My wife and I made our way down a leaf-blown street to a small Methodist church in Washington, DC where Jeffery Brown was interviewing Gore Vidal about his new memoir, Point to Point Navigation. The conversation was brilliant, in no small part due to Gore Vidal's way with historical fiction (including his own history). A story about Eleanor Roosevelt taking down Tammany Hall to get back at them for blocking Frank, Jr.'s bid for Mayor was priceless, as was his swipe at "the yellow rose of Texas" (George W. Bush) who had just traveled to Vietnam to discuss trade relations. "Well, he's gone to Vietnam now, hasn't he?" asked Vidal. I can't wait to hear him talk about, 'When I was in Nam'".
My favorite quip of the evening, though, came after a question about his involvement in the Modern Library Series. Vidal said, "I don't really have anything to do with it. I'm on the board, but I've never been to a meeting. They're always wanting my opinion about the 5,000 Best Books of All Time. I hate those lists. You're just limiting what is already one of the most limited fields in the world. Besides, people don't read the books anyway. They just like to know that there are important books that they don't have to read."
We had arrived late, and were some of the last people let into the church. There was a huge crowd outside hoping to be drawn in a lottery for standing room at the back. We, thankfully, had called and reserved seats a week prior, so were assured entry. We walked in and found the last remaining seats next to an older gentleman who was there unaccompanied.
As we waited for the event to begin, the old man told me that he had a long history with Mr. Vidal, and that the two had exchanged contentious letters in recent years. Surprised, I joked, "Not as bad as he and Buckley, surely?" He replied, "I assume you are aware of his claim to have had an affair - a homosexual affair - with Jimmy Trimble." "Oh, I don't know," I said, a little uncomfortable with where this was going. He looked straight at me and said in a deadly-serious tone, "Jimmy Trimble was my friend. We went to school together. Jimmy Trimble and I went on dates together and he never in his life let on any indication of homosexual tendencies." I just sat there quietly, unsure how to respond.
"Now, I don't know if Jimmy was a homosexual, and frankly, I don't care," he went on. "It isn't any business of mine. But it is clear to me that if he was, he did not wish it to be made a public spectacle, and it certainly was not Mr. Vidal's place make that decision for him." I smiled and said, "Sure, I understand." The man sighed and lowered his eyes. "Just do me one favor. If I start to get agitated, don't let me get up and have words with him." I assured him that if he started to rise, I would put a hand on his shoulder.
The interview went well, and included, thankfully, no mention of Jimmy Trimble. As the evening came to a close and we stood to exit the church, the old man slapped me on the side and grinned. "Well, I'm going to get out of here." He never rose, never had words with anyone. Mr. Vidal never mentioned his friend's name, and the old man was spared feeling the need to interrupt.