The Gonzo memoir from one of the most influential voices in American literature,
Kingdom of Fear traces the course of Hunter S. Thompson’s life as a rebel—from a smart-mouthed Kentucky kid flaunting all authority to a convention-defying journalist who came to personify a wild fusion of fact, fiction, and mind-altering substances.
Brilliant, provocative, outrageous, and brazen, Hunter S. Thompson''s infamous rule breaking—in his journalism, in his life, and under the law—changed the shape of American letters, and the face of American icons.
Call it the evolution of an outlaw. Here are the formative experiences that comprise Thompson’s legendary trajectory alongside the weird and the ugly. Whether detailing his exploits as a foreign correspondent in Rio, his job as night manager of the notorious O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco, his epic run for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket, or the sensational legal maneuvering that led to his full acquittal in the famous 99 Days trial, Thompson is at the peak of his narrative powers in Kingdom of Fear. And this boisterous, blistering ride illuminates as never before the professional and ideological risk taking of a literary genius and transgressive icon.
The Washington Post Thompson''s voice still jumps right off the page, as wild, vital and gonzo as ever.
Publishers Weekly Rollickingly funny throughout, Thompson''s latest proves that the father of gonzo journalism is alive and well.
The Washington Post He amuses; he frightens; he flirts with doom. His achievement is substantial.
About the Author
Hunter S. Thompson was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His books include
Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone,
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ''72,
The Rum Diary, and
Better than Sex. He died in February 2005.
There are no jokes. Truth is the funniest joke of all.
The Mailbox: Louisville, Summer of 1946
My parents were decent people, and I was raised, like my friends, to believe that Police were our friends and protectors—the Badge was a symbol of extremely high authority, perhaps the highest of all. Nobody ever asked
why. It was one of those unnatural questions that are better left alone. If you had to ask
that, you were sure as hell Guilty of
something and probably should have been put behind bars a long time ago. It was a no-win situation.
My first face-to-face confrontation with the FBI occurred when I was nine years old. Two grim-looking Agents came to our house and terrified my parents by saying that I was a “prime suspect” in the case of a Federal Mailbox being turned over in the path of a speeding bus. It was a Federal Offense, they said, and carried a five-year prison sentence.
“Oh no!” wailed my mother. “Not in prison! That’s insane! He’s only a child. How could he have known?”
“The warning is clearly printed on the Mailbox,” said the agent in the gray suit. “He’s old enough to read.”
“Not necessarily,” my father said sharply. “How do you know he’s not blind, or a moron?”
“Are you a moron, son?” the agent asked me. “Are you blind? Were you just
pretending to read that newspaper when we came in?” He pointed to the
Louisville Courier-Journal on the couch.
“That was only the sports section,” I told him. “I can’t read the other stuff.”
“See?” said my father. “I told you he was a moron.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the brown-suit agent replied. “Tampering with the U.S. Mail is a Federal offense punishable under Federal law. That Mailbox was badly damaged.”
Mailboxes were huge, back then. They were heavy green vaults that stood like Roman mile markers at corners on the neighborhood bus routes and were rarely, if ever, moved. I was barely tall enough to reach the Mail-drop slot, much less big enough to turn the bastard over and into the path of a bus. It was clearly impossible that I could have committed this crime without help, and that was what they wanted: names and addresses, along with a total confession. They already knew I was guilty, they said, because other culprits had squealed on me. My parents hung their heads, and I saw my mother weeping.
I had done it, of course, and I had done it with plenty of help. It was carefully plotted and planned, a deliberate ambush that we set up and executed with the fiendish skill that smart nine-year-old boys are capable of when they have too much time on their hands and a lust for revenge on a rude and stupid bus driver who got a kick out of closing his doors and pulling away just as we staggered to the top of the hill and begged him to let us climb on. . . . He was new on the job, probably a brain-damaged substitute, filling in for our regular driver, who was friendly and kind and always willing to wait a few seconds for children rushing to school. Every kid in the neighborhood agreed that this new swine of a driver was a sadist who deserved to be punished, and the Hawks A.C. were the ones to do it. We saw it more as a duty than a prank. It was a brazen Insult to the honor of the whole neighborhood.
We would need ropes and pulleys and certainly no witnesses to do the job properly. We had to tilt the iron monster so far over that it was perfectly balanced to fall instantly, just as the fool zoomed into the bus stop at his usual arrogant speed. All that kept the box more or less upright was my grip on a long “invisible” string that we had carefully stretched all the way from the corner and across about 50 feet of grass lawn to where we crouched out of sight in some bushes.
The rig worked perfectly. The bastard was right on schedule and going too fast to stop when he saw the thing falling in front of him. . . . The collision made a horrible noise, like a bomb going off or a freight train exploding in Germany. That is how I remember it, at least. It was the worst noise I’d ever heard. People ran screaming out of their houses like chickens gone crazy with fear. They howled at one another as the driver stumbled out of his bus and collapsed in a heap on the grass. . . . The bus was empty of passengers, as usual at the far end of the line. The man was not injured, but he went into a foaming rage when he spotted us fleeing down the hill and into a nearby alley. He knew in a flash who had done it, and so did most of the neighbors.
“Why deny it, Hunter?” said one of the FBI agents. “We know
exactly what happened up there on that corner on Saturday. Your buddies already confessed, son. They
squealed on you. We know you did it, so don’t lie to us now and make things worse for yourself. A nice kid like you shouldn’t have to go to Federal prison.” He smiled again and winked at my father, who responded with a snarl: “Tell the Truth, damn it! Don’t lie to these men. They have
witnesses!” The FBI agents nodded grimly at each other and moved as if to take me into custody.
It was a magic moment in my life, a defining instant for me or any other nine-year-old boy growing up in the 1940s after World War II—and I clearly recall thinking:
Well, this is it. These are G-Men. . . .
WHACK! Like a flash of nearby lightning that lights up the sky for three or four terrifying split seconds before you hear the thunder—a matter of
zepto-seconds in real time—but when you are a nine-year-old boy with two (2) full-grown FBI agents about to seize you and clap you in Federal prison, a few quiet zepto-seconds can seem like the rest of your life. . . . And that’s how it felt to me that day, and in grim retrospect, I was right. They had me, dead to rights. I was Guilty. Why deny it? Confess Now, and throw myself on their mercy, or—
What? What if I
didn’t confess? That was the question. And I was a curious boy, so I decided, as it were, to roll the dice and ask
them a question.
“Who?” I said. “What witnesses?”
It was not a hell of a lot to ask, under those circumstances—and I really did want to know exactly who among my best friends and blood brothers in the dreaded Hawks A.C. had cracked under pressure and betrayed me to these thugs, these pompous brutes and toadies with badges & plastic cards in their wallets that said they worked for J. Edgar Hoover and that they had the Right, and even the duty, to put me in jail, because they’d heard a “Rumor in the neighborhood” that some of my boys had gone belly up and rolled on me.
What? No. Impossible.
likely, anyway. Hell, Nobody squealed on the Hawks A.C., or not on its President, anyway. Not on Me. So I asked again: “Witnesses? What Witnesses?”
