I go back a long way with Laura Demanski, my best friend, who blogged with me as “Our Girl in Chicago” for many years. We met some three decades ago. Back then she was the assistant to my editor at the now-defunct Poseidon Press, which published my first two books. I liked the sound of her voice on the phone and asked her to lunch. (Was it at Café Un Deux Trois?) It was immediately apparent that she was as smart and interesting as she sounded. She was also shy, in those days almost painfully so, and it took no small amount of doing to coax her to open up to me—but I never doubted that it would be worth the trouble, and I was right.
What followed has proved to be the closest and most enduring friendship of my life. Not only did it survive Laura’s move to Chicago a couple of years later, but it actually flourished: I started visiting her there not long thereafter, and have been doing so ever since.
The wide gap in our ages never did matter much to either of us, and before long it ceased to matter at all. We were simply two people who suited one another, who loved to share enthusiasms, and who continue to this day to introduce one another to new things of all kinds. It was in Laura’s company or at her behest that I first toured a Frank Lloyd Wright house, discovered the art of John Constable and Edward Gorey, read The Dud Avocado and How to Cook a Wolf, saw The Age of Innocence, Bigger Than Life, Magnolia, Powers of Ten, and There’s Something About Mary, watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freaks and Geeks, listened to the music of Iris DeMent, Aimee Mann, Erin McKeown, and Liz Phair, and got to know the work of the great theater companies of Chicago whose performances I now review regularly. I can’t count the movies, plays, concerts, operas, ballets, TV shows, and paintings that we’ve seen and heard together, or the hours that we’ve spent talking about them, as well as everything else under the sun.
Not that our friendship is purely, or even mainly, a matter of shared tastes. We’ve also laughed, cried, cheered, and mourned together. When Satchmo at the Waldorf opened off Broadway, Laura was there to share in the excitement, and when Mrs. T and I got married, she was my “best woman.” (It is one of the blessings of my existence that my wife and best friend adore one another.) We’ve seen one another through countless travails and tragedies, and rejoiced at as many triumphs. I have no secrets from Laura. She is far more tolerant of my quirks and crotchets than I deserve—and when I really don’t deserve it, she tells me so.
One of the special delights of a long-lived friendship is the opportunity it affords to watch a friend blossom and become herself. When we met, Laura was fresh out of Brown University, trying to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Now she is the editor of the University of Chicago Magazine, and I am proud beyond words of her.
Today is Laura’s birthday—one of the big ones. That scarcely seems possible to me, remembering as I do the impossibly young woman with whom I had lunch all those years ago. I sent her an extra-special present to mark the occasion, one that I will describe in this space as soon as she opens it. It is, as I told her in an accompanying note, no more than a token of what she means to me. A Terry Teachout Reader, which came out in 2004, is dedicated to “Laura Demanski, the sister I wanted.” Truer words were never written. She is as close to me as blood, and I love her with all my heart, today and always.
* * *
UPDATE: My present to Laura was an autograph letter by Henry James, her favorite novelist. Here’s how the dealer described it:
Pre-eminent American writer, Henry James (1843-1916) is perhaps best remembered for his major novels Portrait of a Lady, The American and The Bostonians, and his tendency toward convoluted sentence and paragraph structure. In this two-page hastily scrawled letter he is anything but complicated as he postpones and reschedules a meeting. The letter is written on Reform Club stationery, a political and social club founded in 1836. It has had over the years membership as varied as: Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells, Henri Cartier Bresson and J.M. Barrie.
To paraphase Louis Armstrong in Satchmo at the Waldorf, I do believe she liked it!
* * *
Carol Burnett, George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman, and Bronson Pinchot sing Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends,” from Merrily We Roll Along: