Tuesday, December 12, New York City.

This is our day off, the only one in the 11-night tour. I call my editor and announce that I'm adding another $40 to the budget to attend the Bruce Springsteen show at the Beacon. "For purposes of contrast and context," I claim.

At the Beacon, Springsteen walks on stage, looking likeLech Walesawith his moustache and a bit of a paunch sagging over his belt. I've been listening to the new Springsteen album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and love his new political move. I think that's one of the best things about the Boss. He dares to have opinions in an artistic landscape that is largely devoid of them.

But his show tonight absolutely puts me to sleep. Face it: I've been spoiled by five nights of the greatest rock-and-roll band on earth. Improvisational music, I decide, is the only music. Everything else is just too damn canned.

I never thought I'd do this, but after securing the toughest ticket in town, I sit through two-thirds of Springsteen's set, then walk out of the theater. It's too painful. The lone man on stage reminds me too much of myself. Tonight I crave artistic collaboration. So, when I get back to my quarters, I log on to cyberspace and catch up with my correspondence (my editor on one project is in Minneapolis; there are collaborators in New York, New Haven, California, and Amherst). "Make sure you save 'em," Patti once told me about my e-mail correspondence, "likeHerman Hesse. After he died, they found he wrote thousands of letters."

Patti offers a rare kind of encouragement to the creative process in others. One night we were chatting about Mexico. "I went there years ago and wrote a draft of a book, Cold Souls," she said. "I was there for six weeks, sleeping in alleys and playin' Sam Shepard's guitar, which I hauled around without even a case. But I never made it to the ruins."

I told her of the novel I penned in Chiapas, Road to Ruins. She laughed. "Really? That's what you called it?"

"Well, I gotta rewrite it before anyone sees it," I replied.

"Fred and I wrote this song once called Road to Ruin, but I changed it to Road to Ruanne, for Joan of Arc. Fred always used to say, `Why don't you sing that song the right way, Tricia?' " She added, "Maybe that's how we can spend the winter, Al -- finishin' our Mexican novels together."

Swoon. That's about the sexiest thing a gal has ever said to me.

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