Buck – The Story I Never Told You
It’s five am. I can’t sleep due to the lingering jet lag. I’ve been sitting in bed since four, drinking coffee and thinking about the death of my friend Buck Henry.
He probably wouldn’t even want me to write this. He didn’t like fusses and a lot of attention. Unlike many famous people, he preferred flying under the radar. A far better observation deck to view the lives and idiosyncrasies of others.
I don’t write at five in the morning. Never have. Buck did. Not by choice. He was an insomniac and wrote late into the night when he couldn’t sleep.
Lunches with Buck always were always in flux until he knew how he would sleep the night before. So around eleven-thirty or twelve, he would call you or if you hadn’t heard you would call him. He would be either chirpy and lunch was on – or cranky and you’d try for tomorrow. If you were Buck’s friend, you just knew that about him. And I was blessed to be Buck’s friend for forty years.
If he were reading over my shoulder right now, he would tell me this sucks. I should stop writing immediately and return to bed and read something to improve my mind or something filthy to amuse me.
And he would be right. Not about stopping but about it sucks. It sucks as I just don’t know how to write about this friendship. This forty-year friendship with one of the most interesting, magical people I have ever known.
As I sit here staring at the screen, I realize one of the funniest things about my friendship with Buck was the beginning of it, and the parts I never told him.
True story – you know when you see people and you just know you are going to know them, or you have some connection to them, or they will mean something to you? Buck is now really wanting me to stop writing, he hated this part of my personality.
But Buck you’re not here and I have to tell the story from my POV. And this is all true. I just never told you. So, now I am telling the world or the small group of devoted readers, (of which you were not one) who read this blog.
When I was a teenager, I don’t remember the exact age, but I was around sixteen; I was watching Saturday Night Live and there was this funny, irreverent, not handsome in the traditional way, compelling man. And I remember staring at the TV and thinking I will know this man. I didn’t even know who he was when I said this to myself. I had to wait for the credits to roll.
His name was Buck Henry. I knew nothing about him but became instantly obsessed with knowing more.
There Buck, do you like that part of our story? I never told you I saw you on TV and knew we would be friends. I never told you as you might have made fun of it.
Of course, this was decades before Google, so there were not many ways to find out about people. You had to comb the TV Guide and see when they would appear again on something. Johnny Carson was one of his main TV stops. You had to read magazines cover to cover. You had to participate in a form of life that no longer exists.
I learned he wrote The Graduate and one of my favorite shows Get Smart. I spent the next five years following his career. Almost like a stalker.
Do you like that part Buck? I know you do. I kind of TV stalked you before we ever met. I never told you that either. Sorry. So many things I kept from you. But I know you kept many from me too.
How life works in weird ways.
Fast forward – I’m twenty-one. I’m living in LA. I had a friend who was quasi dating him. She was extremely beautiful. I was extremely jealous. I would ask her all about him. She told me a little.
Then I was twenty-three. I was living in New York. But I was visiting Santa Barbara where I am from.
My mother tells me she has met this adorable woman, named Ruthie Zuckerman and her son is a big deal in the film business. These were the days when I was trying to be an actress and mom would be on the lookout for anyone who might be able to give me a leg up.
Me – Really? Who is her son?
Mom- His name is Buck Henry and he wrote The Graduate.
Me – No fucking way I have been dying to meet him. Dying.
Mom – Great. Because you, Ruthie, Buck and I are going to the horse sale at Mike Nichols ranch tomorrow.
That is a true story. To this day I don’t know, or I just don’t remember how those plans came to be. But what I knew was seven years after sitting in the dark, watching the flickering TV with Buck’s image and knowing I would know him – I was about to meet him.
So, the night comes. Buck is doing the good son thing and taking his mom to the event. It had to have been Buck’s invite. We didn’t know Mike.
I’m not sure how happy Buck was to be dragging along mom, mom’s friend and the friend’s kid. I actually remember him behind kind of silent and pouty in the early part of the evening.