And that was all it took, as I recall. We observed a moment of silence, as my old friend Edward Bennett Williams would say. Nobody spoke—especially not me—and when my father finally broke the eerie silence, there was
doubt in his voice. “I think my son has a point, officer. Just exactly who
have you talked to? I was about to ask that myself.”
“Not Duke!” I shouted. “He went to Lexington with his father! And not
Ching! And not
“Shut up,” said my father. “Be quiet and let
me handle this, you fool.”
Andthat’s whathappened, folks. We never saw those FBI agents again. Never. And I learned a powerful lesson: Never believe the first thing an FBI agent tells you about anything—especially not if he seems to believe you are guilty of a crime. Maybe he has no evidence. Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe you are innocent. Maybe. The Law can be hazy on these things. . . . But it is definitely worth a roll.
In any case, nobody was arrested for that alleged incident. The FBI agents went away, the U.S. Mailbox was put back up on its heavy iron legs, and we never saw that drunken swine of a substitute bus driver again.
Would You Do It Again?
That story has no moral—at least not for smart people—but it taught me many useful things that shaped my life in many fateful ways. One of them was knowing the difference between Morality and Wisdom. Morality is temporary, Wisdom is permanent. . . . Ho ho. Take that one to bed with you tonight.
In the case of the fallen mailbox, for instance, I learned that the FBI was not
unbeatable, and that is a very important lesson to learn at the age of nine in America. Without it, I would be an entirely different man today, a product of an utterly different environment. I would not be talking to you this way, or sitting alone at this goddamn typewriter at 4:23
A.M. with an empty drink beside me and an unlit cigarette in my mouth and a naked woman singing “Porgy & Bess” on TV across the room.
On one wall I see an eight-foot, two-handled logging saw with 200 big teeth and
CONFESSIONS OF THE BEST PIECE OF ASS IN THE WORLD scrawled in gold letters across the long rusty saw blade. . . . At one end of it hangs a petrified elk’s leg and a finely painted wooden bird from Russia that allegedly signifies peace, happiness & prosperity for all who walk under it.
That strange-looking bird has hung there for 15 extremely active years, no doubt for sentimental reasons, and this is the first time I have thought about adding up the score. Has this graven image from ancient Russian folk art been a
good influence on my life? Or a bad one? Should I pass it on to my son and my grandson? Or should I take it out in the yard and execute it like a traitorous whore?
That is the Real question. Should the bird live and be worshiped for generations to come? Or should it die violently for bringing me bad luck?
The ramifications of that question are intimidating. Is it wise to add up the Score right now? What if I come out a Loser? Ye gods, let’s be careful about this. Have we wandered into dangerous territory?
Indeed. At this point in my life I don’t need a rush to judgment, whatever it is. Only a superstitious
native would believe that kind of bullshit, anyway.
. . .
Suddenly I heard Anita screeching from the office, as if a fire had erupted somewhere on the other side of the house. Wonderful, I thought. I am a lucky man to get a break like this. Bring it on. Attack it
now. I reached for a red 20-pound fire extinguisher near the door, thinking finally to have some real fun.
Ah, but it was not to be. Anita came rushing around the corner with a computer printout in her hands. “The President is threatening to seize the Saudi Arabian oil fields if they don’t help us wipe out the Evil of Terrorism—seize them by military force.” The look on her face was stricken, as if World War IV had just started. “This is insane!” she wailed. “We can’t just go over there and invade Saudi Arabia.”
I put my arm around her and flipped the dial to CNN, which was showing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waving his cast at the camera like a clenched fist as he denounced the rumor as “nonsense” and once again threatened to “track down and eliminate” these “irresponsible leaks” to the press from somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. He wanted to Punish somebody immediately.
Of Course the United States would not declare war on a close Arab ally like the Saudis. That would be insane.
“Not necessarily,” I said, “at least not until it turns into a disastrous botch and Bush gets burned at the stake in Washington. Sane is rich and powerful; Insane is wrong and poor and weak. The rich are Free, the poor are put in cages.”
Res Ipsa Loquitur, Amen, Mahalo. . . .
. . .
Okay, and so much for
that, eh? No more of these crude hashish ravings. What if the bird says I am wrong and have been wrong all my life?
Certainly I would not be entirely comfortable sitting here by myself and preparing, once again, to make terminal judgments on the President of the United States of America on the brink of a formal war with a whole world of Muslims. . . . No. That would make me a traitor and a dangerous Security Risk, a Terrorist, a monster in the eyes of the Law.
Well, shucks. What can I say? We are coming to a big fork in the road for this country, another ominous polarization between right and wrong, another political mandate to decide
“Which side are you on?”. . . Maybe a bumper sticker that asks
ARE YOU SANE OR INSANE?
I have confronted that question on a daily basis all my life, as if it were just another form to fill out, and on most days I have checked off the
SANE box—if only because I am not dead or in prison or miserable in my life.
. . .
There is no shortage of dangerous gibberish in the classrooms and courts of this nation. Weird myths and queer legends are coins of the realm in our culture, like passwords or keys to survival. Not even a monster with rabies would send his child off to school with a heart full of hate for Santa Claus or Jesus or the Tooth Fairy. That would not be fair to the child. He (or she) would be shunned & despised like a Leper by his classmates & even his teachers, and he will not come home with good report cards. He will soon turn to wearing black raincoats & making ominous jokes about Pipe Bombs.
Weird behavior is natural in smart children, just as curiosity is to a kitten. I was no stranger to it myself, as a youth growing up in Kentucky. I had a keen appetite for adventure, which soon led me into a maze of complex behavioral experiments that my parents found hard to explain. I was a popular boy, with acceptable grades & a vaguely promising future, but I was cursed with a dark sense of humor that made many adults afraid of me, for reasons they couldn’t quite put their fingers on. . . .
But I was a juvenile delinquent. I was Billy the Kid of Louisville. I was a “criminal”: I stole things, destroyed things, drank. That’s all you have to do if you’re a criminal. In the sixth grade I was voted head of the Safety Patrol—the kids who wear the badges and stop traffic during recesses and patrol. It was a very big position, and the principal hated that I was voted to it. She said, “This is horrible. We can’t have Hunter doing anything. He’s a Little Hitler.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I think it meant I had a natural sway over many students. And that I should probably be lobotomized for the good of the society.
I always figured I would live on the margins of society, part of a very small Outlaw segment. I have never been approved by any majority. Most people assume it’s difficult to live this way, and they are right—they’re still trying to lock me up all the time. I’ve been very careful about urging people who cannot live outside the law to throw off the traces and run amok. Some are not made for the Outlaw life.
The only things I’ve ever been arrested for, it turns out, are things I didn’t do. All the “crimes” I really committed were things that were usually an accident. Every time they got me, I happened to be in the wrong place and too enthusiastic. It was just the general feeling that I shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
. . .
It may be that every culture needs an Outlaw god of some kind, and maybe this time around I’m
it. Who knows? I haven’t studied it, but the idea just came to me in a flash as I read Peter Whitmer’s article about me in the Jan/Feb 1984
I think of Lono, Robin Hood & Bacchus & the Greeks with their fat young boys & the Irish with their frantic drunken worship of doomed heroes. . . . Jesus, I’ll bet that even the Swedes have some kind of Outlaw god.
