I was about to type, “I will try to make this brief,” when I thought, “Now, why would I want to do that? Why even consider truncating the life of one of the most amazing and significant people I’ve ever had the honor to call friend?” So, buckle up. This might take a minute.
I will tell you right up front that my intention is not to get all dewy-eyed and schmaltzy. Rather, I just want to tell you about my friend who passed from this mortal pale December 1, 2021.
Gerald Moody Ford, G.M. or Gerry to his pals, was a writer. Mysteries. “Hard boiled” is the official designation of his chosen genre. How good was he? The Washington Post Book World called his protagonist, Leo Waterman “the most likable private eye to make the scene since Travis McGee.”
What a character. I mean, holy cow. What a character! (He would’ve hated that exclamation point, by the way). I’m not sure why, but he liked me from the beginning and told me so on a number of occasions. And, frankly, the feeling was mutual, although given our sharp disagreements politically and theologically most people wouldn’t have understood the initial attraction let alone the resulting friendship. I think it was the things we loved that drew us together
Case in point. We were both possessed of an inordinate fondness for great burgers. I’m not talking your every day, garden variety burger. Nah man, I’m talking the king of San Diego County burgers made only at Rocky’s Crown Pub in PB. The term mouthgasm comes to mind. And if I have to explain what that is to you, I don’t think we can be friends. Oddly enough, Five Guys, Red Robin and In-N-Out were also in the mix.
We also shared a love for great music—think Stevie Ray Vaughn and cool jazz, a la Miles Davis and Art Pepper, inter alia. I had started picking him up for our Thursday “Writers of the 1502” meetup’s last June and always made sure I had the proper music playing on my car’s system when he got in. He would frequently sing along with whatever was being played. Just gonna go ahead and say you haven’t lived until you heard G.M. sing.
He loved my car. You’ve heard of love at first sight? Well, the first time I rolled up in it, he was smitten. No, I’m serious. Smitten. Gobsmacked. Verbally envious. Running his hands lovingly, caressingly over the leather seats. Yeah, like that. What kind of car? According to the most recent advertising campaign, apparently, I drive, “Iconic.” I’ll let you figure it out from there.
We loved the same authors and were able to trace our early impetus to become writers to the same sources. I’m talking John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Rex Stout, along with the usual cast of legendary mystery writers. We also had both gotten a late start into our literary pursuits. He’d started his journey at the age of fifty, and me at fifty-seven.
About three years ago he suggested a partnership of sorts. He said that if I would help him get in physical shape, he’d return the favor and give me some pointers on how to improve my protagonist and overall approach to the craft of novel writing. Done deal. I’d take him down to 24-Hour Fitness and kick his butt around the gym, then we’d go to coffee and he’d kick my butt around the page.
The advice he gave was priceless. He once told me in regards to my question about realism in writing, “Listen, I write fiction. I feel no need to match reality. I have no idea what a real gumshoe does, and quite frankly I don’t care. Books have no obligation to be accurate. What they can’t be is noticeably inaccurate. In a standard P.I. story, all you need to do is tell a good story.”
He also said, “I’ll tell you what I would tell my students at the class I used to teach at University of Washington on mystery writing: for the most part, writers succeed by conquering self-doubt. It’s less about talent than it is about the temerity to start writing and the tenacity to follow it through. Then, once you’ve started, the self-doubt really hits you. And then you get about halfway through, and you’re picturing the castle scene in Frankenstein, where they come for you with rakes and torture instruments. This happens to me literally every time I write a book. Then after I finish, I stare at it, thinking…you’ve just written the worst book ever in the history of mankind. And then I turn it in, and people love it, and I’m convinced all over again that there’s no literary taste in America.”
Emerging from this process of tutelage was an understanding that he not only believed in the viability of my protagonist, but he also believed in my viability as a writer, a fact born out when, a few weeks prior to his death, over lunch he suggested that after the first of the year we consider working on something together. Surprising. Humbling. Fantastical. But the prospect also scared the crap-weasels out of me.
He wasn’t planning to die that morning of December 1. Sure, he’d had a rough year, what with having undergone open heart surgery and then battling a resulting infection in his donor leg that stretched out for weeks. But even with all of that, the last time I spoke to him the week before Thanksgiving and had asked specifically how he was doing, although his back continued to be a source of tremendous pain he replied that he felt like he was doing well. He was excited to ramp up the output on his new novel and see it completed in the new year. I find it at once both heartbreaking and overwhelming to think of all the stories that died with his passing.
I just now glanced at the clock and noticed that I am now in Sinatra’s “Wee Small Hours of the Morning”, so I suppose I should wrap this up. I’ve heard it said that in the end, all we have left is our story, so we might as well make it a good one. Gerry’s body may be no more, but he will live on through the “body” of his literary work—his stories that will, God willing, continue to be read by legions of future readers.
So, here’s to you, Gerry. Thank you for being my friend. You are sorely missed.