Monday, August 6, 2012

Christopher Buckley, fils WFB

Certainly when someone like Gore Vidal passes away you have to expect that he will be written about and commented on by those who lived in his wake.

But, when you go at 86 those talking about you are not likely to be your contemporaries, but rather the offspring of your contemporaries. I found such is the case when I followed a link to an article in the New Republic by William F. Buckley, Jr.'s (WFB) son, Christopher.

Following the link was worth it. The New Republic has never appeared in this house, online, hardcopy or in any place I've called home. I've never even seen it in a well stocked medical waiting room. So, in other words, I wouldn't have gotten there on my own.

Of course it might seem ironic that WFB's son was writing something that appeared in a left-leaning publication, but works of his dad probably did, if for no other reason than that's what these editors do. They're boxing matchmakers who bring the combatants together. And Christopher himself is certainly not coming out of the closet to write about Dad and his Moriarty. He's an established writer in his own right who also happens to be quite funny.

Certainly being the only child of Patricia and William, Christopher couldn't be expected to fall far from the Indo-Europeon family tree of languages I've seen in some dictionaries. When his father passed away no less than two obituaries used the word, "sesquipedalia,"  along with others, to describe him, It's good to keep dictionaries handy when encountering the Buckley family.

The piece in the New Republic is a great read. Certainly not long, but it covers the field. There is perhaps the inevitable use of a Latin phrase, and a reference to another foreign word that I almost knew. Christopher and I, I'm sure would never be confused for each other. Yet, we do share some common recollections.

His father was born in 1925, and mine in 1915. Both fathers have now passed away and both seemed to hold Charles Lindbergh in high regard, although for different reasons. My father saw the Lindbergh ticker tape parade up Broadway, and seemed to have closely followed the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the man convicted of kidnapping and killing Lindbergh's son.  WFB was closer to relating and explaining Lindbergh's character and political views.

Christopher relates bravely attempting to go through his father's papers when he encountered a huge file labeled "Vidal Legal." He seems to have immediately tossed it, with relief.

My father probably also had a huge file, unlabeled, that became filled with the various legal proceedings against him in light of his ownership of two flower shops, a bar restaurant, (all while working full time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard) and living in a society where people who were owed money wanted it, and if they didn't get it when they thought they should, resorted to legal means. Certainly landlords. I never found such a file, but if I had I would have kept it.

When my father followed his work to Washington, D.C. he told me that perhaps he could only see me on Sundays, since they can't serve subpoenas on Sundays. If he had been Italian and drank from a tiny coffee cup the Daily News would have given him a nickname.

The one Latin phrase that is inserted in the piece is: De gustibus, non disputandum est. My knowledge of Latin is confined to U.S. coins and grandfather clocks.  I do recognize "de gustibus" as probably having to do with eating. Turns out I was getting warm: "there is no disputing about tastes."

For balance, there is the retelling of a book blurb Vidal bestowed on Christopher Hitchens, something about naming a dauphin, or delfino to himself.  Again reference is needed, but it was worth it. Dauphin refers to the eldest son of a king in France, in the 15th century, Delfino means dolphin. Vidal was born in the wrong century. He should have been the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Mr. C. Buckley's essay is hardly all high brow. He does write, and I guess these days the editors of  certain publications allow it, that great Anglo-Saxon word that Richard Burton loved and that I didn't have to look up.

You have to wonder about Christopher's feelings about a father who likely appeared in home movies and pictures, but is still out there for all the world to still see so publicly on YouTube. And without being set in the context of his times. The judgments might not always be so nice, and might veer toward inaccurate, but certainly they've been well handled so far.

Watching the digital confrontations are far better than reading flawed transcripts of the exchanges. The tone, volume, and especially the body language are great. The barley audible words are even better. Vidal just plain liked to aggravate WFB. He seems happiest doing it.

The segment that CB refers to is by far the most watched, and seems to be the one where his father might have socked Vidal. He was perhaps held back by a rush of propriety, or, as CB lovingly relates, a braced, broken clavicle underneath his jacket and shirt. It is perhaps too bad. They both might have been at each others faces like ball players and umpires, or very annoyed subway riders about to go to the next level.

It was, as Charles McGrath closes his NYT Vidal obituary with Vidal's own quote, "such fun, such fun."

When you outlive your adversaries, you add the last word.

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