This is the fourth post on my friendship with William J. Lederer, exploring different dimensions of this unusual, remarkable man.
I think Bill knew my type: the artistic, mystic type who lived on the edge and was always broke.
So to his long list of projects, he added helping me get less-than-broke. He gave me money to do things I would have done without pay — digging out the tightly-packed bulbs in the long iris patch that edged the stream in his front yard, pounding nails to keep the boards from falling off his barn door, mowing his lawns. He bought an Irish harp I built, then sold a couple of dozen more to people in his endless circle of acquaintances; hypnotized by his charm and aura of fame, they caught his contagious enthusiasm for the instrument and succumbed to his spiel. His dedicated salesmanship kept me financially afloat for years.
He connected me with the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship in Washington, D.C., which hired me to do a two-day workshop on musical sounds and shamanistic practices and other esoteric topics. He introduced me to rich people: “They need somebody like you to help them figure out how to spend their damn money.” He deflected story-hungry journalists toward me: “This is the kind of guy you should be writing about, not an old fart like me.”
And, though he liked and admired my wife, he occasionally introduced me to women he believed would be responsive to an approach from me, later whispering to me “Beneath that bland, professional persona, I think she is a tigress!”
Pan, Bacchus, Don Juan, Don Giovanni, Picasso — yes, he had some of their juice in his veins. At 65, 70, 75, 80, he still very much charmed, and was charmed by, women of any age. I got to know two of his long-term women friends and found them to be admirable people, fiercely devoted to him. They were much younger than he and wisely aware that this guy would soon need a capable, loving, understanding companion to help deal with the inevitable limitations imposed by age.
But despite their entreaties, he refused to marry them: “I’m an old fart. She deserves somebody younger. I’m not going to let her tie herself to an old bastard who she’s going to be changing bedpans for in another ten years.”
At the same time, he sincerely believed he was indestructible. He knew, because back in the 1940s he had consulted a Chinese astrologer — “the real thing, none of this New Age hocus-pocus” — who told him he would live to the age of 138.
We got drunk together sometimes, stoned once or twice. Whenever I arrived, for a day or to stay a while, I could tell that he was sincerely glad to see me. But why? Perhaps I was someone he could show off to, to impress, someone gullible enough to take his tales at face value. Or perhaps he saw me as like himself: another perpetual kid, someone whom he could trust to share his pleasure in his latest cool gadgets, ideas, foods, books he’d read, complaints about American politics, postulations about the meaning of life and the way of human beings, esoteric obsessions and infatuations.
He was certainly right about both: he could impress me, and I enjoyed every one of his infatuations. But I don’t think I did so exactly the way he imagined. I was appreciative of his tales; I was certainly impressed, even astonished. But I was not gullible. I always took his claims with a grain of salt.
But that grain I took him with deserves some definition. It was less the salt of doubt, of skepticism; rather, it was more like the salt around the rim of a good margarita. Comes with the drink, complements the sting of lime and tequila, makes it contradictory — salty, sweet –, distinctive, savory, and delectable.
What does this suggest about what characteristics make for a “remarkable” person? Takes other people as what, who, they are. Likes — can love — even the strangest, most difficult people. Compassionately, yet not condescendingly, takes care of them.