Remembering Arnold Beichman
The wit and wisdom I won't soon forget.
8:00 PM, Feb 17, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
I remember thinking that maybe I should have taken a cab or even walked back to Stanford's campus. But my dining companion insisted on driving me. At the time, Arnold Beichman had just turned 90 and still enjoyed driving his minivan. But it was dark. And riding shotgun, I could see Arnold was turning too soon onto my street. But I didn't want to make him nervous so I just sat there, clutching a handle-strap, bracing myself. We hit the divider, the minivan lifted slightly, then bounced back down with a thud. "I guess I turned too quickly," Arnold said. I told him I hardly noticed.
I had just arrived at Stanford where I did a Hoover media fellowship in October 2003. Arnold, with whom I had become friends through his writing for The Weekly Standard, invited me out to a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with his friend, the Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank, and his wife French. We avoided much politics since Arnold did not see eye to eye with them, but I do remember enjoying a delicious crispy-fried whole cod. By the end of the night, there wasn't much left—even the head was picked apart. Later in the week we also dined at Kirk's Steakburgers, a no-fuss joint where Arnold had a single and I had a double with cheese.
Our conversations during these meals were sprawling. I remember Arnold getting worked up over the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and shaming his colleagues at the time, who refused to believe their hero Stalin would ever ally himself with Adolf Hitler. When I turned 30, I asked him where he was when he reached the same milestone. "Well, it was 1943 and I was at PM Magazine..." Arnold said he was rather proud at the time of being an editor—that is, until his boss reminded him that Schubert had lived to 31 and had accomplished so much more. And when I brought up the HBO series The Sopranos, Arnold was reminded of his growing up in the Lower East Side and his boyhood friend Jimmy who went to the electric chair for killing a jeweler during a holdup.
I saved many of the email exchanges I've had with Arnold over the years. The subjects of our online conversations include everything from food and politics to his congratulating me on getting married. The last two emails from him I'll mention here. After doing him some simple editorial favor, he replied, "When I get to the heavenly gate (which shouldn't be too long as I am in my 95th year) I'm going to put in a good word for you. On the other hand, if the celestial elevator heads down, I'll say I never met you or knew you. How's that?" And then there was this joyous note: "Just got word this minute that I have become a great-grandfather to a 7 pound 4 ounce boy. Things and me are looking up if that's the right direction, so I am sending prayerful thanks."
God bless him.
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