Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (65 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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My only real worry on your score is that the goddamn boat won't make it. For my part, I am ready to move off in all directions. I have a guaranteed minimum income now, no matter where I go, and as far as I'm concerned, the hairier the better. Along those lines, I'm plotting a return to the States after Carnival (end of February) and will do my damnedest to get out your
way if you're still there. If not, I might consider chasing you down and returning here under sail. At any rate, I'll leave Sandy here when I go, and will definitely return in a more or less short time. Living is so goddamn cheap here that, for the time being, I can't afford to base anywhere else. My apt. in Copacabana costs $30 a month. Good champagne is 50 cents a litre, gin is the same, and most other things fall in the same cost range. It is the only decent country in South America, but then it's also the biggest—and half the continent. In other words, I recommend it. But god only knows if and how you can get here by boat. It's a long run. But, with the possible exception of Mexico, I think all the good runs are long ones. God knows, it took me eight months of shitty travel to get here, and all things considered I suppose it was worth it. Since then I've been down to Uruguay, Buenos Aires and Paraguay (wild country), but they don't stack up to Brazil.

Anyway, let me know your schedule. [Donald] Maynard says you postponed again, so I'm assuming you're there for a few more months. What the hell are you doing for money? Keep in mind my idea of returning to the States in March, but don't let it change your plans because I'm not sure. Whatever you do—and wherever you go—take weapons. Once outside the U.S. you might as well try to buy gold bricks as a good pistol. Or ammo. Remember that. And write your plans soon.

Chao, HST

TO PHILIP L. GRAHAM, C/O
NEWSWEEK
:

Graham was publisher of
The Washington Post
and
Newsweek.

February 8, 1963
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil

Philip Graham
c/o
Newsweek
444 Madison Avenue
New York City

Dear Mr. Graham:

I read with interest and amusement your comments on the
National Observer
(
Newsweek
, January 28), and, all in all, found it a hell of a lot meatier than a similar story that appeared recently in
Time
. You made some good points with terms like “cold hash and rehash, a paper without reporters,” and that sort of thing.

The day after reading the article, I went out to Itamarati (which is Brazil's Foreign Exchange Office) to register as the
Observer
's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. It is an unsalaried job; I am also young, inexperienced and moderately paid—and if those are sins, then hell must be full of good correspondents.

At any rate, the press secretary at Itamarati mentioned the
Newsweek
article, and expressed mild surprise at my presence. It seemed to strike him as a bit odd that the
Observer
—a paper that rehashes all the news—should have a correspondent in Rio, whereas
Newsweek
, a fat-wallet book that criticizes other people for rehashing the news, is represented here by a virtually unpaid British stringer whose stories are published with all the tack-sharp regularity of total eclipses of the sun.

Newsweek
's last story on Brazil, in fact, was held up by the Rio press corps as a hideous example of what happens when Latin America is covered from Madison Avenue. It was so full of stupid mistakes that, frankly, it was hard to believe that it was meant to be fact, instead of fiction. Your stringer was embarrassed by it, since some of the statements were so wild and outlandish that nobody who had ever been in Brazil could have written them. God only knows who wrote the rotten thing; the only explanation that seems reasonable to me is that it was slapped together by a committee of buffoons whose ties were too tight on their necks on whatever morning they gathered to hash the thing together. (Incidentally, I have no intention of either documenting or answering the charges I make here; the story I am talking about had something to do with the January 6 plebiscite.)

The thing that really surprised me about the story, however, was not that it was shot through with errors, but that it appeared at all. Your normal South American “coverage” is a silly joke, and about as nourishing as a month-old hamburger. In the past eight months I have been through every country on this continent except two, and I have met only two people even vaguely connected with
Newsweek
—both in Rio. It is a goddamned abomination, a fraud, and a black onus on American journalism that a magazine with
Newsweek
's money and circulation so slothfully ignores a continent as critical to American interests as this one.

In the past eight months I have written (and signed with my own name) roughly 3000 words a month on South America, most of which have appeared in the
Observer
—I'd say about 95%. Do you have anybody down here who can say that? Your issue of January 28, which carried your comments on the
Observer
, had room for about 200 words on South America—and that concerned a sort of
Daily Newsy
story on a minor art theft in Venezuela. Hardnose stuff, eh?

With that vast, driving, stiff-necked staff of yours, I'll bet a bottle of Old Crow that, over the past eight months, you haven't even equaled my published output in words, much less in significant stories. And, hell, I'm only a young, inexperienced and underpaid punk.

I'm beginning to think you're a phony, Graham. You hired Walter Lippmann, and his debut—that thing on John Kennedy—was the coldest hash I've read in a long time. If you hired the Marquis de Sade, he'd come out bland. Maybe you should loosen your tie a little bit and consider your own hash—because, dollar for dollar, it ain't so tasty, and you're sufficiently old, experienced and overpaid to have no real excuse at all.

Sincerely,
Hunter S. Thompson
Rua Mexico 3
c/o
Brazil Herald
Rio de Janeiro
(that's in Brazil)

FROM PHILIP L. GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST COMPANY
:

Thompson was shocked that Graham saw fit to answer his ill-tempered letter of February 8, and he admired the “high style” of the response
.

March 25, 1963
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hunter S. Thompson
Rua Mexico 3
c/o
Brazil Herald
Rio de Janeiro
BRAZIL

Dear Mr. Thompson,

For the past few weeks I have been mainly away from my office enjoying the normal sybaritic pursuits of proprietorship, and so have only today come across your moderate and shy letter of February 8th, in which you say that “I'm beginning to think you're a phony, Graham.” This displays a very notable cultural lag on your part. Many intelligent leaders have long ago got themselves to the conclusion that you are only beginning to think about.

