Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, May 05, 2006

Failure of the Day: Proximity to Exhausted Greatness

The cavalcade of south bay literary adventures continued this week when I found myself at a cocktail party with Gore Vidal on Wednesday night. Now, when I say “found myself at” you understand of course that I mean “went incredibly out of my way to go to the party where I knew Gore Vidal would be.”

SJSU sponsored an event with GV, and Chris’s store runs the literary concession at university literary events. Chris worked the event and I tagged along to see the lecture and then go to the reception. The evening was GV “in conversation” with a humanities prof, and I confess to being somewhat meh about the show. GV is witty and charming and encyclopedic and just what you expect, but the audience was just too easy and eager. Uproarious laughter at the slightest hint of cleverness, thunderous ovations for every obvious political critique—as though showing off their own cleverness by elaborately demonstrating their ability to appreciate him.

Afterward, he signed books at the table next to where we were selling them, so I had ample time to observe the man up close and at length. He’s moved beyond old and now completely embodies “elderly.” He is—or at least was for all of Wednesday night—confined to a wheelchair. He might have spoken five words during the hour he spent signing. He moved his pen so lightly across the book pages that I was surprised any ink got onto them at all—his hand was much surer with the tumbler of whiskey that never left his grip. I got a few books signed for the bookstore to sell; I met his eye and thanked him as sweetly as I could and then left him the hell alone.

At the author party, I was delighted by the petits fours and coconut shrimp. If there are ever fancy author receptions for me, though, instead of wine and cheese, I want miniature soft serve ice cream cones. GV endured a constant stream of admirers who literally knelt in front of him all night, but it was too late: the part of him that put on The Gore Vidal Show earlier in the evening had been turned off for the night. He weathered the fawning by looking alternately bored, aggravated, and actually asleep.

I can’t say I’m disappointed in the evening. I’ve never read any of his work so I really only know him from his pithy quips on Larry King. So there’s that. Oh, and also that I’m as shallow as an oil stain in a parking lot and wanted only to be able to say I’d been to a cocktail party with Gore Vidal. Which, by the way, I have been.


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