Tom Wolfe, Straight-Arrow Virginia Gent


In Memoriam

Tom Wolfe, New York City, November 2011.


Back in the day when I was stepping out and Anatole Broyard kept a one-room city fifth-floor walkup in which I would not infrequently step out in, Tom was living only a block or so easterly and would, damn our eyes, catch me making my way to or from where I wasn’t supposed to have been stepping and, bless his heart, not inform on me, despite his being the straight-arrow Virginia gent he was.

Back in the day when there was talk between Tom’s Sheila and my Barbara of the two squads going halvsies on a great big house in Hamptonia, we all were sitting around in said real estate after a Sunday brunchy fress—Tom’s sidekicks Eddie Hayes and Richard Merkin among the newspaperbound bagelbound boasters—and I just so happened to have launched myself into a rapsode bearing on my baseball-playing startlements, this before I was expelled from the school where I’d done the startling, and Tom said he had a couple of mitts, why didn’t we go on out onto the lawn and throw it around awhile, and I said, thanks but no thanks, I having been a catcher when I was doing my startling and would therefore require the glove worn by a catcher if I were to catch a ball thrown by a pitcher known to me to have been a farm-team pitcher for the Dodgers, unless it was the Yanks, whereupon Tom allowed as to how he had happened to have fetched out from the city to Hamptonia the very variety of mitt, and so he had and so we did, humping it out onto the lawn and just as humpily regrouping among the housebound, Tom mum as you’d want that no toss he’d lobbed at me could I, the be-mitted braggart, begin to handle.

This was the thing about Tom Wolfe, a Virginia gent limitlessly decent, good to the core, and thus silent on the matter of my madness when we (Sheila, Barbara, Mrs. Yaeger, she being Chuck’s missus) foregathered at the Russian Tea Room for to see if the Man Who Broke the Sound Barrier might take to me flutingly enough for me to ghost the general’s life story. He didn’t. Me, all I could manage to make conversation out of was all of the mishaps I’d happed upon when called upon to try my hand as a scared-shitless junior-grade air traveler in coach. Tom covered for me ever so intrepidly for weeks thereafterward, still burning them in over the plate to get me the job—but alas.

You bet, Tom Wolfe was a champ of a man right down the line—and I will miss the renewable evidence in him of his genius for intelligence and for prose of whatever disposition the manual has prohibited and for talk few dare acknowledge their heart has funded deep fluency in. So why is it, then, that since 1983, the pals we had been found ground to find no ground beneath ourselves anywhere near in common again?

The answer is this—that rupture was back in the day, wasn’t it? Whereas at my age, life’s turned night, and the only remembering I’m given to take what’s left of my brain to is either solicited and sponsored, as these paltry remembrances were, or, you know, forget it—because, fuck, Tom, it’s all, every pettiness, been ingeniously forgotten.

My condolences to you, to Sheila, to the children and their families.


Gordon Lish is a writer and legendary editor.