Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (7 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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This afternoon I discovered that, not only am I the only man on the base to write sports; but in addition to my title as sports editor, I am also head statistician for all sports, publicity man for all athletics on the base, and potential radio announcer. All this, combined with college classes two nights a week, keeps me pretty well occupied. But, when all is said and done, I wouldn't want to do anything else (Air Force–wise, that is). At present, I have the best deal I could have, considering my rank, age, experience, etc.

Incidentally, I thought I had explained that the courses I am taking are regular college courses with FSU. By January, I will have amassed the imposing total of 6 hours. By June, 12 hours; and further on into the night, I hope. By the end of the next month, I will know if my job is going to be permanent. My career field waiver should come back about that time, and I can only hope that it is not rejected: my chances are fair, I would say. I don't remember any other questions you asked, and the letter is at the barracks; I'll try to dash off a short note if I missed anything very important.

Some of the copy on this week's page is pretty poor. As I said, I stayed up all Tuesday night doing it, and towards the wee hours of the morning, I became pretty numb. However, it's the best looking one I've done yet, and drew many compliments.

Davison
7
is becoming very well known around the office, due to the fact that I do a running commentary on all the clippings you send me about him; plus any news you give me. Give him my congratulations and tell him to keep up the good work. Male High seems to be developing a mental block where he is concerned: this sort of thing must cease. Hello to everyone else. I sign out. Will write again if possible.

Love,
Hunter

TO ELIZABETH RAY
:

Elated to be serving in the “glorious capacity” of
Command Courier
sports editor, Thompson wrote his mother's sister about life at Eglin and his career plan.

October 18, 1956
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Aunt Lee,

You'll have to pardon the use of the typewriter, because I'm at the office now, and no suitable stationery is available. Furthermore, I'll also apologize in advance for the millions of mistakes I'm bound to make.

I'm winding up for the evening, and will soon make a valiant attempt to get some sleep—a rare commodity these days. As I finished the story I was working on, it suddenly occurred to me that you just might like to know what your incredibly wicked nephew is doing with himself at present. Although
though I don't know your address, I decided to write you anyway, in care of mom.

I am now acting in the glorious capacity of sports editor of the
Command Courier,
the official organ of Eglin AFB, Fla. The job is nerve-wracking and the hours are terrible, but I love the work. For the first time, I have found something which will keep me busy and which is also enjoyable. Thus, I have been able to keep out of mischief and finally settle myself on an even keel for once.

In addition to writing everything in the sports section, I also am responsible for the page layout (arrangement of stories and pictures). For a person with no previous experience, this entails a good deal of work, but I'm having a fine time learning. My “Spectator” column is naturally my primary concern and is the item which requires the most thought and literary polish. I have become so ambitious that I have joined the Armed Forces Writers League and will soon make wild attempts to get something published. If I can swing this, then I should be able to augment my suffering “College Fund” considerably. Some magazines pay a nickel a word to brash beginners like myself, and with some luck and more than a little work, I might be able to become self-supporting, in spite of the Air Force's efforts to keep me in a state of poverty.

At present, in addition to my journalistic duties, I'm taking night classes with Florida State University. This semester, I'm taking Speech and Psychology—both interesting subjects. Next semester, I'll probably take Composition and Philosophy. Naturally, this keeps me constantly busy, but will definitely be worthwhile in the long run. When I'm discharged, I'll be able to start school with advanced standing at least.

This Florida weather is fine—it's about 80 degrees during the day and about 60 at night … very pleasant. Although I'll probably go overseas within the next year, I'm satisfied where I am at the moment.

All in all, things are coming along quite well and I'm beginning to feel like my wilder days are behind me. (I would be the worst type of hypocrite if I said that I don't sometimes wish for the Rabelaisian parties of yesteryear, but enough is enough. Things were beginning to be carried to an extreme. Actually, I probably owe you an apology for any worry or embarrassment I caused you. I am truthfully sorry, and want you to know that I certainly appreciate your kindness over the years.)

However, all that is water over the dam, and I must concern myself now with becoming a successful young author … ah, dreams of fame and fortune!

As the hands of the clock are winding into the wee hours of the morning, I find that the need for sleep is becoming too powerful to resist. I'm going to Tallahassee tomorrow night for the weekend, and should fortify
myself with some shut-eye. FSU's homecoming football game is quite an attraction, and I'd hate to miss it because of battle fatigue, writer's cramp, or some such occupational disease.

