Eating and Writing By Rod Davis AFTERWORD HALF A DAY south of Monterrey, highway 57 slices through an oblong mountain valley of cactus and brambled plains, dust and primitive disquiet. I had pushed Lawrence’s Datsun to over 80, hoping to get him to Mexico City by early evening. He wanted a few extra hours with his new wife before he left for the wars from which he would presently earn his livelihood as a writer. Without warning we were upon the snake-sellers. Indians, mostly small and weathered women; they had emerged from the secret trails of the surrounding brush and pitched lean-to frames against the roadbed. I could see they were selling something, but not until I had passed several did I realize they were offering up the skins and meat of the snakes which lived out there like roaches. “Jesus, look at this,” I yelled through the noise of the open windows trying to catch the profundity of the moment. Lawrence grunted, lost in notebooks, documents, maps for his mission. I decided not to stop, but the Indians stayed with us for miles, poles of windwhipped reptile carcasses pitched every few hundred yards. Near the last of them, a woman crowded up to the highway as close as a matador to a bull. In one outstretched hand she held a snake as tall as she, and in the other she secured a flapping hawk by the talons. By Queretaro, on the northern outskirts of the world’s third most populous city, Lawrence had cut up and sucked to pulp the last of the oranges we’d bought in Saltillo. He didn’t trust Mexican food. Typical Yankee. I’d lunched well in Matehuala, while Lawrence settled for a Coke and prewrapped saltines. He was protecting his health. He would need it because for the next two years he would be running with the boys in Afghanistan, the Former Observer editor Rod Davis lives and writes in Austin. Philippines, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. We got into the Zona Rosa in good time, met Mary, his beautiful correspondent wife, and killed a couple of days while he waited for a flight and red tape. Thriving writers. She had the only “real” job, reporting for a major U.S. daily. For Lawrence and me, it was still snakes and talons. WE HAD CROSSED paths in the mid-70s, when our ideas of writing had to do with raking muck and busting empires. That was at the Observer, where $60 was a big writer’s fee and the most important element of style was conviction. After the Observer, Lawrence went to The Washington Post and The Progressive, where he met Mary, and then, fed up with the business, to law school at Penn. But he was no lawyer and reverted to type. Out of that he got to this: these days it takes something as grand as writing remains a valid ethical choice. It’s a funny time to accomplish the paired goals eating and writing in this country. If that’s stating the obvious, then the obvious needs restating. Not only is the average income of writers less than $5,000 annually, but even that must be gleaned, for all but a random few, by what is little more than commercial copywriting. Our editors are demographics, and our linguistic skills bright favors in decoration of a grim and dangerous party. When writers rebel giving the people what they need to know to claw their way out of the suffocating smarm, we do so at the cost of staff jobs, agents, contracts, and by-lines. We create in silence and poverty. At 40, Lawrence, like many writers, came to his marketing moment of truth. If he didn’t want to spend years on a novel to have it buried among the historical romances, if he didn’t want to die in the galleys of corporate journalism, if he didn’t want to grind into a drunk or academic, he had to go for the Big Ticket. He had to put himself into something so horrible we’d all want to read about it, at home, and funnel him 10 percent of $24.95 for the thrill. So he set off for truth and rent money in the slaughter camps of the Third World. Viking gave him $20,000. less expenses. He stayed out several months. It was hard to tell him goodbye in Mexico. It was hard to watch him affect heartiness in front of Mary and see her response. It was hard to help him go to war, but I did. So did his other friends. We know the score. Lawrence survived Afghanistan. I’ll leave it to his book, Basic, to tell you how. “I have another three goddamn wars to inspect, an aerogramme said. “What a mean hole I have dug for myself. A bad book full of wonderful ideas is what I see coming. Man, it’s a dangerous two years ahead. I don’t know about all this, R.D.” I know about it. And I know I’ll buy his offering. I hope for the sake of some goddamn editor at Viking it’s an autographed copy.
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