But there is no mention of good Outlaws in the Holy Bible, I think—mainly because of The Church & all its spin-offs that believe in total punishment for all sinners. The Bible makes no exceptions for good-hearted social outlaws. They are all cast into the Lake of Fire. Punishment. Fuck those people.
(PAUSE FOR INTERRUPTION)
Sorry, that was a call from
Newsweek in New York, asking what I thought about the “shocking Mutombo-Van Horne trade” today, a major shift in the power balance of the NBA East that I was only vaguely aware of. It meant that the 76ers would be rid of that flashy albino pussy who always failed in the clutch. It made perfect sense to me, and that is why I picked up the telephone. . . . What the hell? I thought. People ask me these questions because they know I am a famous sportswriter.
“The trade is meaningless,” I said. “It is like trading a used mattress for a $300 bill.”
And that was that, apparently. The writer was suddenly called away from his desk and hung up on me. So what? I thought. I didn’t want to talk to him anyway. I had serious work to do, and Anita was getting hungry. It was time for another road trip.
. . .
There are eight or nine truly exotic towns to visit in the great American West, but Thomasville, Colorado, is not one of them. Richard Nixon doomed the town when he reluctantly signed the Clean Air Act of 1970—which soon led to the forcible closing of both the town’s gas stations because their 50-year-old underground storage tanks were rusted out and leaking rotten gasoline into the tumbling white waters of the Frying Pan River, a once-famous trout-fishing mecca.
It took us about five hours to climb the 30 steep miles up to Thomasville. I was driving my trusty Red Shark, a rebuilt 1973 454 Chevy Caprice with power windows and heated seats and a top speed of 135—although not on a winding uphill two-lane blacktop that rises 6,000 feet in 30 miles. That is serious climbing, from summer heat and peach trees up to chilly bleak timberline and then to the snowcapped peaks of the Continental Divide, where wild beasts roam and humans live in pain. This is the road that leads up to the dreaded Hagerman Pass.
But not yet. No, we are getting ahead of our story, and only a jackass would do that. . .
. . .
We were almost to Thomasville when I noticed a cluster of flashing police lights and a cop of some kind standing in the middle of the road waving a red flag. “Oh Jesus,” I groaned. “What the fuck is this?” Anita was scrambling to get a half-gallon jug of Chivas Regal out of sight—which is not an easy thing to do in a huge red convertible with the top down and a beautiful half-naked girl leaning over the backseat. People will stare.
In any case, we soon learned that “the new plan, just in from Washington” is to keep weirdos, foreigners, and other dangerous bad apples
out of all National Forests in the nation, lest they set fires and spread anthrax or anything else that swarthy terrorists are wont to do. . . . They are Evil, they are savage, and they
must be arrested before they set fire to the whole goddamn country.
I have never had any special fear of Foreigners, myself, but I recognize a nationwide
nervous breakdown when I see one. It is EMBARRASSING, for openers, AND IT SUCKS.
. . .
Most people are happy on Fridays, but not me—at least not yesterday, when I drove up the mountain to assess the fire-fighting & water-flow capacity of a bleak mountain community called Thomasville, on the map and right smack in the middle of a National Forest tinderbox that is already burning with monster firestorms that leap from hill to hill like summer lightning and kill everything they can reach.
. . .
Big Fire is a terrifying thing to deal with up close, and you never forget it—the panic, the heat, the deafening roar of the flames overhead. I feel queasy every time I think about it. . . . If freezing to death is the nicest way to die, then burning to death in a forest fire is no doubt the ugliest. Beware. Fire is like lightning; they will both kill you, but lightning doesn’t hurt as much. It is a monumental WHACK with no warning at all, and hopefully that is it—gone, no more, and minimal mortuary charges.
Surviving a lightning strike is even worse than dying from it, according to people who have lived (returned from the dead, in fact) because 8,000,000,000 volts of electricity is an unacceptable trauma to tissue of the human body. It fries everything in its path and leaves every organ in the body, from blood vessels to brain cells and even the sexual system, charred like overcooked bacon for the rest of its delicate life.
My friend Tex got hit by lightning one gloomy afternoon in the parking lot of the Woody Creek Tavern. “It kicked the mortal shit out of me,” he said later. “It blasted me fifty goddamn feet across the road and over a snow fence. I was out for forty minutes, and when I woke up I smelled like death.”
I was there that day, and I thought a bomb had gone off right in front of me. I was unconscious for a while, but not for long. When I woke up I was being dragged toward a shiny sky-blue ambulance by two well-meaning medics from the Sheriff’s Office. . . . I twisted out of their grasp and backed against an ice machine. “Okay, boys,” I said calmly, “the Joke is over. Let’s not get crazy about this. Give me some air, gentlemen,” I croaked. “I feel a little jangled, but I know it will pass. Get your hands off me, you pigfucker.”
No doubt it
sounded rude to casual onlookers, but in truth it was not. I was just kidding with them. They know me.
. . .
Friday afternoons are usually loose and happy in this valley, but today was different. I live in the mountains at an altitude of 8,000 feet, which is roughly a mile and a half high. That is “big air,” as they say in the zoom-zoom business. It makes for large lungs and thin blood, along with dangerously expensive real estate. Life has always been a little spooky up here, but now as this vicious new century swarms over us like a fester of kudzu vines, life in these mountains is becoming living relentless hell.
The whole state of Colorado is on fire, according to
The New York Times, and the nerdish Republican Governor is raving like a banshee about the death of Colorado as we know it before the summer is over.
That would be about 90 days, on most calendars—or right about September 11, 2002, only one horrible year after those stupid bastards blew up the WTC . . . We will actually be at war by then, and anybody who doesn’t like it will be locked up in a military holding pen.
. . .
Weird things happen when you get whacked by serious lightning. Many years ago, nineteen (19) members of the Strange family in North Carolina were struck at the same instant when they all leaned against a chain-link fence at a July 4 fireworks display. They all survived, but none prospered. It was like some horrible merciless coincidence out of the Old Testament—or extremely bad karma, to millions of non-Christians, among whom I definitely count myself. I have abandoned all forms & sects of the practicing Christian Church.
I have seen thousands of priests and bishops and even the Pope himself transmogrified in front of our eyes into a worldwide network of thieves and perverts and sodomites who relentlessly penetrate children of all genders and call it holy penance for being born guilty in the eyes of the Church.
I have seen the Jews run amok in Palestine like bloodthirsty beasts with no shame, and six million brainless Baptists demanding the death penalty without any trial at all for pagans and foreigners and people like me who won’t pray with them in those filthy little shacks they call churches. They are like a swarm of rats fleeing a swoop fire, and I want no part of them. Indeed, I have my own faith and my own gods to worship, and I have been doing it with a certain amount of distinction for ten thousand years, like some fine atomic clock with ever-lasting batteries.
Whoops! I have wandered off on some kind of vengeful tangent, here, and we don’t really need it now, do we? So let us save that wisdom for later.
Kingdom of Fear manuscript.
Res Ipsa Loquitur. Owl Farm, 2002 (Jennifer Alise Stroup)
. . .
