Skip to comments.Christopher Hitchens: “Hope You Thrive”
Posted on 12/18/2011 9:54:50 AM PST by Kaslin
There are a few people you read on the web, hear on the radio or see on TV and think, Id really like to meet that person. When I moved to DC in 2001, I had a mental short list of those people, and Christopher Hitchens was right at the top.
A lot of people on that list didnt live up to the expectations I created for them in my mind, but Hitchens exceeded them.
I met him through my then-boss, Grover Norquist. I saw Drinks with Hitchens on his calendar and immediately ran into Grovers office to ask if it was Christopher Hitchens, or just some other Hitchens. He informed me that it was the Hitchens.
I knew I couldnt weasel my way into that session, though I wanted to. So I asked Grover if he thought Hitchens would come be a special guest at a monthly happy hour I had recently started. All these special guests always notable conservatives or libertarians had to do was show up and hang out with a couple-hundred like-minded young people. No speeches. Just beer. Or, in Hitchens case, Johnny Walker Black.
Hitchens agreed immediately. Christopher loved talking to anyone about virtually anything.
I stood outside the bar nervously that night. I didnt know if hed show or when. But he did appear right on time. The crowd was huge and a rumble of excitement rippled through the room as he entered. Over the years, most of the guests at that happy hour luminaries such as Grover, Michael Steele, Ralph Reed, Speaker Boehner came in and worked the room. With Hitchens, the room worked him. He didnt make it 10 feet in the door the whole night. People came to him in seemingly endless waves.
He stayed the whole night when all I asked for was an hour. Thats just how he was. I remember him telling me to quit smoking, that he just had and felt great (it, unfortunately, didnt take). But most of his time was consumed by other people there. That was fine with me. I had his email address, I thought. I could contact him whenever I wanted.
Turns out its much easier to email someone you look up to when you have something specific to ask rather than to just shoot the breeze. A few months passed and I sent nothing. What could I send? The guy intimidated me. He intimidated everyone not intentionally just by being so damn smart.
He was always the smartest person in the room, but he never made a point of pointing it out. He just was, and everyone knew it. The intimidation was their problem, my problem, not his.
Over time I ran into him at other events. He always remembered me and approached me, even though he had no reason to. And over time, I finally felt comfortable enough to email him to ask his opinion on this or that. His emails were always short and to the point. Hed directly address the issues or questions I raised, then add well wishes. But beyond that, nothing not a single wasted word.
Later, I would invite him to a different event. He responded he wished he could go, but it was a Jewish holiday and he would be in Temple. He added (I know, I know.) This was, after all, at the same time his book, God Is Not Great, was on the bestseller list.
This might seem like hypocrisy, but it wasnt. Christophers wife, Carol Blue, or just Blue, is Jewish, and she wanted him go go with her. Christophers family was Jewish, though he didnt know it growing up. So maybe it also was his way of nodding to his family. I dont know, I didnt ask. But thats how he was. Accepting.
He was a devout atheist, if there is such a thing. But he wasnt militant about it. He was curious about what others believed, but he didnt judge you for it. The old adage you can disagree without being disagreeable certainly applied to him. Thats something weve lost along the way. Though he could certainly be disagreeable when the situation called for it.
You wouldnt find Hitchens getting bent out of shame like the talentless Bill Press, who cant control his anger at even Tim Tebow of all people. Although Press and many others want Tebow to STFU with his praying and would love to shut him up (in a tolerant way, naturally) if they could Christopher interacted with people who thought differently than he did. He wouldnt care if someone prayed or danced the worm in the endzone like a fool (a celebration those attacking Tebow dont seem to have a problem with). He was interested only in whether someone was interesting.
I invited him to an event on the National Mall a Tea Party event. But I found I was unable to attend at the last minute. Although he was hardly a Tea Partier, he went anyway, just curious about the event and the people who would attend. He emailed me later to ask if I knew who the British fellow on stage who talked disputed global warming was. It was Lord Monckton. I tracked down his email address for Christopher so they could talk. Thats how Hitchens was. He wanted to talk to people from every point of view, not silence them.
Speaking of emails, I remember one that he signed, Wishing you well in this toad-filled season. I thought, What the Hell does that mean? I Googled it, I asked everyone. I found nothing to explain it. Finally I asked Grover if he knew what it meant, because I didnt want to ask Hitchens and risk looking stupid. Grover looked up from his desk and said, I dont know. Maybe hes just some place with a lot of toads.
