My Guy Dave

David Letterman has helped carry me for the majority of my life. He leaves a personal void. (Monte Dutton sketch)
David Letterman has helped carry me for the majority of my life. He leaves a personal void. (Monte Dutton sketch)

I’m sentimental at times. In 1983, when my baseball hero, Carl Yastrzemski, said farewell to Boston and trotted around the perimeter of the Fenway Park field shaking hands, I cried when I watched the video.

I never felt more stupid. It was a highlights video of Yaz’s career, and I didn’t expect to cry.

Watching David Letterman’s farewell didn’t make me cry. It did make me sad, though. It gave me that wistful feeling that occurs at life’s milestones. A small part of my life was ending. I have been a loyal watcher of Letterman for more than half my life.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

How many Top 10s have I watched? Collectively, was it a Top 10,000? How many times did I chortle? How many times did I groan? How many times did I have no idea what he meant?

I first watched Letterman when he had a short-lived morning show. I didn’t see it often because I was in college and had classes to attend and notes to take. When he started following Johnny Carson, Late Night became my favorite show. Some of it was because, at that hour, when I was up late enough to see it, quite often I was impaired, by fatigue if nothing else. Those were the nights of Larry “Bud” Mellman’s insane laugh, Letterman commandeering Taco Bell drive-throughs, Chris Elliott camping out under the theater seats, and Crispin Glover almost karate-kicking Letterman in the face.

I grew up with Letterman. I evolved as he did. I always thought of him as cutting edge, but that was my cutting edge. In the span of 30 years, Letterman grew older, and so did I. Now the kids don’t think he’s hip. They’re watching Jimmy Fallon. I like Fallon personally, but he seems inept as an interviewer and terminally goofy, which, of course, is what older people thought of Letterman when I was watching him in my 20s.

The gist of Rolling Stone’s cover story on Letterman was that when he became happy, it was time to step aside. Where does that leave me?

I never met Letterman. I never attended one of his shows. If I had met him, I wouldn’t have known what to say.

I’ve had two short conversations with an American president, once when he was running and once decades later after he had written a book. I sat next to a famous songwriter on an airplane. I waited for a plane in the company of one of history’s great athletes and spent several ballgames sitting next to one of history’s great baseball players in a press box. I knew great race-car drivers. None of them meant as much to me as Letterman.

As I sit here in my living room, I try to find some coherence in terms of capturing, not Letterman, but, rather, what he has meant to me. What I feel is, without Letterman, what is there for me to do late at night other than, oh, go to sleep earlier?

When Letterman nearly died, 15 years ago, and underwent quintuple-bypass surgery, it scared me, not so much because I feared for his life, but because I feared for what I was going to do without having him to watch. Now there is finality. I hope Letterman derives great enjoyment from, literally since he has a ranch in Montana, riding off into the sunset.

Wherever he goes, I hope he's happy. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Wherever he goes, I hope he’s happy. (Monte Dutton sketch)

If it’s time for Letterman to retire, what hope is there for me? He’s 11 years older than I. I’m in no position to step aside, only to have been shunted there.

I’ll be all right, I guess. I’m sort of reeling. It seems as if all my icons are going away. Not just Letterman. Most everyone I enjoy watching is either gone or going. Letterman, though … his is the unkindest cut of all. No one will ever be better. I’m going to descend innumerable times into nostalgia, in much the same fashion that the generation before mine still bemoans the passage of “the good old days” of Carson, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Carol Burnett, and the Cartwrights of Virginia City.

Letterman is older than I. That’s good. Maybe I’ve got hope. Maybe I’ve got a shot at achieving something that will leave me satisfied enough one day to step aside, too. For now, to borrow the words of Guy Clark, I’ve still got boats to build.

I’d love for you to read my books — – but I’m warning you. It will only encourage me to write more.


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