Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (68 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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I passed through Washington while you were in Europe, but didn't have time to call. I held a personal audience at the National Press Club and carried on at length in several tongues, but nobody offered me a lump sum so I ran up a tremendous whiskey bill at the Willard Hotel and then moved on. No man is a prophet in his own tongue, eh?

After that I became married, which merely put the stamp of law on a worthy and time-tested arrangement, and then I went to Chicago to buy a Doberman pup to replace the one I was forced to sell upon leaving for South America. After a week of intense practice with a long-barrel Luger—with which I can now dispatch a bat on the wing at 50 yards—I drifted South and rented a typewriter beneath the Spanish moss. That is my situation now and I put it on paper merely to bring you up to date.

Unfortunately, I have not written much for the past few months and I am trying now to scrape the fuzz off my brain and catch up on my Latin America copy—vast reams of biased, analytical nonsense that is, perhaps
by default, better than 99% of the biased, analytical nonsense that comes out of that benighted continent.

But every time I sit down to write about the folly of land reform, the panic value of the Red Menace, or the perpetual short-circuit in American thinking—every time I ponder these things I find myself staring out through the screens at the big southern oaks and the old moss and the traffic light on the corner and the un-patronized Esso station across the highway and I wonder about the continuity between what I see now and what I saw this time last year in Guayaquil, Ecuador. To find a proper context for the two worlds I have to drink beer all afternoon and Old Crow all night and stay up till three-thirty until things begin to fall into place—and then it scares the hell out of me.

I was just going to write that I will pass through Washington in late June—which I will—and look forward to seeing you then. But that's your home court and I'll have to get into my black suit and my tense, bright-young-man attitude and will probably not get much said. Like what happened when I made my long-heralded appearance at the
Observer:
a lot of boozy, nervous jabbering that left us all losers. Not that I expected anything else. I don't come across too well in a tie, or over the rim of a martini cup, or across a desk. I listen just as well and I learn just as much, but it is generally a one-sided deal because I tend to make people nervous when it comes to those situations.

What I am mumbling here is the idea that perhaps we would both benefit if you tried my home court as a starter—a ratty screened porch out in the oaks and the Esso station and the drenching afternoon rains with a good dog wandering around and no waiters bringing the booze. There's a fan, a bug-bomb, a bit of music and no other hindrance in the form of man or beast except my wife, who is well-trained.

Anyway, I accept, with some trepidation, your invitation to visit with you and Friendly in Washington—and, by way of contrast and counter-balance, I extend my own. We have an extra bed, adequate food and drink, and if you have time we could get drunk and go over to Daytona and drive at top speed along the beach, firing the Luger at irregular intervals and throwing whiskey on all and sundry. But only if you have the time.

Well, let me know. I will, in any case, get through Washington between the 20th and the 25th of June. Until at least the 20th I'll be here, and if you can find a free day and night or two between now and then I look forward to a general hashout here on the porch. The number here is 734-xxxx. Call and I'll meet you.

If not, I'll see you there in Washington before the 25th. Let me know if you have plans to disappear with some woman about that time. If so, I'll
adjust. Time is always flexible, even for those of us with the weight of the world on our shoulders and the conscience of the race in our fingertips.

Humbly, Hunter S. Thompson 114 E. Plymouth Deland, Fla.

FROM PHILIP L. GRAHAM'S SECRETARY
:

At this time Graham was confined to a mental hospital; a month later he shot himself in the head. Thompson read about his suicide in
The New York Times
while sitting in Tommy's Joynt in San Francisco. They had never met
.

July 11, 1963
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hunter S. Thompson
c/o Cooke
19 Downing Street
Manhattan 14, New York

Dear Mr. Thompson:

I have just received your note of July 10th to Mr. Graham, and hasten to reply to it in his absence. He will definitely not be in the office on 16th or 17th July, so please do not make a special trip to Washington in the hopes of seeing him.

I will, of course, show him your note as soon as he returns, but I am not sure when that will be.

