Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OLd friends are gold

Make new friends, but keep the old
These are silver, but those are gold.

An old friend, Jim Lee (sometimes known as James Ward Lee) took me and Melinda to lunch today for my birthday--a delightful occasion with talk of politics, publishing, and trivia. I've known Jim at least since the early 1980s and maybe before. I remember going to a conference on Texas Literature--he, Tom Pilkingotn, and Don Graham co-edited a collection of essays on Texas literature which was the basis of the conference. I knew Jim Lee by reputation and perhaps by then I had already contributed to his biblioigraphy of Southwestern Literature.
But over the years our professional relationship grew. He was chair of the English department at the University of North Texas, and he used to call me periodically to announce that he'd had a "million-dollar idea"--that usually meant work for me. Some turned out to be two-cent ideas but a few were really good. When he came to Fort Worth, we occasionally had lunch and slowly our professional relaitonship became a personal friendship.
About 12-15 years ago (he'll correct me on this) he moved to Fort Worth. One day he was in my office and eyed the stack of manuscript submissions. "I could help you with that," he said. So he became the acquisitions editor for TCU Press, with a letter of appointment from the provost that clearly stated "with no compensation." We loved having Jim in the office--he was funny, witty, always up. But he drove us wild with his haphazard notebook in which he kept a record of submissions and what he'd done about them. There finally came the day that he announced that it was no longer fun, and he  quit, leaving the acquisitions--and that notebook--to me.
By the time he moved to Fort Worth, Jim was a single man, but he had a harem of women trailing after him. Once the man who was then editor of the press asked, "What is this? The Jim Lee harem?" I told him  yes, and I was proud to be part of it. But Jim soon began to keep company with a woman he met at a party at my house. Several people who knew us both thought we should have paired up, so once at lunch--we went to lunch often in those days--I asked him when he was casting his eye about he didn't look at me. He was purely astonished. "I like you better than most people I know. Why would I want to ruin that?" It was probably one of the nicest compliments I ever got.
Jim and I have collaborated on books--Literary Fort Worth and Elmer Kelton: Memories and Essays most recently--and TCU Press published his collection of essays, Adventures with a Texas Humanist (with a clear nod to Walter Prescott Webb's classic Adventures of a Texas Naturalist). We work well together, though we have also been known to quarrel to the point that one colleague once said, "For God's sake, it's like a bad marriage." I guess that's why Jim and I are good friends.
TCU Press will publish a collection of his short stories in 2013, but he warns that he could be dead by then. Melinda and I told him he couldn't die because he'd have to promote the book. When I said he needed to go on Facebook to promote, he said, "I'd have to commit suicide if I did that." Jim is nothing if not cantakerous--but loveably so.
I don't see much of Jim these days, and I miss him. So lunch today was a fine treat and a fine birthday present. Yep, old friends are gold, and we must keep them.

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