Friday, February 10, 2012

Jeff ...

My very dear friend Jeff Zaslow died today.

Those words seem too impossible to be real.

But there they are.

Our last email exchange was on January 30th.

"Want to come in for Springsteen?" he wrote.

I replied, "I am always up for seeing a Springsteen show with you, my friend."

Listening to Bruce will never be the same. Jeff was my mentor in all things Boss. He adored Bruce. Worshipped might not be too strong a word. He sent "The Promise" to me the moment he could. Not just the album. The whole box set.

We met when I was 17. The year after, he gave me a bottle of wine for my birthday.

"Jeff?" I said. "You know I'm not 21, right?"

He looked a bit surprised.

I worked for him for two summers at the Chicago Sun-Times when I was in college.

Our friendship flourished.

He was the only man who consistently asked for my number. Almost every phone call over the past decade or so has been preceded by an email: "What's your #?"

And moments later, the phone would ring.

"Beth," he'd say, in his very exaggerated way.

He was funny. He was kind. And he had the worst handwriting I'd ever seen.

Jeff Zaslow was born to type.

And type he did, features for the Wall Street Journal and then countless advice columns for the Chicago Sun-Times after he'd won the contest to replace Ann Landers. He had entered to get an interesting angle for the story. But with so much talent, it's no wonder he won.

He wrote a book about that journey, and a couple more. And then, after he'd returned to the Journal, he wrote about Randy Pausch. And there was no way that story wasn't going to become a book, too.

I was at his home in Detroit before it was released. He showed me a mockup of the cover, the same cover that anyone who has read The Last Lecture has held in their hands.

He was proud. He had every right to be.

Just last night, for some reason, I was thinking about the conversation we had when the bidding for the publishing rights had finally come to an end. "Beth," he said. "We have to sell two million copies just to earn back the advance."

"Jeff," I said. "It's going to sell eleventymillion copies. It's going to be on the New York Times' best-seller list for at least a year."

"How do you know?" he asked, sincerely.

"I just do."

It has sold more than five million copies in English and has been translated into 48 languages. And the New York Times' best-seller list? 112 weeks.

After The Last Lecture, he wrote books at an astonishing pace: The Girls From Ames, Highest Duty, Gabby, and The Magic Room.

When he was in Chicago to do a reading and signing for The Girls From Ames, I picked him up at his hotel and drove him to Oak Park for the event. On the way back into the city, we talked about the possibility of me writing a book someday. When I had a proposal ready, he said, he'd introduce me to his agent.

I almost fell out of the car.

It was such an enormously kind offer, a lovely endorsement of my writing. But then, Jeff had always been very generous with his praise.

We had dinner at his hotel. He signed my copy of The Last Lecture, which he had arranged to be delivered to me on the day it was released.

He opened the front cover and he wrote.

And wrote.

He wrote for a long time.

He closed the cover and then opened it again.

He added one more line. "This book is better because of you," he snuck in before the final sentence: "I am proud to be your friend!"

As am I, Jeff. As am I.

All my love to Sherry and Jordan and Alex and Eden. And to all of Jeff's family and friends.

8 Comments:

Blogger Alison said...

I'm so sorry you lost your friend today. That was a lovely tribute to him.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, honey.

8:30 PM  
Blogger WendyB said...

A beautiful tribute.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thank you, Wendy.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Natalie Mikolajczak said...

Oh my. I am so sorry. I hadn't heard.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, Nat.

xo

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Dave Ducat said...

Beth:

It's with great sadness to read this. From what you've said, your life has been enriched by what you've experienced with your friend.

Our lives are now enriched to read about those experiences. Thank you for that.

Condolences to you on the loss of your close friend.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Indeed, Dave. My life is immeasurably better for having known him.

My love for him lives on.

Thank you for your note.

10:22 PM  

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