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until the next vootie

January 26, 2022

On February 2, 1959, my parents and I moved from Butler, Missouri (population 3333) to Shreveport, Lousiana (population 127,000). We checked into a motel late and awakened to the news of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. But that wasn’t the weirdest part of that day. Dad’s new boss took us out for a tour of Shreveport, and my eyes have never been wider. Butler was not a progressive town, but its schools were integrated, I had black friends and it was generally peaceful. Shreveport was rabidly racist. We drove past gas stations with three restrooms: “White Women”, “White Men” and “Colored”. We saw separate drinking fountains, separate entrances to movie houses. My young mind was blown.

The next day, mom enrolled me and my blown mind into the eighth grade of Lakeshore Junior High. It had many times more students than Butler Elementary. Most fortunately, one of them was Gordon. Our mutual love of Mad magazine began our friendship. We borrowed the word “vootie” from Mad and used it as a greeting and sign-off word for 63 years. On January 15th, Gordon died unexpectedly without a chance for a final “vootie”.

We were an odd pair. He was a devout Southern Baptist, I was a marginal Methodist. I was the smallest boy in our class, he walked with a prominent limp that would later be remediated by physio and a stay in a Shriners’ Hospital. We were nowhere near cool. Undaunted, however, we started at Fair Park High School in 1961, where we had some success: he on the debate team, me editing the school newspaper. The ladies, however, remained unimpressed. Almost every Friday night we played Putt-Putt golf. We dabbled in conservative politics, writing a parody of the song “Goldfinger” to laud Barry Goldwater. We developed a friendly rivalry over baseball, Gordon supporting the Dodgers and me the Giants.

Upon graduating in ’64, our paths parted. Gordon attended Baylor and Tulane universities, I joined the Marines and attended the School of Hard Knocks. We both protested the Vietnam War at the October ’69 Moratorium in New Orleans, but neither of us knew the other was there. We did connect in the Crescent City in ’73 after my Marine stint and divorce. We stayed in contact since then. I visited him twice after he moved to D.C. and we talked often on the phone.

He called just before his death, but I was up at our micro-hydro site deep in snow. I tried to call him a few days later but I couldn’t find his number, so I e-mailed him for it. When he didn’t respond I should have been suspicious because he was always the Sensible One, the Reliable One, the Friend You Could Always Count On.

So, vootie, Gordie. I miss you beyond measure. I’m not at all sure about an afterlife, but if there is one I look forward to a big “vootie” from you. I know you’ll be there. No one deserves it more.