That night, Churchill, his wife Natsu, and I meet up at the Hotel Durant bar, just off the Berkeley campus. ... [W]e tuck into a bay-windowed nook with a no smoking sticker displayed prominently. "I usually put that right over my ashtray," he rasps.Great article. There's much more in it. You should read it.
Seeing as how we're getting along so famously, I pop out my tape recorder and start with a softball. "Why do you hate America?" I ask him.
"Next question," he says. "Why do you beat your wife? When you answer that, I'll answer yours."
I go with a different approach, asking what Easter means to him. "Easter?" he says, as if he's just heard the word for the first time. "That's when that poor man was crucified. Is that after he'd been entombed, and they rolled the rock back, he ran out, saw his shadow and ran back in?"
I take the Punxsutawney Jesus crack to mean that Churchill is up for a good mud-wrestling match, so I order fire-waters all round (he's a Jameson's Irish Whiskey man), and we hunker down for a three-hour duel. ...
As the night wears on, I feel transported back to my college days, when, on any given evening, you could end up in an off-campus bar with some batty radical professor, drinking, arguing, and throwing darts--at each other. Churchill and I, in repeated cycles, suffer through the classic three stages of happy hour: boozy bonhomie, injurious repartee, then schmaltzy reconciliation.
We find common ground on a few things. We agree that singer Townes Van Zandt is God, or was, until he drank himself to death. We resolve that Paul Newman characters make for good children's names (Luke, Hud, etc.). We concur that one of the most satisfying lines in the English language (Churchill's favorite) comes from Dashiell Hammett in The Dain Curse, when he describes a woman's face as a "dusky oval mask between black hat and black fur coat."
We disagree on nearly everything else, sometimes violently. ...
We patch things up, for the most part. And by the end of the evening, I again posit to Churchill that he knows no transgression unless it's American transgression, that his calculus considers only the wars we've fought, but never the wars the world never had to fight as a result of American might. I tell him that communism, which set into motion so many of the American policies he detests, was no joke--it took the lives of 100 million people. At this, he blanches. "You don't really want to sit here and get into an arithmetical tally of who killed more people. Both have killed astronomical numbers of people in order to maintain themselves. Neither is defensible. The Soviet Union, however, has the virtue at this point of not being here anymore. The United States cannot claim that credit."
As I settle the check, and Churchill and his wife get up to leave, he says offhandedly, "Oh, and one more thing: F--you." I think he's joking, but in case he's not, on behalf of the little Eichmanns, I offer back with relish, "F--you too."
April 17, 2005
In The Weekly Standard, Matt Labash has a long, colorful article about Ward Churchill, whom he followed about and had a long drunken conversation with. An excerpt: