AFTER 25 YEARS OF SINGING “Homo Erectus” on the road, and after having written eighteen pointy-headed mystery novels, I am now precariously close to becoming known as the salsa magnate of Texas. How did this happen? Will it harm my legacy? Is the salsa any good? These are questions I could be addressing for the rest of my life, so I might as well start now.
Joseph Heller, whom I’m fond of quoting, once said, “Nothing succeeds as planned.” If you start out dreaming of becoming a country-music star, then have to reinvent yourself as an author, then find your likeness smiling smugly back at you from a supermarket shelf, it may have the effect of making your entire life appear to be little more than an adventure in attention deficit disorder.
Take one of my competitors, Paul Newman. His peers in Hollywood failed to recognize him with an Academy award for his stellar performances in The Hustler, Hud, or Cool Hand Luke, yet today a large segment of the public knows him as the salsa, salad dressing, and popcorn guy. Some, no doubt, are too young to know that he was once a big movie star. Others would probably rather eat than watch old movies. Still others don’t remember Paul simply because they’re trying too hard to remember where they parked their cars.
Like me, Paul derives no personal profits from his culinary ventures. All proceeds go to his preferred charities, including the Hole in the Wall Gang camps for kids with cancer or blood diseases. My profits go to the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, near Medina (Texas, not Saudi Arabia), a never-kill sanctuary for abused or stray animals, one of whom happens to be me. Newman’s Own products are reported to have earned far more than Paul ever made in the movies. If the same thing happens with Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock salsas, I’ll probably be kicking my own buttocks halfway across Texas regretting that I didn’t cut myself a better deal. On the other hand, maybe somebody high above the supermarket shelves is watching. Jimmy Dean, it should be noted, kept the financial pleasure of his sausage sales for himself and may discover someday, much to his chagrin, that hell’s a local call.
Doing things for a good cause is nice, but you still have to be aware of the bottom line. “There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald observed. He meant that once you achieve fame and success and then lose them, it’s damn near impossible to get them back. It’s also difficult, once you become known for something, to ever be appreciated for anything else in our increasingly narrowcast society. In other words, Oscar Wilde would probably never have made it on the NASCAR circuit.
My situation is rather nebulous as well. If music was my first act and literature my second, then salsa is surely my third. After that, as everyone knows, comes the curtain, possibly when a large jar of salsa falls on my head and kills me. Then I’ll be in heaven eagerly waiting for Paul Newman to arrive so I can tell him how great he was in Cool Hand Luke. Back on earth, the multitudes will be buying more and more salsa, making it possible for the Rescue Ranch to build personalized condos for each dog, cat, pig, and donkey.
The people will soon forget my poignant lyrics, such as “Ol’ Ben Lucas had a lot of mucus comin’ right out of his nose.” They won’t remember the shortest, skimpiest book I ever wrote: Black Yachtsmen I Have Known. The fact that I’ve played the Grand Ole Opry or slept over at the White House will mean nothing to them. For all eternity they’ll remember me for only one thing: salsa. This need not necessarily be bad. Especially if the salsa is good.
What you’re doing when the final curtain falls is, of course, crucial to your legacy. The day will come, if it’s not already here, when more people will remember Earl Campbell for his Hot Links than for his prowess on the football field. Nelson Rockefeller was the governor of New York and the vice president of the United States, but today we remember him for getting abruptly called to Jesus while giving dictation to his buxom young secretary. Likewise, people remember Karen Carpenter for her anorexia and Mama Cass for choking to death. If they’d only shared that ham sandwich, they would both be alive today.
While no child grows up dreaming of cornering the salsa market, I’m quite proud of Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock. It tastes great. It’s made in a secret underground lab near Georgetown by a man who fiercely protects the recipe and very much resembles a mad scientist. And the profits go exactly where they should: to Alfred Hitchcock, a rooster who crows at noon; to six pigs, the youngest of whom is named Babe; to three donkeys named Roy, Gabby, and Little Jewford; to a three-legged cat named Lucky, who’s single-pawedly killed two rattlesnakes; to a dog named Daisy, who was found as a puppy alone in a field of daisies; to a dog named Eve, who was found shivering on a hilltop on Christmas Eve; to a dog named Cat, who was sent to the pound for the crime of eating a Social Security check; and to 57 other dogs who each have a story, if only they could tell you.
Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock, I’m told, has even made it as far as Crawford, where it was sampled by George W. himself. It was my little way of putting some extra zing into the war effort. I felt very strongly about the war effort. As I told my friend Billy Joe Shaver just before we invaded Iraq, “The guy’s a tyrannical bully, and we’ve got to take him out.”
“Hell no,” said Billy Joe. “He’s our president, and we’ve got to stand by him.”
Now, what did I do with that novel I was working on?