Monday, July 31, 2006
I was thinking about Jerry Bittle the other day. Jerry was one of those friends that you meet on-line and think that some day you'll get together and have a beer and talk deep into the night. That actually happened to me with an on-line buddy -- we were up until nearly 4 a.m., laughing and talking and finding out that we got along just as well in person as on-line.
It didn't happen with Jerry because, before we could get together for those beers, he took a vacation to Central America and somehow had a heart attack while he was scuba diving.
And he left behind a wife and a couple of daughters and far more grief than my losing out on a night of beer and giggles.
But there is still that frustration -- He was working on a new strip, "Shirley and Son," about a divorced family. It was the most compassionate, wonderful, hilarious strip I've ever seen -- absolutely one of a kind. Dammit, I wanted to see how it came out. And I'll bet he did, too.
At the end, in the story arc Jerry was working on before his vacation, Shirley was starting to date, and I told Jerry I was about to go on a date from one of those on-line dating services. Her pics on the Web site looked good, I said, but I was a little concerned because she was a graphic artist. He wrote back that he wanted to hear all about my "Photoshopped blind date" and I meant to tell him all about it, but put it off. And ... well, then it was too late.
It certainly wouldn't have mattered in the grand scheme of things for him to have known that she invited her entire family along on the date, but he certainly would have gotten a huge laugh out of it. And I felt bad that I could have told him, but put it off because, after all, there's always tomorrow.
Jerry's bread-and-butter strip, "Geech," was a genius piece of timing. It was like the Bob Newhart Show -- the real one -- where you knew, as soon as Bob said, "I just want a quiet evening with no interruptions," that Howard was going to come through the door -- you knew it, but you laughed because it was like being in on the joke.
Geech was like that -- yes, predictable, but that was part of the fun. Rabbit would never go to Artie's for dinner. Ruby would never get a date. And the bathrooms at the gas station would never, ever get cleaned.
But with "Shirley and Son," he was reaching beyond brilliance. How he could be so knowing and compassionate without being divorced was a mystery to me. But he said he listened to his friends. Jerry Bittle was one hell of a listener.
I have a couple of missing friends who I wish I could have one more email exchange with, even if we never did get to drink those in-person beers. Jerry Bittle is absolutely the name at the top of that list.
By the way, his stuff is still available on-line here and here.