A BIT MORE than 33 years ago, when I moved to Washington to enroll in American University’s one-year master’s program in journalism and public affairs, I knew no one in this city. I arrived about a week before school started, in order to look for housing, and so I was very eager for our first day of class so that I could begin to make friends. I was tired of talking to myself.
On that first day, I looked around the group of about 30 students seated around several tables as the professors did their introductory spiels and I saw several possibilities. One of them was a young mustachioed guy from Cleveland, a quite guy who – unlike the rest of us — didn’t feel the need to impress the group with what he’d done so far in his life. I quickly decided that Richard Cowan would be one of my friends.
And he did. That same day, at the bookstore, as I stood in line behind him at the cash register, we struck up a conversation, and that was followed by lunch, with two or three of the other students at the student center.
I don’t know how the friendship developed from that point, but it did, and Rick remains one of a handful of people from that class with whom I still keep in touch. He’s also one of my best friends.
I also don’t really know exactly what our friendship was and has been based on. We share many interests, including baseball and the arts, and a penchant for rooting for the underdog. But I think the main thing that appeals to me about him has been his piercing, perverse wicked, often silly and ever-present sense of humor, which I’m glad to say he’s passed on to his children, Gabe and Sophie.
I believe that I can safely say that if I can be said to possess a sense of humor, I have stolen much of it from Rick. For instance, if I’m at a meeting and somebody comes up with a three-word noun phrase, such as “We need to take care of the off-site purchases,” I find it almost impossible to resist saying, “Oh yes, those OSPs can kill us.” Or, if somebody says, something about “perfectly balanced system,” the temptation is very strong to say, “The PBS, you mean?”
Or heaven forbid that somebody talk about something Russian, such as “ a Russian soldier,” or a “Russian dance,’ because the response will always be, “What’s the hurry?” (Get it? Russian … rushing!)
I know, I know, it’s silly and stupid, but it always elicits a groan, and that grown is worth it, as are the groans that the acronym game also produce.
There’s a lot more to Rick than humor, though, and that is what has made this friendship so special. He is deeply, deeply loyal to his friends (He is the first person I came out to). He has put up with countless acts of petulance and pettiness on my part. He is kind to strangers. At parties, I would walk away as quickly as possible from people I instantly decided were nerds or losers only to find Rick a few minutes later engaged in interesting conversations with those “losers.” And he is intelligent as shit and a damn good journalist, one of only a few people in that class who is still in the business.
One of the things that have helped keep our friendship strong is that Rick stayed in Washington, unlike most of the other people from that AU class. So, every time I’ve returned to Washington, he has been here, eager to have the friendship resume. The last time I came back to Washington he had a wife and a four-year old son. They soon had a daughter, and I have watched in wonder at how both have become the beautiful, intelligent young adults they are. I have watched them perform on stage and on the soccer field, and I have enjoyed their being part of my simple Christmas celebrations. They are more than my friends’ kids; they are my friends. So is Zoe, his beautiful and talented wife, whom I love dearly, and who created an amazingly beautiful collage for me that I saw for the first time tonight.
And so, it was fitting that on this last night in this city, I spent the evening at the Cowan residence, enjoying a wonderful dinner and conversation – and lots of humor – with these beautiful people. It was the right way to end this period of my life. And that is all that is ending, for my friendship with Rick, Zoe, Gabe and Sophie is strong and it is forever.