A Long Trip with Lucius, Part 2

Lucius and I had a complex relationship. Mainly we were just friends, sharing a similar political outlook and an interest in literature and movies.  However, we also did business together. I commissioned and edited a short novel of his, Colonel Rutherford’s Colt, and lots of movie reviews and re-published Green Eyes, The Golden, several short stories, and two collections as ebooks. He wrote a blurb for one of my anthologies and recommended my stories to editors. In 2000, he connected me with several author friends who signed ebook contracts with my new company, enabling me to approach Microsoft and Barnes & Noble to get ElectricStory in the initial launch of the BN.com store, alongside major New York publishers. I did science research and world-building for some of his commissioned projects, and in the last year of his life we had a writing partnership and finished a major deliverable together just before his stroke. His stated intention was to retire after a couple years and leave me all his connections and shared work. However, by that point our relationship had undergone a long arc, and we both knew that the offer, though genuine, was a sop to his pride and a plea for help.

Lucius’ kidneys had been failing for years, he’d undergone renal angioplasty in late 2011, and he’d only recently become productive again in early 2013 after months of setback: flu, pneumonia, nausea, and general weakness. He was afraid. I’d had enough direct experience with publishing and vicarious experience with his movie-industry work to know the business had little chance. Sure his clients had money, but they also were fickle. I indulged his fantasy of mutual profit and a comfortable retirement. In private, I reserved equanimity, and when I heard about the stroke, I let the fantasy go with no regrets. Lucius had gotten very anxious those previous few weeks. If I didn’t meet his arbitrary schedule, he cajoled, whined at, and cursed me. When we finished up just before August, we hit the biggest crisis of our relationship, and I nearly told him to go to hell, which is something, no matter how justified, you only got to do once with Lucius. I’m grateful I didn’t. We got raves from the client, which gave him hope at a critical time that sustained him until his death.

We never got paid. The money, if it has even arrived, will be tied up in probate a long time. True to form, Lucius stubbornly refused to set his affairs in order.

My trip with Lucius at the end of December ’97 into early ’98 prefigured the arc of our relationship through the following decade and a half, from gofer to partner. Some probably thought I attached myself to him, but Lucius didn’t drive and I was one of his friends who helped him get around town. Lucius would sneer to me about minor figures in the publishing industry who indulged famous authors. “I really hate sycophants and the guys who keep them around,” he said on the phone around 2002, and then after a self-conscious pause during which he seemed to consider our relationship, he said, “I prefer minions. Minions are okay.” I helped keep him solvent, and our business arrangements always worked out well for him, not as well as they should have, given his public achievements, but as well as practical. Quoting Auda Abu Tayi from Lawrence of Arabia, he loved to say, “I’m a river to my people.” He was, but not everything that came floating down that river was an unqualified prize.

When his local friends like Leslie Howle found out I’d agreed to drive Lucius around the Southwest, in the middle of winter, to investigate rumors of killer hoboes, I imagine they were in suspense.

“This will be good for you,” he said to me. It’s not too far removed from “This is for your own good.” It’s also like Gandalf’s recruitment of Bilbo. Some years later, Lucius confessed to me how much Tolkien influenced him, along with Joseph Conrad. “I finished The Lord of the Rings and then looked for another book with ‘lord’ in the title and found Lord Jim.” However, Bilbo had a troop of companions and the incentive of treasure to be won. I had only per diem to look forward to, stingily doled out against expenses; killer hoboes instead of a dragon. And only one companion.

About a week before departure, Lucius informed me that his son Gullivar would be flying out from New York to join us for half the trip, which came as a relief, not least because Lucius didn’t drive, at all, and now I’d have someone to help out. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d also be afforded a glimpse into their family dynamics and decades of shared history, nor that Lucius would be a very different person in the company of his son than he would be when Gullivar arrived or after he’d left.

Here I need to stop for the day, but I won’t leave you completely in suspense: Gullivar was great.

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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3 Responses to A Long Trip with Lucius, Part 2

  1. Okay this is fantastic stuff. I now think your book title (the one you should write) should be Travels with Lucius, a nod to Steinbeck. Frame his biography with the road trip. I absolutely laughed out loud for real when I read his “minions are okay”. This is valuable, precious stuff that only you can deliver to the world whether the world knows it needs it or not. Perhaps only I hear echoes of Pirsig’s madness between the lines, but introduction of a son triggered that synapse. I will not be so silly as to suggest a subtitle of Zen and the Art of Lucius Maintenance, but everybody loves a road trip book, especially one couched in thoughtful prose by a competent writer. This has road trip/famous author/philosophy/sf musings/art of writing/buddy novel/ all the tags. Clint Eastwood in a fat suit to play Lucius in the movie and of course to direct. Do not let anyone ever accuse you of being a Hotchner! You were a loyal minion! And now you are Boswell.

  2. Thanks, Bill. You knew Lucius and you know your stuff, but you’re very generous. I didn’t take notes. I’m afraid Lucius was no Johnson, and I’m no Boswell. But you encourage me to muddle through.

  3. I continue to read with interest and even delight. The Centralia Shari’s has gone the way of all ephemera, replaced by an over-priced pizza joint. Leaving only two run-down Denny’s and a Carl’s Jr at a trunk stop for 24 hour eating. The great old diner at I-5 and 12 surrendered to the mordant economy but did not advertise the fact and I drove down there after writing into the wee hours only to be confronted with the new hours. I would say this is a drawback to rural living but my last time in Seattle I didn’t find much open in the witching hours either. No wonder vampires drink blood in those hours–no damn place to get an omelet.

    And I still say this is a chronicle worthy of print. The free form way memory comes back to us adds resonance to the carefully logged things; it’s the way trips actually occur. You writing has distinct clarity when reporting confused memories as if event somehow occurred on parallel time lines–different trips to the airport, forgotten instructions, the TripTik confusion is priceless. I’ve used the AAA version not the Bosch one most of my life, even ordering trips I never managed to take and plotting stops and travel times. I finally recycled them with sadness because I was awash in paper. No wonder Lucius demanded a 4×4 with room in it. I’ve had the same struggles with seatbelt on the right hand side. It’s all backwards to a lifelong driver. I tell everybody my Bronco is a 4XL Sports Car for me–two seats, a removable roof and you can step into it without crawling into a hole in the ground. I don’t know what letter of the alphabet today’s kids are on that bag groceries at Safeway–but every one has a comment about the electric back window that makes putting the groceries away so handy.

    One of the best things about clear writing like yours is that while the narrative is enjoyed for itself it also calls to mind memories of trips and memories of other narratives of the road like those of Steinbeck and Least Heat Moon. Road trips are in the American blood stream. I look forward to each new mile on your memory odometer with great anticipation.

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