For years, I tried to read Don Quixote,
Revering the Spaniard writer in me,
Skimming a thin abridged edition,
Sophomoric in World History.
Later, greater windmills.
Exotic becomes quixotic.
The bookmark stops.
Dare you go on,
Know the ending anyway,
Some will never get their day.
Chiefs of Staff
Middle and/or Senior management
Presumptive press secretaries
Heads of security
Surrogates (sex or otherwise)
There are few places a part-time vegetarian of Hispanic origin can get Mexican-type food quickly. McDonald’s rolled out a chicken wrap in a tortilla, but that, of course, contained meat. Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s? Not a single item that appeals to the brown in me. Now, Carl’s Jr I have to say is pretty clever with their sub-restaurant, the Green Burrito. I appreciate their effort to make a brand around ethnic food in a burger joint, but the words green and burrito just don’t go together. Jack in the Box has tried with their deep fried taco, which will do in a pinch, or if the Padres have a promotion where they’ll give taco coupons if and when they score a run.
What we’re left with is you, Taco Bell, and here in Southern California, Del Taco, which I will get to in a moment. And there’s, well, Chipotle, but everyone knows that’s not Mexican or fast food. You have to walk in, plus, no Mexican food restaurant on this planet serves burritos that huge in to-go bags covered in short stories written by George Saunders and Judd Apatow. They just don’t!
Granted what I’m talking about here is Mexican-style food. Food inspired by Mexico. Beans, rice, tortillas, cheese. If you want real Mexican food, you have to go to Mexico. You can get a fine taco at any number of authentic Mexican food stands in Southern California, but do you have the time? I certainly don’t. I’m on the road, calling on customers, and sadly, sometimes I only have time for a drive-thru. I don’t want to do it, but I have to when I’ve got twenty minutes in between clients.
And so where do I go? Where does a person of Hispanic—and note I said Hispanic—origin go? See, I’m not Mexican, or Columbian, and Costa Rican. I was born right here in the United States to parents whose parents were the real thing. It’s been washed out of me. Not all of it. But most of it. I still need my taco, but I need it fast, and with customer service. Hey, I’m American. Sue me. Oh, and I also try to eat vegetarian as often as possible because the conscious American in me tells me to go easy on the earth and vote with my checkbook. Wouldn’t that be funny, Taco Bell, if you took checks? You take American Express, which I find so deliciously ironic because my tab is usually less than five dollars, likely less than it costs you to process an AmEx charge.
So, anyway, I go to you Taco Bell, to get my ancestral food needs met, and I order a tostada. In my mind, it’s a perfect food. Beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, a swirl of hot sauce, all on a flat crispy bed. Two of them will usually fill me up for a few hours. But what to my sorpresa when I ordered one the other day in between appointments only to find a new creamy red sauce on it! I wasn’t pleased by this, mind you. I was taken aback. Why go and ruin a tradition, Taco Bell? Creamy Sriracha-like hot sauce? That’s Jack in the Box, ese. Come on.
Which leads me to Del Taco. I didn’t want to do it either. I’d avoided it for years being so loyal to “The Bell.” But I had to try it. It was the only thing I could find one day in San Bernardino. I rolled up, found the equivalent (craftily dubbed “The Crunchtada”), and ordered. I parked, opened the tray, and, ay dios mío, what a beauty. A thick shell, coarsely cut lettuce, generous bands of cheese, a substantial layer of refried beans, and a touch, just a touch, of red sauce. It was pretty good, I can’t lie. So good that I’ve been back more than a few times.
That’s right, Taco Bell, I think I’ve converted from the Bell to the Del. And not just because they have a better product, that’s just one of the reasons. The other reason is the name. It’s like Green Burrito. I realized Taco and Bell don’t go together. Del and Taco, however, do. It translates into “of the taco” and that is, in essence, what I’m about. I’m of the taco. I’m not the taco, as I mentioned earlier. I’m simply inspired by the taco. I’m taco-style, and, incidentally, I know where I need to go if I need the real thing.
