Sunday, October 10, 2010

Opinion: O, Hunter, where art thou?

From Business Review February 14, 2008, edition

Why aren’t you angry?
A handful of politicians decided the votes of millions of Michiganders last month wouldn't count, and the most anyone could seem to muster in response was a weak harrumph. One Detroit citizen interviewed by National Public Radio muttered that he surmised "someone dropped the ball."
Dropped the ball? More like someone viciously strangled the ball, then flung its carcass down into a bottomless pit.

Constitutional rights were kicked about, and Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, contrarians, independents and any other American who studied as far as high-school civics should be outraged.
Or don't we remember how? If Hunter S. Thompson were still around, boy, he'd show us how to rant, at whom and for how long.
I've been thinking about Thompson for several reasons these days. One is I can imagine the screed — one of his favorite words — he'd churn out for Rolling Stone or some other national publication on the National Democratic Party's high-handed decision. He'd accuse them, by name, of a plethora of past and present high crimes, sinful acts and cowardly deeds — most of which he'd admit he'd made up while in a drug-and-bourbon-inflamed state.
Personal meetings with the miscreants would be recalled, and bats or killer sharks would figure in the story.
Guns would be fired off in the middle of the night and rental cars wrapped around telephone poles. He'd take no prisoners.
Another reason Thompson is on my mind is Feb. 20 will mark the third anniversary of the day he shot himself to death at his home in Woody Creek, Colo. He was 67, and Rolling Stone followed with eulogies from scores of writers, actors, athletes and politicians. Later at a memorial service, actor Johnny Depp fired Thompson's ashes from a cannon.
There's one more reason I've been ruminating about the writer lately: I found the letter.
I had not seen the letter in so long I'd begun to wonder if I'd imagined it. A number of trips over the years to the basement and the attic to rummage through boxes and old books produced no luck.
But a couple weeks ago, when I finally got down to the task of cleaning out our basement, there it was, in a crushed cardboard box containing junk from several jobs ago. It was bent and slightly water-damaged around the edges, but the envelope's postmark was still clear enough to read: Woody Creek, Colo.
In 1977 I'd written to the author of Hell's Angels (in which he claims he was attacked by members of the motorcycle gang, which probably really happened), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (in which he claims he was attacked by bats in the Nevada desert, which probably didn't really happen) and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (in which he claims he was attacked in a hotel parking lot by George McGovern's press officer, Frank Mankiewicz, which most certainly didn't really happen).
I made certain my missive didn't read like a fan letter — I wrote, somewhat tongue in cheek, that I was between journalism gigs and was then teaching high school in a small Ohio town, and asked if he had any advice on how I, too, might become a famous national correspondent for the likes of Rolling Stone.
I addressed it to him at, simply, Owl Farm, Woody Creek, Colo.
And a few weeks later, I received a hand-written reply, on Rolling Stone stationery:

Thanx for the good letter ... but I see no hope for your problem. If I were you I'd abandon all hope & get into serious crime.
H.S. Thompson

And that was Hunter Thompson — seemingly disinterested, but interested enough to write back, and throw in a smart-aleck joke, too.
Thompson's writing could be very angry, and it also could be very funny. That's why at least three generations of journalists so far have tried to devour every self-righteous, entertaining, politically astute and foolish word he wrote.
Too bad for us he's not here now.

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