Now, why don't you write me a somewhat less breathless letter, in which you tell me about yourself, and don't make it more than 2 pages single space—which means a third draft and not a first draft.

Sincerely,
Philip L. Graham

TO CLIFFORD RIDLEY,
NATIONAL OBSERVER
:

Thompson was ready to head home after one last foray to Bolivia for the
National Observer.

April 6, 1963
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil

Cliff:

Yours finally came. Let us now get one thing straight between us: I am never going to back off of a story because it's “a bitch.” The bigger, meatier, and gutsier a story is, the more I want to have at it—normally. The problem now is that my outlook on South America is entirely abnormal. In a phrase, I no longer give a fuck. But don't translate that as evidence that I am getting soft & fat & I only want to do the easy stories. At the moment, in fact, I don't want to do
any
stories. Witness my six-week silence. Don't worry about getting 4 stories from Brazil; I'll be damn lucky to send you even one.

Fortunately, you opened that letter from Bolivia & got a first-hand idea of what is getting on me down here. It ain't the stories, Clifford. Those are easy. It's the goddamn awful reality of life down here. I can't shrug it off. I can't avoid it. I can't hire a legion of “boys” and assistants & secretaries to insulate me from the fear & rot in the streets. I can't pay $250 a month for a mile-high apartment (with Telex
*
) overlooking Copacabana beach. Christ, I have to live like the rest of these poor bastards—harassed, badgered & put upon from morning till night for no good reason at all. I wouldn't blame them if they revolted against just about everything—and in the name of whatever party or Ism that supplied the means of revolt.

Hell, I can't even deal intelligently with your letter [filled with detailed travel instructions]. I can barely do anything these days. All I know is that I have a ticket from Rio to New York; that is a tremendous factor in my thinking. As a matter of fact it is all I can really think about. Which is as good an indication as any that I don't really think anymore.

All I can say for sure is that I reject, out of hand, your suggestion that I hustle up to Baja (on my way north) to check on the Red Menace.
1
If I ever saw a trumped-up story, that one by Ruben Salazar is it. The easiest way to get published from down here is to write about the foul & sneaky reds. Hell, they're in worse trouble down here than we are. All they do—& all they have ever done—is take advantage of our mistakes. Baja Calif. is the coccyx bone of the universe. I've been there—all too goddamn
often. It's the abortion hospital for all of California & god knows how many other states. But there's fine lobster-diving in the bay of Ensenada. I'll be happy to go there—from California, but not from Mexico. Hell, you could shoot a .22 from U.S. soil to Mexicali. Or maybe you'd need a 20mm cannon. Anyway, it's right up there on the border, & the only logical way to approach it is from the north, like everybody else does. The rest of Baja is a goddamn rock pile. From Ensenada, 60 miles south of San Diego, down to La Paz at the tip, it's 900 miles of absolutely nothing. Not even roads.

 … well, another day, another screed. What I really want to say, Clifford, is that I feel … ah … at the moment I think it behooves me to … well, ah … you see, I have a definite conviction concerning the Third Side of Life … ah, yes, ah … egad, the meaning of it, the pure … ah, you see, the Occult Forces press down on my soul like a great waterbag … and, if I could … ah … yess, yess, now I see the … ah … the really fetid nature of … ah … sic.

How's that for a lead on my last & final Brazil story? A humdinger, eh? I understand that the makers of Snaveley's Grease have offered me a grant of $70,000 to plumb the depths of our dilemma & make certain recommendations to Mr. Snavely for the purpose of establishing criteria leading to the final solution to the Japanese question.…

Yess, yess, deposit as much money as possible! I think $200 every fortnite will be sufficient until I get a grip on myself … and then of course we will have to step it up to … ah … well … Mr. Snavely will be in touch with you on that point.

OK, OK, just warming up to business. The bi-weekly deposit thing sounds good; at least I'll know how much money I have. I trust you will begin that process at once—because at the moment I am broke. $240 for Sandy's ticket, $330 for mine.
2
Ugly, ugly. […]

It would be a godsend if you could continue to send clippings, staying ahead of me in my travels, as you said. It would save me a lot of time & probing. My first Guayaquil story, as you recall, was a direct result of a clip sent by Sandy. It's a lot easier going into a place looking for something specific, than to go in looking for “a story.”

Canal Zone & Nicaragua look like good ideas. I'll try to get the mining & earthquake stuff. Chile is a big story & the 1964 elections are going to be a
damn
big one, but right now I don't feel up to it. I am in such a state of mind at the moment that any new or unusual pressures might put me in a
condition where I couldn't write anything at all. As I said before, I count on you to warn me if my stuff ain't up to par. For the first time in a hell of a long while I find myself facing the prospect of writing at length about something I don't want to write about, and it worries me. I would rather write nothing at all than grind out second-rate swill.

I may do some work on this tour for Radio Free Europe. That shouldn't conflict, eh? And maybe a piece or two for
The Reporter
. It will depend on how much time I have. At any rate, you've taken a lot of guff from me recently & you've been more than decent with the arrangements for this trip, so I figure I owe you first shot at all the best stuff. Rest easy on that score.

I'll get Baja for you when I go to California, which I'll have to do almost immediately upon my return to the U.S. in order to rescue 2 trunks of my stuff stored in Big Sur. I am boiling with ideas & not many of them concern Latin America. We will have to get together on my return so I can tell you how I'm going to write what America means.

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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