Seriously Kinky

This Texas Jewboy wants to be the next governor of Texas, and if you think he's kidding, the joke may be on you

"Well, it might've started in Cabo San Lucas five years ago while I was stranded on a cliff overnight. I think that was part of it--when I looked back on my life, when I was sure I was going to die."

It takes awhile, but Friedman recounts a story corroborated by his buddy John McCall, who made millions in the hair-care business and who invited the singer-songwriter-turned-author to Mexico for a beach vacation. Before dinner one night, Friedman, clad only in a shirt and shorts, decided to go for a walk on the beach, taking with him only a cigar. He would not return for almost two days.

McCall thought maybe Friedman was hiding, trying to get on CNN to sell a few books by pulling a disappearing act. Knowing Friedman as he had since the 1970s, he also figured maybe the Kinkster had met a woman and gone off with her. Wouldn't be the first time. The worst he could imagine was that Friedman had been mugged and robbed, but they wouldn't have gotten much, since he'd left behind his wallet and passport. McCall went to bed that night sure he'd see Friedman in the morning. But the next day, he went out to the beach and saw a pile of rocks at the foot of a cliff and feared Kinky was under there, smashed to bits in a landslide. McCall eventually made copies of Friedman's passport photo and hung "wanted" posters all over town.

As it turned out, Friedman had been walking along the beach when a huge wave caught him by surprise and washed him out to sea. He was dazed and disoriented and pretty sure that his pal McCall would find the Kinkster's wet moustache washed up on a Mexican beach. But another surge pushed Friedman back to shore and stranded him on a cliff. "It was dark, and I had nothing but a bathing suit and a soggy cigar," Friedman recalls, "and I couldn't get back." Some men building a house along the shore eventually discovered him.

"I just felt very close to my mother and my cat that night, both of whom were dead, as are almost everybody I care about," Friedman says.

This is Richard talking now, a man who peeks out from under the cowboy hat every so often to remind you he is, in fact, the thoughtful, well-educated son of the thoughtful, well-educated Min and Tom Friedman. Beneath the wisecracking and cigar-chomping is a serious, sentimental man raised by teachers who believed in leaving the world better off than when they found it. "He talks about that all the time," says friend Steve "Beano" Boynton, who carries the campaign's checkbook.

Friedman's mom was the possessor of a master's degree from Northwestern University and the first speech therapist in the Houston school system. His father received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Texas in 1963 and returned to the university to teach such courses as "Contemporary Social Problems" and "Problems in Higher Education" and "Individual in Society." In 1962, the Friedmans bought the 350-acre Echo Hill Ranch near Medina and opened a camp that still operates every summer. Min died in 1985, shortly before the publication of her son's first book, Greenwich Killing Time. Tom died in August 2002, exactly 40 years after he and the missus bought Echo Hill. The same year, Kinky opened the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch on 40 acres of the Echo Hill property; Laura Bush and Willie Nelson are among the animal rescue's board of directors.

"I was just thinking, when I was on this cliff side all night, that I could've done something more with my life, and I don't mean give it back to the community or like that," Friedman continues. "I just mean that even though what I'd done was some good works, like Utopia Rescue Ranch, I was kind of a Ronald Reagan pitchman. When you're a Gandhi-like spirit, you promote, you tend to sell--like my friend McCall's theory that Jesus Christ and Michelangelo and those kind of people sold shampoo just like him. They made people feel good about themselves. A dealer in hope is what I am, you know? I hadn't thought of it in that way, and that's when I thought about, you know, there should be something more.

"A lot of people, when they're dying, think they should've done something more. But that's what I thought. And then later, the ideas came to me that I have achieved a lot of my dreams. If you just look at my life, you can say, 'Jesus, this guy's achieved a lot of his dreams. He's slept under two presidents at the White House, he's played the Grand Ole Opry, he's eaten monkey brains in the Peace Corps, traveled with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and is still friends with both of them, and that's great.' And so I figured the real reason I was running was because I have achieved those dreams, and I want to help other people, especially younger Texans, have a chance to achieve some of their dreams. That's really the reason I'm running."

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