Andy Hess was interested in everything. He knew literature from Beowulf to
Brautigan, studied anthropology, archeology, graphology, parapsychology,
biology, astronomy, palmistry, calligraphy, antique pennies, classic guitar,
the Beatles, Carlos Castaneda, M.C. Escher, pulp fiction, film animation,
Harry Houdini, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Mad Magazine, Zap Comics, and
Firesign Theatre. And that was just in high school where he also edited the
newspaper and wrote pretty much the entire literary magazine his senior year.
As an adult Andy never lost intellectual steam. He'd inform you about a
meteor shower or a planetary alignment in one breath, and question paradigms
about early human artifacts in the next. He never watched television but
stayed completely plugged in, ingesting NPR during most of his waking hours
and Art Bell when he should have been sleeping. He told me about Ira Glass
and "This American Life" years before they hit the national radar.
Am I making my lifelong friend sound too ascetic? Well, he wasn't. He loved
the pleasures of this world. Sweet corn, giant waffles, chili on top of
Fritos, beef patties and eggs, crispy lettuce, and ketchup with home fries,
and beer, of course, both in quality and in quantity.
Andy loved life in all its various and peculiar forms from mice to Border
Collies to a series of birds, all named Bob, to an alligator snapping turtle
that eventually outgrew his Lincoln Park apartment.
Andy did more than I could keep up with. He seemed reclusive, unless of
course you played chess with him at Friar Tucks. He seemed shy unless he was
singing "Snap Crackle Pop" in four part harmony with Sandy Schirmer and
Leonard Perryman and me. He seemed reluctant to speak then he'd toast you in
It feels ironic to be up here remembering Andy when, as his sister Nancy and
I separately realized, he could remember more about us than we can about
ourselves. I've known Andy my entire sentient life. At Academy day camp, the
summer before first grade, we floated paper boats and caught crayfish in Alum
Creek. We played organized games in Franklin Park under the avuncular
supervision of Phil Hess. I remember accosting Andy in a stairwell at the old
Academy to say that it must be cool and weird having his dad at his school.
He said, "Yeah."
But the first complete line of Andy Hess dialogue in my memory he delivered
in the driveway of 60 South Cassingham and it was, and I quote, "Who taught
you to throw, your mother?" I didn't understand the question. I didn't have a
brother and throwing was not among my father's strong suits so for all I know
my mother probably had taught me to throw. So Andy took it upon himself to do
his best to steer me clear of dorkdom and from that point on became my
adopted big brother. He showed me a lot more than a decent sidearm.
Our relationship was always pedagogical. He taught; I tried to learn. He
played Zen Master and I Grasshopper. He had to explain at length why exactly
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was among the greatest works of art
of the twentieth century. I remember sitting listening, holding the album
cover, hearing the words, "...and it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong or
right. If I'm wrong, I'm right where I belong."
I confess that in fits of hubris I saw Andy and me as John Lennon and Paul
McCartney. He was John, the brilliant, edgy one, the band leader, the real
artist. I was Paul, the bass player, the eager disciple, too treacly and
sentimental even for my own taste. But Andy let me tag along on trips to see
Mister Beggs at the coin shop or to the vintage bookstore across from the
statehouse when "going downtown" without supervision on a city bus seemed
like a dangerous and sophisticated thing to do.
I don't remember dates; I remember time periods. There was the Cub Scouts
period with the famous trip to the Oasis water fountain factory. There was a
sort of Tom and Huck period when we went fishing for carp and catfish in the
Scioto River with George and Sandy. At that time, Andy, Don Goldberg and I would
spend summer evenings on my rooftop playing bluegrass with Andy and Don on guitar
and me on harmonica. We had a limited repertoire of offbeat tunes with lyrics
like, "Every time I go to town, the boys start kickin' my dog around."
Then came the double dating period, also known as the Lisa period. He had a
girlfriend named Lisa Porterfield. I had a girlfriend named Lisa Brintlinger.
