Going to a house of worship to see Christopher Hitchens is a bit like going to a house of ill repute to see a bishop. So naturally I drove to Temple Judea in Coral Gables last night to catch the literary journalist.
And I saw something I'd never seen before: Hitchens smile. It was before he took the podium, while standing next to Dave Barry - who introduced him and then led him in conversation (noting, at one point, that both their mothers committed suicide).
Hitchens was his usual curmudgeonly self, complaining about horoscopes in the Washington Post("astrology in a journal of record") and suggesting that Ayn Rand's novels "are more difficult to read than they were to write." He answered the first question about his (anti) religious views - the questioner surprisingly compared him to Malcolm Muggeridge - but when more came he brushed them aside with a phrase that became a mantra: "Wrong book."
Even talking about himself (he was plugging his new memoir) he gave the impression of not just a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but the rare individual with the mental capacity to accurately calculate that weight. At the same time, he was, occasionally, almost playful, and he ended the evening in a way that I imagine few evenings at the temple have ever ended: with a recitation of limericks.