San Diego CA
We’ve all been there: staring at a blank canvas, that perfect first line taunting you. Sometimes the entire story spills into your head. You see it all play out before you. It’s going to be marvelous.
Then the words come. And this is what you get. False starts. Doomed beginnings.
Traces of fat around his cheeks and jawbone had layered outward in the past few years, swallowing the distinct features of his once angular face. When Samantha didn’t recognize him, he said, “Hey, I’ve been hungry, okay?”
There was a huge difference between “Could you sweep out the crematorium?” and “Please sweep out the crematorium.” The former suggested Ricky might be physically unable to do so, yet that wasn’t what bothered him; he preferred to be told what to do.
Greg flung his paddle into the mosquito-infested stream. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m done with this shit.” Liza gripped her paddle until her knuckles turned white. She knew, after all these years, fundamental differences with things like religion and politics wouldn’t break them. Setting up a tent. Parallel parking. Folding laundry. Kayaking, however, would.
On January 1, 2000, I woke up in the cargo area of an SUV, hands bound behind me, duct tape over my mouth. I was still wearing all my clothes: khaki pants, white T-shirt under a green wool vest, and boots, all of which reeked of booze and spit up. The night before came back to me in flashes: waiting in lines at dive bars on Galveston Island’s strand, whiskey shots, cameras flashing, standing on the beach around a bonfire, then nothing.
And while we men with big brains might desire those women that love men with muscles and money, we tend to be satisfied with the women—those few women—that go for men with intelligence.
Baby name trend expert Nameberry* and the efficient record-keeping, lovable government office the U.S. Census* have released a rare preview of the top baby girl names for 2015.
Names based on nouns, adjectives, or poorly crafted adverbs:
Male names soon to be appropriated for baby girls:
* Nameberry and the U.S. Census did not release these names. Purely a joke.
You might be at a writer’s conference if:
1. You see tremendous metaphor opportunity in the old swing set with no swings on the beach outside your hotel room.
2. At lunch, everyone at the table says, at least once, something about, “my novel.”
3. You brought your own books to read of which you never open, but leave with a canvas bag full of new ones.
4. In workshop, someone asks if we can have compliments first, shit storm last.
5. When you call home, your significant other asks, “What’s wrong with you?”
6. At open mic, when someone reads from their iPad, you scoff to yourself, but think that’s a damn good idea.
7. After author presentations, when they ask for questions, questions evolve into comments about the listener’s own insights on something totally unrelated to the topic.
8. When you move forward to the author’s table to get your book signed, you tremble and stammer, this, your writer god in front of you.
9. You try to find your favorite writer based on their book jacket photo but realize upon seeing them in person their picture is younger—much younger—than their latest work.
10. At nightly readings, when an author’s words really stun you, that moment when he ends his last stanza, or she breathes between paragraphs, a collective “mmm…” or “hmm…” emanates from the audience. You hate these people for mmm-ing and hmm-ing, but they’re right. My God, are they right.
It’s long been argued that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Long before there were online reputation agencies, mobile wireless stores, and froyo shops, there were hookers. And hookers have been making a lot of money back then and now. It’s a lucrative job, prostitution, depending on what you get in return. But while prostitution may pad the pocketbook and fight for its position as the world’s oldest position, I believe there’s a far older job than peddling your skin. That job is writing. It must be the oldest profession, and probably even the world’s oldest hobby. How would we know today that prostitution is the second oldest profession had there not been a writer close by documenting that fact? He or she might have been within earshot, or some other kind of shot, observing—constantly observing as writers do—making the connection that this bedded-down person is offering their body—selling it—for something in return, maybe a rupee, or a loaf of bread.
