On my walk in to work in the mornings, I sometimes pass a Goodyear tire store at Turk and Larkin streets, Kahn & Keville, which maintains a large signboard out front, often with amusing or thought-provoking messages. Up through the election it had something from Voltaire, on how uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one.
Before that, it had a note on the passing of Gore Vidal which I found poignant.
I’ve appreciated Vidal for years, especially his historical fiction, but also his essays and his hysterical habit of turning up in the mass media so frequently with vivid, knife-twisting quotes.
I first read Vidal’s Lincoln and found it to be a brilliant book, the writing as good as the best fiction with the added virtue of being (mostly) true. That led me to his Narratives of Empire series, which is great fun and brought me to Burr, which works more as a traditional historical novel (great plot and amazing early American and Manhattan history), and 1876, which I also enjoyed, but is my least favorite of those three. Of the subsequent books in the series, I started Washington, DC and have glanced at the others, but they didn’t seem to measure up.
So I was sorry to hear of Vidal’s passing at the end of July this year, and appreciated Kahn & Keville’s tribute. It seemed somehow apropos, given his gift of eloquence.
Further note: the artwork at upper right is a mural on the side of a building around the corner. At far left (above), mostly obscured by a gray hotel, is an ornate red and tan building once known as the German-American Hall. Nazi bund meetings were held there before World War Two. Later, in the mid 60s, as California Hall, it was used for concerts of the burgeoning “San Francisco Sound.” The Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead played there. After that its basement was known as the Rathskellar, which closed after an infamous police party/sex scandal in 1984, which you can read about (as well as other lusty, ignominious scandals) here.
I rather think Mr. Vidal would have been heartily amused by that – perhaps he even was. Hopefully, now he’s God’s own gadfly.