If you have time, drop me a line and tell me how you are, and that sort of thing. I remain, dead tired, but still typing somehow;

much love,
Hunter S. Thompson
Command Courier
3201 AB Wg.
Eglin AFB, Fla.

TO JACK THOMPSON
:

As a boy, Thompson was always impressed by his older half-brother Jack's white Navy uniform and riveting bedtime stories about the Hatfield and McCoy feuds. Jack went on to prosper as the owner of an insurance company.

October 24, 1956
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Jack,

As I can't think of a suitable excuse for not writing long ago, I won't even try to explain my failure to drop you a line. Let's just say “better late than never,” and go on from there.

As you may or may not remember, when I was home last summer, I informed one and all that I was some sort of radio technician. Well, that sort of thing is no more; I have stumbled upon an entirely new concept of Air Force life. I am now the hard-bitten sports editor of the
Command Courier,
the official organ of Eglin AFB. As far as service life goes, I sort of live in the fringe area. I pull no detail, stand no inspections, pull no KP, and just generally leave the menial jobs to the enlisted men. However, if I were being paid by the hour on a civilian pay scale, I would have no worry about having enough money to go to college. For instance: yesterday I came to work at 7:15, and worked until 5:00; with an hour off at noon for lunch. I completely missed dinner and had to rush to make a 6:00 Speech class. I had to miss Psychology in order to come to the wrestling matches, which lasted from 8:00 until 10:00. At 10:00 I came back to the office and began on the wrestling story, finishing it at about midnight. About that time, my photographer arrived with the pictures, and I spent about an hour cropping and captioning them.

When the wrestling story and pictures were ready for print, I began on the football prevue and all the football pictures. All this lasted until about 4:00, when the last caption was finished. After getting everything ready for the printer, I raced back to my room and passed out for about 2 hours, in what amounted to a fatigue coma.

Staggering out of bed at 6:30, I drove back to the office—almost colliding with a huge truck en route—and went from there into Pensacola to do the layout for the sports section. As usual, I made several glaring errors which I was too tired to notice at the time; but which will be painfully evident tomorrow. That finished, I got back to the base at 2:30, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get a job selling vacuum cleaners. If it comes through, I may still find some way out of this terrible poverty. Of course, I've never sold vacuum cleaners—but then I've had no previous experience in sports writing either; so it certainly can't hurt to try.

Anyway, I guess you get the point about the rather tight schedule around here. Since taking over the sports desk, I've dropped from 190 pounds to 170, become a terrible case of nerves, become addicted to coffee—drinking about 20 cups a day—and had to give up cigarettes when I got up to 4 packs a day. All in all, it's hell; but it will take wild horses to get me back to the radio shop.

For the first time in my life, no one is hanging over me saying, “my oh my Hunter, just see what you can do when you apply yourself,” or “do this Hunter, do that Hunter, behave yourself Hunter,” and all that sort of rot. Here, they say, “Thompson; you'll be the sports editor—you have two pages to fill each week—do the best you can.” Naturally, with no staff, it's a full-time job. But nobody bothers you, nobody tries to tell you how or what to write, you work when you feel like it and loaf when you feel like it. But still, you know that you have two pages to fill and that you can do anything except fail to fill them. If I want to wander around all day, I work at night—just as long as my section is done by the time the paper goes to press.

I guess it all comes under the heading of responsibility in a way. But truthfully—I don't do any of this for the Air Force—I do it because I don't want anybody to get the idea that I'm incapable of doing the job. Even though there is no damn reason why I should be capable of putting out a sports section each week—without having the slightest idea of what I'm doing—I'm just too much of an egotist to admit that I can't do it. So, the only thing left to do, is to go ahead and fight the damn thing and hope that it gets easier as it gets more familiar … and it's bound to.

I went kind of hog wild recently, and completely re-did the sports section; changing the pages around, adding a new head, changing the headline style, cutting pictures differently, and just generally ripping the thing
up. Anyway, it has come out pretty well, and I'm vain enough to think that my skill is just too great to be described by mere words.

