It took years for me to find out that Michael Fessier Jr. was no longer with us. According to an online news site, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2014.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

I’m writing about Mike Fessier because when I was just starting out in the writing game in the early 1960s, I was in a situation where I only had one friend in the whole world, and he turned out to be Mike Fessier. He was a tall gentleman who grew up in Southern California, and instead of going to college after high school, signed up as crewman on a freighter to Australia, where he married and spent the next two years as a journalist.

The job I got sounded great but it was lonely. No one to talk to, no one to have a beer with. As an aspiring writer I faced my future with a confidence that every experience would be worth the pain once my novel was out there.

I first met Mike when I was a reporter at Daily Variety in Hollywood. There were six or seven reporters, including me and Fessier. The others were old men who had been covering their beats since the days of vaudeville. Variety was a trade paper for the entertainment industry, not a fan magazine. The equivalent of Plumbers Weekly. Our job was to report on the business side of showbiz. We covered the money, the box office, the record companies, radio and television stations. The “biz” side of show biz. Mike and I were the only people under the age of 60 in that office, which had the atmosphere of a pending funeral. There was a plate of dried prunes always out on a table. My hours were from 2 in the afternoon until 10 in the evening.

So, I was stationed when everyone else was finished for the day. Except for Fessier. He often came by at dinner time just to avoid going home. Instead, he hung out with me as a lonely dusk settled over Los Angeles. We’d get my dinner at the 24-hour Ralph’s Supermarket on the corner of Sunset and Vine, where we found some commonality, despite coming from very different backgrounds.

Mike was a Southern California native, son of a little-known screenwriter, who instead of going to college went down to the San Pedro docks and signed on as a deckhand for an Australia-bound freighter. Two years later he returned with a wife and a child.

His story fascinated me. It had romance, it had rebellion, it had all that, plus more. Whereas I went straight – fulfilled my draft obligation then went down the road to college, where I earned a journalism degree and was dropped off at the intersection of the future and the rest of my life.

Somehow Mike and I developed a weird friendship that sustained itself for three decades, until I got a letter from him saying he was finished with me and our relationship.

Neither he nor I Ivied up to our expectations. Neither of us went on to write the Great American Novel. Just as well. We spent a lot of time shooting baskets and when he made a particularly difficult shot he would exclaim, “Like a butterfly’s kiss!” That was us.

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