Wit, Wag, Wordsmith.
It was with great sadness that I greeted the passing of Christopher Hitchens.
I refer to myself proudly as a writer, but in reality I create content. “We’re Bob’s Widgets. We Make Widgets.” I have the occasional release in flights of prose, either here or through the voice of various clients, but the sum of my output is relatively prosaic. “Things were finally back to normal, on Cannery Row. Once more, the world was spinning in greased grooves.” Now THAT’s writing.
In the span of 62 years, Christopher Hitchens, or Hitch as his legion of friends referred to him, created a body of commentary and literature that left no person, politic, or republic untouched. Nearly 20 books and an ocean of essays leaves a legacy of wordcraft that we rarely see in a time of “LOL” and is unfairly represented in 140 characters.
Rake, Rogue, Raconteur.
Any image of Hitchens would be incomplete without a wry smile, a cigarette, and a cocktail, three things of which I’m overtly fond. He once travelled to a summit involving two of his favorite subjects, Margaret Thatcher and George W. Bush. The event was to be held in Aspen, Colorado, and upon arriving he was invited to a welcome at one of the local hotels. “Stepping off the ski lift, I was met by immaculate specimens of young American womanhood, holding silver trays and flashing perfect dentition. What would I like? I thought a gin and tonic would meet the case. “Sir, that would be inappropriate.” In what respect? “At this altitude gin would be very much more toxic than at ground level.” In that case, I said, make it a double.”
Sufficiently lubricated, he descended the mountain like a Tanqueray Moses, and sought out his kindred spirit, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. He writes of the end of the meeting, “I finished a fairly long evening by doing some friendly target-practice, with laser-guided high-velocity rifles, in the company of my host. An empty bottle didn’t stand any more of a chance outside than a full one would have had within. It was vertiginous, for me, to be able to move from one America to another, in point of time and also of place, so rapidly.” You can almost hear the empty cartridges clicking on the frozen ground of Owl Farm.
Acerb, Analogist, Antitheist.
Hitchens went to his death with eyes open. Devoutly anti-religion, he routinely skewered what he deemed the hypocrisy of organized religion. He received a Christmas card from Phyllis Diller and remarked, “I had never before been a special fan of that great comedian Phyllis Diller, but she utterly won my heart this week by sending me an envelope that, when opened, contained a torn-off square of brown-bag paper of the kind suitable for latrine duty in an ill-run correctional facility. Duly unfurled, it carried a handwritten salutation reading as follows:
Times are hard
Here’s your f******
Upon the passing of Jerry Falwell, he penned, “From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm.”
Famously unrelenting in his spit to the fire on everything religious, he skewered Billy Graham, Mormons, Catholics, Jews, and even Mother Teresa.
Many wondered if his diagnosis of cancer and the reality of the end of his life would bring about a deathbed conversion. In an interview with The Atlantic, he told Jeffery Goldberg, “”The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark. But no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a ridiculous remark.”
I was once at a dinner where one of the guests began to regale us with stories of her life at a very liberal college in Vermont. She began spinning yarns about a mysterious “Franklin”. But wait, who was “Franklin”? “Franklin was a poly-amorous atheist who thought that he was a fox.”
I wrote that down. You can’t invent a line like that, equally the opening of a John Irving opus and a brilliant David Byrne lyric. Franklin was a sexually open anthropomorphic miscreant who dressed like an animal to express his oneness with nature. A sort of “Occupy Walden”.
I’ve saved that line for several years, but Hitchens rolled them off like we lower mortals wave off sheaves of toilet paper.
In describing his contempt for Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11, he opined, “To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental.”
In his review of the arrest of Sen. Larry Craig (for soliciting sex in an airport men’s room), the readily scatalogical Hitch said of hypocritical moralizers, “You won’t have to wait long before the man who made it is found, crouched awkwardly yet ecstatically while the cistern drips and the roar of the flush maddens him like wine.”
Painting with a palette of words and phrase unavailable to the rest of us, he colored a review of a work by Joan Didion on the loss of a child. “And what kind of music could this have been, except the Blues? But blue is more than the shade of a symphony. It is where the “bolt” comes from, as Didion mordantly notes. It can register the transit of an entire evening, from the first, faint translucent gloaming to the near-inky cerulean black.”
I doubt that I will ever be privileged enough to have my words dance from a canvas in such a manner as this.
Eloquently, Elegantly, Elocutionally.
In reading his work, if one closes the eyes and listens carefully, you can hear the softly clipped…well…Britishness of his writing. On making tea, he lamented, “It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate.”
With a nod and a “Bob’s your uncle” to W. Somerset Maugham, he won’t be missed. Politicians recoiled at the news of being mentioned. Governments cringed at the thought of being subject to his ridicule. Publicity hungry poseurs blanched upon hearing his name. He won’t be missed.
Christopher Hitchens fired off word daggers like an able archer with a quiver full of ready ammunition.
He will certainly be remembered.