About twenty years ago a Hollywood friend asked me a question. She said, “Do you have a story?” I said I did. She recommended I go to Robert McKee’s screen writing course, the most popular at the time. I did that, and afterward I sat on a curb somewhere in West LA and realized my life had changed. I wanted to write. My story was one my septuagenarian father told me, in a Phoenix Mexican restaurant, about his escapades in The Mexican Revolution. This story, now as a novella to be published soon, is about two itinerant immigrants, a Norwegian and an Irishman, who meet in an El Paso bar, and are hired to go into Mexico to repair a gold mine with parts, which, they learn too late, purposely don’t fit. Research for this story took me back to El Paso, Texas where I was born and reared. That alone was and is a fascinating experience. The resulting novella is called “Dos Gringos” and will be out by the end of 2009, if all goes well, as I expect it will.
So far I have been back there twice to research in the University of Texas in El Paso and at the El Paso Public Library where my Aunt Milda was Head Librarian when I was a boy. The visits were the first time I had been back in over fifty years to that town on the Rio Grande, across from Juarez, Mexico. It was not hard to take my thoughts back to my days as a teen and earlier. In many ways, nothing had changed─except now English is the second language. It is a dusty town and a stroll around the town center revealed the major stores and prime hotels were gone and the alligators in the central park pond were now replaced by cement replicas. It seemed the most prevalent street signs were for loan sharks and the paycheck cashing shops. Yet, my mind could roll back the years to when I manned the Boy Scout department at Popular Dry Goods or shot pool at lunch with the down-town staff of El Paso Natural Gas Company, my father’s employer.
What unique history that place has. El Paso del Norte, as the Spanish called it, was the pass through the southern end of The Rockies and through that pass flowed The Rio Grande River coming from its northern New Mexico highlands and forming the border between Texas and Mexico all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It was the route of the Spanish explorers since the 1500s. The Franklin Mountains, 7,192 feet high, were always out my window.
Interstate 10 flows through the town now, but I pretended not to see that. I was only interested in the way it was and that all happened. I visited my high school, Stephen F. Austin High School named for the founder of Texas. Nothing had changed except it was mainly Hispanic. However, I was told they had some problems and the usual solution solved it all – a Jewish mother for the Principal. Austin’s most famous alumna was Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. Also there is Peggy Elliot Goldwyn. My grade school is still there where my mom would drive me in her green 1941 Dodge. I remember asking her to let me off a block away as I didn’t want the guys to see me out of a green Dodge. Where I lived in those days is now just a storage yard for pipe.
The true story for my new book, “Dos Gringos,” came out of this place. It was my home.
The staff at the archives of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and at the Central Library were simply fantastic.
Everywhere were names I knew as a teen. I found the parents of some of these contemporaries were bright or in some cases dark spots in the local history. And present day descendents are busy in the local scene. I am enticed by this rediscovery and open to rediscovering more. There are no end to the stories awaiting there to be discovered.