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.
What I remember most vividly about Walter is what an appealing figure he cut: handsome, lanky grace, easygoing demeanor (which certainly masked some inner demons), his wit, his intelligence, and his capacity for friendship and for making his friends feel special. He was a bundle of insecurities that he was mostly able day-to-day to wrangle into the background, and dominate with his charm and strength of personality. Whether he was serving margaritas from behind the bar at Vanessie, or sharply-etched descriptions and dialogue in his novels and stories, or bon mots in relaxed conversation, he was always a pleasure to be around.
The signature memory I have of a day with Walter must go to his memorable Santa Fe wedding to my good friend Caroline Gordon. Walter, as abovementioned, tended bar for the rich and famous as well as the humble and thirsty at Vanessie, a popular Santa Fe watering hole. Across the street was Victor’s, another Santa Fe bar now lost to the mists of legend. The manager of that colorful establishment was Caroline, a lovely, tartly witty lady of British extraction. Romance blossomed across San Francisco Street, and the question was popped and answered in the affirmative. The ceremony was held between the two joints in the middle of the street that separated them, which was illegally closed down for the duration. Officiating, in black judicial robes and cowboy boots, was Judge Tom Fiorina, known to local fame as “the turkey judge” for his penchant for sentencing traffic and other minor offenders to give Thanksgiving turkeys to the poor.
Both Walter and Caroline were popular Santa Fe figures with legions of friends, and that block of San Francisco Street was packed as vows were exchanged and traffic was diverted. A rousing good time was had by all, and we repaired afterwards to one of their bars or the other, or probably both, to continue the celebration while traffic was permitted to resume its normal flow.
That the marriage didn’t last is ultimately neither here nor there. It made for a hell of an afternoon, and a lasting memory.
Walter, I hope, wherever you are, you’re still stopping traffic!
What a marvelous memory! Walter had so many friends — and such far-flung friends — that it’s taking the internet to bring them all together. Thanks for this.
Walter never told me that story! Amazing. And thanks, Jon.
My recollection included the police actually showing up, but they just shrugged and returned to their car when the Judge approached them.
I first met Walter, as best I recollect, during my early days at Reed, in 1965. I stumbled onto a couple of fellow classmates, Walter and one other, in a dorm room near mine. They invited me in and suggested that we play a card game called “Western House”. I have since learned that this was Walter’s adaptation of a game called Tegwar (The Exciting Game Without Any Rules), popular with minor league ballplayers and unsuspecting rubes at spring training in Florida. Wikipedia describes it as a game that is played by a number of sharps and one patsy. I was fresh off the farm, and, having just won the Oregon State Junior Sheep-shearing Championship, feeling pretty full of myself. I doubt there were any visible hayseeds in evidence but it wouldn’t have taken much imagination to envision some. I’ll leave it to you to assign the roles of sharps and patsy.
We played on for a while, money going back and forth. Sometimes I’d win and sometimes I’d lose, I never really knew why. But I thought I was holding my own until I was taken out by a “split level ranch” held by Walter. Money changed hands and may or may not have been returned, but I did win a friendship that lasted, off and on, for ~ 55 years.
Now a word of caution as you read everyone’s remembrances of Walter. I had just recently become aware of the Ernie Bulow’s “Conversations with Walter Satterthwait” and had ordered a copy, with the intention of getting Walter to sign it on our next trip up to see him. Unfortunately, it hadn’t arrived before we left, but was waiting when we returned. I opened and began reading it only after hearing that Walter had died the night before. I was gobsmacked by a story he told in one of the interview sessions.
But, first, a little background:: For my eighth-grade science project I had decided to make a small working model of a nuclear reactor. A bit ambitious, I suppose — and learned as the due date for the project approached. It slowly dawned on me that I had none of the materials or skills required to fabricate a steam turbine, generator or condensing coils. The final straw: nobody was going to give me any U-235, were they? I ended up just nailing some color-coded blocks with appropriate labels to a plywood base and calling it good.
So imagine my astonishment at reading the story Walter told about deciding to build a nuclear reactor for an eight-grade science project! I must have related this tale of hubris in a “conversation with Walter Satterthwait” sometime in the distant past, and Walter, like all good authors, borrowed as he needed. It appears I had been taken once again. But I’m honored in the lending.
Gobsmacked indeed! All he borrowed from me was my last name, for a detective in the Africa short stories. I got off easy.