Sunday, October 5, 2008

In Memoriam: Jim Crumley

We have lost one of the true originals of the past century, my friends. If you have not read The Last Good Kiss, then set aside what you are now consumed by and find it. It is among the finest mystery novels written, as evocative of latter Twentieth Century America as any book to come out of the period.

I taught with Crumley at the University of Texas at El Paso for several years and being around him made me vow to myself to succeed. Besides it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Of course, Crumley and I had several hundred adventures in the El Paso days, and the stories seem endless to me. Here is one:

I remember one cool fall evening we were sitting in--where else--a bar, on Montana Street--when he remembered it was the night of a notable metor shower. We HAD to go out into the desert so we could watch, he told me. I told him that I was already seeing plenty of stars, but he was having none of it. Off we went, down Montana, into the Upper Valley and across the Rio Grande. A half hour later we were bumping along a sandy ranch road up the steep escarpment to a proper vantage place. "This is good," Crumley announced after a bit, and I pulled the Beemer over. Behind us, twenty miles or so to the east were the lights of El Paso, but to the West, there was nothing but blackness. Did I mention that we'd stopped for a couple of six-packs on the way? Well, we hauled them out, climbed up on the warm hood of the Beemer, and leaned back against the windshield to watch. I am sure there were plenty of meteors.

After a bit, Crumley climbed down and ambled off into the brush to meet a call of nature. I heard some unzipping, and rustling, and muttering...and then I heard a cry, followed by a series of thuds and crashes as something heavy went tumbling down a steep hill. There was another cry as the sounds stopped. "Goddamit, Standiford. Help!" I found a flashlight under the seat of the Beamer and made my way down the hillside to the big mesquite bush that had interrupted Crumley's tumble down the escarpment. If he hadn't gotten snagged there, he might still be rolling. As it was, he was lodged in one of the branches, pants around his ankles, almost as if he'd intended to sit down there on purpose. He couldn't pull himself out of the tangle because every branch was full of two-inch long thorns. But with me holding to some bush that didn't have thorns and the other hand on Crumley's, we managed to get him out, and back up the hill. Did I mention there was cursing?

After that, there was the matter of finding a pair of needle nose pliers in the trunk, and then a half an hour or so of pulling mesquite thorns out of Crumley's butt, lit up like a moon in the glow of the flashlight, him leaning over the hood of the Beemer and repeating, "Stop laughing, goddammit." Some people might assume that after we got done with the thorns, we would have climbed in the Beamer and gone back home.

But anyone who thinks so obviously does not know Crumley. There was a meteor shower, goddammit, and there was still plenty of beer. Some things are not meant to be missed. There are stories in which he comes off far more as Crumley the Invincible of course, but he knows I'd always tell this one first. I loved him like a brother. Peace.

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