Saturday, May 31, 2014

My best friend, Andy -- aka Andrew Smith

In the summer of 1976, the bicentennial year, I graduated from Newbury Park High School in Newbury Park, California.  So did my best friend, Andy Smith -- Andrew Smith, the meteoric Young Adult author.  We went out that night.  We had dinner, we held hands and wandered the sidewalks of Westwood, shopped at Pier I, and we laughed.  We always laughed.

None of that was new.  He was the best friend I ever had.  We did a LOT of things together.  We ate lunch together -- remember your wheat jeans and the ketchup packet, Andy?  We had German class together and, eventually, journalism -- the academic pursuit that would become my life's work.  We babysat Troy together, a third grader with Cerebral Palsy.  We went to Disneyland and pretended to be Star Wars extras.  We went to Magic Mountain and rode the first loop coaster on earth backwards.  We bugged each other at work -- him at Carl's Junior, me at the Music Loft.  We went to see THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE at the drive in theater and we saw INDIANA JONES at Mann's Chinese.  Neither of us slept the night we saw the EXORCIST in the same theater.  We even bought his Toyota Celica together. 

Until I met Andy, my school life was bleak.  I was bright, but shy and maybe a little silly.  I'd endured four middle schools before landing at NPHS, and my emotional bruises were obvious.  My eyes were always on the ground.  Invisibility was my primary goal.  But Andy saw past it.  Andy saw me, and I loved him for it.

In time we drifted apart, but the truth is, I never stopped thinking about him.  I missed him just about every day of my life, and started looking for him when the Internet made that possible in the mid-1990s.  My detective work failed.

Then, out of the blue I got a phone call.  Andy had seen my author website and tracked down my phone number.  I don't remember the exact quote, but he said something like, "I'm glad at least one of us did it."  I told him I always thought it would be him.  But he was a high school teacher in California, not a writer.

"Where's the novel?" I asked.

"What makes you thing there's a novel?" he replied.

"Where's the novel," I repeated.  Fiction had always been his first love, and I couldn't believe that love had really ended, even after all those years.

"It's in the drawer," he said.

"Get it out," I said.  "We're going to get it published."

That was GHOST MEDICINE, and the rest -- IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS, STICK, THE MARBURY LENS, PASSENGER, WINGER, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES (so far) -- is literary history.  I may have given him a spark, but Andy fanned the flames.  He had the will, the determination and the sheer talent to catch fire.   

Today, the Boston Globe announced that his latest novel, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE was this year's Horn Book Award winner for fiction, and I had to smile.  Even in high school, I knew Andy was destined to be a writer.  He made me laugh, sure, but he also had depth beyond his years or his peers, depth that drew me to him.  In fiction or nonfiction, he had something to say, and smart people listened.

So I want to congratulate him on this award and every marker of success he's enjoyed and will yet experience.  I am so glad you're a part of my life again.  And while I respect that you are Andrew Smith now, I'm glad you'll always be a little bit Andy, to me.

See you in November!