The next time I saw Christopher I asked him because I had to know. Was this some obscure literary reference? Some English saying Id never heard? Some new catch phrase soon to sweep the nation? Nope. He was in California at the time and there were a lot of toads around when he wrote it.
That was when I knew Hitchens says, or said (it feels wrong to past tense him, but ) exactly what he thinks. He was a very literal person. Bushes ran no risk of being beaten around with him. Which makes my favorite Hitchens story all the more funny to me because I could have avoided it had I just remember this fact.
He invited me to his home for the Vanity Fail after party at the White House Correspondence Dinner a few years ago. It was the IT party. Needless to say, my date and I were excited. We get to his apartment at whatever time it was wed had a few drinks already so clocks werent an issue and were immediately greeted by Christopher at the door.
After pleasantries, handshakes and hugs, he asked us what we drank. My date said light beer because she drank light beer, I said vodka because I drink vodka. I thought nothing of it, but Hitchens put up his finger and said, One second, and walked away. We stood in the doorway, talking, wondering why we were waiting there while the party was happening just feet away. But our host told us to wait, so we were going to wait.
In the minute Christopher was gone we saw Katie Couric talking to the cast of The Wire, Tucker Carlson in the background and Salman Rushdie walking by. This was a luxury apartment behind 2 separate guard posts filled with famous people. I turned to my date and said, We have no business being here. She returned an agreeing laugh as our host returned.
Christopher came back with a light beer in one hand and a champagne flute filled to the top with room-temperature vodka. Shed asked for light beer, and Id asked for vodka. Not vodka and orange juice or vodka and Diet Coke my favorite drink. I just said vodka, and vodka I got.
I took my drink with a look of amusement and horror. I tried to hide the horror, of course even though the only drink more disgusting than lukewarm vodka is a large glass of it. I thanked him and took a sip. I smiled an uncomfortable grin.
Christopher smiled back knowingly, bowed his head in the way people do to usher someone inside, swung his arm toward the room and Come on in. Enjoy! And in we went.
Safely out of Christopher's earshot, I immediately told my date we had to find the bar so I could get a bigger glass with some ice and a mix, which we mercifully did.
I learned that night when you tell Christopher Hitchens what you want, say exactly what you mean. Dont mince words, or youll end up negotiating your way to the bottom of a huge glass of lukewarm vodka.
That story always makes me laugh today. I can only imagine the look of horror on my face when he handed me that glass, and I still remember the mischievous look on his. I never brought it up with him, but Im sure he knew.
As he lost his hair, lost his voice and was slowly losing his life, I never knew him to lose himself. He was a writer. He once said, "Being a writer is what I am, rather than what I do." He also was a journalist. He may be the last of the hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-working journalists who threw themselves into the middle of Hell to get a story and managed to write it in a way that made going from one word to the next a joy.
Its sad to think the next generation will grow up thinking the current group of journalists people such as Matt Taibbi are cool. The current crop of journalists want us to think they are gonzo and balls to the wall. They comb their hair like James Dean and buy replicas of the red jacket from Rebel Without a Cause because they think thats all there is to being as cool as James Dean. A red jacket and a DA hairstyle dont make you cool. Being cool makes the red jacket and DA hairstyle cool. And Hitchens was cool.
I emailed with him when he was in Texas getting treatment over the summer. He was hopeful. The doctors were hopeful. But he still knew the odds were long. The esophageal cancer he was fighting had taken his father. He knew how serious it was. But he didnt let it change him.
As he did often, he changed the subject line of the email exchange to Die Another Day? CH.
Thats how he was.
I'm near the end of almost a year of chemotherapy and radiation (in Houston for the past few weeks: quite enjoying being an honorary Texan) and can't safely take any more. But they tell me the tumors may be feeling the same way... What a wager! Hope you thrive. Christopher
It was hopeful, but not to be. Still, Hope you thrive stuck with me, sticks with me to this day. Having gone through a Hell unknown to anyone who hasnt, he didnt lose who he was.
The last contact I had with him was on Nov. 17. I wanted to see how he was doing, if he was around and up for company, as a good friend had just asked if it was possible to meet him. The last thing he wrote to me was I don't think I am up for any events yet. Thanks also for kind words.
