Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (67 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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Last night, however, I had a decent experience. I met a guy named Armbrister who works for the
Saturday Evening Post
and he said he'd been reading my stuff in New York. It gave me a tremendous lift; I had long since given up the idea that anybody but you, Sandy and my mother read my stuff. Armbrister and Charley Kuralt from CBS are the only two people I've seen in a year who've actually picked up an
and read what I write. Hardly anybody down here even knows what the
National Observer
is and probably wouldn't believe in it at all except for that blurb in

Well, I guess you are more interested in getting some articles than in hearing all this bullshit, so I'll try to squeeze one out tonight and another on Monday. The election preview is just about ready and I'll put the rush on Middle-Class & get it off ASAP. By the time you get this I'll be in ugly circumstances and, although I don't blame you for being vaguely pissed off and leery at the tone of my recent communications, I urge you to reconsider the wisdom of plunging me into a crisis in order to get articles out of me. All it does is make it that much harder for me to get anything done, and it also queers some of my best contacts.

I am fully aware that I owe you $400, that I missed Chile, that my general disorganization is responsible for many of my $$$ problems, and that
I am not the most pliable or cooperative correspondent on your team. On the other hand, I don't see that you have any reason to think I am going to welsh on that $400 or anything else you advance me, any more than I've welshed on the ones to date. We are not missing anything important in Chile except perhaps the spectacle of my ultimate collapse. I can name you at least five well-paid correspondents on this continent who are well organized and whose stuff you'd reject out of hand. As for pliability and cooperativeness, I refer you to the Headline Employment Agency in New York City or the Situations Wanted ads in
E … P
Editor & Publisher

As I said in the cable, I am going to stay here—hell, I have no choice—until I get something from you. My ticket reads: “Lima, Guayaquil, Bogotá, Panama, San Jose, San Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico City, New York.” I have every intention of writing as many articles between here and New York as I am physically and mentally up to, but in order to do it I am going to have to have funds. I am not trying to pressure you here, but put yourself in my place. That $400 was nice to have, and necessary, but since tickets for Sandy and myself cost a total of $570, there was not much left over on which to travel.

For hell's sake send word quick. This week is going to be a hairy one. Monday will be a day of contrasts: I will meet the “president” of Peru in the morning, and in the afternoon be called on the carpet and lectured like a criminal for issuing bogus cheques. I wish to jesus I had never seen this continent.

Yours for a lifeline, H


With no cash and Conklin in New York, Thompson was ready to flee South America once and for all

April 29, 1963 Lima, Peru

Dear Cliff:

By the time you get this I may be making the big Panagra detour around Cuba, zeroed in on New York. I had a nervous collapse today—violent shouting, destruction, tears, the whole works—and now I am locked in my room with the phone crippled and everybody in the hotel afraid to come near the place, even to make the bed or mop the water off the floor. I packed & told Panagra I was leaving on the midnight plane, then realized that most of my clothes are in the laundry & won't be out till Thursday. Tomorrow is
another of these ratbastard holidays & the filthy whore in the laundry said we can go out to the
[country] and fuckee-fuckee. If I ever hear that phrase again I am going to break teeth. The idea that I would touch that scurrilous bag of fatty stench and disease sets my hair on end.

I also realized I don't have sufficient cash to pay the overweight, so tomorrow is camera-selling day. My light meter is broken anyway so the camera is all but useless. I am out of film, too, and can't afford more. And you seem to have stopped using my photos, anyway.

There is no sense in trying to list all the reasons for my collapse. Lack of cash, which I don't blame on you, is the main one. Actually, my nerves are so bad that any small thing is likely to kick me off on a rage. I am disappointed with myself for getting like this & I daresay you are too, but don't say I didn't warn you. Although I can't blame you for cutting me off the dole, since I haven't written anything in nearly three months, your cable the other day did not contribute to my peace of mind. Suddenly I felt like a bum and a thief and a con man, and when I went to cash my last check I acted so guilty that I'm surprised they took it. For all I know, it will bounce.

Fuck this, I have it now—endure here until Friday, write the election story and one other, sell camera if necessary to pay for smashed telephone and other bills including plane overweight, get answers from Gen. Lindley & see Zileri,
Tappe's [restaurant] for dinner Friday night & straight from there to the airport—be in New York Saturday morning, long rest, call Ridley, keep my presence secret, write all possible stories in New York (staying where?), then shove off again for San Juan, Panama, Central America and Mexico. Then, triumphant re-entry with all Xmas gifts, many stories, much money & a long & happy life ahead, eh? Yessir, probe carefully and avoid the pus. Maybe stop in Florida on way to San Juan, see Sandy and get married in the rottenest possible place, then on. Fuckee-fuckee.



May 18, 1963
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Thompson:

Your letter of April 8 got to Washington just after I left for a month in Europe. And I must say it is a welcome relief to read yours among the banal pile of accumulated correspondence I am digging into.

If you get to Washington in June, would you let me know, as I would like to have a visit with you and have you meet our Managing Editor, Al Friendly. We have nothing at the moment that I think would at all interest you, but I always like to keep in touch with young people possessed of such overriding humility and shyness.

Philip L. Graham

Mr. Hunter S. Thompson
c/o U.S. Embassy
Mexico City, Mexico, D.F.


Thompson had flown from Lima to New York to speak at the National Press Club in Washington before flying on to Louisville with Conklin to get married by a justice of the peace across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana

May 22, 1963


Yours came today, forwarded from Ridley, and gave me a temporary lift out of the funk. Sandy is here—we got married on Monday—and her goddamn mother arrives tonight. Absolute madness. I'm not sure of my sanity. 25 cents to my name & my mother adamantly refusing funds. Still $400 behind the
& they are pressing. That means two LatAm articles before I earn a penny on the third. I got to New York with $10. Coming here was a disaster. And getting worse every day. No rest, no hope.

