Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Notional Review

This multifarious strand of recollections is evoked by the news of the death at his writing desk of William F. Buckley, Jr.

1. Although I had had earlier, indirect contacts with William F. Buckley, Jr, such as having read God and Man at Yale, and watching several segments of his televised program, Firing Line, my first direct connection came when I was editor in cief at Sherbourne Press, a small, geleral trade book publisher operating out of Los Angeles. I had already acquired one book from a bright, articulate, and personable writer, Frank Riley. That book introduced Anton Dymeck, a young priest who had been "given" to the Church as an infant, a tradition in many Polish Catholic families. The first venture was successful and we planned a second Father Dymeck novel in which one of the characters was to be William F. Buckley, Jr., whom we quickly determined, we could quote at some length without securing his permission, first because he was a public figure, and secondly because his televised show, Firing Line, was in public domain by virtue of being aired on public television. All we had to do was "take" his dialog from the various scripts. After the book was printed, we sent Buckley a copy, to which he replied in a personable, generous way, thanking us for the way he'd been presented, and hinting that the book gave him an idea for a series of suspense thrillers of his own.

2. Some years--but not too many--later, I met him thanks to the fact of his having been a classmate and chum of BC,one of my oldest and dearest friends. Once again, some years but not too many later, said oldest and dearest of friends, who happened to have begun one of the more successful writers' conferences in the US, invited Buckley to appear as a guest speaker. Buckley accepted with the proviso that he not speak about politics but rather focus on his writings about sailing, which he claimed to love with the same passion my friend experiences for fly fishing.

3. Between that last personal contact, I was in a kind of eavesdropping contact with WFB, seeing his handwritten notes to my friend, and getting further dimensions of WFB from my friend's stories of having been an interviewee on Firing Line.

Turns out that my friend's oldest son, BC3, was a classmate at Yale with WFB's son Chris, through which channels I got to hang out with Chris as well, and get added nuance of WFB, Jr.

5. Chris was delighted to get the background on the Father Dyeck novel, which, he said, helped him understand his father's sudden appreciation of the suspense thriller medium.

6. Not too long ago, my friend BC, sought permission to quote a longish portion of a Chris Buckley work in an anthology he was assembling. Chris Buckley's "price" for the permission was that BC should do a repeat version of a charcoal sketch of WFB, Jr., done years earlier and sent to WFB, Jr. as a gift.

7. More rcently, BC was wondering where to send an essay he'd written and since I knew Chris to be an editor at Barron's, I was quick to suggest the price of a few stamps. Only last week, BC reported that yes, Chris had accepted the piece. In about two hours, I'll join BC for lunch as is our Thursday wont (Mondays, too), no doubt to hear more of the wonders that were WFB, Jr.

8. Both WFB, Jr., and, for that matter, BC, fit the definition of polymath, each extending vectors of talent like some multi-armed Hindu god or goddess, taking on life as though it were a smorgasboard, taking on accomplishments with gusto.

9. As is so frequent the case, I do not share politics with either WFB, Jr. or BC, and it seems to me at times the height of irony when each has observed to me the F.S. Fitzgerald dictum that the rich are different from you and me.

10. WFB, Jr. was a splendid debater, a prolific and diverse writer, a man of great musical insights, wit, and humor. BC is no slouch around a piano and in fact early in his career supported himself by playing an out-of-tune piano at a cocktail lounge in Lima, Peru. He has also owned an iconic bistro, El Matador, mere footsteps away from another iconic bistro, The Hungry i. As a serious practitioner of tauromachy, he had as his mentor the great Juan Belmonte, and like most ex-bullfighters, walks with a slight limp from a goring. When Zsa Zsa Gabor told Noel Coward that BC had been gored in Madrid, Coward sent him a telegram at the hospital expressing relief that he had been gored. Evoking Zsa Zsa Gabor's thick accent, Coward said, "At first I thought she said you were bored." BC's paintings usually bring in fees starting at the mid four figures, and his books--well, they continue to come forth.

11. Sometimes in life, as you stumble and shamble through the landscape, you'll notice a shooting star or passing comet and you'll reach out to grab hold of it for the thrill of the wild ride. WFB,Jr. and BC are such comets and the ride has been stunning.

12. Sometimes when you return to you life, the feel of the wind still lingering on your face, your perceptions of reality amped up to a brightness you cannot describe, your awareness for detail still exquisite and shouting in your ears, you are profoundly aware of the happenstance that caused you to look up at the precise moment when the shooting stars and comets orbited overhead.


R.L. Bourges said...


Unknown said...

The best tribute I've read thus far, or am likely ever to read.