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Postcards From The Proud Highway
  • October 09, 2011 : 20:10
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On Reading

All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren, is one of my all-time favorite books. If you don't know the book you should grab it and read it as soon as possible because it will teach you a lot of things. The Ginger Man, by J.P. Donleavy, was one of my seminal influences. It was kind of a password in certain circles. The Ginger Man got the piss beat out of him more than a few times, as I recall. The reading experience is important: All the King's Men, George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is 55,000 words long—amazing economy in a book like that. With Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I was determined to make it shorter than that. I may have failed. I think I beat it. But it's like the speed record on Saddle Road: I'm not sure I still hold it. In fact, I'm sure I don't if I could do it just by getting my hands on a Ferrari.

I get tremendous pleasure from reading aloud and having other people read to me. I like to hear how other people hear things. I like women's voices, foreign accents. There's a music to it.

When you're reading aloud, just remember that you want to understand it yourself. You have to hear it. That's the key to other people comprehending. You've got to hear the music. You need to hit each word. Not the way journalists read but with a dramatic rendering. It takes awhile. It's easier to comprehend when you creep along, like driving in second gear. The listener should be impatient for what's coming next.

On Rejection

For the better part of two years, while I was working as a copy boy at Time magazine—after my time in the Air Force—I took courses at Columbia and the New School. I had the fiction editor of Esquire, Rust Hills, as a creative-writing professor at Columbia. I still have a note from him saying, "Never submit anything to Esquire ever again. You're a hateful, stupid bastard. Esquire hates you." It was kind of a shock at that age.

In Orwell's 1984, rigidity is imposed by the will of the state. Whereas with soma, in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, it's the will of the people. I've always operated on that second theory. Nobody is stealing our freedoms. We're dealing them off. That's the dark side of the American dream. I've always seen myself as a carrier of the torch against that urge. I always took it for granted. Just like I always took it for granted that if I wanted to run for president I could. I could do it. It's a nice way to think for most of your life, to be able to sustain that. Attitude counts for a lot.

On Demolition

When you push a car off a cliff and blow it up, be sure to roll the windows down to avoid shrapnel. Also, strip the license plate so you're not billed for the cleanup.

On Jail

My class in high school was the first one in the history of Louisville Male High to have girls in it, though still no blacks. I fell in love with a cheerleader. I can't say it was distracting—I was just not in the habit of going to class. But I wasn't cutting school to go back and jack off in an alley and eat cotton candy. My friends and I would go drink beer and read Plato's parable of the caves. We would go to taverns and read things like All the King's Men. Yes sir, it was a smart gang. When a judge at juvenile court sent me off to prison, I saw there was not a lot of future in jail. That is a vital piece of knowledge. I've never been back. I've been in holding tanks and such, but they've never convicted me.

On The Draft

My original job in the Air Force was repairing avionics and electronics. We were like the candy man: If your machine was out, you had to wait for us. And 90 percent of the problems were vacuum tubes. This was before solid-state engineering. So you'd replace a tube or two and they thought you were fucking Einstein. Machines would come back to life; planes would fly. Just pull a tube and stick another one in there. It was a cinch.

The military was kind of your friend in those days. You could jump a ride on military air-transport planes. If the plane was empty you could take people with you --even a girl. You could travel with the base football team, sitting on those paratrooper seats along the sides of the aircraft, against the tin walls.

At my station, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, we had Bart Starr as the starting quarterback of the base football team. Everybody served. We had a bunch of all-Americans on the team. People went from the Eglin Eagles to the Green Bay Packers.

The draft civilized the military. It wasn't a permanent status; it was service. It has a civilizing effect—you have a whole different attitude when you're in there for two years. And so does the top brass. The abolition of the draft was a momentous event. When you abolish the draft you've got mercenaries.

On Public Speaking

When I was in the Air Force I would take classes on the base. One of the classes I took was for something that terrified me more than anything in life: public speaking. It was terrifying. I don't know how I ever became a sought-after speaker.

