May 21

Up with Dave

Prior to December 12, 1981, I watched David Letterman for entertainment. He was funny. At 4am on the morning of December 12, 1981 my affection for David Letterman took on new importance. So it marked a special farewell to me when he retired last night.

In 1981 as a college student in Washington DC I found a part-time job as the live-in housekeeper of a divorced sports lawyer who lived in a grand Tudor home next to the residence of the Ambassador of Sudan in a very wealthy neighborhood of Washington DC. The deal was that I lived in his basement apartment rent-free and worked without pay for 20 hours a month to cover my rent. I did his grocery shopping, picked him up at the airport, helped at his many parties, picked up his dry cleaning, did his laundry etc. He traveled a lot on business so I also took care of the house in his absence.

At 4am on the morning of December 12, I awoke to a tapping sound. In the dark I could see someone, dressed in black, crouching in the enormous sunken window well of my basement apartment, 6 ft below ground. He was chiseling away at the glazing on the windows into my bedroom from the window well. Not wanting to be seen I quietly moved against the wall and called 911 under a blanket out of view of the burglar. I was terrified.

I stayed on the phone with the 911 operator anxious that the burglar would work his way around the pane of glass to reach in and open the window three feet away before the police could get there. As he was in a sunken window well and not visible from the street or yard it would have been hard to see him, especially in the dark and because he was dressed in black. This was not a petty thief. This was a pro who clearly had planned this robbery and had scrutinized how best to get in the house, mainly by getting in through my apartment.

At some point I told 911 that I worried he was getting close to gaining entry in the room. The operator told me to turn on a light but to stay against the wall so he wouldn’t be able to see me. I did. The thief took off before the police arrived. I was terrified. This guy was watching this house. I was often alone in this enormous house and worried that he was determined to rob the house. And he was. He came back on Christmas Eve a couple of weeks later and robbed my boss while he slept and I was away. The house had a burglar alarm but it wasn’t connected to my apartment, just the main house. My boss was very casual about security and often would come home late an forget to turn on the alarm. He had no idea how scared I was and would have likely dismissed it had I told him. Even after he was robbed with a thief in his house as he slept, he would forget to lock the back door or turn on the alarm.

As a 20-year-old college student needing the job, I had to continue to live in this house and yet I became afraid of the dark and afraid to sleep for fear that the thief would return. David Letterman became my sleeping pill and my Valium. He helped me to laugh and almost every night I felt asleep to him or to Linda Ellerbee, whose show followed his. He helped me get through nearly two years of difficulty falling asleep and anxiety about this thief, despite my boss hiring someone to weld a grate over the well.

Decades later in the early 2000s, my health worsened and the medications I was given caused insomnia. Once again I would spend a portion of my late nights with David Letterman, watching his staff throw hundreds of bouncy balls or dozens of paint cans off the room of the Ed Sullivan Theater or enjoying Stupid Pet Tricks. I was introduced to new bands and movies on his show and watched him transform from a bitter and cynical comedian to survivor of open-heart surgery to a proud father over the years. But mostly I appreciated him helping me to have a laugh as I tried to be a brave young woman trying to escape the flashback of the thief in my window well. In the days before the internet, those nights would have been so much more frightening without Dave to keep me company.

Enjoy your retirement Dave. Thanks for keeping me company all of those late nights. Glad you seem to have found your happily ever after and I can now sleep.