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Robert O. Green

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My Gore Vidal Days

Posted: 08/01/2012 8:58 pm

When I dropped out of college in 198...something, it was for a better reason then just to not have to go to class before 11 a.m. anymore. A hero of mine had, through my father, reached out to me to offer me an opportunity. I was going to get to work with Gore Vidal, but I couldn't do it and stay in school. Luckily, I wasn't very good at school anyway, so this was a graceful way to Nixon myself out.

Gore was more than a hero to me -- he was an intellectual mentor, even though we'd never met. His words, a logorrhea of such intensity that it would take multiple massive volumes just to create a compilation of his essays, had been my guidepost through the Reagan years, with his combustible wit and precise use of language my touchstone for understanding how our country could have so lost its mind as to put a B-actor into power in the first place. And the novels -- Burr, Lincoln, Myra Breckinridge -- each one more eye-opening, more powerful, than any version of history I could ever have imagined, made the past present in a way that inspired me endlessly.

So here was Gore's researcher from the University of Kalamazoo asking me to deep-dive into whether or not we should call a Constitutional Convention (a movement that had some currency in the '80s). Off to the New York Public Library I went, putting together copious amounts of research, which I then faxed to Gore's place in Lake Como. I got my first phone call from Gore a few days later: "Robert, could you do something a bit more...polished, please? Don't be afraid to WRITE!"

He didn't have to tell me twice. I wrote and wrote and wrote, ultimately sending him 11 pages of single-spaced thoughts (shorter version: bad idea!). Then came the second call: "Robert, this is what I need -- your emotions as much as your simple recitation of facts. You will hear more from me shortly."

I didn't. He was busy writing three novels, 10 essays and so on. But I did get another call to turn on C-SPAN, where Gore was giving a speech based on the research. And as I watched, here and there I could pick out a phrase of mine, a turn of speech, and I thought to myself: "It can't possibly be any better than that." At the end, he thanked me. By name!

The Nation later published the speech as an essay, and in there it said: By Gore Vidal, research assistant by Robert Green.

It's said that one shouldn't meet one's heroes, that their feet of clay will be exposed, their ugliness will come to the fore. But for me, that wasn't the case. The brilliant and unique mind that was Gore Vidal was a part of my life, albeit briefly, and my life was made the better for it.

 
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