That writer may have thought, “This is so good, you can’t even write this stuff.” Perhaps he had been hard at work morphing the words from the mouth of the wise temple elder into interpretable symbols meant to capture the ideology of the people, and took a break. The writer heard these scandalous noises, and with his stylus he went to a different clay tablet, maybe a personal one part of the small collection of private writings he called Soul Food, to imprint the happenings of that very moment so that a record—a timestamp—would remain lest our memories, as they so often do, fail us.
And so that writer wrote on to record all the other professions that had come along. That writer had always been there, you see, long before the hookers. The writer had been, like all people, trying to get stuff out of their head and put it on something. The first writers were actually painters and they used cave walls as their canvas. The stories, histories, philosophies, ideas and dreams—had to go somewhere. They couldn’t stay locked up in the head forever. The writer had to figure out a way to get them from the head to the tablet. That’s a hard job. Much harder than screwing.
With writing being the oldest profession, and now established as being also the most difficult, two paths emerged. Writing for profit and writing to write. That’s where we see writing as being both the oldest profession and the oldest hobby. That scribe recording that civilization’s religion? He got paid. Just like the prostitute. But did payment fulfill the writer? Did that writer go home at the end of the day and say, “I just want to write something else, and I would love to get paid for writing that other stuff.” And just how much did that writer get paid, anyway? If the pay scale was commensurate with today’s standards, it probably wasn’t very much. This is why writers constantly debate whether to put their skills to work for payment, yet become quickly vexed by two realizations: 1) I won’t get paid squat, and 2) If I use my God-given talent for something like ad copy, isn’t that just prostitution?
As the world’s oldest hobby, writing is pretty cheap, so if you’re going to keep at it and not get paid, you don’t have to invest that much. All you have to do is sit there and put symbols down (doesn’t matter if they make sense at first—you can come back and edit) and you just need a stylus and clay tab. That’s it! But as hobbies go, they usually end at your Mom patting you on the back for your hard work, or your wife telling you she’s going to get around to reading that novel of yours one of these days.
And herein lies the fundamental problem with hobbies in general. In the words of his impish character Zooey Glass, J.D. Salinger explained it this way: “Nobody who’s really using his ego, his real ego, has any time for any goddam hobbies.” Writers know that their writing isn’t a hobby. It’s a passion. Writers who are using their ego to write have difficulty walking away from writing. It’s an addiction of sorts that’s tough to break.
When writers tell other writers they’d be better off quitting the art, or that they should find something else to do that will make them money, it’s true. Why waste the time on it? Why pour in all that energy and heart and soul and ego for no return? It all goes back to the notion that what’s inside the head needs release. It’s part therapy, too. Any writer will tell you this. Writing lets writers put away what they cannot rid themselves of by any other means. That’s what one writer, Steve Almond, wrote once, and I can’t think any other more sublime way to put it. I haven’t thought of my own way to write it.
The other day I was at a reading by another writer, Jess Walter. Jess read from his new novel, Beautiful Ruins, and afterward took questions. From the packed sales floor at Warkick’s in La Jolla, the inevitable, “What made you become a writer?” question popped up. Jess answered this as any writer would: in a drawn out winding fashion referencing his blue collar family that didn’t pay much attention to the arts, his overactive imagination from a young age, and his undying vision that he would once have a book on a shelf somewhere, ideally next to Kurt Vonnegut’s. Jess has told that story a million times, and to him only it makes sense. Only writers know why they become writers and they also know the difficulty in explaining why to other people. That explanation writers give is similar to their own process of writing: there’s a story there and only I know how to tell it. I decided to do this, to keep at this because I can’t stop. I’m destined to put my thoughts down on something. I’m driven to this.
So, whether that writer choses to share that work, or attempts to put it out there for the world—for profit or not—is another story. It’s a story that again, only a writer can tell. It’s also a decision a writer has to make early on, a quandary we face every day when we set out to compose: will this continue to fulfill me without any type of return, and if I were to get a return, will I be able to maintain my true purpose and not become a whore? After everything, will any of these clay tablets matter to anyone? Anyone at all?