WAY OFF ABBEY'S ROAD

CHUCK BOWDEN EXTOLS ARIZONA'S UNIQUE PLANTS AND ANIMALS. HIS LATEST SUBJECTS ARE WEASELS IN THREE-PIECE SUITS.

"Hell, people like that wake you up. We'd meet in crummy cafes, drink coffee and butt heads."
Desierto's dedication lists Abbey's birth and death dates, "R.I.P." and the phrase "But I doubt it." Bowden says there is a group of Abbey friends that doesn't believe he's all gone.

"All of us confess to being in a bar and thinking we catch him out of the corner of our eye, guzzling a longneck," says Bowden. "I don't know what to make of it, because none of us are spiritual people. But it's like the guy had a kind of quality of life that in some sense, you don't think it stops. He's out there haunting us somewhere.

"I guess we just miss the laughs."
A few weeks before he died, Abbey inscribed a book to Bowden: to "a fellow traveler in this fool's journey out of the dark, through the light, and into the unknown." Abbey, whose wife wouldn't return telephone calls from New Times, is buried somewhere in the desert, reportedly under a sign that reads, "No comment."

@rule:
@body:It was during the next career stage that Charles Bowden met Charles Keating.

Bowden says he got the idea for City Magazine at a funeral in the Santa Catalina foothills, toward the end of his run at the Citizen. An old "desert rat" had died, and the turnout sort of mirrored the populace from Bowden's Speedway-cruising days. Indians, Mexicans, desert rats, townies. Maybe there still is a town here, he thought. Bowden enlisted Vonier, and the two sketched out the whole project in two hours.

Investors were lined up, and City Magazine debuted with an issue that suggested selling Phoenix to North Dakota for $1. Subsequent monthly installments captured a time and a place--Tucson at the tail end of the last big bender--but the subscriber base (though rich and well-educated) never made it to 10,000. Bowden and Vonier had figured the break-even point at 20,000, so the thing folded in less than three years.

But not before Bowden got his first pass at Trust Me's subject.
"They didn't teach you in Chicago that it's not whether you win or you lose," says Bowden. "They teach you nice guys finish last.

"By the time I ran into Keating, I already knew him."
Bowden's book is probably how Keating will be remembered in 100 years. By then the savings-and-loan crisis will be a footnote in history books, and Keating's place in it will be a comma. Historians will have only Trust Me to tell them of the depths to which guys like Keating, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky took us. The sordid money manipulation of "casino capitalism," the chilling corporate culture inside Keating's American Continental Corporation, Keating's priggy, fascistic attempts at managing America's morality--it's all there.

One draft, toward the end of the writing process, had 475 footnotes. Bowden cut 60,000 words in his last revision. Last year, a Tucson newspaper reported that Bowden received a million-dollar advance to do the book.

"I got 35 grand and spent 45 grand," says Bowden. "I worked 15 fucking months and bankrupted myself. Any book worth doing will bankrupt you."
Bowden continues to follow Keating, and has sent messages to him through Stephen Neal, the inmate's attorney. (Several weeks ago, Neal told New Times he would ask Keating about the book and about Bowden, but Neal failed to call back, and wouldn't return follow-up telephone messages. A phone message left for Keating at a federal prison near Tucson was unreturned.)

Bowden's favorite passage in the book is the thrilling account of the Phoenician resort's opening, when Keating, juiced on whatever it feels like to complete a $300 million monument to yourself, grabs one of his grandkids and barrels down the Phoenician's water slide with his wallet still in the pants pocket of his business suit.

"Everything that appalls you about him and attracts you to him comes in about six seconds," Bowden says of the moment. "There's a part of me that always wants him to go down the water slide, and a part of me that thinks, 'The motherfucker's going down the slide I paid for.'

"It's the same feeling you have when you see a fighter pilot do something crazy with a plane. You're envious, then you realize, 'The son of a bitch is doing that with my plane! He's supposed to be really serious, not cutting up with an F-15!'

"The guy [Keating] was more alive than almost anyone I've met. I confess to this.

"For me, Charlie was worth the time.

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