Two of my favorite authors, Ken Kesey and Larry McMurtry, met at a grad-school seminar at Stanford back in the daze of the early 60s and, for all their differences, remained life-long friends.
They remained such fast friends, for all their differences, that about 10 years after Kesey passed in 2001, McMurtry married his widow Faye.
Both are literary giants. Kesey’s best-known work is “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’’ but as monumental as the novel remains, I always thought “Sometimes a Great Notion’’ was fuller, and, if possible, deeper. McMurty scored big-time with “Terms of Endearment’’ but the book of his I keep going back to at least every five years or so is “Lonesome Dove.’’
If there’s a more charismatic hero in American fiction than Augustus McCrae – played so superbly by the incomparable Robert Duvall in the late 80s mini-series – then please somebody point me in the right direction.
But in recounting the friendship between these two gents of letters, have I mentioned their differences?
Kesey, born and raised in Oregon but schooled in the drug-crazed California of the early 60s, was a counter-culture icon. McMurtry, a proud product of red-dirt Archer City, Texas was about as counter-counter-culture as an American can be.
The two argued (debated is probably more to the point) constantly, with Kesey staking out the left side of the issue and McMurtry the right.
Kesey described the dynamic in his essay “The Day After Superman Died’’ which was included in the compilation “Demon Box’’ published in 1986.
“They had met at a graduate writing seminar at Stanford and had immediately disagreed about the most important issues of the day – beatniks, politics, ethics, and, especially, psychedelics – in fact about everything except for their mutual fondness for writing and each other. It was a friendship that flourished during many midnight debates over bourbon and booklore, with neither the right nor the left side of the issues ever gaining much ground.’’
Though Kesey admits he did lose a point or two on the scoreboard when McMurtry played the Charles Manson card in the late 60s. So it was the recent news of Manson’s death that reminded me of Kesey and McMurtry and set me to thinking about a similar relationship I have with Gary Strickland.
Gary and I disagree about all things political. Anyone who knows me knows which side of the debates I take.
Gary is a proud-Republican-right-wing graduate of Wake Forest and I would be a card-carrying left-wing hippie holdover from 1970s Chapel Hill if anyone were to ever come up with such a card.
Facebook friends know I’m liable, at any time, to start railing about the dangerous and inexorable slide into plutocracy that our president and his enablers are taking us. And they also know that on pretty much every thread I begin, there’s Gary Strickland picking every point and mounting a spirited – though obviously misguided – defense of our country’s rightward lurch.
Gary, by nature, is a contrarian who communicates best through confrontation. The first year I knew him I thought him to be the biggest pain in the posterior I had ever met. And nothing he has done or said since has changed my mind.
But then came the day I realized that as good as he was at dishing it out, he could also take it. He invited it. He loves the back-and-forth, the diving under somebody’s skin, the scrum. And he’s really, really bad about making those with whom he disagrees prove their point.
And, in a weak moment, I might even admit that so am I.
But, see, I also got to know and enjoy the company of Gary’s father, Hugh, mother, Tup, and his three sons David, Michael and Scott, all great American success stories in their own way. I saw the boys grow, just as Gary always kept tabs on our son Nate and daughter Rebecca. One season Gary actually coached Nate in baseball, and I his assistant.
Hugh Strickland attended 339 straight basketball games – and we’re talking about both home and away – that Wake Forest played from early in the 1980s until his eyesight failed him in 1991. One coach, Carl Tacy, thought enough of Hugh to make room for him on the Deacons’ bench at far-away holiday tournaments. Another, Dave Odom, promised Hugh that anytime he wanted to take a trip then the team bus would pull into his driveway and pick him up.
So nobody I know knows Wake Forest basketball better than Gary Strickland, who was attending ACC Tournaments back when they were played in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum and who has been the official scorekeeper for home Wake games for decades.
All of which makes him an invaluable resource for a writer with a passion for ACC basketball history. He also happens to be stickler for grammar, and, true to his nature, is lightning fast to inform one of any mistakes they might make.
(To which my reply is always the same. I tell him `thanks.’)
During my two spectacularly unsuccessful forays into the publishing industry, Tales From the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Locker Room, and The ACC Basketball Book of Fame, I never wrote a word on Wake Forest basketball that Gary didn’t read behind me before publication. He has saved me from embarrassment more times than my public school education would allow me to count.
Occasionally, these days, I’ll run into a like-minded acquaintance who knows of my frequent Facebook rants. It’s so funny to see them scrunch up their face and ask `Who is this Gary Strickland dude who’s always stirring it up on your threads?’
My answer is finely honed.
“Well, consider me for a moment to be Ken Kesey. Then Gary is my Larry McMurtry, with whom I disagree about all things political but admire and respect as a friend.’’
How dull life would be if everybody agreed on everything. And how much lesser my life would be if I had never met Gary Strickland.