For the first year of my career as a lawyer at E.P.A., beginning belatedly in the fall of ‘84, I shared an office with David. He was a bookish sort, usually severe in his demeanor, who almost never socialized with the let’s-go-for-drinks-after-work crowd. But he made me know that I was welcome, without ever saying so.
In the morning when David arrived at the office, he’d walk past my desk without a word, hang up his suit jacket, take his seat, and straighten the things on his desk. I’d look back there, waiting expectantly, as he pulled out a scrap of paper with his notes, and began to read:
“Here are the top ten reasons …”
“Ha!” I would respond enthusiastically to each line, whether I thought it was especially funny or not. Because, every morning, he took the time to give me the highlights of the previous night’s David Letterman show. And that was sweet. Damned sweet.
Bobby Lynn, 1962
Bobby Lynn was there for my tenth birthday, June 6, 1962. He’d just come to Atlanta from Dallas, to spend the summer with his aunt who was our neighbor. I still have the snapshot my mom took of us, eating our strawberry shortcake. My 11 year old brother’s sweet smile says, ‘I love you, Mom, but I’m not going to sit any closer to my sister for this picture.’ Bobby Lynn is pale, his dark hair slick with Brylcreem, shirt buttoned all the way to the top, and the deadpan look of a 10 year old Jack Benny. I’m barefoot, brown as a bean already, goofy smile meant for the camera but I can’t take my eyes off Bobby Lynn.
Bobby Lynn was a grandma’s boy, polite and studious, not inclined to be in the sun. He never played with the other boys. He was quite a reader, but his real fun was to watch Steve Allen on TV. And to give a stand-up performance of highlights from last night’s show in the morning, to an audience of me.
Every morning that summer I would dash out back, get the new silver bike I’d gotten for my birthday, and bring it around front where Bobby Lynn could see me from inside his house. I’d pretend to do something with my bike, while he pretended not to hurry outside. After a suitable period of time, he would come out, his hands casually in his trouser pockets. (Yes, he wore trousers, not jeans.)
“Hey, Bobby Lynn!” I would exclaim with a smile, as though it were a surprise to see him.
He would wait, as though for the applause to die down. “You’ll remember,” he might have said, “a week or so ago we raised the question of what the heck is the purpose of the middle pedal on the piano. Well, I’ve found out: It’s to separate the other two.”
“Hahahaha!” I would offer, whether I got the joke or not. A hint of a smile would sometimes betray his deadpan, but I appreciated his professionalism, nonetheless.
After a few awkward moments, he might say, “Well, we’ll see you next time,” and then back into his house he would go.
At the end of the summer, his grandmother came to take him back to Dallas. She and my mother stood by their car for awhile, saying I don’t know what about what, with my mother’s hands on my shoulders, and Bobby Lynn’s granny’s on his. We silently stared into each other’s eyes the whole time. I can’t begin to say what we were feeling then. “Say good-bye, Bobby Lynn,” we heard his grandmother repeat, and not for the first time. He didn’t say it. And I didn’t say thank you.
I want to say it now. Thank you, guys! To all of you: the brilliant, nerdy, bookish, introverted guys who took the time to make me laugh. You are among the top ten reasons that my life has been grand.
Bette Ojala, © 5/21/2015
(And congratulations to you, David Letterman, on your retirement!)