What I Learned While Sharing an Office With Hitchens

David Corn reflects on their time together
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2011 1:09 PM CST
Christopher Hitchens participates in a panel discussion in a 2004 file photo.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – There is no shortage of reflections on the life of Christopher Hitchens today, filled with memories and anecdotes that all seem to include the word "cocktail." Writing for Slate, David Corn recounts his "Hitchens tale," one that occurred some three decades ago while the two shared a tiny, windowless office at The Nation. It seems that Corn spent most of his day taking phone messages for Hitchens. In the morning, they'd be along the lines of "'Tell him, that was a wonderful dinner last night.' Or, 'Mick was so pleased to meet him.'" Then they'd shift to invitations for lunch, afternoon drinks, dinner, and an 11pm cocktail date, with Hitchens popping in just long enough to get those messages, then depart for said restaurant or watering hole.

At some point, an editor would stop by to double-check that Hitchens would have, say, the review of a biography ready for her tomorrow. He'd say yes, then slip an 800-page book that clearly "had yet to be opened ... into his bag and say goodnight." What he somehow turned in the next day was—"you know the punch line—brilliant. Next, it was off to lunch." Corn writes that he learned many lessons from Hitchens, but "never how to function in quite this manner. What allowed him to live such a packed life was a trait that any of us would relish: He never forgot what he had ever read or learned." It's not a skill that could be taught, but watching Hitchens "practice his craft and thrust and parry with intellectuals almost as sharp as him was as valuable an experience as I could have imagined."

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