"We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the dessert, when the drugs began to take hold."
That's how begins the book that drove me to misspend a significant portion of my youth. I first read Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas in 1982 after graduating from high school. If marijuana is a gateway drug, it's literary equivalent is Catcher in the Rye. Fear and Loathing is literary adrenichrome.
When I was in Personnelman Class A School in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1985, I passed the book around during a long holiday weekend. About two dozen young sailors, most of whom had yet to see a ship, took rooms at the local Holiday Inn on Wednesday evening. We were free until Monday. The bookstore around the corner had 11 copies of Fear and Loathing until we raided the place at 8:00 Wednesday night. As young, innocent kids from Oklahoma and South Dakota absorbed the decadent significance of Raoul Duke's famous journal, things got gradually more crazy.
I don't know the exact statute of limitations for such things, so I officially deny any knowledge of illegal drug usage by any member of the United States Navy or Marine Corp during the four days and nights in question. I can report, though, that we consumed dangerous quanitities of every legal drug available--primarily alcohol.
While Wednesday was calm, with reading around the Holidome pool, Thursday and Friday nights are mere blurs. I know I met a couple of female sailors in someone's room--not mine or theirs--but details escape me. One of them had a comical overbite that seemed like a deadly weapon. The other one, I think, kept making vague marriage proposals. I don't know if they were directed at me or at the Beaver.
"The room looked the scene of a failed zoological experiment involving whiskey and gorillas."
Saturday night, though, left an indelible impression on the most drug polluted mind. The police were called to the hotel at least 19 times between 2 PM and midnight. One sailor was seriously injured when he attempted to jump from the second floor balcony into the pool 20 feet below and a good forty feet out from the balcony's edge. He came up seven feet short--four feet if you count the bounce. Like a catalyst, I had hunkered down in my room with Jack Daniels and Budweiser at 3:00 in the afternoon. Though the book I introduced caused the nighmarish carnival of mayhem, I just watched from window overlooking the Holidome.
"We were less than a mile from the last known hideout of the Manson family. How long before our guest made that grim connection?"
Poor bastards down there had no idea what had hit them. It was a literary speedball with a shot of acid and an ether chaser. They were doomed.
Tonight, I learned from Michelle Malkin's link to to an AP story that Hunter S. Thompson, the Doctor of Democracy and of Gonzo Journalism., an ordained minister with a Doctor of Divinity degree, lost his long battle aginst death. Those of us who read all of his books and survived feel more vulnerable, now, like green soldiers in a combat zone when their sergent goes down hard.
" . . . Hubert Humphry, his hands flapping and cackling like three iguanas in a feeding frenzy."
Thompson would hate my politics as I hated his. But I respect the daylights out of his writing, his brilliant cleverness, and the length of his career.
"I try not to shoot people, and I never kill more than I can eat."
When he could find so little humor in the world of 2003, we should have known that the end was near. I will miss the good doctor.
UPDATE: I just let myself understand that Thompson killed himself.
When he first started his Page 2 column on ESPN.com, he seemed fresh and reinvigorated. But, after a while, he could only write about gambling problems, or so it seemed. Like Spalding Gray, seeing humor only in dark things and darkness in everything eventually undid his world.
But we're left with some wonderful writing and more quotes than from Blazing Saddles.
Note: The Thompson quotes on this page are from memory. If I'm off a little, forgive me.
The American Mind. Isn't it funny that the blogs on the right are treating Thompson's death with such reverence and dignity, while the left blogs still cheer at the death of soldiers and innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More comments on Protein Wisdom
There is irony in Steven Taylor's discussion blog. He wants to whether youthful drug use is a political killer, and how damaging it is to hide it. Well, obviously, I'm pretty liberal about my own indiscretions, but I'm not running of high office (as the entire free world breathes a healthy sigh of relief). For my part, I think hiding mistakes is far worse than making them. I disagree with Bush's position about disclosing drug use, even though his consistency on the point is remarkable. His daughters problems in college demonstrate that, while honesty may not have prevented them from getting wild, hiding his own past certainly didn't stop them, either.
Blogs for Bush comments.
SynthStuff remembers Spalding Gray's recent suicide. Gray and Thompson were friends.
I like Michael King's thoughts, a lot, even though this isn't the same Michael King of St. Louis who really needs to check out this blog.