March 14, 2011


Warren M. Christopher has died at 85. A steady fixer perhaps. In his own words: My task had been to serve as a steward, not proprietor, of an extraordinary public trust. And therein lies all the imagined bits and bobs such a bland phrase invokes. Information concealed not revealed and dressed as diplomacy.

I saw him in a bar on Martha’s Vineyard once, long ago now. J’s father was still alive and that same day we had visited the grave of Lillian Hellman, a woman with double ells in both her Christian and Surname, whereas WC was that supposedly untrustworthy thing, a man with two first names, even if his last was also venerated by the Orthodox. Truth is we drank whiskey next to each other in a little side bar attached to a much grander place. Me in a hurry without knowing it and he in an old fisherman’s sweater and deck shoes. Those were Clinton’s days for both of us although we experienced them differently. Apparently a boozer, he sat quietly, not so much nursing his glass as quietly commanding it. We didn’t speak.

Depending on the year (95 or 96) he was either working on the Dayton Agreement or the Khobar Towers bombing, probably the former, and Clinton, famously, was playing hell with the property prices of the Vineyard by summering there with his wife and a thousand friends from the Secret Service. I remember wondering what my father would say to Warren if he’d had been sat there in my sandals, but just then, like some character from Mailer’s rather good novel of love and the CIA (Harlot’s Ghost), he melted away into the night.

He was born in Scranton, North Dakota, October 27, 1925, the same year as Idi Amin, Laura Ashley, and Tony Benn (to quote the beginning of the alphabet). Strange company. His middle name was Minor, but he won’t stay too long in my memory (nor I his). Unlike one of my all time favorite people because-of-their-names. I have long collected people who, when they are spoken aloud, make a sentence, and a few months before Warren came into this world, due to live in it but not make it through to see if Manchester United can get three points against Bolton Wanderers this weekend (things continue), another kind of politician was born in the Northwest Territories of Canada, not far from the East Channel of the Mackenzie (a place that experiences an average of 56 days of continuous sunlight every summer and 30 days of polar night every winter). His name was Tom Butters and as of this writing he’s still alive amongst his beautiful sentence. Pastoral and culinary all at once. Like carrots.