Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (11 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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In a few minutes, I guess I'll have to start on this week's “Spectator.” The only thing I can write about is the dog racing fiasco which it was my misfortune to attend yesterday afternoon. The wretched mongrels cost me almost every cent I had and left me with an unfortunately biased impression of Orlando. I completed my plunge into total poverty last night with a visit to a
rather expensive little grotto called the Sho-Bar somewhere in the county surrounding the city: something on the order of the Merry-Go-Round in Louisville, although peopled by a different type of clientele. I now have a grand total of $4.00 to last me until February 15, but am considerably better off than my photographer, who has ten cents. It's a hectic life.

I can see no financial hope in the near future, for the Mardi Gras looms ominously on the horizon within the next month and it will certainly cost me a great sum which I must scrape up somehow by fair means or foul. A three-day visit three weeks ago gave me my first taste of New Orleans and I have a definite desire for a return bout. I was supposed to be covering some games with an Army Base over there, but I got lost in the French Quarter for two days and two nights and missed both games and came close to missing the plane back to Eglin. At first my missing all the games on the road trips upset the coach, but now he has become used to it and is satisfied just as long as the stories portray him in a grand and glorious light.

Counting the one day a week I spend in Pensacola laying out my sports section, these constant trips, and my weekend visits to Tallahassee, I spend about three days a week on the base. Nevertheless, everyone is satisfied just as long as I continue to turn out the best sports section in the Air Force.

I guess that sounds rather egotistical, but considering the fact that there are only ten or fifteen sports editors in the Air Force, it's really more realism than conceit. For some reason or other, writers and the Air Force just don't see eye to eye. I will be but one of a long line who have put in their time and departed as soon as possible.

This college business is becoming confusing about now. It seems that I'm taking all sophomore and junior courses and have skipped almost all of the required subjects. For instance, next semester, I'm taking Shakespearean English and Advanced Psychology, both junior courses. Last time I took General Psychology and Speech, sophomore courses. Christ only knows what I'll do when it comes time to enter some school on a regular basis. I'll probably end up taking all freshman courses to make up for the ones I've skipped. As things are now, though, I have to take interesting courses so that I'll keep up with them. I have so much to do in my job alone that, if I had to take dull, elementary things, I'd undoubtedly lose interest immediately and drop out.

However, all these problems are more interesting than they are dangerous and actually present little grounds for deep concern. I just keep wandering around, doing all these things and not worrying about what the results will be. So far it's turned out pretty well.

I'm still sort of intrigued at your majoring in typing though; it seems sort of odd that you should get a degree in typing after two years of intense study. Maybe I just have a faulty conception of this college thing.

The time has come now for me to begin the laborious task of composing a “Spectator” for the coming issue and I must sink myself into a fit of concentration for the next hour or so. Drop me a line when you can and paint me another picture of life among “the jolly set.” The mailing inspector forced me to change my address into a very complicated sort of thing which you'll find below.

Yours in debt,
Hunter S. Thompson
A/
2
C, AF
1554
68
79
3201 AB Wg., Hq Sq Box 152
Eglin AFB, Fla.

TO VIRGINIA THOMPSON
:

Thompson told his mother of his newfound penchant for photography as well as his prospects for moonlighting at the
Playground News,
Fort Walton Beach's civilian newspaper.

February 5, 1957
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Mom,

It wasn't until I received your note (and the check) today that I realized that I hadn't written in so long. In the following harangue, I will attempt to fill you in on the two hectic weeks which I've just struggled through.

First and foremost, a somewhat cheerful note: I got one of four “A”s in a class of forty in General Psychology. The Speech grade was somewhat lower, as I had expected, and amounted to an insignificant “C.” Your check arrived in the nick of time and tomorrow I shall enroll in a class of Shakespearean English and another in Advanced Psychology.

And now for news of the incredibly erratic journalistic career of one H. Stockton Thompson.