I had one thing in my favor, youth. Youth and humor and I knew I would have to play the humor card, as my looks were not up to the standards, I knew he held. Or I assumed he held. But I knew I was funny. And six years of stalking I knew funny and smart were what he was about.
Buck, I’m feeling awful I never told you our backstory., The one you didn’t know. The one-sided one. The one I wrote and cast you in the starring role.
So off we went to Mike’s Arabian horse sale. An event I have written about before. And there are stories of them all over the place. They were epic.
At one point, we were on some stable tour, or someone was explaining about the horses and their care. Their food and their exercise regime. I don’t know who said it, but someone asked what is their exercise regime? And I said “Arabicize.” Not the funniest thing I’ve ever said. But I said it fast and this was the peak of the Jane Fonda feel it burn craze. Leg warmers ruled. Aerobics was everything. The joke worked.
Buck looked at me winked and said good volley. I was in the high stakes game of comedy tennis with Buck Henry.
I was living in New York. He was living in LA. We exchanged phone numbers at the end of the evening. Did we flirt? I guess. I don’t remember it well. We must have a little or we wouldn’t have exchanged phone numbers. I think those were the days we both flirted with everybody.
But despite the fact we had each other’s numbers I knew he was not going to call me. The ball was in my court. I was the one with the crush; not Buck. Buck never had a crush on me. Buck was never in love with me. Buck grew to love me as a friend. But I’m getting ahead of my own script here.
This was a really down period in my life. I was not making it as an actress. I did not have a boyfriend. I was not writing. I was confused about my parents. I was confused in general. I wanted to get married I thought, but I was kind of young. I was just figuring it all out or not.
So, I wrote Buck a part in my life where he was going to save me and figure it all out for me.
Buck, I’m feeling so terrible you would have loved this part of our story. The part that was totally unreal and made up by me. But I think you might have figured it out. I’m. pretty sure you did.
I went back to New York with two things – his phone number and the story I was plotting out in my head. Buck would fall in love with me. I would be part of a high-profile Hollywood couple. He would get me work and we would live happily ever after.
I can hear him chuckling now.
Oh, Buck, I had such great details I never shared with you.
I couldn’t just call him. Those were the days when the guys called the girls. And I knew from my friend who had dated him a bit when he wanted to see someone he called.
So, I schemed. How would I see him again so he could pick up his part of the script and fulfill my fantasies? Or our manifest destiny, however you choose to look at it.
My entire life has been lived with one foot on the West Coast and one in the East.
So, I called him one day and said I was coming to LA and it would be fun to get together. He seemed happy to hear from me and agreed.
Buck was not a big advance planner. He was for trips and theatre tickets and but not for life. He lived rather spontaneously, especially in those years.
So, he left it at call me when you’re here. That was so vague. Vague is not my style.
Me – What if I get there and you’re not there?
Buck – I won’t answer.
So, I went to LA for a month and I planted myself at the Chateau Marmont. He lived near there. I had a plan.
Buck. I never told you I picked the Chateau and to stay a month because of you. I tried to make it all look random.
I nonchalantly called him.
It wasn’t nonchalant. I’d been rehearsing it for weeks. This was when one sat at the phone and stared at it, picked it up, put it down. Then called the number only to hang up to make sure the party was home, so you wouldn’t have to leave a message on the answering machine in the event they would not call back.
Finally, I called him.
Me- Hi. it’s Tracey. I’m in town.
Buck – Great. I’m kind of busy. I’m leaving for Brazil next week.
I think it was Brazil. Brazil or Argentina.
Which was it, Buck? At that moment I thought great I am booked into the Chateau and you’re off to Brazil or Argentina.
Buck – Well, you want to go to a movie tonight?
Cut to me jumping up and down on the creaky bed at the Chateau Marmont.
Playing hard to get was not in my bag of tricks yet. I was all need and insecurities and desirous of immediate gratification.
Me – Sure what time?
Buck – Where are you staying?
Me – The Chateau.
Buck – I live right near there.
Me- You’re kidding?????????????
I lied to you. I knew where you lived.
