or: The Secret Life of Walter (Witty)*
Contribute your own thoughts or read what others have said.
Walter led a life as adventurous and often mysterious as his books. We welcome your comments on both here.
Be sure to click through the links at right to read the extraordinary memories and deep appreciation that his many friends and fans have posted to date.
* Thanks to Jean Heller for sharing this brilliant headline to her article describing Walter’s “Trailer Trash” book tour.
Memory #1 1976
Okay, here goes, and do have a laugh at my expense.
Walter was off-duty at One Fifth, a snazzy, intimate neighborhood restaurant and bar where he was working. I lived a few blocks away and went there for a drink, because it was fairly civilized, and I didn’t want anyone to hit on me, preferring instead to look bored – my 28 year old version of sophisticated Joe, the bartender, pointed three seats to my left, and said “that gentleman would like to buy you a drink”. I looked at Walter, saw his striking beauty (he was a beautiful man to me, rather than a rugged Liam Neeson type), and noted the recycled fur Swiss Army jacket, perched just so over his shoulders. Because of a few too many scotches, and Walter’s “cloak”, I came to the misguided conclusion that he was gay, so I agreed. Thus began a 43 year friendship that evolved from a brief mutual infatuation to a very deep friendship. He was my best friend.
Memory #2 1980
He wrote his first book, Cocaine Blues, at Ball Pond, CT, where a bunch of my grad student friends and I were renting a house. After the publication of his first novel, Walter finally allowed me to call him a writer. Having admired several unpublished short stories, I always thought of him as one, but Walter insisted I wait. (Did any of you notice that on the original Dell paperback the guy on the cover looked just like Walter, even though he never met the illustrator? Mark, his brother, also noticed this).
Memory #3 Mid -1980’s
My father’s excitement at meeting a “real mystery writer” who arrived, complete with leather jacket, and still vibrating from a 4 hour motorcycle trip (my Dad should have seen Walter’s Masq-Mobile for Masquerade). My parents wanted to take Walter out to a good dinner, but it was season in Florida, and we all ended up at a Hamburger Heaven, seated separately on stools along an s-shaped counter. Bad luck for the starving artist!
What Reminds Me of Walter 2020 (yes, 2 decades of memories skipped for your sake, but you get the idea: I adored him)
Since Walter died ,everything reminds me of him. We spoke almost daily when he was in Dunedin, up until his last trip to Greece, and shared boring details about our lives as well as engaging in heated discussions about many topics, but often about Buddhism. He’s a Zen/Theravada kind of no-frills practitioner, and I’m a more baroque Tibetan Buddhist kind of girl. I attended a Buddhist service for the deceased (POWA practice), and it was enormously comforting to me. The service ensures that people take a fortunate rebirth (Walter didn’t believe in reincarnation, but I know he’d be pleased for me). As one of our favorite monks, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse says in What makes you not a Buddhist, “Impermanence is good news”. Blessings, dear Walter.
I happen to own that copy of Cocaine Blues and I’ve always wondered about the resemblance.
I first met Walter just before the publication of MASQUERADE when I reviewed the book for the newspaper then known as the St. Petersburg Times. I gave it a good review, and Walter, who was then living in Dunedin, just north of St. Pete, called to thank me. That led to an oyster lunch and a grand friendship that endured for more than 20 years.
We got together every time we were in the same city. We went fishing, ate Thai food, talked about Buddhism, watched sci-fi movies and, of course, books.
One of my fondest memories was going on a trip with him out West. He was promoting MASQUERADE; I was writing a profile of him for the Times. Walter had bought a 33-foot motor home, rather beat up, in which to make his Trailer Trash Tour. We dubbed the vehicle the Masque-Mobile or the Walter-Bago. Walter sent it out for some work, and it came back with a giant image of the cover of MASQUERADE plastered to each side and a bar code on the spare tire cover on the back. The bar code exactly duplicated the bar code on the book. Walter lamented the decision to do that. “When I’m done with this, and I want to sell the motor home, somebody will scan the tire cover and offer me $22.95 for it.” I loved the headline a copy editor wrote for the piece: “The Secret Life of Walter: Witty.”
He summed up his plan for a six-month Walter-Bago tour this way: “Quixotic. Definitely tilting at windmills. That’s a good way to put it. But it’s also tax-deductible.”
Walter called me just two days before he died. I could tell he was in trouble. Generally, when we finished our phone calls, it was his habit to say, “I’ll call again in a few days.” But that night he said, “Goodbye, Jean.” I felt a deep chill.
Bless you, Walter. I hope you’ve found the peace that eluded you here.
In his last weeks, Walter had a Zen epiphany that both comforted him and gave him joy.
Walter had a Zen epiphany a few weeks before he died. He said he was at peace after this, and also told me he smiled whenever he thought of it.