That yet gave me hope, as he was not one to use words superfluously. It was, unfortunately, not to be.
There were many more exchanges full of colorful metaphors and language that would make a drunken sailor blush, but those will remain locked where they are. Countless others knew him better and knew him longer. Im just honored to have known him at all. I was lucky. I am lucky.
Christopher Hitchens was a good man, a friend, a writer, maybe THE writer of the last 100 years, and a man who was exactly who he was. Think what you will of his politics, his atheism, his whatever. In the end, to the end, he lived exactly as he wanted. Bravely. Boldly.
Sixty-two years wasnt enough. He is missed.
What a waste—so smart and yet he rejected the most important thing...so so stupid.
Hope he is doing better in the afterlife than he asked for.
A lot of conservations I’ve had with people who proclaim themselves as “atheist” (which in most really cases means ‘I don’t know if there is a God’, rather than ‘there is definitely no God’), but almost all of them agree that at least having a Judeo-Christian belief system, beats the alternative, of simply proclaiming “Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law”, even they shudder to think about how things would be without some kind of religion, even if they don’t believe themselves.
Though Hitchens softened a bit in his latter years I could never understand his visceral hatred for RWR.
Hitchens, I believe, made the mistake of connecting God, to the many frauds who act in His name. One of the reasons, I get so upset at the religious charlatans, who in the end, drive more people away, because of their cynical exploitation of others through trying to use God towards their own selfish ends.
How about his visceral hatred for Mother Theresa - ‘the Albanian dwarf’ he called her. Could have used his gift of words to improve the world, but instead he chose to tear down good things.
Perhaps he did but he, at least, knew where to place his commas.
Seems to me this guy is trying to sell us all on how great this Hitchens guy was...my feeling is if you have to resort to selling a person and how wonderful and insightful they are, it means they are/were NOT.
One can only hope that Hitchens sought God at the end.
I once heard him say, when asked about his attitude of Mother Theresa that she called herself a friend of the poor but visited with horrid dictators and took their money (I am paraphrasing of course) But he found that being a hypocrit....
Hitchens was an anti-theist.
People CHOOSE to not believe in God, but they sure believe in themselves!!
I liked Hitchens, Freepers had dinner with him at one of our functions, he was interesting, but he wasn't SMART.
The thing is, atheists believe that faith is not rational.....to that, I say, what is their belief that there isn’t a God? Is it not as much an article of faith, as the faith that there is a God. They claim that everything can be proved.....so how do you “prove” that there isn’t a God?
I read all of the article. Glad I did.
Actually not believing in God is quite normal.. maybe natural..
Having faith in a GOD is un-natural.. not normal..
Many atheists have faith there is no God.. Hitchens had faith..
Not that anyone knows what a God is.. (a real one)..
How could you know.. without being God..
A creature(being) that can create Universes?...
Who can conceive of such a “thing”(entity)?..
Believing and not believing takes faith..
cause you cannot prove either.. I choose to believe..
But what I believe I’m not sure.. thats why it is called “faith”..
A jump over logic and illogic.. maybe I am not a smart alec.. I pray..
If I “knew”, then I wouldn’t need “faith”..
I have “faith” exactly because I don’t “know”..
“Christopher Hitchens was a good man,...”
Here’s hoping God thinks so too.
Funny. I work with a woman who does not describe herself as an atheist, but an agnostic.
I asked her “what is the difference”. She said she believes in “something higher”....just not God (she is a Jew by the way).
She celebrates all the Jewish holidays and I asked why she does it if she doesn’t believe in God. She said “because it’s tradition”.
Wonderful piece. Thanks for posting. I didn’t know Hitchens, but read him with gusto and loved him.
I have always believed that it is impossible to prove God does or does not exist but I would rather attempt to prove that he does exist than to prove that he doesn’t. Proving a negative is always more difficult than proving a positive. Can you prove that you have never killed a human being in your entire life? As far as I know I never have but I certainly could never prove it, I don’t think I can even be a hundred percent certain of it myself due to the fact that in my wild young days there were a few times when I woke up at home safe in my bed with absolutely no recollection of how I got home the night before.
I once told my brother that he could not prove that there are NOT invisible fairies living in his lawn, he seemed to think that rather laughable but he actually cannot prove it.
This is why, in any civilized society, prosecutors must bear the burden of proof rather than the accused being burdened to prove the negative.