That sort of wraps up the story of what I'm doing. If they let me change career fields permanently, then I should be pretty competent by the time I get out. Then too, it's about the best duty I could ask for. Actually, the only thing which keeps reminding me that I'm in the service is the uniform. If it weren't for that, I'd feel like I was working at a regular job.

This semester, I'm taking Speech and Psychology. Next time, I think it will be Composition and Philosophy. They are regular accredited courses from FSU, taught by people from the school. We have classes two nights a week, and if I keep up this pace, I should have about 2 years through with by the time I get out. Then, if this poverty will ever go away, I can save enough to help me along with the last two years. I have no idea where I want to go yet, but that's a long way off—1959 to be exact.

I'm already beginning to pull strings, in an effort to get home for Thanksgiving. If it's humanly possible, I should make it for a day or so, anyway. If I do, I'll drop by to see you.

This last year has been long and incredibly eventful, but it has been very worthwhile. Pleasant memories of the orgies of yesteryear still linger with me, but I just can't afford to suck it down like I used to. And even if I could afford it, I wouldn't have the time. Then too, I wouldn't last too long here, once I began turning out stories while I was out of my mind. Each week, I come closer and closer to libel, slander and calumny. This week's “Spectator” will raise much hell, I'm sure—but that's just the way the ball bounces. If H. L. Mencken could do it, then so can I.

I've got to get some sleep now, because tomorrow will be a tough day and will require a certain sharpness of wit which fades with lack of sleep.

Drop me a line if you can—I'd like to hear from you. Until then, I remain,

your black-sheep brother,
Hunter S. Thompson
Command Courier
3201 AB Wg.
Eglin AFB, Fla.

TO RALPH PETERSON:

Peterson studied electronics with Thompson at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, where they were being trained in military intelligence. Although Peterson finished at the top of the class, Thompson finagled the coveted
post at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, while Peterson was assigned to northern Alaska.

October 25, 1956 Eglin AFB Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Sire,

Ah yes Peterson … the sun shines down all about me—the warm breezes float in from the Gulf—the palm trees sway gently in the wind—and life still goes on in the bustling metropolis of Pensacola. However, I'm sure that you much prefer the far frozen North country, and all its vitality and beauty. Naturally the thought of sprawling contentedly on the beach, listening to the clear blue water lap against the white sand, is repugnant to one so fond of snow, biting winds, transmitter shacks, arctic gear, etc. I've often heard that life in the arctic could be stimulating beyond belief, and now that you have told me of the wonders of the snow-covered land of light and beauty, I must say that I certainly envy you. My oh my; why didn't I request shipment to Alaska, instead of this balmy climate?

That raucous noise you just heard was probably my screech of laughter, floating through the northern pines and across the frozen wastelands, and into the smelly confines of your shack. Yes Peterson, my conscience is no substitute for a sixty average—unless it's a crafty mind. Need I say more?

Well lad, today has been a day to remember. The
Courier
hit the streets early this morning, and all hell broke loose within an hour's time. The subject for all this angry yowling was a clever little column entitled “The Spectator”; composed each week by your friendly doctor. As you can see, this week's job is a virtual bombshell. All day, I've been grinning at wild-eyed majors, captains, sergeants, lieutenants, and last but not least several Colonels—including Colonel Mears, the Base Commander. Apparently, Personnel Services was thoroughly agitated over the way I lambasted them. Colonel Mears topped off the day—which, up to that time, had been consumed with wild arguments and wilder threats—when he summoned me to his office at two o'clock. By this time, I was convinced that I was thoroughly in the right, and that nothing worse than a bust could result from it all. As it is now, I have permission from the Base Commander, to criticize anything I choose—provided I don't hit innocent spectators in the process. It turned out that I had enraged people from all branches of Personnel Services, in addition to the Sports Section. Mears had gotten calls all day from the Education office, the library, the riding stables, the golf course, etc.—demanding that I be busted immediately. The silver tongue was hard pressed to avert such a tragedy. If you don't quite grasp
the meaning of the whole thing, just imagine that I had written this column for the newspaper at Scott, and was ordered to report to—not the first sergeant, not the squadron CO, not the group CO, but Colonel Goss—and explain just what in the hell I was trying to do. I remember how you all wondered how I managed to keep the first sergeant from doing me in—just imagine what would have been said after an episode such as this!

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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