When a friendship is true, you won’t ever lose it.

When I received this picture of Bill standing by a gnome, I didn’t know it would be the last thing he’d ever send me.

Webster’s defines a friend as:

1a: one attached to another by affection or esteem
b: Acquaintance

2a: one that is not hostile
// is he a friend or an enemy?
b: one that is of the same nation, party or group

The dictionary definitions drone on, but the point has been made. Webster’s says nothing about proximity being a requirement of friendship, and indeed, that has been the case with my true friends, most of whom live far, far from me.

One way to look at it is that preserving that distance has been a good thing. After moving to a new home in a new state, I never worried that I’d lose touch with my friends because I knew they’d always be exactly where I left them – within easy electronic hailing distance, our friendships never dependent on a back-slap, a shared meal or a warm hug.

Which is not to say shared meals or warm hugs are bad things, they’re not. But if you have to worry about losing a friend because you might never see him again, I ask you, how good was that friendship to begin with?

Bill, right, with his wife and me with mine during our last get-together in 2009.

To me, friendships – real friendships – transcend space and time. It’s a notion that will be put to the test now that my good friend, Bill, has left this earthly plane. Our less-than-ideal exchange of electrons on our computer screens, which for the past 11 years defined a friendship of more than 30 years, has gone dark forevermore.

Our relationship was decidedly “guy-centric.” I don’t think Bill ever once told me what he’d had for breakfast or whether he was expecting rain that afternoon, but we had most of the big stuff covered. I knew he was battling cancer, and I mostly knew what he was going through without having to ask: I’d seen my own parents go through the same things.

For his part, Bill knew I was having a tough time getting settled into a new home, but there wasn’t much need for elaboration. Like Webster’s says, we were of the same nation – the nation of journalism, which, paradoxically, is about brevity and, at the same time, love of the written word.

Bill with his prized car, a Lafer, that I intentionally misspelled “Laugher” in several e-mails. He would always patiently correct my “error,” and even let me drive it at our last meeting.

Webster’s also says a friend is not hostile, and Bill was never that. While working nights together for 10 years in Houston, I overheard many of his quiet phone conversations with his daughters as they were getting ready for bed. He’d slip into a kind of tender baby talk when telling them goodnight, which belied his often curmudgeonly exterior.

Those conversations often made me feel guilty for not providing the same for my kids. Separations were a reality of newspaper journalism, a profession that often doesn’t allow mothers and fathers to watch as their children grow up. But Bill was certainly one who always did the best he could.

Bill was a church-going man, and at the time, I was, too. I teased him about being a Milquetoast Methodist and he gave it back to me about being a Godless Catholic, but it was all in good fun. I think it crushed him a little when, years ago, I told him I’d stopped attending any church.

When informing a former colleague of Bill’s death, she responded that it was sad, and that I’d “lost my wingman.” It seemed to me an odd response, but yes, upon reflection, for a time Bill was my wingman, though fate would require that we fly far apart.

One occasion I can recall when Bill and I truly took wing together was when we flew from Houston to Los Angeles to visit our former boss. That trip might also have been to test the job market since the life expectancy for The Houston Post, where we both then worked, was starting to look a little bleak.

I didn’t know it then, but Bill was a nervous flier, and as a private pilot myself, I took full advantage. The flight attendant on Southwest Airlines had just passed out the peanuts when I leaned over and whispered to Bill that the bags looked strangely puffy. I poked the bag with my finger and told him I suspected an air-pressure differential, and that a window seal was probably about to blow out, leading to rapid decompression at 30,000 feet. How jolly it was watching him turn a whiter shade of pale.

It was just the start of what would be a memorable trip that started before daylight in Houston. While changing planes in Phoenix, we hit the bar at the crack of dawn and were well-lubricated by the time we eventually reached LA.

With ex-boss Joe doing the driving, I pulled out a bottle of Pusser’s British Navy Rum from my suitcase, which led to an expression that has stood the test of time: “Pass the Pusser’s.” The rest of the trip is a blur of pirate noises: “Arrrrr, matey, pass the Pusser’s!”

Webster’s also mentions esteem. We had plenty of that, too.

Bill was the finest 9pt. editor I’ve ever known, and during a newspaper career that lasted 33 years, I’ve known a bunch. If you don’t know what a 9pt editor is I apologize for the jargon, but trust me, the people who worked with Bill will no doubt concur.

He had a way with words, Bill did, and he brought home a bucket-load of awards for headline writing, which is a skill that folks who never committed journalism with actual ink and paper can ever fully appreciate. As one of the guys then responsible for newspaper page layout, it was often my headline orders that Bill labored to fulfill, and I enjoyed kidding him that his awards were due to my generous headline counts, which always led to his spluttering objections.

One of my proudest moments was the time Bill told me that I was the best editor he had ever worked with. It must have been a weak moment and probably wasn’t true, but at the time it sure felt good, and coming from him, is something I’ll always treasure.

We’d exchange Christmas cards and presents every year. I always got two cards from Bill — one was the “family card,” the other always something with a little more bite, something that only a fellow journalist would appreciate. And presents, yes, usually some ship-by-mail food item, though I feel guilty for cheaping out last year by sending a book that I know he never read. I was busy moving right before Christmas last year and simply ran out of time. Mea culpa.

But the best thing I ever got from Bill was indeed the last thing I ever got, and that’s the picture at the top of this page. He sent it to me just a week or so before he died. In it, he’s standing next to a giant gnome, and the reason I value it so highly is because it showed me that even as far away as he was, even as sick as he was, he was still thinking about me.

Roamin’ Gnomials, you see,  the blog you are now reading, is my first blog, and it has lain mostly fallow since Donald Trump gave me a different duty I felt I had to fulfill. Bill chose mostly to avoid my political endeavors, but I think he was somewhat fascinated with Roamin’ Gnomials because it showed a side of me he never knew existed.

As editors, he and I were most often employed ripping up other people’s work, so he hadn’t seen much of my own writing before I started the blog. The strange theme, too, must have piqued his curiosity because he never tired of making gnome references.

How I wish now that I’d written this tribute sooner so that he might have read it and corrected my grammar, maybe even slapped an award-winning headline across the top. No doubt he’d have been embarrassed, as would I have been, which is probably the biggest penalty for being “guy-centric.”

I’ll miss our exchanges, Bill. I love you, man, you were a true friend. And like me, just because you’ve changed addresses doesn’t mean a thing. What we had . . . ain’t nothing ever going to mess with that.


Add yours →

  1. Glenn,

    This is such a beautiful tribute to Bill. I didn’t know him as deeply as you…yet the times I spent around him I could tell he was a true professional.

    My sense was (and you point it out) that beneath the gruff exterior was a gentle soul (in my words).

    Thanks for this. I hope you and your family are all well in these crazed, fucked-up times (hey, gotta toss in some newsroom lingo here to make it real).

    Peace, Joe Rutland El Paso, Texas rutland.joe@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nice work, glenn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glenn,
    Very well written. I think we can all relate to your thoughts on friends. Near OT far true friends last a lifetime. I truly miss our talks.

    I am sure you are ashamed of your Astro’s as much as I am. Missing the game we love. I’m so sorry we never got that chance to grab a drink.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I of course never met your pal but this made me wish I had.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad that you guys had a long friendship which is reflected all the little stories you incorporated in this wonderful tribute to your friend. I’m sure he wished that the gnome he was hugging in the picture he sent you, was you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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