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Christopher Hitchens: A Memory

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Christopher Hitchens is dead. Huge loss. I went to school about a mile from where he went to school, we met when I was in my twenties, and then again about six years ago and became friends after sharing 3 or 4 bottles of wine and several whiskeys one lunchtime in New York.

As a once heavy drinker, I could handle all this and was still lucid, but by around 5 o'clock I was beginning to have wild and dangerous thoughts about stumbling off into worse adventures, but cut with the equally appealing idea of going home and crashing out totally.

I went to the bathroom to look in the mirror. It wasn't that alcohol had affected my sight -- I could see my surroundings clearly enough. No, my face was out of focus, the face itself, and there was an insane look in the eyes that did not bode well. Going home was really the only option.

I went back upstairs and before I could make my excuses, Christopher said, "Sorry, Matthew, I just ordered a couple more Scotches but then I really have to go. I'm debating Al Sharpton on TV in 45 minutes." I managed to get home and watch. He was completely coherent, funny, and brilliant -- as always.

This ability of his, to be utterly serious while at the same time hilarious, to rigorously devote himself to things he cared about deeply, but also have a really good time along the way -- these are the unique aspects of the man from which we can all learn.

Hitchens, even when he was occasionally pompous, was never, never earnest: he knew that to be effective, particularly when holding such minority views, required that as well as being passionate he also had to be entertaining. He never disappointed.

I had dinner with him in Houston a few weeks ago. I suppose he must have known he was dying and this was probably the last time we'd see each other, but there was no sentimentality or whining. Though obviously weak, and robbed of some of his lifelong pleasures, he was a gracious host, funny, caustic, full of anecdotes and quotes, still generously offering the fireworks of his brilliant mind for the pleasure and entertainment of those around him.

He was a great man and this is a great loss.

Matthew Chapman is the director of The Ledge.