Last Thursday I flew to Albuquerque to see a friend and sell some books. I met Bud in the late 90s when I moved back to Chicago. His band, the Country Melvins, was big part my finding a new community to be part of in town. When he moved to Albuquerque in 2005, I went along to give a hand. When I started planning events to promote my new book, Bud offered to put together a night of music in his town.
After a lunch which included the obligatory green chiles, we killed some time at a coffee shop, then moved on to a brewpub. One of the guys who would be performing that night joined us for a drink. He was dropping off a brown bag full of morels for the chef. I didn’t even know there were mushrooms in New Mexico, much less that local musicians might make a living trolling for them. He told me he was putting the finishing touches on a new record and asked whether I’d be up for making some art for the cover. I said yes without a second thought. Bud’s new lady, Arlene, showed up as well. It was great to see him with a woman who obviously liked him a lot.
An hour later we rolled up to the Moonlight Lounge, a barebones bar off the lobby of the Sunshine Theater. We set up a projector to run my slideshow and I laid out books and prints on small red-and-black-tiled table. Carl, a gentle Santa Claus of a guy, showed up. he’d be playing first. Then Brett and Rennie from the Handsome Family poked their head in. They were getting sushi next door, but promised to come back after. We’d been trying to get them to play, but it was even more flattering, in a way, that they came to hang out.
Carl’s songs were sharp-tongued and wistful in equal measure. The one about Gilligan’s Island of Dr. Moreau keeps popping into my head days later. Josh, the morel hunter, was next with a set melancholy, whispered tunes that reminded me a bit of the great Nashville band Lambchop. I’m glad I agreed to do artwork for him.
Darlin finished out the night with catchy countryish tunes. I sold some books and had some good talks with friends new and old. The next afternoon, I caught a plane for San Francisco.
I took BART and Muni to Deborah’s new pad near what’s recently been renamed Oracle Field, home of the San Francisco Giants. I dropped off my gear, then we went to to the Castro Theatre to meet Ben for a Lon Chaney flick. Deborah and I were once married and Ben and I go back more than thirty years, so, even though I was in a city I don’t know too well, I felt at home.
The next morning Deborah and I went to the museum, then for a walk along the bay. I’m thankful we can spend time together now, whatever problems we had with one another in the past. It’s a privilege to be able track someone else’s life, whether one’s path with them intertwines or diverges. I don’t feel comfortable being open with many people, but on this trip I got to spend time with three of the people that have meant the most to me in my life. It would’ve been worthwhile even if I hadn’t sold a single book.
Another nice surprise was that my high school classmate, Laurel, showed up to my event that night at The Green Arcade bookstore. We haven’t seen one another in at least twenty-five years. She just happened by the store the day before and saw the poster, which looked familiar to her for some reason. She lives in the neighborhood with her husband and their kid.
Ben had been stressing out for weeks about our public talk, but I knew it would go well. And it did. It was the kind of easy banter we’ve engaged in ever since I met him, as a teenager, working at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.
Deborah generously offered to drive me to the airport for my 6:30am flight back to Chicago. It remains to be seen how much good this trip did for the prospects of the book, but it did a ton to lift my spirits, so I count it a success.