Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

The author, essayist, and unapologetic atheist Christopher Hitchens died last night after a long battle with cancer. There are a good number of reflections on the man, such as in Vanity Fair and also by my Standard colleague Matt Labash. The last time I saw Hitchens was in the spring of 2010 in New York City, about a week, as it turns out, before he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. One of his acolytes spotted him at the Olives bar inside the W on Union Square and was hoping to spend just a moment or two with his idol. My wife and I also happened to be at the same bar that afternoon. Hitchens was drinking Johnnie Black neat, but I was nursing an iced tea because I was on medication. At which point Hitchens told me the warning not to mix antibiotics and booze was “a lie” perpetrated by British Naval doctors who didn’t want their patients (already on meds for the clap) getting plastered and returning to the brothels. And so I switched to a Negroni.

Meanwhile the acolyte was in heaven, bonding with Hitchens over their suspicions about organized religion. But then the fellow (who worked at SmithBarney) mentioned in passing he once worked for Ted Kennedy, and Hitchens went to town on him, asking the poor guy how he could work for such a man. Hitchens talked about the “moving” memorial service for Kennedy and how the officiator spoke of the late senator finally joining his brothers in a better place. “What? You mean to tell me there’s a better place than Hyannis? How the f— could it get better than that?” He described the Kennedy clan as a warren of rabbits that persisted in reproducing. “You can’t stop them!” he exclaimed. And then he told a joke so horrible involving RFK, JFK, and Marilyn Monroe that it rendered his acolyte speechless. (My wife and I thought it horrible, too, and yet awfully funny.) Nevertheless, the fan insisted on picking up the check. We were on our way uptown. And Hitchens finished up his Scotch and went downtown to NYU (I think he was debating Tariq Ali). That was the last we saw of him.

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