When Fat Man in the Middle Seat came out, I was interested. I liked Jack Germond. I saw him on TV, and he always tried to be honest. The viewer knew where his opinions were. A friend at the time (1999) said the book wasn’t very good. That friend, no longer, was not well read but politically oriented. He was and is living a life I really don’t understand. But a few weeks ago I found Fat Man in the Middle Seat at an estate sale and bought it.
It is of interest especially for persons engaged in medias and newspapers before then. There are human beings in this world destined to become newspaper people. The public doesn’t see them today because journalistic standards have changed for the worse. However, Jack Germond tells of these standards, of suggestions, of compromises, of agreements in form and now somewhat the lack of oversight by news organizations. Frequently, today there is no pretense to abide by journalistic standards – choose any cable TV news channel. The two thousand words from a reporter or an anchor will rearrange the one thousand words from a picture.
After Jack Germond got on TV, he had the following experiences,
“College students stopped me in airports and asked earnestly how I could stand being on the same panel with that fascist [Robert] Novak. And when I would explain that, despite our different views, Novak was one of my closest friends, they would walk away in disbelief.”
That was published in 1999, and perhaps today the country is more divided. A neighbor may not lend a tool next door because that person is a Democrat. Or the neighbor may not ask for its return, getting a profuse apology and a smile and an offer to help with the garbage or a pile of yard waste due to political differences. If that is happening today in America, we are in trouble. Republicans forget to return stuff too. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because neighbors don’t declare party affliction.
Society, acquaintances, friends cannot be formed solely among the 100 percent agreeable, more likely to be toady subordinates or placating minors. Yet that is what the youth challenging Jack Germond believed. Live and see “only your own people.” Everyone else makes me tired; everyone else is challenging; everyone else makes me think. Seeing “only your own people,” is the first step to having no friends at all.
I like my friends because they have and use talents that are apart from mine, and they perform those activities well. [Not everyone tells of every failure.] When they talk they are articulate and interesting. They enrich my life and provide outlooks that I would otherwise not have. In short they stimulate me to think beyond my experiences and to enjoy their perceptions vicariously.
I have a chance to meet a woman from my high school class. I hadn’t talked to her for decades. I introduced myself; she knew my name and said, “Of course. Hello.” Someone came up and asked her, “You went to the Galapagos [Islands], didn’t you?” This woman’s response was, “Yes, and I next went to Machu Picchu.” No more about the islands; I was amazed. This was someone not to know. What was the segue from Galapagos to Machu? I walked away thinking the next sentence would give her next itinerary destination, Rio. Obviously the highlight of her trip would be the fourth stop in the fourth sentence, “In the Amazon I saw a villager being devoured by piranhas.”
By in large friendship depends upon the person you are. Are you comfortable with achievement and life. In one way, friendships help individuals get along in life. It was Socrates who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This year I’ve had someone I know say that she wouldn’t change a thing about her life – past, present or presumably the future. She is financially successful, but is she perfect or has she shut down and is coasting? If perfection is the answer to meditation, introspection and reflection, she is not doing that correctly. Perhaps she should take a class to understand life. Perfection is a boring existence. Friends bring energy, activity and insight. They bring humor and perspective to push a person off the pedestal of perfection – nothing I’ve done, nothing I’ll do will ever need changing. I can’t imagine a more boring human being, one thoroughly insincere and utterly incapable of understanding any other human being.
So why were Jack Germond and Robert Novak friends? Each man recognized himself in the other – stubborn, articulate and intelligent. What did friendship do for each of them. They were contemporaries; they had reason and opinions. Sometimes it’s good to listen. They kept one another honest, not just with each other but within each man. There are few people in the world any one person will meet who is capable of engendering such honesty, who is willing to take the time and whose communication will let a person grow from the experience and hearing.
For me it is difficult to imagine strangers at an airport coming up to Germond and walking away disillusioned: He’s friends with Novak. What were these people thinking? What sort of human beings have they become since 1999?