Note: Made more updates on 2 October 2007. Can't believe I left this stuff out, but we did cover a lot of ground in an hour.
It is no secret to anybody who knows me in person, or reads any of my online journals, that I am a big fan of writer and public speaker Christopher Hitchens. Other than Richard Petty, there is no public figure that I would prefer to chat with over a beer and I got my chance yesterday afternoon.
The setting was at King Street Blues, at the bar, in the Crystal City Underground around 3:00 PM. I was having a Yuengling, wearing jeans, a button-up shirt and a Richard Petty #43 ball cap waiting for the Kansas Motor Speedway Busch race to start. A fellow in jeans and an open-collar dress shirt sat down on a stool to my immediate right with an open magazine. First glance was that he was yet another person I had never met there before, but he bore a resemblance to Christopher Hitchens. Then he ordered a drink from Mike the bartender and I recognized the voice. Quickly I asked, "excuse me, Mr. Hitchens?" He replied "yes?" And I asked if he would be there for a few moments, he said yes and I added that I had to go across the street to get a book I would like him to autograph. I dashed down the hallway, which slowed to a brisk walk when my back reminded me that I am not a teenager any more.
I was trying to remember where my copy of "Why Orwell Matters" was stashed. The condo is decorated in modern twelve-year-old-boy, so everything is where it is, not exactly where I would expect or remember. Pulling out an under-bed storage tub, I was close. Found a copy of "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" next to a copy of Ann Coulter's "Slander". Searched a bit more but still no joy, so I trotted back across the street with the Kissinger book, a notebook for an autograph for my son and a Sharpie.
When I got to the bar Mr. Hitchens had stepped away and Mike asked me who the man was. I told him he was a famous author and speaker, he is on MSNBC frequently as a guest, other stuff, but Mike was not familiar with him.
When Mr. Hitchens returned I explained to him that I was looking for my copy of "Why Orwell Matters" and all I found was the Kissinger book, which I did not like quite as much as the Orwell book. He said he did not like it very much either and really did not like writing it. "Imagine having to spend months on end with a sort such as him (ed. something like that), it was dreadful." He prefers to autograph with his own pen and has a unique date notation.
"So, are you here for the conference?" he asked. "What conference, this is my neighborhood, I have a condo across the street?" I replied.
"Really? You bought these books some time ago?"
"Well, yes Sir, I have been a fan of yours for quite a few years." Forgot to mention that he was the only writer I could stand at "The Nation" when he was writing there. Anyway, this seemed to bring some surprise to him that a random fan spotted him in a neighborhood bar and already owned a book to get autographed.
Mentioned that I met Brina Lamb once and told a bit of the linked story and he nodded like he already knew how it would turn out. He did seem a bit surprized at Mr. Lamb being accompanied by a tall woman. Not sure why.
"When I was living in Reston, VA I saw you and David Reiff on C-SPAN when you were both speaking at the Miami Book Festival. After the segment was over I went strait to Barnes & Noble and got your Orwell book and one by Mr. Reiff."
CH: "Wow, you have a very good memory. What did you get of David's?"
Me: "A Bed for the Night" I think is the title.
CH: "Yes, that is quite good."
Me: "Yea, I liked the way he got all over Noam Chomsky right away." Mr. Hitchens kind of giggled at that. "I did find a copy of one of Ann Coulter's books when I was looking for your books. You guys are pals or something aren't you?"
CH: "No, but we were on the stage together for something when we were both on the same side of an issue. But, no, I don't particularly like her." So much for my good memory, lol. There were a few more like that.
Somewhere around this point I made a quip like "Who are you rooting for in this Mynmar/Burma thing?" and he covered most of the first paragraph from his Slate story, published a few days later. He also mentioned the illegality of the name change, where I asked about the particulars of changing a country name, leading to the Sri Lanka portion at the link. I finally confessed that I was just getting used to Campuchia becoming Cambodia again and my only original objection was that if one of those Beatles was for Campuchia then I was against it since the only Beatle I liked was George Harrison. He brough ought a pretty good laugh at that and we both prefer to say Burma.
CH: "Oh, well at the Crown Plaza, at the convention, they have several of my books for sale and I will be autographing at 5:30."
Me: "What convention is it?"
CH: "The Atheist's Convention."
[laughing] "OH! Okay, well I am on the opposite side of that issue from you, but that's okay. If I get a chance to stop over there I will, I doubt that I will burst into flames or anything. But there is an event at the WW II Memorial that I wanted to see at 5:30."
"Really? What is the occasion?" he asked. "I can't remember, I got an e-mail at work and it sounded interesting enough to remember, so I am going to check it out." I said.
Neither of us could remember what would be commemorated on 29 September and I had even forgotten that FDR had declared open warfare at sea with Germany on 11 September, 1941. I just tried to look it up as I write this, will have to give an update when I review my e-mail at work tomorrow.
He said he did not really like that memorial very much; sharing my impression that is has such a "cold" feel and presence.
I mentioned reason magazine, that I read frequently, and thought that they did not really like his work that much. This would be the second big "senior moment" for me. He asked if I know Nick Gillespie and he knows Nick, that he gets along great with the reason staff. Loves the magazine and he is very much libertarian, or libertarian leaning anyway. (I e-mailed an earlier version of this to Nick and he liked it too)
I must have been thinking of one or two of their writers who does not appreciate Mr. Hitchens that much, or the commentators in the 'blog, and said as much. I think that I added that I fuss with their staff about their anti-war stance and I think he gave a nod of agreement.
