By Larry Teren
Phone Conversation taking place at some point in 1984:
Me: “Judy said that she made all those late night prank calls because you encouraged her to do so. Do you deny it?”
Perry: “Aw, what’s the big deal? She’s only saying it to get back at me.”
Me: “But you don’t deny it. (pause) That’s it. We’re done. Through. Good bye.”
And so ended a twenty-five year friendship. We had started kindergarten together back in 1958 and for nine years- the Wonder Years, as they say- we lived four doors down the block from each other. We spent many hours together playing ball, riding bikes and other intrepid things kids did. Later on, post-college we went to singles events daring each other to start a conversation with Miss Right at any moment. Perry even came running over one night to my townhouse after a frantic call to help get rid of a mouse who was too quick for my broom sweeps.
One day a person can be a close friend, the next day an enemy. That’s the way it goes when you feel betrayed. Our friendship started to cool when he got married. It took him eleven years of going out with Judy to finally break down and decide to make it legal. I knew it wouldn’t last because he didn’t believe in sharing his assets with anyone, period. His idea of conveying wealth to the neighbors was to buy two inexpensive used cars rather than a new one. He threw a tantrum when Judy wanted to refurbish their house two months into the honeymoon. To Perry, that was a waste of money.
She left him to go back to mama and started to call me like all of a sudden we were old friends. We had rarely exchanged hellos during those eleven years. She had a lot to say at this point, though. She mentioned all the nasty tricks they both played on me including the prank calls. That was enough for me. Perry lost a wife as well as a best friend within days of each other.
Around the same time, I stopped being friends with Bert whom I knew for only a comparative paltry fourteen years. He was a head case always being moody and feeling sorry for himself. I stopped letting him drag me down as well. The mid 1980s taught me what my mother’s mother had said several years earlier. There ain’t no such thing as a best friend. If anything, your mother is your best friend.
What brought this all up was reading a very unusual but electric book called “A Friendship- The Letters of Dan Rowan and John D. Macdonald 1967-1974” Many of us know the name of Rowan from his years in the limelight as the straight man for the Rowan and (Dick) Martin comedy team as well as one half the host of the Laugh In television show. The series aired at the same time these two men took up writing to each other. I had not heard previously of MacDonald but by reading the book I found out that he had written a series of pocketbook mystery novels centered around a character named Travis McGee. Further investigation revealed that he wrote the novel that turned into the iconic terror movie Cape Fear. He also wrote several other tomes that were turned into movies made for television.
The two men forced a friendship upon each other by way of an introduction through a third party, a somewhat famous author by the name of Erskine Caldwell. Rowan and MacDonald both had a love for living near bodies of water and spending time on the sea. However, one was a motorboat aficionado while the other preferred sails. Maybe that should have been a clue as to how deep their friendship would be. Yes, it would be too easy to say “two ships passing in the night”.
As happens when you get to meet someone new, you find every reason to try to like each other. Whereas most of their communications were done in writing, they did meet in person two or three times. But, what became painfully obvious as the letters progressed was that they were two different personalities trying to force friendship by fawning over each one’s cause for celebrity.
The last ten pages or so expose a powerful angst by Rowan after being denied MacDonald’s sympathy over Dan’s impending divorce. MacDonald himself was going through the throes of bitter acceptance of his sister’s death from a prolonged bout with cancer. He was insulted by Rowan trying to compare the death of a marriage with the death of a human being. The connection ends abruptly in 1974 and feeble attempts are made to restore it back to the same level in 1981. In the course of the next five years they enter an agreement to edit the letters and have them published. The book of these edited letters was published in 1986. Ironically, MacDonald died at the end of 1986 due to complications from heart related health problems and Rowan died a year later from the inability to cope with his Type 1 Diabetes.
I haven’t talked to or seen Perry nor Bert since 1984 and I’m fine with it. I guess they are as well.