I touched down in Tucson late on April 10 and listened to Sleater-Kinney’s “Jumper” as other passengers lumbered through the motions of deplaning. I composed a tweet I never sent: Did you ever think, “Why the hell are all these people flying to Tucson?”
For what I assume was the same price as a taxi, I had a driver meet me at baggage claim. He was dressed nice and held a placard with my name written on it and everything.
The desert air was noticeably more fragrant than what I was breathing on the plane and in the airport.
The driver told me what I wanted to know about the city, and asked Siri to confirm his estimate of the population of Nogales, on the border an hour south, as if I really wanted to exchange Nogales fact precision for my safety while he fiddled with his phone and the steering wheel. There was a deer crossing sign on the road, but he hadn’t seen one in years. He said a golfer fought off a bear a few years back.
It took me forever to find my hotel room. I dumped my luggage and went downstairs, and between the hotel lobby and the pool was Jeff, the groom, seated with friends around a fake bonfire on a “croquet green” of artificial grass.
* * *
I somewhat intentionally forgot to pack a swimsuit. Prior experiences with hotel pools have been less than exciting -- I get in and I splash around for a few minutes, and then I’m bored and I’m wondering how long I should stay in the water to make the rigamarole “worth it”. So I’ve nicely forced myself into a more authentic Arizona experience. On my second day, I leave the hotel oasis for the real desert.
I am terrified of being sunburned, though, so instead of one full trail hike, I spend about one hour on each. First, Ventana Canyon, and then Bear Canyon. I didn’t see any bears. But I did get to see a ton of rocks, and scorched earth, and I touched a saguaro cactus and thought about how my only prior experiences with cacti involved Looney Toons, and I felt the desert sun on my sunscreened skin, and I thought about old timey cowboys camping out in this bullshit, and I constantly thought about how many years these desert cities had left before the World Water Wars prompted their abandonment.
On my last night in town, I was in a somewhat warm hotel pool at 2 a.m. I rested my head on the concrete, and my direct line of view was a huge saguaro cactus in its 100th or so year of life, and the full moon above us. I appreciated that view appropriately, and then dripped up to my room for a fitful sleep while my lower right leg cramped.
* * *
Before we all enjoyed the pool, there was a dance, and before that a dinner, and before that a wedding. I was asked to prepare a reading, and given very few guidelines.
At my going-away party at Jeff’s apartment in 2003, he me a CD of Foghat’s greatest hits and told me to check out “Drivin’ Wheel”. We decided not to use the lyrics for the reading, but they do impart strong feelings of the marital love:
Feelin' good, can't be realMust be dreamin' 'bout my drivin' wheelRollin' on, drivin' onCome to me and rock me all night longWe've got a roll goin', too good to stopFlyin' high, we've got too far to dropEverybody needs somebody to loveI've got you and that's love enoughYou're my drivin' wheelYou're my drivin' wheelYou're my drivin' wheelPowerful love, steady rollMove my body and it rock my soulLet me ride, let me slideGot that lovin' feelin', way down insideYou got me walkin', goin' round and aroundYou got me talkin' but I can't hear a soundLove comes easy when the goin' is toughMay be crazy, I may be in loveYou're my drivin' wheel, yeahYou're my drivin' wheel, yeahYou're my drivin' wheel, yeahEvery night feelin' high, flyin' rightCan't believe all the love that I feelEasy rider, you're a love exciterYou're my love, you're my drivin' wheelYou're my drivin' wheelYou're my drivin' wheel, yeahYou're my drivin' wheelYou're my drivin' wheelKeep on drivin' me baby'Cause you're my drivin' wheelI love the way I feel'Cause you're my, 'cause you're my drivin' wheelLet me ride, let me slide, whooC'mon baby, give it to me babyYeah, we gotta ride, we gotta rideWe gotta ride, we gotta rideWe gotta ride, ride, ride, yeah
I know Jeff liked the music of Morphine, but I’m not an expert. I thought “The Night” had a lyric that was passable:
Unknown the unlit world of old, you're the sounds I never heard beforeOff the map where the wild things grow, another world outside my doorHere I stand I'm all alone, drive me down the pitch black roadLilah, you're my only home and I can't make it on my own
But I quickly narrowed my focus to F. Scott Fitzgerald. There was a “Tender is the Night” quote that was lovely but melancholy:
“Think how you love me," she whispered. "I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.”
There was a passage from “The Beautiful and Damned” about the protagonist’s future wife that was very complimentary but rang a bit hollow:
...as she talked and caught his eyes and turned her lovely head, she moved him as he had never been moved before....She was a sun, radiant, growing, gathering light and storing it--then after an eternity pouring it forth in a glance, the fragment of a sentence, to that part of him that cherished all beauty.
And there was a part of a Fitzgerald letter that was widely reproduced online - it was even in a Buzzfeed list of “12 Quotes That Make You Wish F. Scott Fitzgerald Would Write You A Love Letter.”:
I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self-respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it’s the beginning of everything.
It seemed promising, but I’m a jaded old man who doesn’t trust Buzzfeed’s journalistic precision, so I started to look deeper for the source of the quote. Luckily, “flaming self-respect” is not all that common a phrase, and Google Books led me to an expanded version of the letter. The passage was taken from a letter written to a friend (Isabelle Amorous, the sister of a classmate) after she inquired if Zelda and Scott had broken off their engagement, and advised Scott do so if he hadn’t yet:
No personality as strong as Zelda’s could go without getting criticisms and as you say she is not above reproach. I’ve always known that. Any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has “kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,” cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it. But Isabelle, I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and its these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be. But of course the real reason, Isabelle, is that I love her and that’s the beginning and end of everything. You’re still a Catholic, but Zelda’s the only God I have left now.
It was a nondenominational ceremony, but the last sentence felt too nondenominational to me, and Jeff was slightly concerned that the guests could be confused by the passage if it wasn’t set up properly. So while riding shotgun as Jeff picked up his tux and rented an amplifier, I typed a proper introduction. The reading was as follows:
When searching for the perfect piece of literature for this reading, after ruling out Foghat lyrics, I turned to Minnesota native F Scott Fitzgerald, who grew up a few blocks from the Grand Avenue apartment Jeff rented in Saint Paul.
F Scott Fitzgerald came into prominence during the 1920s, the Jazz Age, which is a term he actually coined. You probably remember him best as the author of the great American novel and horrible 3D movie "The Great Gatsby."
But before he became a successful author he was in the army, stationed in Alabama, and that was how he met Zelda. Zelda was not a proper Southern Belle. She was locally famous for being bold, outspoken, and unconventional; she flirted and drank and danced the Charleston.
In fact, her reputation was so notorious that a friend of Fitzgerald's wrote to him to voice her concerns about their engagement. The following is taken from the letter Fitzgerald wrote in response, where he explains why he wants to marry Zelda, despite her perceived faults:
No personality as strong as Zelda’s could go without getting criticisms and as you say she is not above reproach. I’ve always known that. Any girl who gets stewed in public, who frankly enjoys and tells shocking stories, who smokes constantly and makes the remark that she has “kissed thousands of men and intends to kiss thousands more,” cannot be considered beyond reproach even if above it. But I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and its these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicious that she wasn’t all that she should be. But of course the real reason is that I love her, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.