There was also some mention of unions, but I keep forgetting how it came up. I mentioned my position of not caring what 'club' someone joined, they just were not going to use it as a bargaining item with me as a manager, but I am not even a people manager so it really does not matter. He mentioned having a differing opinion but we took off on another tangent at that point.
Mentioning the recent defacement of the Vietnam Memorial, he turned and asked me with surprise what had happened. It was the only bit of the conversation that I detected "alarm" in his voice. "Someone squirted brake fluid across the panels."
CH: "What does that do to the marble?"
Me: "It soaks in and stains the stone. It is also very bad on paint. If you want to ruin someone's paint job, just squirt brake fluid on it and it will be ruined soon."
CH: "Who would do something like that?"
Me:"Idunno, but I saw about half of the likely suspects marching down Pennsylvania Avenue a couple of weeks ago."
CH: [I forgot exactly what he said here, but we went off on the tangent of teenage boys He told of an incident in California where Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated with Swastikas, but the little delinquents had no idea of the connotation. They just knew it would draw attention. Also, some young man who burned down an important building in the 2nd century BC because he wanted his name remembered forever.]
Me: "I am guessing it was an English or Journalism major." [trying not to reviel my inner evil grin]
CH: "Or it could be like that fellow at Virginia Tech."
Me: "Exactly! He was an English Major!"
Me: "Oh yes, those people need to be watched!" [I think I detected a bit of a smile then when he caugh me going over-the-top]
We talked a little bit about the PV1 Scott Thomas Beauchamp thing at "The New Republic" and he asked what was going on with that. I filled him in about the Private being busted again, to PV1, I think for revealing his deployment dates and location on his online journal and his wife leaving TNR for Time. I also mentioned that experience I had with Eve Fairbanks, fake date and all, and that the Private Beauchamp tales sounded like they had the same editor as Fairbanks. Could not let that go without mentioning how I became a 'hybrid driver', of course
I also mentioned Fairbanks's story from Yale where she said she met Mr. Hitchens at a speaking event and said he was "really drunk" as I rolled my eyes. He rolled his too and I mentioned that her using a typical Leftist slam against him should have alerted me that this reporter was up to something, but I still thought we were on a date rather than on an article interview.
Somewhere in there the french and irish infected the conversation. I mentioned the thing I said to Eve Fairbanks when she brought up the irish and I said: "You speak of them as if they were human." Then we exchanged a few irish jokes and had a good laugh.
We chatted about our sons a bit too. His is one year younger than mine and he is considering military service. He is in graduate school now. I mentioned my son's defense contracting background and desire to enter ROTC during law school to become a JAG officer. I should have mentioned that business about people saying folks like us don't "send our sons to war", even though they are too old to send to their rooms, but I do recall Mr. Hitchens writing as much around the same time I was saying it. He did say that we don't look old enough to have boys that old. That got a chuckle from me.
He ran over to the Starbucks and grabbed a short cup of something and returned, commenting on how pretty Ethiopian women are. I said: "Yea, they are hot and they stay hot even after you feed them, as opposed to so many other women." He giggled at that.
We talked about travel, he asked me if I had a passport. I did not go into the detail of how I have had one for ages because I keep thinking I am going to work overseas, but he noted that Americans have a very low rate of passport possession. I did mention that I had not yet used mine for travel, but there is so much of my own country I have not seen yet that it was not a big deal to me. He did reveal something then, that i will keep secret until he writes about it. As soon as he reveals the item I will point it out and edit this.
He also expressed admiration for George Stephanopolis for getting President Clinton to greet Salmon Rushdie at the White House. Hitchens still does not like Clinton any better than I do and he has more reason to dislike the man.
[Now, almost a week later, I add the James Carville part.] We got to Stephanopolis by my mention of having seen James Carville a couple of times in Crystal City and how he looks more lik a space creature in person than on TV. I got loud laughing agreement on that one. The Mr. Hitchens mentioned how Carville is such a big fake, but his wife seems to be such a good person. That brought us to the PV1 Beauchamp discussion about how he seems to be such a big faker and his wife, by all accounts, is the sweetest young lady in the beltway. Damn, I wish I could quote his great quip to that about great women having crappy guys at their side, but I don't remember it exactly. That also spun off into the Fairbanks discussion.
Turns out that he has seen more of my country than I have! 44 States and I forgot the other details. I don't think that I have flown over 44 States yet, much less visited that many. He did say that he might have been to Alabama riding on a bus, but never visited anyplace there. From my experience, there is not much worth visiting there. but I did mention a cool visit to a jazz bar, in the sub basement of some building in an industrial area in Birmingham.
I guess the most important issue we agreed on was the things that will be remembered from our time: the Moon landing and the Global War on Terror. The rest of the events that we keep finding important, but fleeting, will be forgotten after we are gone.
I am sure we talked about other things that I am forgetting and it was a great experience. He had to get going at 4:00 and almost forgot his shades. The whole time he was there he kept putting my beer on his check and no amount of protest on my part was going to stop him. He was having red wine. Neither of us got drunk at all, well maybe I was getting there as I had started a few drinks before he did and he knocked back a nice steak and potatoes something while we chatted. He also gave me his copy of "Secular Nation."
The race lasted longer than I expected, but a buddy of mine walked in who is also a Hitchens fan, so I had to spend two hours telling him what happened during the hour with Mr. Hitchens, plus we spent more time catching up on things as we had not seen each other in a while. I finally got home around 9:30.
I can't believe that I forgot this creepy bit. I woke up around 0345 and turned on the radio to hear some nut calling in to "Coast to Coast" or one of those other UFO/Ghost/Trilateral Commission shows who was using "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" as evidence for his crackpot theory of something I could not remember in the morning.