Just got word that David Baskin, my old friend and housemate at Stephen F. Austin State University, has died.
Baskin (always known by his last name to keep the Davids straight) was, I can say unreservedly, the smartest person I have ever known. A historian by temperament and training, he had an extraordinary grasp of the fundamentals of things. He learned, and mastered, Chinese cooking. When his VW bug broke down, he set out to overhaul it by himself and mastered it so completely that the repair shop where he was going for parts offered him a job. He dug deeply into the blues. He memorized large chunks of the Iliad — and of old “Star Trek” episodes. Though he scarcely read a newspaper or watched the news, he had a deeper grasp of what was going on in the world than I ever had. He knew how to look for, and find, the oldest, the best, the most lasting, the most original, and how to cling to it.
He was, at least in those days, a great consumer of marijuana. “Why,” he would ask as we sat toking on the front porch in Nacogdoches, Texas, “does man stupefy himself?” From such questions would ensue discussions that lasted deep into the night.
I never met a guy I liked as instantly, or as well, as I did David Baskin. He was just 59, and now he is gone. Damn it all to hell anyhow.