March, 2021

I read today that the superb and gifted writer Larry McMurtry has died. Meeting him was an unexpected and sobering surprise for me, some years ago.

Larry was a large, tousled/shaggy-haired, rather absent-minded looking fellow, and tended to stare off into mid-space a lot as he spoke, and he shuffled when he walked. He was a very soft-spoken fellow.

This particular day he was wearing a beat-looking sweater with several holes in it, and had on a pair of glasses stuck together with tape. The rest of his outfit consisted of a colorless shirt with one collar point reaching for the sky and the other at a 45 degree angle, baggy, shapeless, wrinkled pants and some very down-at-the-heels shoes that looked as though they'd never seen a shine. Like he'd dressed at random from a barrel of odds and ends in a second-hand shop. "Harmless bum" was my immediate judgment of him as he passed me.

He was a potential customer in a video store where I worked at the time, and I thought he looked rather like a timid, homeless guy. He didn't seem dirty or drunk or doped up or anything; he was just sort of... aimlessly roaming about. I kept expecting him to ask me if he could use our restroom. (He actually owned a bookstore in Washington, D.C. just a few blocks from where I was working, and had ventured out on his lunch hour.)

One area of our store was set aside for videos for sale, while the rest of the place held videos for rental. He spent a long time wandering from place to place, making selections, filling his arms with a couple dozen videotapes and depositing them on the counter. I sort of braced myself to tell this shabby derelict that most of what he'd chosen was sale merchandise. I imagined I'd have to re-stock it all.

He finally came to the counter and stood facing me at the register. I wondered how he planned to pay for any of it, when he handed me the very first Platinum American Express Card I'd ever seen. I read the name on it... and suddenly managed to connect the face with the one I'd seen on so many dust jackets. I was immediately ashamed for assuming he was some street person.

I said to him, "Wow! Oh, Mr. McMurtry, what a real pleasure to meet you, sir. Let me thank you for the hours of enjoyment your work has given me. I'm really an admirer of your writing. What a fine, fine gift you have! You know, I just saw that production of LONESOME DOVE again on TV last night. They re-ran it. You must be thrilled with how it turned out, eh? Did you think they did you justice?" (I was trying desperately not to fanboy all over him...)

He said, "I haven't seen it, actually."

I said, "You're kidding me!"

"No", he said. "I haven't seen it."

"I can't imagine... Aren't you curious? Don't you care?" I asked.

"Well, I wrote it a long time ago, and after I finished it, I moved on to my next book. Then after a while, the film rights were sold, and I think they changed hands a time or two-- I don't know. But I finished it, got paid for it, and then I got immersed in writing other things. It just wasn't fresh in my mind, you know? It had lost the immediacy it once had for me. It wasn't a current project and I wasn't focused so narrowly on it. Anyway, I heard they made a TV movie out of it. I'll probably get around to watching it eventually. That...uh...that... Robert DuBall (he called him) is in it and I hear he's pretty good."

It may well have been the finest adaptation of a book to film I've ever seen, and that old Robert DuBall surely was *brilliant* in it.

I introduced myself, we chatted a while about the films he'd chosen, and he said, "Jeff; that's a fine name. It's my middle name. Thank you, Jeff, for your kind words. I'm so glad you liked my books. It makes me happy."

So long, Larry. Thanks again for all your wonderful writing. I hope you enjoyed the videos. Rest in peace, sir.

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