How We Met: Pj O'rourke And Charles Glass

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The Independent Culture
In the 1960s PJ O'Rourke, 51 (right), was, briefly, a left-leaning radical, but he is now the court jester of the American Right. His books include Republican Party Reptile and Holidays In Hell. He filed humorous copy on world trouble spots for Rolling Stone; he also reported on the Gulf War for ABC radio. He lives in Washington DC and New Hampshire with his second wife, Tina, and one-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Charles Glass, 47, was ABC television's Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. In 1987 he was researching a book on the Middle East, Tribes with Flags, when he was kidnapped by Hizbollah; he escaped after 62 days. He has three children and two stepchildren, and lives alone in Chelsea

PJ O'ROURKE: I don't remember exactly the moment that I met Charlie, but doubtless it was in the bar of the Commodore Hotel in Beirut. In 1984 I had this hare-brained idea that I would go round Lebanon as a tourist. I was completely at sea. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew to go to the Commodore because that was where all the journalists stayed.

The person who introduced me to Charlie was George Moll, a video editor for ABC. Charlie was the correspondent. Charlie had a lot of knowledge about who was who, why they were fighting each other, what they were all called and where they lived. I didn't know a thing. He was very mentorish filling me in.

I was 36 and I thought Charlie was older than me. He has that TV correspondent haircut and a kind of authoritative manner and a deep voice. Plus he was married and had a bunch of kids. In point of fact he is quite a few years younger than me.

A few days later Charlie invited me to come along: he was going up to the Beqa'a valley to interview a guy named Hussein Musawi, one of the leaders of Hizbollah. About two-thirds of the way out to Baalbek, where Hussein Musawi was based, I began to realise what an exceedingly dangerous thing we were doing. It sort of dawned on me: wait a minute, why are there no other Western journalists? I've never gotten the sense that Charlie was foolhardy. He was cool under pressure. I had a general sense that he had the risks well measured. He obviously thought it was survivable. It's just that his idea of a relatively safe thing to do and my idea at that time were vastly different.

We stayed in the Palmyra Hotel, which was built some time before the turn of the century, and had its old guest books. The Kaiser had stayed there. We were the only guests. These Hizbollah areas are dry of course, but we got a friendly waiter to find us a bottle of arak, and we sat up quite late trying to reconstruct Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". By the end of the bottle we had managed to reconstruct pretty much the whole poem. Meanwhile the lights are going on and off and there's all this happy fire outside. I didn't know about happy fire. Charlie filled me in - if it's rhythmic they're firing into the air. If it's arrhythmic they're fighting each other.

The next morning we went through layers and layers of security, and finally got in to see Hussein Musawi. Charlie had all sorts of questions to ask. There had been some kidnapping, and he said, "Are you holding any Western hostages?" At one point Musawi turned to me and said, apropos of nothing, "Do you believe in God?" Funnily enough I do now but I wasn't sure back then. But I didn't think it was a moment to quibble. Charlie has since told me that I said something that set Musawi off and nearly got us killed.

Vanity Fair never published the article. They said, "You can't make fun of people dying." I said, "Well, they all do it over there."

I don't think I saw Charlie for about a year, but I came back to Beirut in `85 to cover the TWA hostage crisis. We've been friends ever since. I would still defer to Charlie on any question of Lebanon, although he is much more anti-Israeli than I am. We used to argue politics all the time, but we don't any more. I don't know what happened. Maybe he moved to the right. Maybe I moved to the left. Maybe we're just old. I don't think either one of us cares about that stuff as much as we did.

We tend to meet in London. I'm usually there once a year. He comes to New York about as often. We go out for dinner and have some drinks and talk about the same thing journalists always talk about: what's going on around the world. We talk about other things, too. He's had his marital problems. I had mine. But we're not girls, who go on and on about that stuff. Charlie is certainly more serious than I am. He has a lot more depth with what he does. My ignorance is widespread.

