I love it when people speak of things about which they know nothing. My heartiest laughter comes from the commentary of those who are most hilariously mistaken.
It’s rather like looking in a mirror.
In 1984 when I was working in radio, I had the great good fortune to spend one illuminating hour interviewing the acclaimed author of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Douglas Adams. He was a supremely tall, large-boned, baby-faced gentleman with a quiet sort of unassuming demeanor who spoke in a tone of comradely mischief. He thoroughly enjoyed the lies he told for a living and relished that so many held them dear.
He was kindly tolerant of me in that, at the time, I was wholly unfamiliar with his work but not his reputation. Once again, it was I who was speaking of things I knew not and, as it turned out, I was doing so in the company of a man who felt very much the same about himself, the difference between us being Mr. Adams made a handsome living doing so, and with confidence.
We hit it off well.
We found kinship in our mutual backgrounds in radio. It was his original work with BBC Radio 4 that led to the “Hitchhiker” books. He agreed to turn his original radio series into a book . And then another, and another, and another. And, after being hounded by his publisher for many months to deliver his latest volume, was finally commanded to “Just send what you have.”
Adams described how he had been writing this last manuscript on his Mac computer and had laid it out himself with a font and format of his own devising. In total compliance he simply stopped typing in mid chapter and shipped the little floppy disc off to his publisher. This fellow promptly and unceremoniously sent it straight away to the printer who set, bound, and shipped the book without so much as a how-do-you-do or a spell-check. “And that’s why the book ends so abruptly”, he said almost apologetically.
Apparently Mr. Adams had set down enough of the story to warrant the continued adulation of his followers, who are no doubt still legion. This being the fourth “Hitchhiker” book in his series, and another two-book series behind him, he vowed, “One day I shall try to write a three-book trilogy.”
Although he did manage a few years later to add a fifth volume to the “Hitchhiker” series.
He possessed a delightful even-tempered confidence that comes only from success mixed with shrugs of genuine humility. A more pleasant, personable, and good natured fellow one could never hope to meet — at least I never hoped to.
Here was a person of immense popularity, upon whom his considerable celebrity appeared to have little or no import. Rather his most sincere interest seemed to reside in people. The man simply wanted to share your company and had more questions about you than you might muster about him. He treated me as more than an equal; in fact I was almost as a guest. What a charming and amiable host he became.
When I am offered definitions of the word “wit”, to this day I cannot summon any image before that of this dearly deft Englishman who happily welcomed me under his umbrella of celebrity that day some twenty-nine years ago.
I have read the works of many pithy writers, and some with nary any pith at all, but none holds so fond a place in my heart as the wit of Douglas Adams.
Guided solely by prejudice, I am only left to offer you the wit and whimsy of the great man himself in the form of his considerable quotations:
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” (Douglas Adams)
“He hoped and prayed that there wasn’t an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn’t an afterlife.” (Douglas Adams)
“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” (Douglas Adams)
“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” (Douglas Adams)
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” (Douglas Adams)
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” (Douglas Adams)
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” (Douglas Adams)
“You live and learn. At any rate, you live.” (Douglas Adams)
And finally, a quote I am happy to say he unleashed on me during the course of our interview:
“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.” (Douglas Adams)
At the conclusion of our 60 minutes together I declared that this had been the most delightful six hours I’d ever spent and Mr. Adams laughed out loud. He gave me his home address in London and asked me to write. I regret that I never did since I always felt I would have nothing noteworthy to report.
In 2000 I moved to Los Angeles and had no idea Douglas Adams had moved stateside and was just an hour and half north of me in Santa Barbara. On May 11th the next year I cried when I heard he had died.