Well, you can if there isn't stuff piled on it. Howard's house, the stationary version of Howard's car, is something of a cross between a flea market and a mail-order warehouse. Friends like to say that Howard has "a file cabinet in his head." This house is the wrong place for a file cabinet. Stuff is piled about, sometimes nearly to the ceiling—the accumulated effluvia of The American Man Alone.
One room passes for the eye of the hurricane. This is where Howard stockpiles hundreds of thousands of his negatives. He is, by trade, a photographer, and a very good one. For the celebrity gentry he is the anti-paparazzo, the photographer as gentleman.
Across from the Bingham archives is another room, fashioned as command central. One of Howard's friends, Mary Williams, a public relations woman, says that he's on the phone so much that he reminds her foremost of Ernestine, Lily Tomlin's telephone operator. Howard works not only the phones but also the fax and the E-mail while cuing up the TV and the VCR. Also his wont is to patch people together—people who share nothing in common but Howard Bingham. Suddenly you are not just schmoozing with Howard. You are on a three-way hookup with someone you never heard of in Asunción, Paraguay. "Hello," says Howard, talking on the phone to some big shot's secretary. "It's your favorite person."
"Oh, it must be Howard Bingham," the secretary replies.
But now, brushing his chair free of bric-a-brac, making a small place for his own self, Bingham has a single call to make to just one person. He speed dials. He says, "Hi, Bill."
The voice on the other end, barely audible, replies, "Hi, Bill."
The murmur belongs to Muhammad Ali. He and Howard Bingham are the best of pals, the Damon and Pythias of our time. They have loved each other for 35½ years, through thick and thin, championships and marriages and children; through their lives, across our time.
So, a few days later, in another place, Ali smiles, looking across the room to Bingham, and behind the trembling hands and the flaccid face, there is a glint in his eyes that suddenly shines from a time when the world lay at his feet and he was as healthy and as handsome as God ever made one man. But never mind that. It's O.K. "I'm lucky," Ali mumbles. "Did you ever have a good friend?"
If not so tenderly, but somewhat more poetically, Emerson said, "A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature." What is distinctive about Bingham is not only that he has been in Ali's corner all this time—good god, he even went along on one of Ali's honeymoons...at the invitation of the bride—but also that he is no less the dear friend of so many others. In this mean gotcha world, listening to people go on about how nice Bingham is gets downright saccharine. A cross section:
George Jackson, president of Motown Records: "When you look up the word benevolent in the dictionary, it should have Howard's picture next to it."