A Long Lasting Friendship: Charlie Gibson of Good Morning America
Hey, Out There…
It is a day before my 68th birthday and I ready myself for life on the road that I’m too edgy and tired-blooded to do as I did with pleasure in my misspent youth. When I was in New York, I taped an interview with Charlie Gibson for Good Morning America. Charlie has always struck me as a man of exceptional qualities. Because he is a creature of television, I fell in love with his looks and spirit long before I got to know him. The most difficult thing for a television reporter or anchor to suggest to an audience is authenticity. Charlie’s body language speaks a truth that can’t be faked of polished up or improved with time. It’s a natural gift and Charlie was born to his naturalness and it’s the rarest gift of the famous.
When Beach Music came out in 1995, Charlie and his crew (also delightful) came to my house on Fripp Island in South Carolina.
I have a small addiction to showing off the beauty of the Lowcountry, its white-sand beaches and its green mileage of marshlands, and Charlie’s enthusiasm matches his integrity. When we first met, he told me he thought I’d been influenced by John Irving and I told him about “Garp” thundering into my life and letting me know that I wasn’t being brave enough as a writer. It was a splendid literary appraisal and let me know that Charlie Gibson was a serious and thoughtful reader as well as one of the great students of politics I’d ever met.
New York is a city abloom with secret studios. They exist in buildings without style or architectural merit, but I met Charlie at one of them for a seven in the evening taping. In his elegance, he has become a handsomer older man than he was in his twenties. We embraced when we saw each other and he’s the only anchor I’ve ever hugged on a regular basis. It’s an emotional war between my Citadel and his Princeton, but he’s an affectionate, easygoing guy and I’ve taken advantage of that. At one meeting, he told me that he’d met everyone in the world for five minutes, but then, often never saw them again. He was an aficionado of five-minute friendships. If we’d lived next door to each other I think we’d have been best friends for life. But he was incising his name into the history of American news and I was trying to write those books of mine. The interview moved me. Charlie moved me as he always does. Once, I saw him treat two black high school girls as if they were royalty when they recognized him on a ferryboat in the Savannah River. Not every famous man or woman treats strangers with such open-hearted wonder as Charlie Gibson. His interview with me was superb. Gibsonian. Deep. It airs on Tuesday October 29th.
I am lucky to get to know a man as fine as Charlie Gibson. America is lucky to have him delivering its news.
Doubleday had me staying at the Essex House hotel on Central Park South. When I was a younger and nimbler man I used to love walking the streets of New York for hours at a time, but neuropathy has slowed me up. I did walk over to Rizzoli’s bookstore on 58th Street because I have cherished the atmosphere of that store since I first arrived in New York City in 1972. I bought the new Donna Tartt book (which I’ve heard the best things about on earth), the new Marisha Pessl, because I’d found myself overpowered by her prose style in her novel “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.” Also, I picked up the new novel by Bob Shacochis, “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.” I’d revered his early short stories and did not know about his new work of fiction. As I was checking out with my credit card, a young black woman looked at my name and said, “There’s a writer that goes by this name.”
Once, I tried to make jokes about it and said I’d heard about the guy and understood that he was a talentless jerk. But painful experience has taught me that confession is good for the soul and certainly the most polite way of handling an awkward situation.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m that guy,” I admitted.
“Ma’am? You are from South Carolina. I’m from St. George.”
“No, you’re not. Nobody’s from St. George,” I said.
“You don’t even know where St. George is,” she challenged.
I laughed and said, “For four straight years, I played for the city of Beaufort in the St. George Tournament, which was the state championship for all towns in the state. One year, Columbia beat us by two points in the championship.”
She was so excited she did what all South Carolinians do when they meet on the road. She came out and we hugged and exchanged addresses. Then she told me she was a working poet and ran into her office to print out her poetry. Her name was Leonore Tucker and her poetry was skillful and artfully expressed. I think that Leonore Tucker may have a bright future in poetry. But it is the accidents of the road, the unplannable encounters that I always have loved best. South Carolina is not a state; it is a cult.