Saturday, September 20, 2008

Travels with Crumley

In Memoriam: James Crumley

I just read in the L.A. Times that my friend and writing mentor, James Crumley, or Crumley or Crumdog as he was lovingly known by his friends, passed away on Wednesday, September 17, 2008. I loved this man. This man and I shared some good times on the border when he was a Fiction Professor in the English department at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I was starting my M.A. (back in the day when his son, Shorty, was just a baby). I'm a local to El Paso and Juárez, and Crumley liked going to bars, which were one of my favorite hangouts at the time as well. Because I was a starving graduate student earning $400 a month as a teaching assistant, Crumley and I made a deal that whenever we went drinking in Juárez, I would translate for him and he would buy my beer. Seemed like a great bargain to me. So we spent many a Friday night (or maybe Thursdays, after class) across the border at the Kentucky Club and further in to the darker holes-in-the-wall on Mariscal Street where naked women danced for us in exchange for shots of Cuervo and a $5 tip. There was this one particular bar that I don't remember the name of and which I feature in my short story "La Mariscal," in The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories, where Crumley and I both fell in love with the same girl. She was a beautiful "Aztec princess," as Crumley called her, and I was supposed to tell her that in my good Spanish. I told her what he'd said, and added my own bit of Mexican charm, telling her I thought she was a "reina" not a princess, and insinuated that I would be a much better catch than Crumley. Told her I had good hands and knew how to treat a woman right. She didn't take either of us up on our offers, but Crumley realized I was flirting with her when at one point she winked at me as she picked up a tray of drinks to deliver to her tables. "Just my luck," Crumley muttered under his mustache, "I'm buying the drinks and you're getting the girl."
Crumley was a good friend. He saved me a couple of times from getting arrested by the Juárez police (sorry about nearly driving your Volvo into that lady's house, Crumley), he threw a party for me when I got my Master's degree and invited the whole English department, he gave me the best writing advice ever--I don't give a shit what you write as long as you give a shit about it--and he said that I wrote "like a fuckin' angel," but didn't know it. Huge praise for an aspiring writer.
I am so grateful I knew him. The last couple of times I saw him he didn't look too healthy, but at least he was doing what he wanted to do, and that's all that matters. I spent a few hours with him and Martha at the Chicago Bouchercon (big conference for mystery writers and fans) in 2006 and that's where the picture above is taken. What I am most grateful for is that he took the time to blurb my novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders and this will connect us for all time. He wrote that my novel "... takes your breath away, page after page, and grabs your heart." Well, Crumdog, you sure grabbed mine. Adios, maestro.

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