I was talking about driving up the mountain with Anita to survey the downside of a firestorm that seems certain to destroy about half of us before the summer is over. . . . The whole state of Colorado is officially
on fire, according to the Governor and a few grifters in Washington who gave him 25 million dollars for Disaster Relief and Emergency Fire-fighting Equipment for an endless war against Fire.
It was Friday morning when the sheriff asked me to run up the hill and investigate. “You
must go to Thomasville,” he told me. “How are we going to evacuate them when the fires come? Go all the way up to the top and see how the river is running. Also check the Reservoir and tell me how deep it is. I fear we are running out of water in this valley.”
Why not? I thought. We can take the red convertible and load up on gin at the Rainbow. Anything worth doing is worth doing Right.
. . .
It had been a few days since I first heard the weird story about “gangs of armed Jews roaming the neighborhood and beating the shit out of anybody who looked like an A-rab.”
“Good god,” I muttered. “Jews can’t live at this altitude. There is something wrong with this story.”
That is why we decided to go up to Thomasville in the
first place. I wanted to check it out, and so did Anita . . . and so did the sheriff, as it turned out. The sheriff didn’t need to deputize me, because I have been a certified Deputy Coroner of this county for twenty (20) years. . . . And, in Colorado, the County Coroner is the
only public official with the legal power to
arrest the sheriff.
That is the key to my oft-uttered wisdom in re: Politics is the art of controlling your environment. Indeed. Never forget it, or you will become a Victim of your environment. Rich nerds and lawyers will stomp all over you worse than any A-rab, and you will be like the eight ball on some country-club billiards table near Atlanta—
whack, over and out. No more humor.
And so much for that, eh? Jews don’t play pool anyway, and neither do A-rabs. They are
tribal people, which means they are primitive thinkers. They feel a genetic imperative to kill each other, and it tends to get in their way. . . . Or maybe that brutal compulsion comes from the Holy Bible, which is definitely true. The Bible is
unforgiving. There is not a scintilla of mercy or humor in the Holy Bible. None.
Think on it, Bubba. Point me to some laughs, or even a goddamn chuckle in that book.
People frequently ask me if I believe in God, as if it were some kind of final judgment or naked indicator of my pro or con value in this world. Ho ho. That is too stupid to even think about—like a
WHITES ONLY sign on the pearly gates of Heaven.
But not really. Don’t get me wrong, fellas. That is only a whooped-up “figure of speech,” or maybe a failed metaphor. It is a term of Art, not a term of Law. If the freak who wrote the Book of Revelation had been busted and jailed for the horrible
threats he made against the whole human race, he would have been executed on the spot by a Military Tribunal. So long, Johnny, we never really liked you anyway. Mahalo.
Not everybody understands the real meaning of being “brought within The System.” It is legal language, the kind of talk you hear in the hallways at professional police conventions or pretrial hearings in musty urban courtrooms. As in, “The time has come, Judge, to drop the net on this loathsome criminal deviate and reel him into The System.”
We are talking about The Criminal Justice System, here, and once you get brought into it, there will be a part of your brain that thinks about nothing else for the rest of your life. It will be as if a leech had attached itself to the small of your back forever. . . . Just ask Bill Clinton.
Some people call it Rehabilitation, but. . .
A cop killing is always big news—except when Police kill one of their own, in which case the death notice is rarely if ever made public. The Law Enforcement Fraternity is very tight when it comes to media embarrassment. There is a basic operating rule among Criminal Defense Lawyers that says: “Above all, the
lawyer must not go to jail.” It is not always an easy rule to observe, given that the lawyer is also an ordained Officer of the Court.
Be keenly aware of this fact when you get accused (on paper/formal charges are filed) of anything at all—
anything from shoplifting to felony murder—that could/might/will result in your being Convicted and formally Punished
in any way for any violation of
any part of
any Criminal Code. The law is not on your side when you become a defendant in a criminal courtroom. They
are out to get you, and they
will if you are not alert.
“He who goes to law takes a wolf by the ears.” Robert Burton said that, and I am citing it as a very dangerous Reality in this war-torn world that we live in. This is 2002. The American Century was over in January of 2001. They were Punctual, as the Fascist mentality cannot survive without brute Punctuality. Never be
late, for fear of being guilty of
Deviant Behavior, and
brought within The System. BANG! SLAM! BEND OVER. . . .
Seig heil! Who is God? The Boss is God—and you’re not. . . . Hey rube, you are Nothing! You are Guilty! You are lower than the shit of some filthy animal.
Yassuh, Boss. I’ll do
anything, just don’t put me in Jail. I am guilty. I will do whatever you say.
Marilyn Chambers at 17 (HST archives)
. . .
It was a cold winter night when the Witness first came to my house. She was a very large woman, about 35 years old—dark hair, long legs, and tastefully enlarged breasts—who once worked in Southern California as a director of sex films. That is not a bad job to have in L.A., especially if you have a natural talent for it, and this woman did. I recognized it immediately.
I know the Sex Business. I was the Night Manager of the famous O’Farrell Theatre, in San Francisco, for two years, and I still have a keen eye for working girls. There is a certain lewd radiance about them that comes only from dancing naked in public for 2,000 nights. . . . Sex business people recognize one another immediately. They have ridden for the XXX brand, and the brand has ridden them.
It is not an unfriendly brand, nothing like a scar on the cheek, or a crude tattoo on top of a butt that says
PROPERTY OF HELL’S ANGELS. That would not be appropriate for a stylish lap-dancing venue in Nashville or Toledo. The customers would be offended. Big tippers tend to be wary of a woman who has pulled the Hell’s Angels train. The mark of the XXX business is an attitude more than a brand or a nasty tattoo.
The O’Farrell was once celebrated as “the Carnegie Hall of Public Sex in America.” It was a nice place to work in those money-mad years of the Reagan Revolution. We had about 100 girls on the payroll, and many more on the waiting list. Naked women were a hot commodity in those days. It was the “Golden Era of pornography,” according to chroniclers of that ilk, when sex movies were still shot with bright lights and reels of celluloid film.
Deep Throat and
Behind the Green Door were still packing huge multisexual crowds into respectable theaters all over the country, Oral Sex was mainstream, and lush entertainment expenses were tax-deductible. Huge expense money was the oil that kept the national economy going, and sex was everywhere, 24 hours a day. Powder cocaine was the recreational drug of choice, but LSD-25 was still fashionable in upscale communes and coastal brokerage firms.
Those 20 sex-crazed years between the introduction of the birth control pill and the eruption of AIDS was a wild and orgiastic time in America, and I loved it.
Ah, but that was many years ago, or at least it seems that way. It was a good time to be young and reckless—when you could still take your date to a movie without having to worry about being hit on by strangers demanding blow jobs. That came in with the Democrats, who quickly discovered that getting busted in Washington for sodomy was a proven way to get re-elected in states like Arkansas and California. If Bill Clinton had not been term-limited by federal law, he would still be in the White House today and we would all be free from fear.
