He insists he's not having a midlife crisis, although the timing would certainly be right. His 50th birthday was last week, April 13. "What chance did I have in life?" he jokes. "I turned 13 on Friday the 13th, and our house number for years was 13." He also wants to dispel the rumor that he was too soused with Scotch to know what he was doing when he signed the affidavit. "I wasn't drunk," he insists, and a House Republican staffer readily agrees, saying, "There isn't any doubt in our minds that what he was doing was done with clearheadedness."
So why would Hitchens do something so hurtful to a friend?
Ask members of Hitchens's inner circle, and they inevitably reply that this is what he does -- he thrives on being outrageous, he blows up his life on a regular basis. And usually, when friends are involved, he's later forgiven for his sins. "Christopher's always taken up unpopular positions; he likes the battle, the argument, the smell of cordite," says novelist Martin Amis, a close friend since their days at Oxford University 30 years ago. Although Amis adds, "This time I think he was on the wrong side."
Washington novelist Christopher Buckley knows from personal experience that Hitchens can't resist the wicked aside, regardless of the consequences. "Christopher loves to do things that get your dander up. He took a swipe in print a while back at my father-in-law Donald Gregg, national-security adviser to George Bush. It just pissed me off. We didn't speak for a year. But Christopher's too much fun to hold a grudge against." The two made up -- at Blumenthal's son's bar mitzvah.
So it's not surprising that Hitchens is completely unrepentant about his recent actions yet anguished about the rift with Blumenthal. "I thought I could hit the president and miss Sidney," he says. The stress has gotten to both Hitchens and his wife. Tears start rolling down her cheeks as she talks about it. "I don't care what people think of us, it's much more missing Sid," she says. "Hitch is so desperate to patch it up, but I don't think we'll live long enough for that to happen."
Hitchens telephoned his former pal, but Blumenthal's wife, Jackie, hung up on him. Blumenthal has reportedly told allies he's sorry that Hitchens destroyed their friendship; he told me, in a jaunty I'm-over-it tone of voice, "I don't want to say too much about Christopher. It's a bad idea on my part."
Contrary to all the dire predictions, Hitchens has not become a pariah in journalistic or literary circles. Just last week, he and Blue were in New York for two glitzy events, New Yorker editor David Remnick's dinner for writer Salman Rushdie and a party thrown by Tina Brown for Martin Amis. "The truth is, we could go out every night if we wanted," says Blue. "Whether it's titillation or curiosity, I'm grateful people are standing by us." Michael Kinsley, the editor of Slate magazine and a Blumenthal pal, says drily, "I'm mystified that Sid's been on the right side in two noisy controversies the other was a spat with Matt Drudge and yet his image is still so negative. What's ironic is that Christopher's being protected by his friends on the question of protecting a friend."
Still, when Hitchens goes out into Washington society these days, he's like a gunslinger with an itchy trigger finger just waiting for the inevitable insult. He made a point recently of arriving early at an A-list book party for writer Maureen Orth, planting himself front and center to see if people would talk to him or avoid him. "None of the Clinton crowd came up to be in my face," he says. "I was hoping they would -- I like that kind of thing."