Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley. Jr.

Some years ago my husband, then only a few years out of college, was hired as Articles Editor at National Review. NR was still in its 35th Street offices then, just a few blocks from the Midtown Tunnel. [h/t to Anonymous for setting me straight geographically.]

We lived in Queens. On the days when I had to pick Richard up at work, I would have to leave the house at 3:30 at the latest, if I wanted to get to NR by five. The distance between our house and NR was only a couple of miles, but as a wise man once said, distance is irrelevant in New York. It's all about the traffic.

And the traffic between me and NR's home base was fierce. I always felt like some kind of fighter pilot making my way up the Long Island Expressway, dodging taxis and cop cars, tryngn to reach my goal. Then came the Midtown Tunnel, where I felt more like a kamikaze bomber, elbowing my way through the mouth of the tunnel and on to the light of day at the other end.

I would start out calm, telling myself today would be different, but the result was always the same: by the time I got over the LIE, through the Midtown and onto the island of Manhattan I would undergo a complete personality change. I began the journey a woman and ended it an animal, ready to mow down anything that got in my path.

One day as I was pulling up in front of NR's office, my eye on the last parking space on the block, another car beat me to it. AND TOOK MY SPACE.

Well. Naturally I relatiated. HOONK!! HOOONK!!! "YOU #%$%! THAT'S MY SPACE! MINE,MINE,MINE!! MOVE YOUR $^%# @&& AND--"

The car door opened. That unmistakable form - tall, lanky, messy light hair, prominent teeth- slipped out.

DIH slinked low behind the wheel. Thank God, he never saw me.

That was my first live encounter with WFB. There were many others, at close range and pleasant. Bill Buckley was singularly gracious man. I always thought if I spilled somethng at his table or knocked over some precious stemware, he'd immediately smash his own glass on the floor and say in that soft drawl of his, "My God, there must be something in the air tonight!"

Yes he was brilliant, yes he was an icon, yes he changed the intellectual landscape of America. All great things.

He was also kind, considerate, and unbelievably generous. Which are even greater things.

I am sad that he is gone.
Rest in peace, Bill.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too, also lived in Queens once.
I think you made your way to NR on 35th street via the Queens Midtown Tunnel, not the Holland Tunnel.
The Holland Tunnel connects NJ with lower Manhattan.
For the record when I drove the Midtown tunnel it always made me claustrophobic.

Nemoleon said...

I was probably wrong to give up my NR subscription (in 1971?) and to stop watching "Firing Line." They both did me a world of good, though not necessarily in the way Mr. Buckley would've liked. Thanks for the post--one of the better things I've seen today and I've been looking.

Sue said...

HOly Cats, Anonymous! You're right! Mymind is must be going! - DIH

HEATHER said...

I am just so saddend by his death. Honestly thought he would live forever!

Anonymous said...

Suzy,

What you said was beautiful.

DIH Spouse

Anonymous said...

"by the time I got over the LIE, through the Midtown and onto the island of Manhattan I would undergo a complete personality change. I began the journey a woman and ended it an animal..."

That's the best description I've ever seen for a trip to Manhattan. I drove to the city every day for 7 years and felt the same way each time. It was like going into battle. Or better yet, downtown Manhattan was one endzone, and uptown was the other endzone, and the game was between endzones.

Joke said...

I had the good fortune -- bordering on blessing -- to meet WFB twice. (First at University X during my senior year and then two years later at University Y where I was working on my MBA)

These were those "in passing" meetings, but I was struck that 1) he remembered me and 2) what an amazing polymath he was.

He was also very fond of the Jesuit model of pedagogy and was genuinely in awe of them, which I found illuminating. I also debated him on the relative merits of Sperry Top-Siders vs. Timberland's boat mocs.

Besides all the accolades heaped upon him these days, he was also a man supremely secure with himself and his abilities. This allowed him to express himself with grace and yet without reservation.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.

-J.