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  • Bob Puglisi

MEETING JOHN IRVING – MAY 2023


This past weekend was the 2nd Annual Santa Fe International Literacy Festival. I attended an event on Thursday evening and several sessions on Saturday. The highlight for me was John Irving on Saturday evening. He’s my favorite living author. John is such a wonderful storyteller and reader. I can listen to him all day. He and my late friend Eric Ross who passed away in November, were good friends.

I tried to meet John in the author's room before his session began, but that didn't work out for security reasons. I had anticipated that I wouldn’t get to talk to him, so I wrote a one-page letter, including my latest business card with a picture of Our Hollywood Tales and a photo of Eric in the cast of my play The Puzzle. Fortunately, I know the co-founder of the festival. She said she would give him the envelope. (I hope he got it.)


After his session, I didn’t want to leave and waited around, and as John was going out the door with his wife, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “John!”


He turned around, and I said, “John, Eric Ross was a friend of mine.”


He said, “Me too.”


I said, “I know. I left a picture for you of Eric in a play I wrote.”


We shook hands, and I said, “I love you.” And immediately felt stupid for saying it. But you know, Eric would often say that to me after being together or at the end of a telephone conversation. I may have channeled him, or he channeled me. I'm not sure how that works. It was a surreal moment of maybe twenty seconds. I was so moved emotionally. It was better than meeting and shaking the hand of my idol Mickey Mantle outside Yankee Stadium when I was a kid.

I’ve included my letter below if you’d like to read it.


Hi John,

I may only get to talk to you briefly at the festival. I wanted you to have the enclosed picture. Eric Ross was a good friend, and I miss him terribly. The photo shows the cast of my play The Puzzle. That was a reading in 2016 at the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre. From left to right, Andrew Hadley, and his daughter Nola (in her first play, they played a father and daughter), the late Harry Woods (the artistic director of the theatre at the time who played the lead role), Tuck (a local legend), me (playwright and director), Eric Ross (best friend of Harry Wood’s character in the play), and Deborah Reich (the Crested Butte Library Manager in real life). I wrote it as a tribute to my dad. We got to spend the last few weeks of his life together shortly after my mom passed away.


At the first read-through, I had to stop it to remind Eric the character he was playing was Jewish and not the Southern character he was portraying. He took the note, made the adjustment, and was very funny as expected.


I moved to Crested Butte in 1998 after vacationing there for many years. That’s when I met Eric and Kathleen. For several years, I worked with Kathleen at the Crested Butte Public Library. Anita and I shared our love for the Mountain Theatre, many meals, laughs, and good times with them. We moved to Santa Fe in 2016 but continued our friendship. For several years, the Rosses would stop here and spend a night or two with us on their winter journeys to or from Mexico.


Over the years, we always talked about you. Sometimes, he would read me letters that you had written him. Eric was reading The Last Chairlift the last time we spoke. I don’t know if he finished it before he passed away. I even mentioned to him that it was a homage to him. I’m sure you know he was a ski patroller when he was younger.


I’m still skiing at 77, so it was enjoyable to read a novel about skiing, and I loved your characters. I didn’t know about the dash in the title, Moby-Dick. That was fun. You have been such an inspiration to me with my own writing. While writing some of my books, I would read one of your novels for inspiration. My favorite will always be …Owen Meany. Another of my favorites is Last Night in Twisted River. It touched my Italian heart and palate. But I loved all your books.


In my last phone conversation with Eric, he said goodbye as he always would, Adios Amigo! I didn’t know it would be the last time I would hear those words from him.


Thanks for coming to Santa Fe and for all your great books. I hope we can meet again sometime. I would love to spend some time with you and share more about our dear friend.


Sincerely,

Bob Puglisi


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