My head was stuffy and I had arrived at Tulsa Airport the night before with that vaguely rundown, on the verge of coming down with something feeling that sometimes accompanies a day spent in airports and on planes, so I slept in while Trani headed out for his Saturday morning, crack of dawn group run and a day at Tulsa Runner. For this trip I departed from my customary practice of packing a couple of garbage crime novels to read on the plane and in the evening before falling asleep, a habit that dates to childhood. No matter how tired when I crawl under the covers, I cannot turn out the bedside light until I have read at least a page or two. This time I brought two books given me several years ago by a friend who was downsizing her library: Dancing After Hours, a collection of stories by Andre Dubus, and From Bondage by Henry Roth. I read the first Dubus story and began the second on the flight from Portland to Las Vegas for the first leg of the trip. Dubus enjoys a fine reputation, but neither of those stories drew me in. I set his book aside. Roth's autobiographical novel set in the bohemian world of struggling writers and political radicals, communists, socialists, in 1920s Manhattan was more promising. Even so, that morning in Tulsa I had an urge for something different. Perusing the bookcase I hit on The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, volume I of Hunter Thompson's collected letters. Thompson was a masterful prose stylist, as William Kennedy notes in a foreword, at least up until Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (1973). After that the writing got sketchier, more hit or miss, more misses than hits. At his best he is entertaining, funny, and insightful.
Mid-morning after reading Kennedy's foreword and Douglas Brinkley's editor's note I strolled to Brookside where I ended up at Old School Bagel Cafe and settled in with my journal, a multigrain bagel with honey almond cream cheese, coffee, and my thoughts, to wit, perhaps I could benefit by rereading Thompson, maybe find a spark to enliven my own prose style, which has floundered of late. I fear the writing these days suffers from an aim to address serious matters seriously that too often leaves it overly cautious and stodgy. Not that I thought in terms of looking to Thompson as a model in other than some vague sense. His mode of rhetorical excess, the ramped-up mix of invective, righteous indignation, twisted humor, and at its best trenchant analysis, lends itself to superficial imitation, but it takes genuine talent and many hours at the desk to get it down. David Halberstam touched on this in his foreword to volume II of the letters (Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976):
His voice is sui generis. He is who he is. No one created Hunter other than Hunter. Somehow he found his voice, and he knew, before anyone else, that it was special. It is not to be imitated, and I can't think of anything worse than for any young journalist to try to imitate Hunter. (p. xii).
That journalists the caliber of Kennedy, Halberstam, Studs Terkel, Tom Wolfe, and Charles Kuralt were fans of Thompson's work and personal friends, that Molly Ivins could describe him as a dear, sweet man (there's not a doubt in my military mind I read that in something she wrote), suggests there was more to him than a gift for wild hyperbole and a taste for reckless debauchery.
The times could do with Hunter Thompson in his prime. Molly Ivins too, for that matter. Just this morning I began the day as usual by making the rounds of my go-to sites for news and commentary: Politico, Talking Points Memo, Vox, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, and Sic Semper Tyrannis. Not one of them reported an outbreak of civil war or a coup attempt or murder of white people, Christians, and Trump supporters by antifa, possibly in league with Black Lives Matter and the Black Panthers. Rumor had it that some sort of insurrection, funded by George Soros of course, was to be launched on 4 November. No less an authoritative source than conspiracy fantasist Alex Jones at Infowars warned his audience that the antifas would forsake their black balaclavas and come disguised in MAGA (Make America Great Again) drag, armed with shanks and AK-47s. Zounds. Time for all good patriots to get bunkered down, locked and loaded, virgin daughters barricaded safe from rampaging lesbians. So were Jones and his Infowars cronies chastened by yesterday's nonevent? Oh, heck no. To the contrary, the fact that I as a white person did not find myself shanked by some antifa fiend wearing an orange Trump wig under a MAGA cap is proof the uprising was a massive flop. Take that, George Soros.
Maybe Hunter Thompson was ahead of his time. In a letter of July 9, 1970, he informed Nicholas von Hoffman, a left-leaning writer at the Washington Post, that he had been voted the new chief of the Aspen Wallposter's Washington Bureau at a salary of $96,000 per annum "payable when the Meat Possum Press Ltd. (our parent organization) goes public and net stock sales reach $500,000. In the meantime, we have a man who will co-sign your loans free of charge, for almost any amount." As bureau chief, von Hoffman would be charged with passing along "occasional rumors & libels too heinous for publication anywhere else." Sounds like a prototype for Jones's Infowars operation.
Meantime, House GOP campaign strategists walked away from a meeting with failed scriptwriter and former White House adviser Stephen Kevin Bannon with the impression that he won't backstab House Republican incumbents in the 2018 mid-term elections. Bannon's black bile seems to be zeroed in on Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans, and any other Republican tarred by association with the Majority Leader. (Alex Isenstadt and Elena Schneider, Bannon pledges not to go to war vs. House Republicans, Politico, 11/3/2017). While I am always happy to witness fratricide on the right, that may not matter if the Democrats cannot figure out a way to appeal to voters in the heart of the country, where a critical mass tune in to Fox, Breitbart, and Infowars to inform their take on the zeitgeist. (Kevin Robillard, Democrats still toxic in rural America, Politico 11/3/2017)
Where are Hunter Thompson and Molly Ivins when we need them? It is on rest of us to follow in their giant footsteps as best we can.
Julie Miller, George Clooney on the Twins, Trump, and Steve Bannon’s Failed Hollywood Career, Vanity Fair, September 9, 2017
Southern Poverty Law Center, Alex Jones