, they do have ghosts, including a drowned boy who shows up on the third floor. He often leaves puddles on the floor.  Oh--go in the off season.  During ski season, it's even more.  Good thing it wasn't our tab.  Otherwise, we'd have been down at a Motel 6 in Glenwood Springs.

It was stunning.  And there was homework. I will write about this experience when I get it figured out.  But at night, we gathered outside and sang and tippled.  Chayo joined us after a while.  Can you imagine a mom and dad's joy at seeing The Kid singing Johnny Cash songs with Toby Wolff and Colum while Andy Greer plays ukelele?

Chayo and me, singing along with Tobias Wolf, Andy Greer & Colum McCann

Or Colum, gifting her with hardcover notebooks--one lined for writing and one blank for drawing.  And, while we gobbled Mexican food at Woody Creek Tavern (Chayo didn't know who Hunter Thompson was, but she flipped when she heard that Johnny Depp had hung out there), Colum told her to get the famous people in the room to write in her book.  "I don't know the famous people," she said.  He jumped up.  "But I do," he replied, and he forced the authors present to write her paragraphs in her book.

I told her that one day, when she's about 25, she will open that book and say Holy Crap.

"Your English teacher isn't going to believe this," I told her.

She and Colum sat in the back of the bus and talked all the way back up the mountain.

And remind me to tell you how Cinderella shamed Ron Rash and me when we tried to go trout fishing.

--Here Endeth the Section--

(More soon)

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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