My publisher resides in Las Vegas, which means I need to go there from time to time—sometimes to pick up books, other times in hopes of selling one, which to date has never happened. If anybody in Las Vegas buys books, I’ve yet to run across that person.
Oh, wait. Once I remember I sold an entire boxful of books at a motorcycle auction, even though my book has nothing whatsoever to do with motorcycles. I haven’t done nearly as well at events sponsored by Stevens Press, in particular at events where I am the so-called “special guest.”
The worst was the 2005 National Rodeo Finals, where Stephens had a table and for two long, lonely hours I had a chair. Not a single customer approached, except for some blowhard from Arizona who wore a bolo tie and who advised me that the print in my book was too small and suggested the pictures should be in color instead of black and white. Then he moved on to a picture book titled “Lil Buckaroos,” which featured large print and color pictures of little kids dressed in outsized boots and hats, pretending to be cowboys. What? No sad-eyed puppy dogs?
Here is a picture of me at the rodeo finals looking oh-so-froglike, or, as Emily Dickenson might say:
“How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”
On another occasion I agreed to give a presentation at the Pahrump Public Library—about the only building in town that isn’t either a liquor store or a brothel. I received a sitting ovation, after which the crowd scattered like thirst-crazed wildebeests.
This time around the invitation involved a writer’s conference at Sam’s Town. I had never attended a writer’s conference before, let alone as “a special guest,” so of course I answered the call. Lo and behold, I was the only Stephens Press author to show up! I am beginning to feel like the mobster portrayed by Joe Pesci in the film “Goodfellas,” who gets all dressed up in anticipation of becoming a made man, only to get whacked.
Against one wall of the meeting room was a table spread with SP titles, mine among them. “A lot of people have looked at it,” announced the woman who was standing sentry over the unsold books.
As if to placate me, she picked up a copy of PASSING THROUGH and leafed through the pages, stopping at the picture of Tom Clay, the 96-year-old, chain-smoking curmudgeonly editor of the Lincoln County Record.
“He must be someone very special to you,” she murmured.
Against the opposite wall of the meeting room was a bar, but no amount of cheap chardonnay could ease my mounting discomfort, for I found myself surrounded on all sides by writers. Let’s face it: writers are not a particularly interesting lot, and the only thing less interesting than a writer is a whole roomful of writers, all chatting about writing. Maybe some of them are hoping to get laid, who knows? Or better still, published!
I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Bright and early the next morning I had a breakfast date with a fellow named Bob Combs, who runs a pig farm smack dab in the middle of North Las Vegas. Bob is 72, and when he and his wife first came to Southern Nevada back in 1963, Las Vegas wasn’t much more than a wide spot along highway 91.
“At that time I’d say we were about four or five miles out of town,” he explained. “You could see the lights of town, but it was all dark around where the pig farm was because there was no electricity out here.”
Like Bugsy Siegal before him, Bob Combs is a visionary who saw economic potential in Clark County—specifically food scraps generated by all-you-can-eat buffets scattered all up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. Or what Combs calls “my cornfield.”
Bob graciously consented to give me a tour of his operation, including his custom-built slop cooker, where leftover mashed potatoes, creamed corn, bread pudding, rice pilaf, meatballs, cocktail franks, scrambled eggs, and god-only-knows-what-else are combined to make a pungent porridge that pigs find delicious and nutritious. In a short time, said pigs will be reintroduced into the food chain and then—if you don’t clean your plate—returned to where they started out.
Nowadays Bob’s pig farm is surrounded by stucco subdivisions and strip malls. Real estate developers have offered him a ton of money to move, but he is determined to stay put and keep on farming because that’s what he’s good at and because it’s something he enjoys doing. On top of everything else, he’s providing his community a useful service.
What more could a person possibly want?