Or maybe not. There is another school of thought that says Clinton would have been assassinated if he’d been able to run for a third term. “The Texas Mafia would never have let it happen,” my friend Curtis assured me. “He would have been jerked out like a bad tooth. . . .” Maybe you have to be from Texas to agree with talk like that, but I doubt it. Texas is not the only state full of wealthy freaks with sinister agendas. Some of them are friends of mine, in fact, and I have never doubted that just because they are nice people to have a few drinks with doesn’t mean they won’t do monstrous things. Cruelty and perversion are common jokes in the oil and orgy business.
Indeed, but we can save those stories for later, so let’s get back to this woman I was trying to describe. Her name is Gail, but for vaguely legal reasons we will have to call her Jane. If I called her Gail we would have a lot of bitching from lawyers.
We will call her the Witness, which better suits her role in this drama. Some people called her the Victim, but not for long. That was a convenient legal fiction for the local D.A. and his (since-departed) gang of vengeful thugs. They are gone from this valley now, most of them fired or demoted into obscurity. The chief investigator in my case, the de facto boss of the gang, now works for the DEA in Europe. The Prosecutor, now known as Mr. Shiteyes, resigned soon after and is now a criminal lawyer in Aspen, where he is frequently seen on trial days with his arm around accused criminals wearing orange jumpsuits and handcuffs and jail haircuts, but he no longer works as a prosecutor. He “flipped,” as they say in the cop shop. . . .
I didn’t know the Witness personally, but she definitely knew me. She had been harassing me by mail for four or five months, telling me I didn’t know how much FUN I was missing by not getting together with her immediately for a fascinating chat about her days in the Sex Business. We would have more FUN than a barrel of monkeys in heat, she hinted. Ho ho. She would even come out to Colorado in order to meet me on my own savage turf. She had already sent me a thick sheaf of lurid press clippings about her adventures as a wholesome college cheerleader who got into the Porno Movie business by accident and had been a big success. “I guess I was just lucky,” she said demurely. “But once I saw how much talent I had, I never looked back. It’s just amazing, isn’t it.”
It is important to understand that Jane had been extremely open with me, a complete stranger, about her background in the sex business. She was proud of it. Her record spoke for itself: nine successful XXX movies, including classics of abysmal lewdness like
Hot Lips, FleshSucker, Candy Goes to Hollywood, Eat Me While I’m Hot, and a truly depraved saga about rape and degradation in a Japanese sex prison somewhere in the South Pacific called
Nazi Penetration, starring Long John Holmes, one berserk Nazi, and five helpless white women with huge tits.
Nazi Penetration has long been one of my favorite films of the sex genre. It is a story of shipwreck, sadism, and absolutely hopeless female victims confined on a tiny tropical island with only a Nazi war criminal and two cruel Japanese nymphomaniacs to keep them company. The naked white girls are innocent prisoners of some long-forgotten war that is never mentioned in the movie except by way of the frayed and often bottomless military uniforms worn by the demented villains—who also carry spotless German Lugers and don’t mind shooting them at escaped Sex Slaves who keep running away and fleeing into the jungle, only to be recaptured and relentlessly raped and tortured for their efforts. They are losers, and they will never be rescued—not even by the good-hearted Holmes, who also fucks them relentlessly.
I mention this epic of degenerate suffering only for reasons of historical context and Witness identification. If Jane had been a practicing Jehovah’s Witness when I met her, my story might have a different ending, but she was not. She was just another one of those goofy, over-the-hump Porno Queens from the good old days who was looking around for some other line of work to get into, something where she could use her natural talents for harmless commercial sex without compromising her artistic integrity or her dubious social standing. I know them well, and I have a certain affection for most of them. They are girls who went to Hollywood when they were 17 years old, hoping to make the most of their whorish ambitions by becoming movie stars.
Very few succeeded, and many got sidetracked into the Sex Business, where work is always available. “My pussy is my ticket to ride,” a stripper named Bambi once told me. “Men want to see my pussy and they want to see me fuck something scary. That’s why they pay me, and that’s why I do it.”
Bambi was a lovely girl from a middle-class family in Sacramento, with an elegant body and a seductively morbid sense of humor. I liked her and used my influence to help her become a star at the O’Farrell, where she routinely made a thousand dollars a night. I was always tempted to fuck her, but I never did. I was deeply in love with my girlfriend Maria at the time. She was a sex star in her own right, and a jewel of a friend and a lover.
My Night Manager job put me in close contact with dozens of aggressively naked women every night, which never ceased to amaze me and kept me constantly high on sex. It was an overwhelming work environment, at times, but with Maria’s help I soon became comfortable with it. Not everybody can handle being surrounded by lust, beauty, and clearly available nakedness at all times. It is like living in the Garden of Eden, with luscious apples hanging from every tree and the power to banish all snakes—which were Everywhere, writhing and cooing with a lust that bordered on madness.
Only a freak of passion could have resisted that kind of massive temptation, and on some nights I came close to caving in to it. “You are crazy as a goddamn loon not to fuck every one of these girls,” Artie Mitchell told me. “They all love you and they all want to fuck you like animals. I’ve never seen anybody turn down so much guaranteed fine pussy. It makes me sick.”
“So what?” I would say to him. “You are a sleazy whoremonger and you don’t understand anything. Herb Caen told me you have syphilis.”
“What?” he would scream. “You sick bastard! I’ll kill Herb Caen if he ever prints that. Herb Caen sucks dicks!!”
Jim and Artie Mitchell were as bizarre a pair of brothers as ever lived. I loved them both, but the Sex Business had made them crazy. They made millions of dollars off of sex and smuggled guns to the IRA when they weren’t fondling naked girls or entertaining corrupt cops and politicians. But they were not suave. Neither one of them had social ambitions, but they fought like wolves to protect their vice-ridden turf. They were deep into San Francisco politics, but they were always in desperate need of sound political advice.
That was my job. The Night Manager gig was only a cover for my real responsibility, which was to keep them out of Jail, which was not easy. The backstairs politics of San Francisco has always been a byzantine snake pit of treachery and overweening bribery-driven corruption so perverse as to stagger the best minds of any generation. All political power comes from the barrel of either guns, pussy, or opium pipes, and people seem to like it that way. The charm of the city is legendary to the point of worship all over the world, with the possible exception of Kabul, New Orleans, and Bangkok.
. . .
On that cold night in late February when the Witness came to my house, she was wearing a blue business suit that made her look a bit on the chubby side and high-heeled shoes that would have made her seem dangerously tall if my other guests had not been well over six feet and none too happy to see her. Her head was huge, far larger than mine, and her body was oddly muscular—more in the style of a female bodybuilder with an uncontrollable appetite for speed and lethal steroids who had spent too much time in sexually oriented weight rooms on the wrong side of Hollywood. She was clearly an athlete—a “big” girl, in a word—and she spoke with a wiggy confidence that made me nervous. My mother would have called her pushy, or perhaps even rude. But I am not so polite. To me, she looked sleazy. There was something corrupt about her, something foul and dishonest that would have put me instantly on my guard if I had cared enough to worry about it that night. But I didn’t. She meant nothing to me, at the time. We get all kinds of people in this house, from common thugs and deviates to stupid thieves with hearts full of hate and U.S. senators with amazing whores on their arms. Some arrive on private jets, and others drive stolen cars full of illegal drugs and weapons. It is an ugly mix, at times, but I have learned to live with it, if only because I am a professional journalist and a writer of books about life in the weird lane—which is “interesting” in the Chinese sense, but not necessarily uplifting.
