An homage to a 35-year friendship.
Hmmm. Six hundred words about Hunter. Only Hunter could pull that off. The man had rhythm. He wrote like Steadman sketched. And his own life rhythm was punctuated by staccato bursts of bombs, music, shooting, shouting, anger, laughter, pranks, wild rides, uppers, downers – all held together by a steady bass line of relationships, friendships, and trust. He was loyal to his friends and we were loyal to him. Hunter and I met in the summer of 1969. A mutual friend brought me to his regular Sunday afternoon volleyball game at his place in Woody Creek. He loved to spike the ball hard into the bodies of opposing players. It was not a clean California spike, because his hand ever so briefly stuck to the ball just long enough to guide it toward your head. It gave him so much pleasure that we rarely cried foul, and we were his guests.He struck me then as a great guy – fun-loving, athletic, adventuresome, intellectual, creative, risk-taking – a man’s kind of man. He was a self-absorbed, engaging ring leader – a magnet for risk takers, enablers, raconteurs, left-wingers, aspiring journalists, great writers and rebels with a cause. I never saw him drunk, but I did see him show drunken friends and acquaintances out the back door. The predictable variety of drugs were balanced and fine-tuned like a nutritionist’s carefully controlled diet.
Our friendship endured for more than 35 years, and our conversations would run the full gamut of our life experiences. No topic was sacred or off-limits. I gained from him a perspective on life that I found nowhere else. Hunter could spot a phony. He hated liberals who talked the talk, but did not walk it. He admired clever radicals who had the courage of their convictions. He abhorred hypocrisy. He despised greed and avarice disguised as patriotism and religion. He exposed the human flaws in the American way.Have you noticed how often young boys around the age of 8 display an innate and intuitive sense of what is fair and just? Hunter never grew out of this developmental stage. He was driven by the idea of justice and created a new genre of gonzo journalism to help us to strip away the veneer of faux justice that covered the greedy core of most of the rich and powerful. The ongoing Lisl Alman case and Fourth Amendment Foundation are just a part of his legacy of justice.Because Hunter decided to run for Pitkin County sheriff, 1970 was a big year for us. It was a crazy idea filled with the prospect of having too much fun while making a serious political statement. America was in turmoil and we wanted to do our part (even though we lived in paradise) to bring social justice, enlightened development, environmental protection, racial equality, grass-roots democracy and late-’60s aesthetics to a town renamed “Fat City” because it was ruled by an old, out-of-touch clique of people who were blinded by their own self-interest. The rhetoric was offensive and occasionally poetic.Our near success attracted international media attention, along with federal and state law enforcement authorities who tried to do us in. Their intimidating tactics both scared and emboldened us. In the end, we registered enough of the freaks and hippies who had invaded Aspen, and convinced enough locals to get about 46 percent of the vote. The prospect of victory was both frightening and exhilarating.The Woody Creek Caucus is a product of those times, and Hunter was an active, occasionally relentless participant in our neighborhood consensus democracy. We spent many hours in Hunter’s kitchen arguing policies and tactics before and after the meetings. He loved shaping the political priorities of the caucus, writing it up as an enlightened example of democracy, and using it as a platform for shaping governmental policies regionally and nationally.
Each night, Hunter went through a ritual designed to yield a harvest of carefully crafted rhythms of words that he beat out on his IBM Selectric typewriter. This was a ritual I occasionally participated in, sometimes with a kitchen full of neighbors, friends and visiting big shots. These evenings unfolded like a symphony in four movements. The first movement began with an invitation to stop by for a ball game on television. I’d arrive as he was finishing breakfast in his bathrobe and sipping a Chivas with lots of ice and water. Aggressive betting and insightful commentary would help wake him up and get his blood pumping.The second movement started after the game, and often required the reading of a piece of his prose in process. As I read, I marveled at how he remembered every carefully chosen word, and the rhythm with which it was intended. He let me know if I wasn’t reading it right. The third movement was accompanied by relentless telephone calls from a constellation of stars, producers, editors, publishers and old friends calling to place a bet, reminisce or report the latest political gossip. As the evening wore on, Hunter’s attention noticeably shifted toward the typewriter, as Debra, Anita or an assistant would cajole him to meet a deadline for a book or magazine article.I always drifted away into the night to fall soundly asleep before the fourth movement’s crescendo of writing and the spell of Hunter’s nocturnal secrets was broken by the dawn.Last Sunday afternoon, shortly before he took his life, Hunter left me a telephone message. As fate would have it, I was in California and did not hear it until later that night. I’ll leave with you his last words to me.
“Ya, Ed. It’s Hunter. Just checkin’ on you. Juan and Jennifer are down here and Will. Just thought I’d see if you’d like to come down. No football, no hockey but anyway, maybe some shooting. How about that. Yeh.”Of course I will always wonder if Sunday might have turned out differently if I’d been around. My greatest wish is that I could have been there to hold everyone in my arms. I wonder if Hunter would have chosen another way to execute his ultimate decision.But, knowing him as I do, I can see how he concluded that suicide was logical and honorable. He was becoming old and sick, and was tormented by pain and loss of physical capacity. He was not entering old age gracefully. He had lived an epic life. His choice was either to deteriorate psychologically and physically, or simply take control of his departure. It seems that his own sense of pride, justice and love for those around him required him to take his own life swiftly, decisively, and without fully vetting the decision ahead of time. This was his honorable transition into the next incarnation. So let’s keep our eyes open, because his spirit, insight and attitude will forever lurk somewhere within and around us.Dr. Ed Bastian has been Hunter’s friend for more than 35 years and neighbor for some 15 years. Ed managed logistics for his legendary 1970 sheriff campaign and has been the moderator of the Woody Creek Caucus.
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