Fortunately (for me), we ran into each other again during the presidential campaign of 1972 when I was assigned to Spiro Agnew and David came aboard his plane somewhere out west—in Montana, I recall—still on the magazine staff but with his seminal best-seller, The Best and the Brightest, about to be published. I remember that he was wearing a marvelous leather jacket (I later bought one just like it) and after settling himself in the seat next to mine, he resumed our conversation about Senator Gore and the rapidly changing politics of the South as though no time had intervened since Nashville. It was on that trip that our friendship was really born. It was sealed, he told me years later, by a question he heard me pose to Agnew on the tarmac in Tampa about one of that year’s burning issues: “Mr. Vice President,” I asked, “do you oppose busing even when it works?”
“Wonderful!” David chortled later, back on the plane. “Bring this man a drink,” he shouted to one of the flight attendants. “My God, did you see Agnew’s face? And you were the only one smart enough to ask it.”
Not true, of course, but for me, it was like winning a Pulitzer.
At first, we were young bachelors together, pretending—I think—to be happily single, eating and drinking at Elaine’s in Manhattan, or staying up late at his house on Nantucket. Eventually, we also became genuinely happy husbands together (he was my best man)—and when we weren’t together, the telephone served to bridge the distance. The calls continued uninterrupted over the years, even throughout the time I was posted in London and even during what seemed to be my perpetual presence in Eastern Europe and Africa, in the old Soviet Union, in fractious places like Sarajevo or Somalia, Chechnya or the Middle East, Afghanistan or Iraq. Sometimes, when he could hear small-arms fire or artillery in the background, he would scream at me to put down the phone and take cover. “Jesus Christ, be careful,” he would shout. On the days we didn’t talk, I felt miserably incomplete, snappy with my colleagues. Not that we ever discussed anything of real significance—a little politics here, a little sports there, always a little gossip. But the talking was of critical importance, at least to me, and I think to him as well.
Our wives often complained that we told each other things we would never tell them. Fair enough, I suppose, although invariably we did end our calls by declaring our love for one another, which was at least similar to what we told them.
He was the first man ever to say to me, “I love you,” and on hearing those three little words from him for the first time, I was immediately uncomfortable. I lacked the nerve to ask him to stop saying it, but for some time after that first time, I would mumble something incoherent into the telephone and let it go at that. Finally, I discussed it with Patience, my wife.
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “You do love him, don’t you?”
“Bet your ass,” I said.
“Well, don’t be an idiot,” she said. “Tell him. Look, you’re secure men. You fish and spit and you sit around and talk sports to each other as though they’re really of some cosmic importance—and for goodness sake, you’re both war correspondents.”
So I began to tell David I loved him. Then there arose an even stickier problem. After a while, when we saw each other, we would embrace as usual and he would kiss me on the cheek. I didn’t mind the hugs, “but Jesus,” I told Patience, “every time. He kisses me every time. No man has ever done that.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” she explained.
And so, it came to pass that for many years, David and I were not only brothers who loved each other and told each other so, but, in what was a genuine but eventually routine greeting, actually embraced and kissed whenever we met.
For someone born so long ago into the rough culture of the American South, I thought that signified that I had come a really long way. With David’s help, of course.