Sincerely,
Secretary to Mr. Graham

TO WILLIAM J. KENNEDY
:

The Thompsons had driven from Florida to Las Vegas to cover the Sonny Liston–Floyd Patterson heavyweight championship boxing match for the
National Observer.
They then journeyed north to Sonoma County, California, hoping to lease a small ranch near Jack London's Wolf House. Semonin was now living in Aspen
.

August 15, 1963
Aspen, Colorado

Bill—

An odd twist to report on this front, Jocko: definite possibility that we may end up as neighbors of Denne Petitclerc and Co. Strange, eh? On the
way through Frisco I gave him a ring and ended up at his place about 60 miles north of San Francisco on a big, empty mountain. One drink led to another, a bit of shooting, a lot of talk, more drink, and then spending the night. Next day we talked about a neighbor of theirs who is moving out of his house—way, way up in the hills overlooking Jack London's Valley of the Moon. He said he'd investigate, and when I limped into Aspen there was a cable here saying the man was agreeable and wanted to talk to me. Now I am trying to stall him until I can write up some cash. I need $100 for repairs on the car, plus $600 in immediate debts, plus my usual desperation for peace of mind. I cabled back that I was ready to take over, but needed time to scrape up cash for the return trip. And that's where it stands. Will advise.

Your situation sounds golden and I have not given up on getting back to stay awhile. How long could you stand? Me, Sandy and the dog? Don't be polite. The California place won't be open till late September, if it opens at all, and I may wind up with a few weeks to kill between Semonin's departure from here and another movement back to the coast. Since I want to get back to New York anyway, I might be able to combine a visit with you and a few quick and dirty contacts in the city. Not sure at all and won't be until I get something more definite on the Moon Valley house, but may as well query and see what you say. I don't want to move in and disrupt your life, but maybe we can work out a mildly disruptive compromise. Again, how long a visit could you take? 3 days? 3 weeks? Just give me an idea.

At the moment I am hard at work helping Paul restore his home. We are living here with no running water, no toilet and no access road. The car is parked ½ mile away at the bottom of the ski slope, which is a brutal climb with luggage, groceries, wine, or even nothing at all. It is primitive living, but at least it's a rest and I'll be here another 2 or 3 weeks to catch up on the writing. We have gone 10,000 miles in 2 months with no maintenance on the car and the whole team is whipped. At least you can get credit—be thankful for that.

A great relief to hear you nicked Ridley for money; I was afraid it would fall through and make me feel like a prick. My recent copy has been subpar and last week they were gracious enough to point it out to me. I replied that I was too tired to really give a damn, and today came a fine, bright, complimentary note that gave me to feel once again that gall is the better part of talent. Keep after them, but don't bend or they'll lean on you. What about the PR piece? Demand more money each time and they'll generally give in. Bitch about poverty in general and threaten to take a job with
Time
or
Newsweek
.

My Writers piece
9
came out pretty watered-down and I bitched noisily, but even as printed (except for the lead and the ending, which was Ridley) it had horns and at least half a kick, which they need.

Dennis Murphy read my book [“The Rum Diary”] and came to about the same conclusions you did, but not quite so final. After a bit of talk and thought I have decided to rewrite it for plot and action, separating the characters and trying to give them some meaning. If it goes slow, I'll quit. If not, and if I enjoy the work, I'll push on through. The title alone will sell 5,000 copies if I can just convince some bastard to publish it.

I called the
Partisan Review
on your story, by the way, and some lazy-sounding girl answered the phone and said she'd think about it.… Sounds like a shitty outfit and damned if they'll get anything of mine.
10

I am considering sitting down and rewriting every story I've ever done or even half done and getting them all in the mail. A man should have possibilities, and mine at the moment are too limited.

OK. Will advise the breaks as they come. In the meantime, keep the contact and let me know on the visit possibilities.

Bingo, and hello to Dana—
HST

TO DAVISON THOMPSON
:

When Thompson returned from South America he reconnected with his brother Davison. Their correspondence increased dramatically during the ensuing years
.

