Any four-eyed flack will tell you the Tucson Festival of Books is where words and imagination come to life. But on this day, for this book lover, it's where romance came alive.
She was the kind of bookworm that made a "Twilight" vampire look tan and healthy. I'd wager the last time the page-turner I was eyeing got any sunlight was when the town library had a fire drill. I watched her as she squinted through her cat-eye eyeglasses at her festival guide. She read it with the hot intensity of a librarian who had been around the bookcase a few times. I was aching to use my library card to check her out. If I had to pay a lifetime of overdue fines to get to know this kitten, it would be worth it.
Where had I seen her before? Antigone's? Mostly Books? Was it Bookmans or The Book Stop? A hobbit with a bad book habit, I knew those joints better than every shire in Middle Earth.
She stopped at a book vendor's tent. She was studying the back of a used book when I leaned in.
You read it?
Read it? Baby, I wrote it.
She turned it over. We saw the cover.
I could tell I was getting under this bombshell's dust jacket. I went with it, arching my literary eyebrow.
I'm Melville. You can call me Herman. And you must be R.L. Stine in pumps - 'cause you're giving me goose bumps.
Cute. I got a news flash for you, Ogden Nash. I hear Melville's dead.
The mink was playing harder to get than a signed first edition of the Bible. She looked at me the way the book buyer with magenta hair at Bookman's looked at the water-damaged paperbacks I tried to trade in last week. She rolled her Tina Fey eyes.
Where'd you get those reading glasses?
They're bifocals. I'm willing to try anything twice.
She smiled through the plate glass windows perched on her beak. I was falling harder than a chain of independent bookstores.
They match your hair color.
You like my hair? Fifty shades of gray.
This naughty literati was full of more surprises than a Robert Crais mystery. Heading to the food court, I asked her what she was reading.
Romance. Bodice rippers. And the cheaper the better.
I told her I was hoping to see Picoult and Sayles this weekend.
We walked on, deriding Kindles, Oprah and Amazon. Wandering into the bookstore I could bear it no more. I grabbed her in the romance section and planted my lips on her like a Caldecott medal.
She had the soft figure of a dame who hasn't seen a gym since Gutenberg pounded out his bestseller. If she wanted to break a sweat, she'd read a harlequin romance about a highlander.
Want to come back to my place later on? I have 12,000 books in my trailer.
I love books!
You won't love the film crew from "Hoarders" camped in my driveway.
If you behave I might show you my first edition signed by Ray Bradbury.
Feel my forehead. Fahrenheit 451. I got the fever.
Just then an author's panel in the Student Union ballroom ended and hundreds of people came out. Swept along by the exodus of e-readers, I lost her in the crowd. I felt worse than Sylvia Plath on a blue day. I never asked her name.
And then I remembered she mentioned she liked the comic strip "Pearls Before Swine." The cartoonist Stephen Pastis was speaking Sunday.
I came back the next day and there she was, radiant in her Banned Books Week T-shirt and reeking of musty books.
I threw down my NPR cap, dropped my book bag and ran to her, my fanny pack bouncing up and down.
I thought I'd never see you again. I love you more than clip-on book lights.
I love you more than "Downton Abbey."
We might have more ups and downs than a NY Times crossword puzzle.
I don't care. Let's give this thing a chance.
I picked her up like Count Whatshisname on the cover of every romance novel you've ever seen and kissed her. And then I set her down and asked her to call 911. I was sure I had slipped a disc.
What's your name, sugar?
Molly. Molly Bloom.
As the sun dropped behind Old Main I looked into her eyes. There's a Friends of the Pima County Library book sale in two weeks. Molly, will you go with me?
She pushed her eyeglasses back up the ridge of her nose. Yes. She said yes, I will, yes.
See Fitz and enjoy Festival of Books
Hang out with the "Tooner" himself at "Cartooning with Fitz" at 10 a.m. Sunday in the Arizona Daily Star Pavillion east of Old Main. The first 200 participants will receive a 2013 Fitz calendar.
The fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books offers authors, book discussions, workshops and literary activities for the entire family. The free event - even the parking - is on the University of Arizona campus today and Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Go to tucsonfestivalofbooks.org for more information.
Email Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at email@example.com