Yes, get two wooden letter openers, about $2 each as I recall. Also as many Talvis as you can afford. Also the grips. And paintings. That's about it as I recall. Can't think of any
photos for you, but any LatAm stuff won't do you harm in New York. Get as much as you can.

Washington was OK. Two nights in the best hotel, honored guest at the National Press Club with all
honchos, much was made of my arrival—except money. They are leery of my tendency to leap, but even so, went so far as to offer me a job in Wash. I leaped back.

Am returning to Washington soon. Got a letter from Phil Graham yesterday, saying he wanted me to visit and talk with him and the managing editor of
The Washington Post
, Al Friendly. Heh. Also am scheduled to go
in for a talk with the
National Geographic
people. Then on to New York for more talks with RFE [Radio Free Europe] and
Saturday Evening Post
. I sense a general opening of doors.

I am proposing to Graham that he buy the
and make me editor. That is one of the things on agenda. Another is the booze he owes me.

But first I require funds, and peace for writing. May whip down to Florida for a week or so to check on an empty house for the writing. Here is impossible. Before Florida, I have to go to Chicago to pick up my unsold Doberman. With luck, I will get to New York on June 15; if not, the 20th or so. Stay a few weeks, then hopefully west. The
wants all kinds of stuff, but first I need an address. And funds. The Pentax is still here & for sale—to you or others.

Saw Howard
in New York, drank a bit of beer, tried to pawn him my camera, said you were coming, then hopped off next day for Wash. Will check in again on my return. Probably you'll be there. Can't figure out why that $17 bounced, but am having much trouble with the bank on just about everything. I still haven't unpacked my check stubs to ponder them, but I think the bank erred. Yeah, like always. […]

See you in New York,
late June,


Sandy's mother, Leah Conklin, had given Thompson a brown-and-cream-colored Rambler as a wedding present. The newlyweds used it to take a cross-country honeymoon

May 22, 1963
Louisville, Kentucky

Dear Cliff:

Well, I'm here in Louisville. God knows why; I'm not getting much done. This is the first time I've touched a typewriter since my arrival exactly a week ago. The day before my arrival Sandy fell off a horse, fracturing and dislocating her shoulder. Then her car blew up, requiring two days of steady dealing with the garage. Then I was forced into marriage proceedings, which brought about a deluge of bullshit that has just about in-undated me. At the moment I have 25 cents to my name, no car, no home, a new wife, a Doberman still waiting in Chicago, and still the everlasting
dysentery. A constant procession of people—many of whom I had long since presumed dead—keep turning up at the door to jabber at me. Jack London returns with his long-haired, one-armed bride; don't miss the show. More food, more booze, bring it on … answer that telephone, will you? O ain't it all wonderful, Aunt Maggie? Ain't you just thrilled?

Tomorrow I am fleeing up to Covington for “The World Series of Folk Art.” I don't have time to compose an outline for you, just take my word that it's a good story—not just on the festival, but on authentic folk music in general, focusing on the festival. I'll do everything in my power to get it to you for the June 3 issue, but it would still go for the next one. I know some of the Kentucky people up there because of a thing I did on country music for the
Chicago Tribune
a year or so ago. I'm looking forward to having at it, and think I can get you a good one.

As for LatAm, I think I have my concepts straight, after much scribbling on note-paper, but until I at least get a desk and a door between me and the world I'm not going to be able to type anything. Sandy's mother arrives tonight for a two-day visit. God help me. If you can pay for the folk music thing it will give me at least enough cash to get away from Louisville. The pawn shop wants to give me $30 for my $145 rifle & $75 for my $400 camera gear. I can't stand to take that kind of a beating. I have all manner of things to write, all sorts of possibilities, but at the moment I feel like I'm caught in a bear trap with food just out of reach. If I had my way I would go alone to a motel in the Kentucky mountains & write until I get ahead, but I don't even have a typewriter to take with me. Mine is broken in New York. Nor, I might add, could I pay the bill.

I tell you all this to explain why you aren't receiving a steady stream of LatAm articles. I can't write anything standing up, much less on the run. The only aid you could render, as I see it, would be to pay for anything I might send before getting down to the LatAm stuff, which at least requires unpacking my bags and looking at some material. There is no room here for anything. Hell, I've been married three days & haven't slept with my wife yet. The place is like a zoo. Even writing this letter has taken all afternoon, due to ringing doorbells, phones, visitors, etc.

Hell, I nearly forgot to explain the photo.
It doesn't need much, but I thought it would look good as a sort of theme photo for the folk music piece. Maybe it's too dark for newspaper reproduction. Even so, it's an eye-catcher & might look good anyway. If not, take good care of it & hold it there until I send an address (if and when I ever get one). I'll get some more at the festival & send them on.

Thanks again for your hospitality in Washington & I may stop by on the way back to New York. But not before I get the LatAm stuff done. I'll keep in touch if my address changes, which it will—either somewhere with a lock on the door, or the loony bin. This is worse than SA; I am nearing the end of my rope.

Until later—


Spending a week at Sandy's mother's house in Florida, Thompson invited Graham to head south for a dose of old-fashioned hospitality

June 7, 1963
Deland, Florida

Dear Mr. Graham:

You're pushing me, old sport, but unless there is something seriously wrong with you I believe you have run out of cheeks to turn. Even so, the christian nature of your letters has given me pause and I feel hard pressed to maintain the same, high-pitched chattering whine with which I began this thing. So, for the moment, a hiatus if you will, and let the hundred flowers bloom.

Yours of May 18 reached me in Louisville, forwarded via the
with a menacing comment about “moonlighting.” You should have marked it “religious material” and sealed it with wax.

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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