Saturday was Hunter’s farewell, so this one’s for Doc
August 16, 2005
Hunter Thompson’s two “letters” books, “The Proud Highway” and “The Kingdom of Fear,” were the last books that he did any substantial amount of publicity for. “The Proud Highway,” the first, was published in 1997. There was a publication party in New York, replete with Doc’s celebrity friends, old and new, and the usual phalanx of nubiles and VIPs. There were TV appearances, the whole deal.One sunny afternoon that summer, Hunter and I were sitting in his kitchen. He was back in Woody Creek on a break from these publicity doings. The peacocks were wandering around the grounds squawking at the occasional passing car and farting chipmunk. There was a random assortment of firearms lying around the kitchen, just in case anyone had a sudden impulse to run outside and blast the crap out of something. The women weren’t anywhere to be seen, perhaps in town on errands. Owl Farm and Woody Creek are beautiful this time of year. All greens and yellows, foliage and sunshine. On any given day at that hour the blinds in Hunter’s kitchen could be closed or open, depending on whether it was the end of one day or the beginning of the next. The blinds were open this day, letting the sun stream in on us. The television was on, as it was 24/7. This afternoon without the sound, but it had to be on in case current events conspired to interfere with our meditations. One has to stay current at all costs.We were both in fine humor, discussing matters of importance when the phone rang. Hunter’s phone is always on “speaker” so that all present could eavesdrop. The caller was a teacher from a major university. This guy either taught a course on Hunter or taught a course of which Hunter was a major part, I don’t remember which. Apparently the prof had booked a speaking engagement for Doc at a large venue in his university town. He wanted to discuss some details. Clearly he held Hunter in some sort of awe. Just as clearly, they’d never met. Not that Hunter didn’t merit the awe; it’s just that those who knew Doc knew that an attitude of awe rarely paid off.After a bit of discussion, Hunter allowed that he had a few questions. Now this guy had booked Hunter into exactly one gig, while Hunter has been booked into countless engagements, which gave him a huge edge. Hunter’s mind worked faster than most people, including your average academic. He could be an impatient man. He never suffered fools gladly, and at times he didn’t suffer anyone gladly. This was evolving into one of those times. Hunter was peppering the prof with questions, demanding details that weren’t immediately available. As the grilling continued it was clear that this guy was becoming increasingly upset with himself for disappointing the great man. Hunter in turn was becoming more agitated.Hunter has often been accused of flying off the handle, snapping, losing it, freaking, pitching a fit and a whole bunch of other things that essentially describe the same event. As far as I know, never unfairly. This is what happened next. A cloud passed over the sun in Woody Creek, the peacocks fell silent, a chill breeze came through the window and Hunter went off. Now, people who know Hunter realize that this kind of pyrotechnic display was a state of mind that would pass, and a fine affable gentleman would soon enough re-emerge. But for those who didn’t know Hunter there was no reason to think that his rage, so towering and so deep, would not last forever. In this particular case Hunter’s rant was phrased in the form of a question, so he stopped and waited for a reply. We waited, and we waited. Finally Hunter loosed another barrage of invective at peak volume hoping, you know, to jump-start the conversation.Pregnant moments passed, and then out of the speaker came what sounded like a random assortment of vowels and consonants, maybe some syllables. Jesus, the guy was a stutterer, or more correctly, a recovering stutterer; he’d been fine in the early conversation, but now that the pressure was on he’d fallen apart completely. I couldn’t stand it – Hunter had broken him, he’d taken a perfectly nice man who clearly idolized him and reduced him to what I’m sure the man hated most about himself.I looked at Hunter. His face was contorted with shock and remorse. I empathized with the poor professor; his was a tragic case. But it was the grief on Hunter’s face that got me. I don’t know if I’d ever seen anything just like it before. I charged out of the kitchen and into the living room, just in case I couldn’t suppress my laughter. It took lots of time and substances to regain my composure. When I returned to the kitchen I found Hunter still on the phone, coping with the awkwardness of the situation as best he could. I guess you could say that the art of apology wasn’t something that Hunter ever really bothered to master. I’m sure if he had that he would have been great at it, but it wasn’t Hunter’s thing. He was, however, talking soothingly at the speakerphone.I paused for a moment hoping to hear a non-stuttered reply but there was only silence from the other end of the line. Hunter kept on. As I walked toward my truck the cloud had passed and the sun was out full, the breeze had warmed and the peacocks were again strutting and squawking. I felt these men should be left alone to their business.