“Christopher is on ‘Meet the Press,’” was a phrase I traded back and forth excitedly with my friend, Karen, when we lived in Washington, D.C. Christopher, as in Hitchens.
We were both huge fans. He was a columnist for The Nation, and was frequently on the Sunday morning political news shows. I thought he was the smartest. political. writer. ever. He was not only insightful but he also had great little quips and slightly mean descriptions of famous politicians and the generally famous. See … the mean girl in me was emerging even then.
Christopher was once on a panel at one of the smaller Smithsonian buildings off the mall. He was talking about the Queen/ monarchy in the U.K., and he’s British. He was not a fan of the monarchy. Karen and I bought tickets and I was shocked to see a relatively small crowd. We were both enthralled and introduced ourselves to C.H. after the talk. We approached him, said hello and probably started fawning over his work. He asked us to come outside with him, since he wanted to have a smoke.
After we parted ways, I began kicking myself … why hadn’t I told him that I was a writer, and asked him for some advice? Gosh, darn it.
Thinking like a reporter, I thought I would try to track him down. I knew he lived in the Kalorama neighborhood, near the Hinckley Hilton and back in the day when we actually used to use phone books, he was listed. Success! I crafted my message, called and left something along these lines on his answering machine (again, back in the day): Hi, my name is Mary Guiden. I hope this isn’t too random or strange, but I met you after your talk the other night at the Smithsonian and I forgot to share that I am also a writer. I wanted to see if you might be available to meet and talk about my writing, and perhaps give me some advice.
He called back within a day or two, and actually apologized for any delay in returning my call. Seriously? He said he wasn’t sure when I called, and he chuckled after saying that I should be quite assured that my call wasn’t too random. He meeting up the next day, or quite soon, because of his schedule and upcoming travel. I still have the cassette/recording of that message because it amused me and also amazed me. A voicemail message from my then-idol, seriously?
I met him the next day after work. We’d planned to meet at a local pub he frequented on Connecticut Ave., but then ended up meeting at his condo. (I know, it sounds potentially creepy, but it was totally innocent.) I brought a gift, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, since I had read somewhere about his drink of choice. I brought a few articles I’d written (incl. one that ran in The Nation) and he read them. His place was somewhat stark, with loads of books all over the place.
When I shared a story about the fact that I’d worked at Planned Parenthood, he chuckled that my mom had suggested I not share that information with my grandmother (a staunch Catholic woman who late in life went to church twice a day). I remember he called her “my gran.”
C.H. offered to put me in touch w/ some writer pals at publications like the Washington Monthly. The advice he offered about my writing, quite honestly, underscored that I was doing all of the right things. But it felt incredibly nice to get that validation from him and to meet a writing idol. That doesn’t always happen in life. C.H. never did follow up with me about the writer friends, but that’s OK. Meeting him was more important than additional introductions in the D.C. literary world.
During the Clinton White House years, Hitch went from a liberal contrarian to a raving GOP backer. I was quite sad. There may be some hidden back story that is eventually shared. I was shocked when he testified before Congress about the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal and seemingly turned on his former friend, Sidney Blumenthal.
We all change our views and opinions as we get older but the Hitch switch never did make any sense to me at all. It was more than a flip-flop and after recently seeing the movie Ghost Writer, it makes me wonder what really happened in D.C. during the Clinton years. I do love a good conspiracy theory, after all.