I received orders from base headquarters to pack my bags and proceed immediately back to the 3201st Communications Squadron. That was at 11:00 AM on Friday, January 25th. At 12:30 PM of the same day, I stood beside Colonel Evans's desk and heard him reduce the orders to a worthless scrap of paper with a few well chosen words to the Base Commander. At 12:33 of the same day, I resumed my capacity as Sports Editor of the
Command Courier.

As things stand now, I am here on an indefinite and quasi-permanent basis. No one seems to know if or when I will be allowed to leave. Colonel
Evans has, as he put it, “upset a few people,” and no voice has yet been heard which dares to question his flagrant circumvention of all military procedure in my case. The General likes to read about sports on the base and Colonel Evans has seen to it that the General shall not be displeased. At present, I am firmly entrenched as the unquestioned mogul of Eglin sports, a sort of immovable oracle.

Last night I returned from a four day sojourn at Pinecastle AFB, just outside of Orlando. For the first time, I managed to spring a photographer loose to make the trip with me. However, the lad took only four or five pictures the whole time; and most of them were of me. Of the thirty or forty shots taken, over three fourths of them were taken by your talented and versatile son. And believe it or not, the consensus of opinion in the office had it that my shots were, on the whole, vastly superior to the ones taken by our veteran photogs. Naturally, this further revelation of yet another facet of my genius served to awe the lads a bit more. I seriously doubt that anyone in the office would be surprised if I were to suddenly rise slowly out of my chair and float out the window.

Now, before you begin a letter intended to prick my bubble of egotistical babble, let me inform you of my latest good fortune, a thing so incredible and with such fantastic possibilities that it unnerves me a bit to contemplate further upon it.

Get a firm grip, sit quietly, and keep calm as I unfold a tale of what may be. Understand that nothing is yet certain, but that things are 90% settled and will be 100% so by the time next Monday rolls around.

There is in the thriving community of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, a newspaper; a forty (40) page weekly which is the principal source of information of the inhabitants of a region no less than 100 miles square and encompassing the whole of Eglin AFB and all the surrounding communities, approximately 50,000 by rough estimate. That 50,000 is the number of inhabitants of the aforementioned area, not the communities surrounding the base.

This morning, after paying me the sum of $3.00 for thirty minutes worth of wrestling copy, John (Sgt. Edenfield) sat quietly down by my desk and said; and I quote: “Now don't get excited and go all to pieces, but I think I've set you up for a good deal. You know Wayne Bell, the Editor of the
Playground News
(the abovementioned paper), well you have an appointment with him this Friday afternoon. You're their new Sports Editor.”

So, this Friday I shall go forth to Fort Walton to haggle over such matters as salary, salary, salary, etc. with the benevolent Mr. Bell. You may be surprised to hear that I intend to haggle over salary matters, but to take on another work-load equal to the one which presently keeps me going 16 hours a day will be no simple task.

Now, instead of two classes every Tuesday and Thursday night, I have one class every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night. Furthermore, they're both Junior (third year) subjects and are far and away the hardest offered here on the base.

If I do take the job, it means that I'll be working all day for the
Courier,
taking a two hour break to go to college in the evening, and then working a good part of every night for the
News.
Obviously, this could easily get to a man in no time at all. However, more on this later, when the whole thing is settled and I can offer some definite news.

Until then, I remain, your son,
Hunter

TO PORTER BIBB III
:

Disregarding Air Force regulations, Thompson took the civilian job as sports editor of the
Playground News
in Fort Walton Beach, writing under the pseudonym Thorne Stockton. While the move boosted his journalism career, it put him in hot water with his superior officers.

February 6, 1957
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Monsieur,

I trust you will pardon my inconsiderate procrastination and accept my most abject apology for not having written sooner. However, we of the school of hard knocks are not without our daily duties and mine have been all but overwhelming during the past month or so.

