Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The beloved humorist, Art Buchwald, holds court these days at a hospice in Washington, greeting high-powered visitors and taking screened phone calls. He has had a leg amputated because of poor circulation, a crisis that began with diabetes.
Doctors agree that he is dying.
He says only "For the first two or three months, the doctors were puzzled that I was still around. Now they're miffed!"
His phone has been as busy as when he was the top columnist for the Washington Post. Visitors like Donald Rumsfeld know they may get good media mentions for visiting Art. The Wikipedia site for Art now updates its list of Art's visitors.
He talks of writing a funny column about the protocol for visiting a dying man. He can make a column of anything, including a wonderful evening that began at the San Diego Zoo in 1974.
The Watergate scandal was nearing its climax as Art met Ted Geisel, our Dr. Seuss. Art promptly dared Seuss to write a political book. Seuss grabbed a copy of his book, Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now, and with a few strokes of his pen, Ted deleted each mention of Mooney and substituted the name of President Richard Nixon.
On July 30, 1974, in his syndicated column, Art printed his Dr. Seuss parody, which began, "Richard M. Nixon, will you please go now!".
The miracle was that nine days later, Nixon resigned. Seuss wrote Art and said, "We should have collaborated sooner!"
Back in the shameless years when no journalist was expected to decline a free jet ride, Art and I traveled the world. On Pan Am's inaugural flight to Tahiti, Art shook me awake as day broke and, in his best conspiratorial style, said, "Let's go see what Jim Michener is doing back there all alone."
It was Michener's first trip back since his book Tales of the South Pacific had swept the world and become a Broadway miracle. We found him entranced, watching the sun rise over the glittering sea and the islands he loved and made famous.
It was the only time I ever saw tears in Michener's eyes. He said, "I'm so glad to come back after all this time and realize I wasn't a damned liar!"
That evening around a Tahitian firepit, Art proposed a game for our little media group. He said, "Let's all put down on a piece of paper how much we each get paid to make a speech."
We did. Mine was the lowest. But Art didn't win that game. Walter Cronkite did.