Sam Quinones is a friend, a mentor, one of the greatest reporters I’ve ever read, the best-ever chronicler of Mexican migration to the United States and its effects on this country and Mexico, a prophet about this country’s opioid crisis, and the author of the recently released The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. But he’s also a player in one of the most important lessons I have learned, which was actually a humiliation.
I can’t remember when it was — I think it was before I became an editor, and before the release of my taco book, it was probably late in the aughts — but one year, Sam suggested we do a co-book reading in the Bay Area. He would read from his books, and I would read from mine.
The second reading was a guaranteed success — he had friends in Berkeley, and I had some readers there. It was a packed house, and I remember that I bought a CD of the Impressions a couple of hours before showing up, even though I’m still not as big as much of a fan of the group as maybe I should.
But that reading offered no lessons. I earned a lifetime of wisdom the night before, in one of the biggest flops of my career.
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The setting: Book Passage in Corte Madera, A legendary independent bookstore, in a wealthy city I had never heard of until Sam mentioned it.
I’ll speak for whoever invites me to go, but part of that contract is that the host brings an audience. I don’t mind speaking anywhere, but I want as many people as possible to show up, you know?
Well, almost no one showed up the night Sam and I spoke at Book Passage. To be exact, it was only three people.
I remember Sam and I were disappointed at the size of our audience before we began, and I was deflated. But there was never a question about what we were going to do.
We were going to give it our all – why wouldn’t we?
So Sam spoke about his books, and I spoke about my books, and we gave it our all. Sam is one of the best storytellers I know, and I know how to work a room. We did what we were asked to do, and then some.
It didn’t work. While our audience of three was appreciative, they didn’t buy a single book. Not his, or mine.
The Book Passage owner was apologetic, and Sam and I accepted his apology, even as we didn’t blame him. Flops happen. One time, I went to go speak at SUNY Lake Oswego, and no one showed up. I flew across the United States just to have an audience of zero.
But at least I got paid for that — at Book Passage, there was no payoff. It was a waste of an evening.
And yet Sam and I were at our best.
OF COURSE we would give it our all – we had an audience, didn’t we? We were asked to show up, weren’t we? To half-ass it would be an insult to our host, and ourselves.
This is the philosophy on which I’ve always lived my life, but that evening solidified that worldview. This is why I write my cantos during a weekend when most people are not gonna read this.
You ALWAYS give it your all — why wouldn’t you? Why would you want to be a flojx?
Maybe I’m biased, because I’m at where I’m at gracias to parents who literally gave their lives and dreams for me to be here. If I didn’t give it my all, it would be an insult to all that’s good and righteous in this world.
I once had a student who said she was happy with the B she earned, and didn’t need to earn the A I said she was capable of. Incredible.
I wish more people thought like Sam and I. It’s a privilege to be able to step up, to not slack off. Yet most don’t WERK — and that’s why Sam and I are where we’re at, y los otros are a perpetual whine machine. And the beat goes on…
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
My grandkids were over celebrating my birthday last night. I told my older grandson that I was stoked that their first concert would be about social justice . I am taking him and his 3-year-old brother to see La Misa Negra and Ozomatli.
Anyways, the conversation broadened and we got on the topic of identity. I said I was Chicana and then jokingly said, “And you guys are Filicanos”. (due to the fact that their father is Filipino). I guess I’m just getting immersed in all these conversations about labels this Hispanic Heritage Month. Is there a term for my grandkids they can embrace such as “Blaxican”? Yet, geared for Filipino—Mexican Americans”?
And why do I need this? Labels, terminology, and categories are smothering me.
They’re not smothering you THAT much if you made up a label for them, you know? I actually had an entire roster of nicknames in my book — go buy a copy at Libromobile!
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Mural inside the Hippie Kitchen, the Skid Row mitzvah of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “My hand to Mexicans, and my fist to crackers.”
–My (former) boss, Mike Lacey, referring to the morons who supported SB1070.
LISTENING:“Seis Pies Abajo,” Banda El Recodo. Because we ALL need some wholesome Mexi music nowadays, you know? They didn’t do the original, but the Cronus of Mexican regional music give #respect to a sad, yet defiant song.
READING: “The Cold Winds of War”: Archaeology, history, military maneuvers, geology, narrative: I had this on my to-read list for months, and am glad I finally read it.
SHOUTOUT TO: Matt, who kindly donated 100 tacos to sponsor TWO full month of MailChango! Matt wanted no plugs, so I’ll give him an opaque one — Etiwanda is cool. Discuss…
Gustavo in the News
“The Rittenhouse verdict; Catholic Worker reaction to Archbishop Gomez; Bosnia on the verge of breakup”: The National Catholic Reporter gives me a shoutout.
“California Sun”: MacArthur Genius and USC profe Natalia Molina gives me as kind a plug as one can imagine!
“Letters to the Editor: ‘Woke’ Catholics are too busy doing God’s work to worry about José Gomez”: LA Times readers respond to a columna of mine.
“Republicans for BLM and Other Things You Don’t Remember About the Summer of 2020”: A conservative publication cites me.
“Gratitude with Grief: A Holiday Message from The Mallinson Family To Yours”: I get cited in a moving eulogy for a life gone too soon.
Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!
“Sohla El-Waylly on cooking and appropriation”: I take a kinda break as colleagues talk to a prominent food person.
“Alison Roman on cooking and cancellation”: I take a kinda break as colleagues talk to a prominent food person.
“Grítale a Guti in Exile, Ep. 2.4”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all..on YouTube, because IG has a CONSPIRACY against me!
“What does California’s latest redistricting effort mean for OC Republicans?”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about the latest tomfoolery to afflict OC’s congressional districts.
“Column: L.A.’s top Catholic goes off on ‘woke’ culture, social justice movements”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna talks about Archdiocese of Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez. KEY QUOTE: “As a Catholic myself who has covered a generation of church leaders who covered up pedophile priests, I’ve been waiting for a local prophetic voice in my faith who can follow the lead of Pope Francis and inveigh against the rising inequities of our times. Instead, we have Archbishop Gomez.”
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