Monday, April 23, 2007

It Was Nothing Like My Dinner With Andre

On the drive to the Arkansas Literary Festival, I mentioned to Tom Franklin that Christopher Hitchens was speaking there, and that I was deathly afraid of him, based on his television persona. I had a particular horror of being thrust into some sort of social situation with him. I pictured myself saying something oafish or unpalatable, or simply something wonderfully brilliant with which Mr. Hitchens disagreed, and Mr. Hitchens lacerating me thereafter with his famous tongue (not literally. Or maybe literally!). But it did not seem likely that our paths would cross and Tom and I made much jolly sport of the notion. I also happened to mention my paralyzing fear of Christopher Hitchens to Mr. Smirnoff (the editor of the Oxford American; I met him for the first time this weekend). And so it came to pass that on Sunday morning I had just ordered breakfast when who should walk into the joint but Mr. Smirnoff and Mr. Hitchens. Mr. Smirnoff insisted that I join their table, though I was waving him away and making faces of despair and terror (not so that Mr. Hitchens could see. It was not my intention to insult him!). Mr. Smirnoff introduced me, first of all, as a "young writer," which was flattering but incorrect and no doubt puzzled Mr. Hitchens, as I loomed over him (he was seated) with my grizzled beard. My nose hairs, many of which have turned a dazzling white, were also visible, I believe, from Mr. Hitchens's enviable vantage point. Then Mr. Smirnoff said, and I quote, "Jack is terrified to meet you." Mr. Hitchens reacted graciously to the news, with a charming and pleasant (yet terrifying!) bon mot that I will not repeat for fear of getting it wrong. Well, dear readers, I mainly kept mum and tried to look intelligent as I picked through my andouille and chicken hash. I am pleased to report that Mr. Hitchens's breakfast consisted of Johnnie Walker Black and cigarettes. This is not accurate! Mr. Smirnoff and Mr. Hitchens had dined earlier in the day. Mine was a late breakfast. But I wanted so very much to believe that Mr. Hitchens breakfasted in such a fashion. Didn't you?