It is not a criminal life, or a hurricane zoo of never-ending craziness. It may look that way, from a distance, but I consider it eminently sane, and most of my friends agree.
Sane is a dangerous word. It implies a clear distinction, a sharp line between the Sane and the Insane that we all see clearly and accept as a truth of nature.
But it is not. No. The only real difference between the Sane and the Insane, in this world, is the Sane have the power to have the Insane locked up. That is the bottom line. CLANG! Go immediately to prison. You crazy bastard, you should have been locked up a long time ago. You are a dangerous freak—I am rich, and I want you castrated.
Whoops, did I say that? Yes, I did, but we need not dwell so long on it that it develops into a full-blown tangent on the horrors of being locked up and gibbed like a tomcat in a small wire box. We have enough grim things to worry about in this country as the 21st Century unfolds. We have Anthrax, we have smallpox, we have very real fears of being blasted into jelly in the privacy of our own homes by bombs from an unseen enemy, or by nerve gas sprayed into our drinking water, or even ripped apart with no warning by our neighbor’s Rottweiler dogs. All these things have happened recently, and they will probably happen again.
We live in dangerous times. Our armies are powerful, and we spend billions of dollars a year on new prisons, yet our lives are still ruled by fear. We are like pygmies lost in a maze. We are not at War, we are having a nervous breakdown.
. . .
Right. And enough of that gibberish. We are champions, so let’s get back to the story. We were talking about the Witness, the large and sleazy woman who came into my life like a sea snake full of poison and almost destroyed me.
There were two other people in my kitchen that night, and a girl who kept popping in and out. So let’s say there were five people in the house, including the Witness. She was happy to be there, she said, because she had some questions to ask me.
“Not now,” I said. “We’re watching the basketball game.” I said it sharply, more in the manner of a command than a gentle request from the host. Normally I don’t speak in that tone to first-time visitors, but she was clearly not a woman who was going to pay attention to gentle requests. I was not rude to her, but I was definitely firm. That is a point I like to make immediately when a dingbat comes into my home and gets loud. That is unacceptable. We have Rules here: They are civilized rules, and oddly genteel in their way, yet some people find them disturbing in their eccentricity. Contradictions abound, as well as dangerous quirks that sometimes make people afraid—which is not a bad thing on some days: Fear is a healthy instinct, not a sign of weakness. It is a natural self-defense mechanism that is common to felines, wolves, hyenas, and most humans. Even fruit bats know fear, and I salute them for it. If you think the world is weird now, imagine how weird it would be if wild beasts had no fear.
That is how this woman tried to act when she came into my home on that fateful February night. She pranced around and wandered from room to room in a way that made me nervous. She was clearly a refugee from the sex business—a would-be
promoter of Sexual Aids & first-class organ enlargement. . . . That was her
business plan, in a nut, and nobody wanted to listen to it.
“Shut up!” Semmes screamed. “Can’t you see that we are watching a goddamn basketball game?”
She ignored him and kept babbling. “What kind of Sex do you like?” she asked me. “Why won’t you talk to me?”
I am not a Criminal, by trade, but over the years I have developed a distinctly criminal nervous system. Some people might call it paranoia, but I have lived long enough to know that there is no such thing as paranoia. Not in the 21st Century. No. Paranoia is just another word for ignorance.
Kingdom of Fear
There Is No Such Thing as Paranoia
There may be flies on you and me, but there are no flies on Jesus.
—Hunter S. Thompson
Strange Lusts and Terrifying Memories
My father had a tendency to hunch darkly over the radio when the news of the day was foul. We listened to the first wave of Pearl Harbor news together. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it was bad because I saw him hunch up like a spider for two or three days in a row after it happened. “God damn those sneaky Japs,” he would mutter from time to time. Then he would drink whiskey and hammer on the arm of the couch. Nobody else in our family wanted to be with him when he listened to the war news. They didn’t mind the whiskey, but they came to associate the radio with feelings of anger and fear.
I was not like that. Listening to the radio and sipping whiskey with my father was the high point of my day, and I soon became addicted to those moments. They were never especially happy, but they were always exciting. There was a certain wildness to it, a queer adrenaline rush of guilt and mystery and vaguely secret joy that I still can’t explain, but even at the curious age of four I knew it was a special taste that I shared only with my father. We didn’t dwell on it, or feel a dark need to confess. Not at all. It was fun, and I still enjoy remembering those hours when we hunched together beside the radio with our whiskey and our war and our fears about evil Japs sneaking up on us. . . .
I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed. My father taught me that, along with a few other things that have kept my life interesting. When I think of him now I think of fast horses and cruel Japs and lying FBI agents.
“There is no such thing as Paranoia,” he told me once. “Even your Worst fears will come true if you chase them long enough. Beware, son. There is Trouble lurking out there in that darkness, sure as hell. Wild beasts and cruel people, and some of them will pounce on your neck and try to tear your head off, if you’re not careful.”
It was a mean piece of wisdom to lay on a 10-year-old boy, but in retrospect I think it was the right thing to say, and it definitely turned out to be true. I have wandered into that darkness many times in my life and for many strange reasons that I still have trouble explaining, and I could tell you a whole butcher shop full of stories about the horrible savage beasts that lurk out there, most of them beyond the wildest imagination of a 10-year-old boy—or even a 20- or 30-year-old boy, for that matter, or even beyond the imagination of a teenage girl from Denver being dragged away from her family by a pack of diseased wolves. Nothing compares to it. The terror of a moment like that rolls over you like a rush of hot scum in a sewer pipe.
. . .
Here is a story I wrote for the
Atheneum Literary Association magazine and tried to insert into
The Spectator when Porter Bibb was editor—he was a numb-nuts creep in those days, but so what? We loved each other—and I was after all, the Art Director. . . .
We put out a quality magazine and we printed whatever we liked and we both had veto power, which was dangerous.
this one. No. This one never saw print, until now. And God’s mercy on you swine for reading it.
SOCIETY HOUSEWIFE EXPOSED IN CHILD-SEX
SCANDAL; BLOODY AFTERMATH SHOCKS
EAST END NEIGHBORHOOD
I have not had the leisure to brood seriously on the nature and fate of true love in the 21st Century, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Not at all. That kind of flotsam is never far from my mind. I am a child of the American Century, and I feel a genetic commitment to understanding why it happened, and why I take it so personally.
Let me give you one example: In the summer of my 15th year, the wife of a family friend bit me on the face and tore off some bleeding flaps of skin that would never grow back. The tissue failed to regenerate, as the medical doctors say, and ever since then my face has been noticeably crooked. The wound itself healed perfectly. I was lucky to be attended to by the finest Restorative Surgeons in a nine-state region between Baltimore and St. Louis, from Chicago in the north to the Caribbean island of Grenada 3,000 miles south. I have never entirely recovered from that episode, and I have never understood how it happened. The woman who bit me refused to discuss it—at least not with me—and as far as I know she never told her lascivious tale to any living person.