We certainly talked a lot about when he got kidnapped. I was in Panama in the summer of 1987. I distinctly remember getting the news. Not only was it a real news story, but it immediately went out on the grape-vine to fellow hacks. I was scared for his life, and also scared because the hostage-keeping could go on for an immense length of time.

Charlie and I had had a lot of talks about religion. He is a very good Catholic, and I was a non-practising semi-agnostic Protestant, but I went into the cathedral in Panama City. I didn't know what to do: I knew there was something you could do to put in a good word for him. So I lit a candle for him. I remain impressed by the way he escaped, creating potential slack in the links of the chain. In a similar situation I'd fall immediately to pieces.

CHARLES GLASS: PJ looked in 1984 exactly as he looks now and probably as he looked in 1974. He seems to me to be ageless. I was living in Beirut as the ABC News Middle East correspondent. I had a big flat just opposite the Commodore Hotel, the main press hang- out. I met him through our videotape editor, a guy called George Moll. I didn't know it was his first time in a war zone. He didn't seem that much of a novice. He seemed to be self-confident about moving around all parts of Lebanon.

We went up to Baalbek together. At that time some friends of mine had been taken hostage by Hizbollah, and it was almost impossible to get American news organisations interested in covering the kidnappings. I wanted to gather as much information as I could, to keep the story alive.

PJ wanted to see as much of the country as he could. He was writing the kind of travel article that he subsequently perfected. He was writing it for Tina Brown in Vanity Fair. As I recall, she spiked it. While he was laughing at the situation, no one was more aware of its absurdity than the Lebanese themselves, and I don't think they would have taken offence.

We stayed at my favourite hotel, the Palmyra, which at that time still belonged to a wonderful Christian family called Alouf. No one stayed there when we went, because of the kidnapping and the war. Michel, the owner, was very happy to see two Americans showing up, because he hadn't had anyone coming in such a long time. We consequently stayed up very late and had a wonderful dinner. At that time you couldn't drink in Baalbek because the city had been taken over by the Hizbollah, but they let us have brandy in teacups. PJ pieced together "The Second Coming" much more than I did. I remember that in the guest book one of the early guests was Marie of Romania. When PJ and I were signing, he quoted Dorothy Parker's little poem, "Life is an endless cycle of fun/A medley of extemporanea/And love is a thing that can never go wrong/And I am Marie of Romania." He was the first journalist I had ever met who would have known that.

I suppose I never thought of it as a professional acquaintance. Technically we weren't working together. We just happened to be in the same place. I liked him right away. He's very funny to listen to. We had similar interests in women and drinking and gamb- ling. We disagree about everything politically - he's very right-wing, I'm very left-wing - but we never disliked each other over it. I don't think politics matter very much. We had common values to the extent that we both have a libertarian outlook. Occasionally we have talked about family. He loves talking about Tina and Elizabeth, and I don't mind listening. Actually I'm envious because Tina is really splendid. I can't get over how nice she is. PJ has landed on his feet.

I was kidnapped in June 1987. I was in Lebanon doing research for a book. I went out to Baalbek and I sent him a postcard. This was actually the worst time for kidnapping. It was a completely ridiculous thing for me to do. And it was a very jokey postcard, probably referring to kidnapping, which I then mailed from Baalbek because I wanted to have the postmark. Unfortunately from his point of view it arrived about a week after I was actually kidnapped. He probably felt worse than I did, because at least I knew I was alive.

We meet whenever we're in the same country, which varies a lot. It's not like seeing the dentist - there's no normal frequency. There was a time when I was more likely to bump into him in odd places, when we were travelling more. I was in Dhahran when the Americans were building up their forces for the attack on Kuwait. I was in this dreadful international hotel where ABC was running its operation and suddenly PJ showed up. It was a great surprise and very pleasant. Although drinking is illegal in Saudi Arabia, we still managed to get a lot of whisky and have a fairly good time. We had many nights just like that in Lebanon and elsewhere. I know that if I'm up at seven in the morning still having a whisky, he is too.

`Eat the Rich' by PJ O'Rourke is published by Picador (pounds 16.99)

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