We lost a significant life today, a hero of mine, so I have cause to reflect. I grew up a literal Boy Scout, chasing straight A’s and Bible verses. I felt a vicarious thrill in being practically the only born again Christian political conservative I knew at my high school. Placer, Home of the Hillmen and enough country music fans, remains nestled in a small antique Gold Rush mining hamlet in the Sierra Nevada foothills. A good boy, I bravely refused to subvert America, Western Civilization and proper living with anything naughty in the eyes of my parents’ choice of a specific interpretation of a translation of a recollection of what a certain Jewish hippie thought cool roughly two millennia ago. Rebel that I was, I never attended a high school football game, enjoyed a beverage remotely alcoholic in nature, nor ingested any substance more notorious than low grade FDA-approved OTC analgesics, in the days before Vicodin and pharmaceutical commercials. My childhood fermented inside a culture condom sheltering me from the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll that my parents barely knew but desperately feared.
While the t shirts worn by others peppering my public high school experience informed me of my classmates’ idols, The Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin or a certain lyrical flavor of 80’s Kool Aid, I idolized the godfather of American political conservatism. William F. Buckley, Jr., known by many during the Cold War for his Firing Line debates on PBS, perhaps was known by fewer for founding National Review, the Rolling Stone of Cold Warriors, conservatives and the occasional disoriented libertarian.
As one may suspect, I discovered Buckley in the pages of National Review, not the Playboy with which a better adjusted youth might discreetly bookmark his high school chemistry text. Damaged child, I was. While normal teens were chasing varsity plays on the field and the fields of varsity girls, I was earnestly chasing down the subtle differences of “neo” versus “paleo” conservatives, and why economic policy was better guided by the ideas of Mises, Friedman and Laffer rather than the mistaken notions of Marx, Keynes, and Galbraith. I wrote on political matters I barely knew, on social matters that I was in no danger of experiencing, all with an almost Quixotic certainty inherited from my incurious father, a mediocre insurance peddler too busy judging the godless, the gay or the “greedy” (usually those with a net worth larger than his) to find a passion to pursue.
I had my Eagle Scout badge, a 3.9 GPA (back when 4.0 was the ceiling), a semester of college credit from Advanced Placement high school classes, and acceptance plus generous academic scholarships to the two colleges acceptable to my didactic mind. I also had my virgin penis, nose and liver. So when my fellow high school graduates were busy perfecting their skills at chasing the opposite sex or the better house party at San Diego State or Chico State, I naturally flew to the middle of nowhere to discover vital minds at a tiny college billed as “the Harvard of the Midwest” at the suggestion of such as Buckley.
In college, I did not quite find what I was looking for, even that which was boldly promised in the admissions literature. Instead of a campus teeming with curious minds, feverishly witty characters and prolific student pamphlets, I found a contender on Playboy’s list of party schools … from the early 70’s. Therefore accidentally but thankfully, I finally discovered Sex, Alcohol and Rock & Roll. I experienced a bit of what it was and what it wasn’t. As the demons lost their horns and pitchforks, I began to question the insistent angels that plagued my childhood. I become more Socratic, less didactic.
I met Buckley himself. I managed to chauffeur him to a Firing Line debate he held at the college. As we approached the George Roche Sports Complex, where I expected executive producer Warren Steible was cursing my unknown name, desperately seeking the tardy star of his show, I heard the words from Buckley’s mouth “Is that the student dining commons?” The almost childlike naivete hit me like a ton of Hillsdale College FreedomQuest campaign memorial bricks. I could no longer overlook or mentally surf the inconsistencies and blatant errors of perceived authority. Suddenly I found the utility in curiosity and even skepticism. If God indeed made my mind and found it good, what was the point if I failed to exercise it?
A story for another time would be my creation of an independent student newspaper. Buckley found the need for one at my college … odd. My experiences with Buckley and his fellow travelers in the wake of my dismissal from the college and coincidental classification as a “subversive” led not only to my disillusionment but questions. Oddly enough, it took my rejection from the academy for me to begin to truly seek, to question, to learn. I found certain texts limited and wanting. In the words of hero in this adult life, Christopher Hitchens, who died today:
Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.
My mother taught English, so I was raised on words, books and writing. With Mark Twain always in the distant background, it was enormous comfort to discover and immerse myself in the words of Christopher Hitchens, or “Hitch” (don’t call him “Chris”!). His book, God Is Not Great I found profound and of immense comfort.
My written word hibernated, as I abandoned the academy for the paycheck. Soon I was busy selling to homeowners too small to succeed the monopoly money manufactured and packaged by bankers too big to fail. I succumbed to many who assured me that salvation lay in a good job and a successful corporate climb. Fuck passion. A good American is a good apparatchik dedicated to the Cylons, the Machines of Corporate Bulk. Yeah, exactly what those who disobeyed King George had in mind.
While taking delight in the sundry articles, books, and debates of Hitch, I began discovering my own passion. I realized I naturally took to subverting rather than selling. Instead of selling questionable products for which I had no passion, I could subvert assumptions and explore the undiscovered in the minds of my audience. I discovered comedy, then acting. I now live in LA, act for a living, and am writing for the first time for the screen. I write and I subvert, if not with the length and talent of Hitch. But now I don’t apologize for it. I embrace it. And in a world where most leaders are found lacking, Hitch inspired by not pretending to lead, but by crying foul on those who presume to lead, to dictate, to control the lives and minds of others.
So now that Hitch is no longer with us, I regret I never had a chance to meet him as I did Buckley. I regret I have less experience with and therefore words to write about Hitch. So many more books I’ve yet to read, some authored by Hitch. I’m only a few chapters deep in the Keith Richards autobiography, and when’s the last time I read that? For me, Hitch is a star among such heroes of mine as Carlin, Twain and Hunter S. Hitch was the Prince of Merry Subversives. He smoked and drank and was more lucid than likely all of his tee-totaling, smoke-free, fear-infused critics. He challenged common assumptions, sacred cows and the need to worship Kissinger, Clinton, Mother Teresa or God himself. He did it with a drink in one hand, a smoke in the other and a sparkle in his eye. He did not hide his enjoyment of many of the delights of human life, even if talk or evidence of such might offend some. I’ll take an allegedly rude Hitchens over a polite tyrant any day.
But what to do now? How can I honor the Prince of Merry Subversives? Well, I can read and reread, watch and enjoy and share with others the works of Christopher Hitchens. I can inquire, pursue my curiosity, discover and act. I can eat, drink, think, write, speak and be merry. For today Christopher Hitchens died. And tomorrow, so may I.