January 13, 2020

Cigarettes, scotch, company, writing, and conversation

The day Christopher Hitchens died, his longtime editor and friend at the Vanity Fair posted an In Memoriam.

He was a man of insatiable appetites—for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation.”

That sentence nails it. I don’t care for cigarettes or scotch. But Hitchens’ appetite for opposition, for combat, for conversation was contagious.

I don’t have the appetite Hitchens had. But debate was my favorite activity in high school. The tournaments were fun. It was even more fun staying up late in Hampton Inn’s, arguing about philosophers we couldn’t pronounce and foreign policy we didn’t understand.

My best college memories are similar. We’d leave Rippy’s and get cabs back to Convent. A pizza would be waiting for us on the porch. We’d put music videos on the TV. And then we’d start arguing. About space, about economics, about Bush and Obama and about how many beers we could drink.

I craved those nights.

One night in particular still cracks me up. We were watching a video featuring Carl Sagan’s voice booming out of the subwoofer, opining about the humility of man amidst the vastness of space.

At the end, my friend from Texas (cowboy boots and all) said he didn’t understand why we invested so much in space travel. I spoke at length about Ernst Stuhlinger’s letter to a nun who’d asked Why go to the moon?” in 1970.

After what I thought was a passionate defense of the hope and promise of space exploration, the innovation it provides, the beautiful expression of physics and math, the unifying force it has as an Earth vs. the Universe” framework, my friend shakes his head and goes, I just don’t get it. There isn’t whiskey on the Moon.”

My craving for conversation has reached a new high, and so I’m going to start using Twitter and the Internet more deliberately to reach and chat and argue and talk to more and more people. If it’s fun I’ll keep doing it.

So, talk to me!

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Hitchens in North Beach He Knew He Was Right, The New Yorker, 2006: At a dinner a few months ago in San Francisco with his wife, Carol Blue, and some others, Hitchens wore
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I have an appetite for conversation.
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