I have returned from a five-day excursion to Orlando on Monday, to find myself faced with eight hours of hard work and the prospect of assuming a trebled workload within a week. After making my first “sale” (a 200-word wrestling publicity story to the local press) I was taken aback somewhat when the editor of said press offered me the exalted position of sports editor of his weekly clarion. I have an appointment Friday to go in and haggle over such matters as salary, money, pay, etc.

Unfortunately, my long-term contract with the “bird division” doesn't expire until 1959 and I will be forced to continue in my present capacity while, at the same time, taking on a full-time civilian job. Added to the classes in Advanced Psychology and Shakespearean English four nights a week, the whole thing tends to make my eyes water with wonder at my sudden eruption of ambition.

But confident in the knowledge that fate always rewards ex-cons who take up an honest trade, I shall slave like an animal until my present run
of good fortune and luck runs on the rocks. It seems impossible that it could be a lasting thing.

As usual, your communication was appreciated but not overly informative. I gathered only that you had returned from Canada and were embarking on an orgy of exams. You may be pleased to know that you're the first person I've heard from who failed to mention the possibility of flunking out of school within the week. I can't quite understand the apparent inability of Louisville's brilliant and witty younger set to cope with such matters as modern educational techniques. Tuskegee graduates hundreds each spring.

Thumbing through the society section of the
Courier-Journal
(damn me if you must, but I have a subscription) earlier in the evening, I came across the picture of a small and comely lass with whom I once reveled in the soft grass of a field surrounding some sort of Dasmine camp. Since I was in love with her for an evening, I naturally retain a soft spot in one corner of my heart for her and felt a twinge of an intangible something when I saw that she will soon be wed to another.

Feeling a fit of nostalgia coming on, I hurriedly lit up my charred but tasty pipe and settled back to wait for the seizure to grip me. In no time at all I found myself leafing avidly through my copy of the 1955
Spectator
and gazing fondly on names and faces which made up the “amazing world of Hunter Thompson” for those three hectic years.

Seeking a suitable climax for my orgasm of reflections, I soon resolved to answer your card with a letter of unparalleled pithiness. But as seizures must, mine came to a sputtering close soon after I got the first sheet of paper in this machine and I now feel drained of what little energy I had accumulated during the day.

However, I can console myself with the knowledge that I have had the required monthly spasm, drunk a silent toast to old friendship, and am keeping in shape for the 100 year celebration. I feel confident that, by that time, I shall be universally hailed as the new [Grantland] “Granny” Rice and will be borne into the main hall of the Pendennis Club on the shoulders of seven burly Oklahoma linemen. In one hand I will have a football full of gin and in the other, a Belmont racing form. Drawing on my fantastic salary, I shall engage the Anvil Chorus to sing the ALA [Athenaeum Literary Association] song for 112 consecutive hours and will hire scores of hand-shaking specialists to properly perpetuate tradition, leaving all the celebrants with both hands free to hold drinks. Ah, fortune and fame shall follow me … and I shall dwell in the world of the chosen for a few moments of fleeting ecstasy; ere the seven burly lads turn into creditors and hustle me off to debtors' prison at last.

As you see, coming out of these nostalgic comas produces strange effects. This was not exactly what I thought I was going to say as I wiped a
tear from my eye and began my letter to “good old Dave.” My tender thoughts of yesteryear seem to have gone haywire and I shall now bring this unfortunate abortion to a rapid close.

In all seriousness, I always enjoy hearing from you and would appreciate some sort of report as to what you're doing with yourself up there in the cold and conservative land of our fore-fathers. […]

Until then, I remain,
your friend,
Hunter S. Thompson
A/
2
C, AF
1554
68
79
3201 AB Wg, Hq Sq, Box 152
Eglin AFB, Fla.

These weird addresses are driving me mad. I will have a P.O. Box in Fort Walton when I begin my new job. Don't let it keep you from writing; it could be you!

TO JUDY STELLINGS
:

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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