August 20, 1963
Aspen, Colorado

Dear D—

Hope you found the pants, both the tan ones and the other pair you accused me of stealing. Now for a third pair; I think I left those brown corduroys (part of the suit) there. If so, let me know and I'll stop tearing the car apart to look for them. Also, is my billy club there? And the hunting knife you gave me last Xmas? All these are missing.

The shotgun is fine, although I can't hit a damn thing with it, except for a coon I disintegrated in Big Sur. It does awful things to a small animal at close range—made hamburger of the coon, who was stealing our dog food. Your club is here and will be in the mail as soon as I can find the odd-shaped box I need for shipping. It is a bastard, probably the only one of its kind in the world.

We are currently living in Paul [Semonin]'s house in Aspen. It's primitive as hell, but at least a place to rest with nobody howling at me. No running water, an outhouse, and the car has to stay ½ mile down at the foot of the mountain. It is a hell of a climb up the trail, especially with luggage and groceries, but once you get here it's fine. I spent an hour or so this afternoon practicing from the hip with the Luger and got so I can pretty consistently hit an 18-inch circle at 10 yards, snap-shooting like Billy the Kid. But it will be a while before I can bounce a tin can along the ground like Shane. I haven't used the .44 much, because the scope broke and the ammo is so expensive. As soon as I get out of debt I'm going to get another .22 Mag. You can't beat a penny and a half a shot.

As for plans, there are two possibilities and they both broke today. One is a house on a mountain about 60 miles north of San Francisco, and the other is a house about 10 miles outside of Aspen. Neither would be available until September, but either one would be a good deal and a good place to live. At the moment I think I prefer Calif.; the house is more isolated and without the distractions (nearby bars) of Aspen. I'll wait a week or so before deciding; it's so damn good to have a choice that I don't want to give up the feeling.

Speaking of that, what's the score on your end? Any new movements, changes, etc.? How's the drinking going? Let me know any developments.

I'll be here a few more weeks and will let you know before I move again. Regardless of where I settle, I'll have to come back to Louisville for that gear, which will probably be in late September. Right now I'm too broke to move at all. Yesterday I spent 30 of my last 35 dollars on the goddamn car, and both front tires are still bald. My checks are bouncing again, but that's nothing new. Hopefully, I can stay here long enough to write myself out of the hole. […]

Send Word.

H

TO CLIFFORD RIDLEY,
NATIONAL OBSERVER:

Ridley was urging Thompson to return to Rio or Mexico as the
National Observer
's
Latin America correspondent
.

August 23, 1963
Aspen, Colorado

Dear Cliff:

For the past five hours I've been rooting through my 75-pound suitcase of Latin America notebooks, clippings, books, mementos and assorted flotsam, and all it has done has been to convince me that I should write a book on Latin America because my knowledge is far too vast and encompassing to fit into any smaller format.

So, instead of giving in to the awesome sweep of things, I'll try to focus down on those things that appear relevant to the Alliance for Progress.
11
But I'll be rambling here and a lot may be irrelevant or at least obscure. You will get an idea of what my first drafts are like, and I will get an idea of what it is like to write on Latin America from my new outpost in Aspen. So be it.

I'll begin with a quote from
The New York Times
[of] August 18, which contained a tiny dispatch from Lima, Peru, concerning the birthday (the second) of the Alliance: “Leading newspapers commented today that the Alliance for Progress was falling short of expectations.”
La Prensa
said that the Alliance program had “lagged behind the very great, and perhaps exaggerated expectations that it raised initially.”
El Commercio
said that two years after the signing of the charter of Punta del Este, under which the Alliance was established, “the balance does not show satisfactory returns.”

I cite this because it is such a faithful echo of the comments I heard during the last six months of my stay in South America, almost always from Latins. From U.S. officials, I got a different line: guardedly optimistic at the office, and sometimes mean and pessimistic in private moments.

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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