My Friend Bill

Posted on December 16, 2011


(The following is the seventh in Life in the Boomer Lane’s new series, “Old Posts to Dredge out on Slow Weekends Because When I Posted Them Originally People Cared More About the Economy and World Peace Than My Blog.” Although nothing has changed, it’s the start of a slow weekend.)

This month, Now Husband and LBL lost a dear friend.  Bill was a journalist with the Asbury Park Press.  He was a larger-than-life character, the star of his own novel.  He stood tall, drank hard, spoke gruffly, and had little tolerance for decorum of any kind.  He was the kind of friend every man wanted, and the kind of husband who any woman should have run from, but didn’t. There were hundreds of people at Bill’s funeral, a funeral Bill would never have wanted in the first place.  Bill’s friends trumped him on that one.  Judy, his window, stood in line for four hours, receiving people’s condolences.  Most of the mourners just wanted to tell Judy a memory of some crazy or wonderful (or both) experience of Bill.  Judy patiently listened to each.  She knew they were talking to Bill, not to her.

Bill was exceptionally good at what he did, which in later years was to write about real people in real circumstances.  He was the first journalist to write about the David Goldman case, and, because of him, the case ultimately garnered national attention. Even Hillary Clinton became involved, and Goldman was ultimately reunited with his son.

Before he became a journalist who ferreted out human interest stories like Goldman’s, Bill was, for many years, the sports columnist for the newspaper.  Bill never met a horse he didn’t like or a race he didn’t bet on.  When he and Judy married, after a short, whirlwind courtship of 18 years, they did so in the winner’s circle at Monmouth Race Track, officiated by the track chaplain.  Their wedding invitations were mock ups of a racing program.  They called it “The Handleman Invitational For 40 Year Olds and Up.”  Bill was already at the track on the intended day, watching the races, writing his columns, and making his bets.  Judy put her wedding dress on, drove herself to Monmouth and went to the site of the ceremony.  Bill took a long enough break from the betting windows to join her.  After the ceremony, Bill wanted to place a blanket of flowers around Judy’s neck, just like they do for the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby.  Judy declined.  It might have been the only time Bill acquiesced to her wishes.

Bill was born in Tokyo and lived in Paris as a child, the eldest son of a prominent journalist.  He attended a French language school. Once back on American soil, he never left. When my husband and I went to Paris a couple of years ago, Bill and Judy were supposed to join us.  Instead, Bill used his travel money to have a new driveway put in.  Trips to Paris weren’t real to Bill; driveways and people were.  Usually, his travels almost always just took him to Saratoga, or wherever else the big races were.

If you haven’t realized it yet, Bill was an interesting guy.  Put a cap on the word “interesting” and let your imagination run wild.  Judy has so many crazy stories about her years with Bill that if she wrote a book, few would believe it.  Life with Bill was more than a roller coaster.  Imagine the roller coaster throwing you off, and you narrowly miss being flung into space because you manage to grab onto the seat bar by one hand and you are holding on for dear life and the roller coaster is approaching a rise as high as Everest and… Well, you get the picture.

So Bill had gotten this cancer thing.  Much as he loved the races, he never intended to be in one himself.  He couldn’t go to Saratoga this past year, and that really pissed him off.  Cancer stopped his trip to Saratoga, but it didn’t stop the 34 year argument that Bill and Judy had been having, first about Bill’s drinking (he stopped that in 1987) and smoking (that happened one year later), then about his gambling.  Bill countered with his own list of grievances about Judy, and he always made sure he looked startled when Judy made a motion to hug him or hold his hand.  Bill liked to be seen as the Big Lug, the Tough Guy.  But all you had to do was read his Goldman pieces or any of the other columns he had written about the struggles of all the people no one noticed, but should have, to understand that Bill noticed.  And, after he noticed, he started typing.

Bill’s illness had been tough on Judy.  Her way of dealing with it at times was to keep in mind the ordinary, everyday frustrations and annoyances she has always had about Bill, and to talk about those instead.  That’s what kept her grounded to real life.  A couple of months ago, she didn’t do that.  She simply asked, “Can you believe how much I love this guy?”  Yes, Judy, LBL could.  No surprise at all. Back in February, while Bill was at home and unable to go anywhere, it was racing day, as usual, at Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans.  In the 7th was a horse by the name of “Handleman,” named after Bill.   At 5-2, he was described as a “lukewarm” favorite.  Bill got a real kick out of that one.  It didn’t bother him one bit. He knew that even the best of us are lukewarm at times.  And that is exactly what makes the victories so much sweeter.


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