So, he picked me up and we went to a movie in the Beverly Center Mall. And we ended up eating at a Chinese restaurant near the theatre. I don’t remember the movie. I remember he made out with me and I thought OK, this is it, you are on your way. He was also a good kisser.
Remember this was forty years ago. I’m sure he was still a good kisser. I never kissed him again in that way after that night.
It was the seventies. We had one night. In the seventies, most people got at least one night.
At the point in the evening, when he decided it was over, he said, he would drive me back to the hotel or I could take a cab.
The cab part does not sound right. That was someone else. But he made it very clear it was time for me to go. This did not sit well.
Suddenly he was totally off-script. The script was I move in the next day. The script was we would be having dinner with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson at Dominick’s the next night. The script was I got saved.
The real story was I went back to the hotel and I fumed.
But there was a whole side of the story I didn’t know then. And I think Buck might have been reading my script when I wasn’t looking. He was the most intuitive smart person around. He saw I was young, needy, and would be trouble. Plus, I was the daughter of a friend of his mother’s. I had problems stamped on my forehead.
And what I didn’t know was he had recently met and was falling in love with the woman who would be his life’s companion and eventually his wife. She was going with him to Brazil or Argentina.
But he was kind. And he did like me. He did see the humor and the fucked-upness and maybe the talent and I was fun. And I did know things he liked to talk about. I was perfect female friend material. And Buck was a genius at having female friends. He had more female friends than any man I have ever known. We all thought we were friend number one.
He was a great writer and a great rewriter. And he rewrote my script to one where we would be friends.
He called me the next day as he was a gentleman. He said we would have lunch before he left on his trip. I had been to Brazil and he said he wanted to hear about it. Unless he was going to Argentina in which case it would be decades before I got there.
When the lunch date came, he forgot to call me. I called him and was furious.
Me – Are you forgetful or an asshole?
Buck – Are those my only choices.?
Me – Yes.
Buck – I’ll take forgetful.
How could you not love this guy? He was leaving the next day for Brazil or Argentina. He said he would send me a postcard and call me when he got back. He did both.
I remember in meditation or the sensory deprivation tank or whatever woo-hoo thing I was up to to calm my monkey mind, I asked the universe, What is this supposed to be? And the universe told me he was not going to be my boyfriend but if I played my cards right, I would have an amazing lifetime friend.
And I did. I had as good a friend as I could have asked for in Buck. He was loyal, he was always there when you needed him. He respected me. He was smart, fun, funny, well-read and the best company, he made me better just by being in his presence.
There are seven people outside my immediate family whose deaths have been or would be devastating for me. And Buck was on that list.
He was not a sentimental guy. He did not throw I love you’s around. He was not flowery. He didn’t dwell in the past. He was very practical and to the point.
Five years ago, he suffered a stroke. I got to go visit him at the hospital early on. I just sat and held his hand. The stroke had left him more sentimental and less guarded.
At one point he squeezed my hand, looked me in the eye and told me I’d always been a really good girl. It made me cry. He cried too. I don’t think I’d ever felt closer to him than I did at that moment. He knew that was something I needed to hear. It was something I had not heard enough in my life. It was his gift to me. Buck got it all, even when he was so sick.
We shared a love of travel. He and Irene would take off on fantastic adventures. They would go places for far longer than I would. They would go and stay in Thailand for a month. Though Buck told me they had never been to Thailand when I recounted this month-long adventure I thought they had taken.
So, my memory of certain things is faulty. But once he could not travel anymore, I made a point of sending him postcards from every trip we took. Actually, we used to send each other postcards from our trips up until people stopped doing that.
Last Sunday when we left Israel in a rush, I wrote three postcards at breakfast. One to my mom, one to my dad and one to Buck.
He won’t get his. But you know considering he got everything else – you never know.
I will miss you so much, Buck. But thank you for forty years of consistent friendship. You were the best. And I’m going to hang with Irene and stay friends with her. Marrying her was the best thing you ever did. A perfect script. But you knew that.