It was, however, a towering scandal that haunted our peaceful neighborhood for many years. Massive speculation was rampant almost everywhere in the East End of Louisville except in the local newspapers, which only made it hotter as truly unspeakable gossip. It was Unacceptable and Irresistible all at once.
Ho ho. Stand back, you churlish little suckfish! I have my own definitions of words like Unacceptable and Irresistible. I remember the slope of her perfect little breasts and the panties she never wore. I remember exactly how she smelled and how she laughed when I sucked her nipples down my throat. I was her pimply sex toy, and she was the love of my life. I worshiped her desperate mouth and prayed at the shrine of her grasping pussy. Why she sunk her teeth into my face I will never know. Perhaps it was God’s will or the hex of some heinous Devil.
Rape in Cherokee Park
I look back on my youth with great fondness, but I would not recommend it as a working model to others. I was lucky to survive it at all, in fact: I was hounded & stalked for most of my high school career by a cruel & perverted small-town Probation Officer who poisoned my much-admired social life and eventually put me in jail on the night of my Class graduation.
Once Mr. Dotson came into my life I was marked as a criminal. He was an officious creep with all sorts of hidden agendas—or not that hidden—and he hounded me all through high school. It was an embarrassment, and it criminalized me long before I ever got to marijuana. All kinds of people who had no reason to be in contact with the Juvenile Court were contacted by this Swine, which accounted for a lot of my reputation. He was out of control, and people like that shouldn’t get away with abusing their power.
Especially as I hadn’t committed a crime. All we had wanted was some cigarettes.
We ran out of cigarettes on the ride home from Cherokee Park. I was asleep in the backseat passed out, or half passed out, and I remember thinking:
Cigarettes. Cigarettes. Cigarettes.
Max and Eric (or so I’ll call them) were up front. Eric was driving, and I guess it was Max who said, “Well. Let’s see if these people have any.”
I might have thought of that, too: Here are people, neckers, parked in the park at Neckers’ Knob, or whatever. Why not ask for a cigarette? That was Max’s logic, anyway.
So we pulled up beside them, which could have frightened some people. And Max got out and went over to a car with two couples in it and asked for cigarettes, and the driver said, “We don’t have any.”
That seemed fair, but something else was said. The car was seven feet away, and Max was a fairly violent bugger. The next thing I remember is him yelling, “All right, Motherfucker! You give me some cigarettes or I’m going to grab you out of there!”
Then he reached into the car and said, “I’m going to jerk you out of here and beat the shit out of you and rape those girls back here.” And that’s all it was.
Eric was driving, so I had to get out of the backseat and go over and grab Max, saying, “Fuck this. We don’t need any cigarettes.” I meant we didn’t need any fights. So I got back in the car and we drove off. That’s all it was, but they got our license plate number and reported it. . . . Then—you know Cops: a Rape Charge.
God Might Forgive You, but I Won’t
My Probation Officer knew it was wrong, he said later, in late-night chats with my mother, who was by then Chief Librarian at the Louisville Public Library and stocking my books on her shelves. My success was a joyous surprise to her, but she feared for the grievous effect it was having on my old nemesis, Mr. Dotson. He often stopped by our house for coffee, and he desperately begged her forgiveness for all the trouble he’d caused her.
She forgave him, in time, but I didn’t. I will spit on his memory forever. The last of many letters I got from him carried a postmark from the Kentucky State Prison at Eddyville. I was not even curious enough to read it and find out if he was a convict or merely a Guard. I had other lessons to learn. My continuing education in the nature of the Criminal Justice System was picking up speed.
I remember Juvenile Court Judge Jull saying, “Well, Hunter. You’ve made my life a nightmare for four years. You’ve been in and out of this Court. You’ve mocked it. And now you’re going to get away from me. This is my last chance at you. So now I remand you to the County Jail for sixty days.” That was their last shot.
But it was a total outrage. I became good friends with the “victims,” and they said the same thing. But this was Mr. Dotson and Judge Jull, and what they did was cause a huge rallying of support behind me. I would never have gone into their jail, except that minors couldn’t make bail in Kentucky back then.
The only reason I got out in thirty days was because my eighteenth birthday came in thirty days, so they couldn’t hold me: I could make bail. They didn’t try to hold me; they had made their point. Last shot. That, and a group of powerful citizens and civic leaders had worked to get me out. But I was a hero while I was in jail—they decided they’d call me “The President,” and on my birthday, “Hit the Bricks,” they said, “My boy, ’Hit the Bricks.’” It became a cause, and I was a hero there for a while.
. . .
Many wild and desperate years have whirled through my life since my one and only experience as a certified Victim of the law enforcement process. The lesson I learned from those thirty days in jail was never to go back there again. Period. It was not Necessary. My jail mates had called me “The President” and beautiful girls came to visit me on Thursday afternoons, but I had better sense than to feel any pride about it.
The late Pablo Escobar, former kingpin of the powerful Medellín cocaine cartel in Colombia, once observed that “the difference between being a criminal and being an outlaw is that an outlaw has a following”—which he did, for a while, for his willingness to share his huge profits with the working-class Poor of his city. He was a Home-boy, a generous friend of the people. His only real crime, they said, was that the product his business produced was seen as a dangerous menace by the ruling Police & Military establishments of the U.S. and a few other countries that were known to be slaves and toadies of U.S. economic interests.
When I got out of jail, in fact, I went immediately to work for the rest of the summer for Almond Cook, the Chevrolet dealer in town. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to do that fall—maybe go to the U.K. I didn’t know, but I was in no mood really to take up anything conventional. Mr. Cook was the father of one of my longtime girlfriends, and I was given a job driving a brand-new Chevrolet truck, delivering parts around town. It was a wonderful job—I’d just take things all over town, driving constantly, sort of a very large version of those bicycle messengers in New York, but in a brand-new fucking V-8 truck.
I got very good with the truck. I was driving all the time, and it was wonderful, like being given a rocket. And I had no trouble and got to be such a good driver that something was bound to happen . . . the numbers were getting bad. Then one Saturday morning—a very bright, very sunny day—I was speeding down an alley behind some kind of a car repair emporium on Second Street. I’d gone down this particular alley many times, and had gotten to the point where I could put this huge V-8 Chevy pickup through a burning hoop without it being touched—at sixty or seventy miles an hour.
I remember coming down that alley. It was bright. I could see it was all bricks on either side, and here was this big truck, say a ton and a half, like a big Ryder delivery truck, only blue or green, and it had one of those tailgates that hangs down on chains, made of pointed lead or hard steel. The tailgate was pointing out by a few degrees; had it been parked parallel I would have had room to go through with about three inches to spare. But instead of being parallel to the wall, it was parked at a slight angle, and I remember thinking,
Shit. I can make that. But I knew it was bad.
I hit the accelerator so hard that I went through the alley at about sixty—so fast that I barely felt the impact. Sort of a click, more than a crash. . . .
