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Mr. Hitchens and I

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We almost met once, but the opportunity came at the worst possible time. A few years ago he wrote me that he had a speaking engagement down my way, and suggested that we have a drink together. Anything less than the truth would have sounded like an excuse, so I told him the truth: “I just got out of the hospital and I feel and look like hell.” He understood and we agreed to aim for another time. “I need somebody to sneer with,” I wrote, “and they’re so hard to find.” He replied: “If you ever feel like collectivizing the sneers I am within bull’s roar of you and at your service.”

The question of meeting never arose again. It was up to me to suggest another occasion but I never did. I forget what reason I gave myself, but looking back, I think Fate was at it again. If we had met, particularly with alcohol in the mix, we would have talked the hind legs off a mule, but no matter how intellectually satisfying it might have been, it would have brought about a change that I hated to think about: We could never again write those terse little notes, never again be ships that pass in the night.

Holding back has become the last remaining art form in 21st-century America and Hitchens and I had perfected something that I did not want to give up. To do so would be to join the marauding armies of equal time; the buzzing swarms of twitters and tweeters who fill the nation’s computer screens with their acronym droppings and call it “communicating”; the screenwriters who stuff movies with so much unnecessary dialogue that it confuses what little plot there is; and the verbal bricklayers who write 10,000-page congressional bills that nobody reads before passing. Brevity used to be regarded as the soul of wit, but in America it identifies a rapidly multiplying segment of the population with a three-word vocabulary consisting of “surreal,” “awesome,” and “cool.”

My last note to Hitchens before he died was about the royal wedding. “Did you watch Drooping the Colour this weekend?” I asked. He replied: “I did hazard a glimpse of it; was there anybody there higher than the rank of Sir Elton and Beckham? It looked low-rent even by showbiz standards. In Oliver Cromwell’s funeral cortege there walked John Milton, John Dryden, and Andrew Marvell.”

I’m pleased to say that the blurb I wanted to give him — “If Christopher Hitchens is a Marxist, I want to be one too” — actually did appear in an ad for one of his books. Some people believe he is now in Heaven, others that he is now in Hell, but I have the skinny on this controversy: He’s in the sea lane next to mine.

 

– Florence King can be reached at P.O. Box 7113, Fredericksburg, VA 22404.


Contents
February 6, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 2

Articles
  • Why Ron Paul appeals to the millennial generation.
  • MSNBC drops the mask.
  • Rating agencies certify the euro zone’s parlous state.
  • Candidates, Americans, and their foreign languages.
  • Stephen Colbert’s NPR LOL.
Features
Books, Arts & Manners
  • Ron Haskins reviews Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, by Charles Murray.
  • Henry Olsen reviews Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party, by Geoffrey Kabaservice.
  • John J. Miller reviews Ambrose Bierce: The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs, edited by S. T. Joshi.
  • Mark Falcoff reviews But What Do You Actually Do?: A Literary Vagabondage, by Alistair Horne.
  • Ross Douthat reviews The Artist.
  • John Derbyshire tours the Guggenheim.
Sections
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
The Bent Pin  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .