|"Hmmm...I must remember to tell Pat to have my tux cleaned so I can wear it to take Ann to the prom."|
In 1981, while other 15-year-old girls were hanging pictures of rock stars on their bedroom walls, I was amputating the perfectly chiseled face of William F. Buckley from newspapers and magazines and scotch taping it with random precision to my floral papered bedroom wall as if Bill Buckley might just stroll one day through the pastel garden of my boudoir. Bill Buckley smiling; Bill Buckley in tuxedo; Bill Buckley with his hair askew standing on the bow of his yacht. This was the collage of the man who spoke to me every week with such elegance and erudition. I was simply in love with a man who was in love with language.
Our cerebral love affair (mine and Bill’s, of course) began when I first sat down to watch Firing Line with my union president father. The first majestic note of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Third Movement, (allegro assai) ushered me into the cerebral cathedral of Compassionate Conservatives.
Listening to Bill debate with his guests the sturm und drang of world politics; the responsibility of our leadership to retain our position of dominance while extending the rewards of our capitalistic philosophy to Third World countries—all this, made me fall in love with him.
Despite the great divide of our ages, I knew that Bill and I could form a perfect partnership. It’s because of Bill that I studied Latin at Paramus Catholic Girls Regional High School. As I sat imprisoned in my archaic wooden desk, diligently concentrating as Sr. Helen Rita dryly lectured on declensions and etymology, my thoughts ebbed and flowed with imaginings of my future with Bill. Sitting elbow-to-elbow in a darkened corner of Elaine’s fluently whispering our private Latin to each other while Norman Mailer eyed us with drunken jealousy. I wanted to be Bill’s muse, his tabula rasa, upon whom he could impart the worlds of his knowledge while Pat and Bill Blass did the Paris fashion shows. I didn’t want to have his name, or his child--only his vocabulary.
In the spring of 1983, my political science class was awarded an opportunity to attend a taping of Firing Line. As we walked onto the darkened set, I noticed the overflowing pile of notes by Bill’s chair. I lifted one of the notebooks and stared at the hieroglyphics of Bill’s handwriting with the same rush of discovery of a National Geographic explorer who has just unearthed the new tomb of an old pharaoh.
Then there he was, striding confidently into my life. The stagger of his swagger suggested he had sipped one too many gently shaken dry martinis at PJ Clarkes for lunch. He gently collapsed, rather than sat, into his chair. His broad smile metastasized into an annoyed grimace, his lips emitting a barely audible grumble, as he shooed away the make-up person, who was hovering directly above his face with a large black-bristled powder brush that dripped its incandescence all over his dark blue suit. His eyes looked beyond the bright overhead lights as he adjusted his tie—focusing his gaze on the black space beyond the lights, beyond the audience, to that space that held no reflection, only darkness.
After the show, Bill came over to our group. Overwhelmed with anxiety, I stood off to the side. After answering questions from my classmates, he strode away from the circle, approached me and asked about my future plans. I told him that I wanted to be a writer and was reading the ancients, classics, and my monthly subscription to The National Review.
With a wry eye he proposed that while the ancients would impart to me substantial intellectual footing, his works would endow me with gravitas. And then, utterly charmed, I was moved to ask him to my senior prom. He tossed his head back and released a sincere laugh while his eyes stared above me in the act of great consideration.
“Yours is the best invitation I’ve had in a very long time; but an old man like me escorting such a vibrant thinker as yourself would be a bore to both you and your friends.
Before walking away he placed his left hand upon my shoulder and said, “Keep reading and writing and thinking. I expect to be reading you one day.” And then as quietly and undisturbingly as he had walked into my life, he was gone.