I'm writing this early in the week as I also prepare for the AWP Conference. I'm sure I won't have any time Thursday night to deal with my usual obligations like La Bloga -- that's the night of the Con Tinta pachanga, which grows each day in terms of expectations and legendary status. I will be there and so will several (a hundred?) other Latina/o writers including comrades from La Bloga. But that was last night.
It's weird the way things work out. I received copies of my new book, King of the Chicanos, a few days ago. Hot off the press, literally. Much too new to be sold at AWP but I will do my damndest to get the word out. Quite a high to see a new book with my name on it. A trip. My head could explode. That old chingon feeling returned.
So around the same time that the books showed up, literally almost as I was cutting open the box, my water line busted and my basement flooded.
We scurry to block water with ripped towels and rags. I call the water department - the person answering the phone says they will send someone to turn off the water by 2:30 PM (it's 10:00 AM!) I scream emergency, and let her know that the house could float away. She says she will do what she can. Then I call the plumber I have used much too often in the past few years. Sure, he says. He'll come by as soon as he can - half hour or so. More towels, more rags - panic starts to set in as we haul and shove boxes containing the remains of our early years out of the basement. The water flows.
The water guy shows up - he turns off the water but can't do much else. Flo tells me that the water continues to ripple and flow. She says goodbye to her stored copies of Liberty Meadows and La Perdida (Part One!) I say goodbye to our carpet.
Mike, my plumber pal, arrives with helpers and tools. He looks around and shakes his head. His assistant says "Oh shit," not something you want to hear from your plumber's assistant. Mike decides that he needs to get to the pipe under the floor - under the floor! Now we're saying goodbye and adios to thousands of dollars as the plumber jack-hammers the concrete. Fare thee well to hundreds more as he calls for help in the form of a loud, smoky, oil-dripping machine to dig up the front yard so he can make the connection to the main line. The machine coughs and belches in the street; the neighbors shake their heads and shut their curtains; and the wet clay turns to sloppy mud. The men can't find the main line - it's deeper than they expected. They break the sewer line looking for the water line. Then it starts to rain.
We are in hog heaven now - nothing but mud outside, and what used to be the grandkids' running, screaming and jumping space (the basement) is now a muddy mire of broken concrete and sloshy carpet. Santiago, one of the helpers, digs and shovels mud until it piles almost to the ceiling. The ground is so wet that the water sits in pools - they are having a very hard time replacing the pipe. My house is so old that there is no easy repair job, ever. But they promise that we will have a shower and toilet by that evening. The plumbers don't keep their promise. Goodbye new book high.
The next day Flo and I shower at my office. We use the toilets at my office. We drink water at my office. We try to avoid the house - it is a mess. But we have to return. The plumbers finish the job about midday. More digging by the monster, more digging by Santiago who now has brought his wife to "clean up." She's wearing a skirt and a blouse made for the dance floor. The basement frightens her but Santiago reassures her. It's still cold and wet outside, and cold and wet inside.
Like all plumbing stories, this one ends when water streams from the faucets again as it is supposed to and not through the basement walls. The plumbers and Santiago's wife leave. My front yard has a patch of sticky, frustrating bare clay where lawn once tried to survive. There is no way to work with this dirt. An oil stain has exploded on the sidewalk. Mike says he will send over a guy he knows with some sod. (The sod arrives the next day - it is yellow and doesn't look right, but I do what I can with it.) The basement is a disaster and now we need a new floor - more money.
But this wasn't meant to be a story about a water leak, or plumbers, or even Santiago's unwisely-dressed wife. This story is about the manuscripts, rejection letters, poems, stories, outlines, and a play that I found as I looked through boxes of my old stuff that I was forced to deal with because of the flood. What could I salvage; what should be tossed; what could I use?
I had forgotten I had written some of this stuff - it looks strange to me, as though some other writer had asked me to keep his papers for him while he traveled around the world looking for the perfect setting. And, truth be told, these stories and poems and plays and half-novels were written by someone else, more than twenty years ago. This other person doesn't exist anymore - he's a stranger to me now. He used pseudonyms and scribbled stories about daily life in a factory. He penned romantic poetry and sarcastic essays. He wrote what he needed to write back then, and most of it was never seen by anyone else. Those who did see it told him that his writing wasn't "suitable for our present needs." And yet he continued to write.
It all goes around and comes back, no? Riding high in April, shot down in May. But finding those old papers balanced everything. Reading those poems, some of which were love letters to my wife, made me smile, even laugh. Looking over those stories made me cringe, and smile. It may sound trite but the rejections made me feel good because I have also known the joy of acceptance. It's a balance. New book on Wednesday, basement flooded on Thursday. Writing in 1985, still writing in 2010.
Here are two of the old pieces I re-discovered. They are what they are.
I lost myself in the purity of your sin.
I held your sweetness with my breath.
Your passion trapped in my love grip.
I searched the sultry horizons of your eyes,
The deserts and beaches of your skin,
Your jungle dampness
For questions you packed away in carry-on bags.
I had the answers ready, but they remain unclaimed.
Now that I am found again, I know that I have lost.
Hecho en Mexico.
Cerveceria Cruz Blanca, S.A.
Cd. Juarez Chih., Mexico.
12 Fl. Oz.
A mean looking blonde on the label.
I scratch at her halter top with my fingernail.
Pale, rosy hewed nipples stare back.
The beer, too, is uninspiring.
How many of you even remember Nude Beer? That's all. Later.