I see P.J. O’Rourke has died at age 74. He was the first famous person to whom I ever got to ask a question. He was the first (only?) famous person who went out of their way to come over and say hi to me, though I’m pretty sure he thought I was someone else. Nonetheless, it was kind of nice.
But I’m jumping ahead. In college I took a speech class, an experience which was about as depressing as it sounds. But one of the course requirements was that you had to go to see some of the speakers that came to campus and write reviews, and for whatever reason my school at the time brought in plenty of them, including P.J., who was on a book tour.
My career path notwithstanding, I wasn’t a political geek; I was a music geek, we subscribed to Rolling Stone, and P.J. O’Rourke was their resident wisecracking conservative columnist. In one piece he tore up most of the federal budget but saved something called the Helium Fund, because “running a Helium Fund is just the kind of thing our politicians should be doing. It’s much less expensive and harmful to the nation than most of what they do, plus, with any luck, they’ll float away.”
I think the event was in the campus library; there was a big crowd that roared at all of the jokes, and somehow during the Q&A, I decided to ask a question. (Thinking back on it now, introverted 18 year old me asking somebody a question is even stranger than the fact that they let me do it.) This was in the middle of the 1994 midterm campaign, and I asked what he thought of the Virginia US Senate bid by Oliver North, the guy from the Iran-Contra scandal. O’Rourke was ready for it: he said something like “Oliver North doesn’t deserve the United States Senate… but the United States Senate deserves Oliver North.” Another big roar from the crowd.
P.J. later settled in New Hampshire, and he was a regular guest on the NPR show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me,” so he would come into the studios where I worked from time to time. He would also occasionally record promos for our station to use during fund drives, and I think that’s where I talked with him next. We were setting up his mic and headphones and I mentioned that I’d seen him at Bradley University back in ‘94 and recalled our question and answer. He smiled. “I stand my statement,” he said.
Photo by Bill via Flickr/Creative Commons