We'd buy discount subscriptions to the summer movie series at the Ohio
Theatre and catch all the Marx brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen
festivals at Marzetti's Studio 35, the little art deco dive on the Ohio State
Campus that served pizza and beer with its double features.
Andy endured my colorful family, sat up in my basement as I sanded and
assembled an Appalachian Folk instrument, and showed me where to find photos
of semi-naked women in the Bexley Public Library.
But it was writing that made us friends. Andy came up with the ground rules.
We acquired spiral notebooks and fancy pens, sometimes fountain pens. At one
point we even used rapidographs (remember those?)-- drafting tools with micro
needle-thin nibs that Andy found irresistible. Then we wrote. And we
illustrated. Illuminated. It was Andy's idea for us each to keep a journal.
And part of the deal was that it would be stream of consciousness. We should
not organize our thoughts or make an outline with bullet points. That was not
the point. That was the antithetical to the point. Andy dubbed the contents
of those notebooks, "UTTER CHAOS." And utter chaos, to kids in a very
structured academic setting, was bliss.
That was the beginning of a lifetime of writing to and for Andy Hess. By far
the majority of the writing of my life has been beneath the heading "Dear
Andy." Our correspondence occasionally sputtered but never stopped. Despite
the rising tide of email, despite the fact that life and work and love and
children interceded, there was nothing like getting a letter from Andy,
reading it three times, letting it marinate for several days, then sitting
down to answer it longhand, without editing, from the heart.
Andy was present at most of the major events in my life and I managed to show
up for some of the highlights of his. There was a summer I visited him in Ann
Arbor Michigan when he and an incredibly smart and funny and beautiful girl,
who happened to be named Carol Burnett, were living together and listening to
"The Art of Tea" and going out to dinner at a restaurant called Bicycle
Jim's. That summer Andy's life felt like a breezy, sexy bit of French cinema,
Eric Rohmer maybe. By the way, Andy went out with one gifted and alluring
woman after another. Women loved him. Dee, Linda, Janice, Johanna, Margo:
editors, designers, artists, musicians, all of them gifts to the world and to
him and vicariously to me. But at my wedding, Andy stood up, looked over at
Carol, and said, with characteristic charm, "If I'm the best man, how come he
My all-time favorite Andy Hess moment came during a year he lived with Carol
and me in Evanston, Illinois, while I was in graduate school at Northwestern.
My father got the clever business idea that instead of being a starving
student, I could be a better-fed landlord, so he loaned me money for a down
payment on a rambling, rickety farmhouse on Asbury Avenue not far from
campus. We had undergraduates as tenants. We also had Andy who was going to
get a job doing something somewhere. He helped me do carpentry, painting and
wood stripping, and he kept job hunting. He worried, we worried and our other
tenants all worried. And then Andy did get a job. It even seemed like a good
job. Working at World Book Encyclopedia as an entry-level editor.
Two weeks after that job began, he cashed his first paycheck and invited me
and Carol out to dinner at a popular restaurant called The Keg. He ordered
surf and turf, not as a single menu item, no, he had both the lobster and
steak entrees. The place was packed, every table filled. And at the end of
the meal Andy stood up and clinked his glass among all these strangers out
for their own dinners on their own Saturday night and, when they fell silent,
he gave a toast, a grateful, gracious, eloquent, poetic toast of thanks to me
and Carol. The managers and waiters didn't shush him or throw him out, they
just listened along with everyone else. And then the whole place erupted in
applause and cheers and this amazing feeling of freedom and glee. The owner
came over and offered dessert and drinks on the house. It was beyond
excellent and it was purely and uniquely Andy.
Andy rarely complained even when he had plenty to complain about. He read and
did and saw and gave and lived more than most people do in a long lifetime.
And the guy always managed to look great. He had personal style in spades.
Nobody could wear a Hawaiian shirt, chinos, and canvas sneakers quite as
jauntily as Andy could. We didn't get to see each other as much recently as
we would have liked but he came to Manhattan for my fortieth birthday and
attended my aunt Lynn's funeral last summer in Chicago and we never stopped
Andy was a consummate friend.