I knew immediately that I hadn’t made it clean, and I stopped. Another inch and I would have made it . . . two inches, maybe. But I missed it by those two inches: The tailgate had kicked in, just to the right of the front headlight. The truck had a big chrome stripe all along it, and right on top of it, about three inches above, was another stripe, this one dark in color. I looked at it and thought, What the fuck? What’s that? There was no other damage. I hadn’t crashed anything. Nothing bent. So I stared at the dark stripe again, and as I looked at it I realized that the tailgate had caught the front headlight right there and opened up the truck like a can opener—the whole length, front to back, about two inches wide—but clean, like a sardine can. You put one on both sides and people would think that’s the way new Chevy trucks were.
I thought, Oh, fuck. But nobody had seen it. It didn’t make any noise; there was no crash. Just a hairline miss. Hubris! I knew I should learn from the thing. I knew the damned track was not what it looked like, literally: a two-inch racing stripe. But it was so clean that I thought for a minute that I might get away with it.
I went into the diner across the street and sat drinking coffee and beer, thinking, What the Hell do I do?. . . Do I tell anybody? I parked the truck out in the lot with the bad side right next to a fence so nobody could see it, then finally decided what to do.
I went in and told the parts manager, “Come out here, Hank. I’ve got something to show you.” He was in charge of such things, and he was a good friend. I took him out to the lot in the hot noonday sun and said, “Now, I want you to be calm here, but I just want to show you this. I don’t know what to do about it, and I need some advice.” I took him around to the other side, between the fence and the truck, and he almost passed out.
I said, “What should I do about this?”
And he said, “We’ll have to tell Mr. Cook.”
That’s fair, I thought. It was right before lunch. Hank then called and said he needed to talk to Mr. Cook, but he wasn’t there, Thank God, which gave me another hour or so. I was going nuts with this. Something was coming down.
We just happened to be right across the street from the main Louisville Post Office, and I thought, Ah, hah! I bet the draft office is still open there. So I went right across the street at lunch and volunteered for the draft, which a lot of my friends had done. It was kind of a nice resting place between stops—and there was a six-month waiting list. I thought, Oh, fuck, time’s way down and I have to go back and see Almond Cook at one-ten.
I had an appointment.
So I just went next door to the Air Force. It happened to be next door. And I took the pilot training test and scored like 97 percent. I didn’t really mean to go in there, but I told them I wanted to drive jet planes, and they said I could with that test. So I said, “When can I . . . when can I leave?”
And the recruiting officer said, “
Well. Normally it takes a few days to check out, but you go Monday morning”—allegedly to flight school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
I thought, Ah, hah! I’m out of here.
I went back and apologized to Almond Cook and told him that I had to admit I had failed at driving the truck.
. . .
And where is my old friend Paul Hornung, now that we need him? Paul was the finest running back of his time: All-State at Flaget High in Louisville, All-American at Notre Dame, and All-Pro for the Green Bay Packers. He was a big handsome boy from Louisville’s gamey West End, a longtime breeding ground for sporting talent, which also produced a flashy young fighter with extremely quick hands named Cassius Clay, who would become even more famous than Hornung.
That would be my old friend Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. He beat the shit out of me once, for no good reason at all, and Paul Hornung ran over me in a car, just because I couldn’t get out of his way. . . . Yes sir, those boys stomped on the terra.
They were also serious flesh-tasters, as working Libertines were sometimes called in those days. They were . . .
Fuck this, I feel weak.
Get your hands off me, Harold! What the fuck is wrong with you?
Okay. You’re the boss. Do anything you want, but please don’t hurt my animals! That is all I ask.
Oh Yes Oh Yes! Praise Jesus, don’t
hurt them. They are creatures of God, and so am I. Oh god, pain is everywhere I feel. . . . “Bend over, honey,” he said. “I’m going to put this Eel up your ass, so try to relax.”
Ho ho, eh? Balls! There
are no jokes when we start talking about introducing saltwater Eels into people’s body cavities. Some of them are nine feet long. That is over the line, if it’s done against their will. That would be rape of some kind.
Whoops! How about a break, people? How about some Music? Yes. Music is where it’s at, so consider this:
I am a confused Musician who got sidetracked into this goddamn Word business for so long that I never got back to music—except maybe when I find myself oddly alone in a quiet room with only a typewriter to strum on and a yen to write a song. Who knows why? Maybe I just feel like singing—so I type.
These quick electric keys are my Instrument, my harp, my RCA glass-tube microphone, and my fine soprano saxophone all at once. That is my music, for good or ill, and on some nights it will make me feel like a god. Veni, Vidi, Vici. . . . That is when the fun starts. . . . Yes, Kenneth, this
is the frequency. This is where the snow leopards live; “Genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round. . . .”
Herman Melville said that, and I have found it to be true, but I didn’t really know what it
felt like until I started feeling those shocks myself, which always gave me a rush. . . .
So perhaps we can look at some of my work (or
all of it, on some days) as genetically
governed by my frustrated musical failures, which led to an overweening
sublimation of my essentially musical instincts that surely haunt me just as clearly as they dominate my lyrics.
The New Dumb
Something is happening here, But you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mr. Jones?
No sir, not a chance. Mr. Jones does not even pretend to know what’s happening in America right now, and neither does anyone else.
We have seen Weird Times in this country before, but the year 2000 is beginning to look
super weird. This time, there really is nobody flying the plane. . . . We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they’re dazed and confused.
The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.
. . .
The Autumn months are never calm in America. Back to Work, Back to School, Back to Football Practice, etc. . . . Autumn is a very Traditional period, a time of strong Rituals and the celebrating of strange annual holidays like Halloween and Satanism and the fateful Harvest Moon, which can have ominous implications for some people.
Autumn is always a time of Fear and Greed and Hoarding for the winter coming on. Debt collectors are active on old people and fleece the weak and helpless. They want to lay in enough cash to weather the known horrors of January and February. There is always a rash of kidnappings and abductions of schoolchildren in the football months. Preteens of both sexes are traditionally seized and grabbed off the streets by gangs of organized Perverts who traditionally give them as Christmas gifts to each other as personal Sex Slaves and playthings.
Most of these things are obviously Wrong and Evil and Ugly—but at least they are Traditional. They will happen. Your driveway
will ice up, your furnace
will explode, and you
will be rammed in traffic by an uninsured driver in a stolen car.
But what the hell. That is why we have Insurance, eh? And the Inevitability of these nightmares is what makes them so reassuring. Life will go on, for good or ill. The structure might be a little Crooked, but the foundations are still Strong and Unshakable.
Ho, ho. Think again, buster. Look around you. There is an eerie sense of Panic in the air, a silent Fear and Uncertainty that comes with once-reliable faiths and truths and solid Institutions that are no longer safe to believe in. . . . There is a Presidential Election, right on schedule, but somehow there is no President. A new Congress is elected, like always, but somehow there is no Congress at all—not as we knew it, anyway, and whatever passes for Congress will be as helpless and weak as Whoever has to pass for the “New President.”
If this were the world of sports, it would be like playing a Super Bowl that goes into 19 scoreless Overtimes and never actually Ends . . . or four L.A. Lakers stars being murdered in different places on the same day. Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.
Good luck, Doc.
November 19, 2000
Simon & Schuster (November 1, 2003)
5.5 x 0.9 x 8.44 inches
Best Sellers Rank
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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