Gore Vidal left my life the same way he came into it—on the front drive of The Beverly Hills Hotel, where I work as a valet.
Most people knew Vidal’s politics, philosophies, and irreverence. I knew the plastic grips of his wheelchair, his favorite bottle of port, and his nurse, Ernie.
I shook hands with Mr. Vidal three times a week. Not because he was happy to see me, but because when you are helping someone out of the passenger seat of an opera blasting “Dodge Neon,” the handshake grip is the best way to make sure he doesn’t fall. I would also put my hand on his head to make sure he didn’t whack himself, and joke that if I had his head of hair—at his age—it would be OK if I didn’t make it in showbiz.
To Mr. Vidal, I was a funny teenager who was oddly familiar with his work, and to me, Gore Vidal was the pinnacle of cool. The man spent every night entertaining and being entertained. And, when he had enough he would take a nap by the fireplace as tourists walked by wondering why the old man was wearing sunglasses at night.
I remember one summer afternoon I found Mr. Vidal sitting in a chair alone, under a giant palm frond, drinking a half-full Bloody Mary. I asked him how he was doing, and he replied “I’m doing fine, it’s the world I’m worried about.” I replied: “Believe me Mr. Vidal, we know, we’ve read all about it.” He responded with a generous laugh.
And generous is how I will remember Mr. Vidal. Generous with his words as a writer, generous with his money as a tipper, and generous with humanity by refusing to give us anyone besides himself; no matter the cost.
Mr. Vidal made you feel smarter because his genius was an asset, not a weapon. And his raw wittiness was inclusive and welcoming, a drastic contrast to the cool-cat pseudo intellectuals mumble-yelling at each other today.
I like to think Mr. Vidal is enjoying a martini in the sky among the best of friends, and is no longer worried about the world below. My only concern is that if he drinks the bar dry in heaven, a cruel trick they play on atheists, I won’t be around to hop in my Honda and run to Gil Turner’s. But undoubtedly, he has already won over another young writer who thinks he is cool for being friends with the dapper Mr. Vidal. I’m just so glad during his time at The Beverly Hills Hotel, it got to be me.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now