When the Hells Angels book came out I was forced to go out and do publicity for it. It was still hard for me. They told me that if I could write a convincing article I could write a speech. I'd seen senior officers try to master public speaking in order to get promoted to field-grade positions—it was like survival for them. Succeed or die. Public speaking was a required skill. But when I got the sports editorship at the base newspaper—because the guy who was doing it was drunk, busted for the third time for pissing in public—I never had to master it.

One problem I have with public speaking is the sound system—I rarely get there in time to do a sound check. So the sound ends up distorted or you lose the bass.

On Nutrition

Grapefruit is vital to my lifestyle. I eat grapefruits, oranges, lemons, kiwis. I also need something green with every meal—some vegetables on the plate. Even if it's just some sliced tomatoes and green onions in a pinch. It's both aesthetic and healthy. If I take a look at a plate and see brown, gray, white, I can't eat it. I want to see some red and green.

Drink six to eight glasses of water a day. When you don't drink enough water you lose your taste for it. When you're chronically dehydrated the body misses it, but it has a self-fooling mechanism where you don't think about it. Then you have to reeducate your taste buds for it. At first you can't drink much pure water. I've worked up to five or six glasses a day. At first I could barely do one.

I had started the hydration process before I broke my leg in Hawaii at Christmastime in 2003. Everybody had been telling me. I was going into the Aspen Club—to the sports medicine department—to learn to walk after my spinal surgery earlier that same year. I wasn't supposed to recover from that.

I've really enjoyed my body. I've used it. One of the things I've been most impressed with in my life is the resiliency of the human body: They did both my spinal surgery and my leg surgery without putting any metal in me. No metal, Bubba.

On Medicine

A lot of doctors are reluctant to take responsibility for me. Nobody wants to be the doctor who killed Hunter Thompson. I don't trust the medical establishment, but I do trust individual doctors. I'm straight with doctors. They have to learn that they can talk to me straight, too. There's no point in trying to conceal anything. I appreciate the ones who take risks on me, and I have to look out for the chickenshits.

Most physicians are quacks. In Hawaii, when I broke my leg, they wouldn't give me any painkillers because I'd been drinking. Alcohol is supposed to be dangerous with painkillers. But depending on the person, that can be unnecessarily dogmatic. Body weight makes a big difference. If I sit around here doing hit for hit of almost anything except acid with a 100-pound woman, she'll get twice as ripped as me.

Anyway, the doctors wouldn't give me painkillers. They wanted me off the island. Nobody wanted responsibility. The doctors, the university where I spoke, the organizers of the marathon I was covering, the hotel where I stayed—they all wanted me out. It was hell. When they tried to load me onto a full commercial flight, they jammed my broken leg into the fuselage of the plane. I was the last to board. Imagine the wonderment of the other 200 passengers upon hearing this incredible uproar at the front of the aircraft—my ever-increasingly violent screams. All those passengers delayed 45 minutes, unable to see what was going on and unable to get up from their seats. Finally the airline had to give up. I've learned that when you get that mean, most people try to get away from it. And if they are assigned to handle you physically, they really want to get away from it.

On Mobility

I was helpless when I got back from Hawaii. I had to shit in buckets. I had to learn how to move between wheelchairs. I had to learn to walk for the second time in one year. That was survival. It's very hard controlling your environment when you're in a wheelchair. Or in pain.

There are some advantages to being in a wheelchair but only when you can get out of it. It can be a wonderful way to travel. But not as nice as in a private jet. I'd do just about anything in this world to avoid flying commercial.

On Drugs

Most drugs have been very good to me. I use drugs, and if I abuse them, well, show me where. What do you mean abuse them, you jackass? What's abuse? Like most anything else, it's about paying attention. It's simple. It's not some exotic school of thought I picked up somewhere; it's paying attention. Concentrating. It's something you have to do your whole life.

I watch it and make sure people can handle things. You have to be super aware of who is fucked-up, who is angry. Not at you necessarily, but who is dangerous. Who is not the same friendly guy you were talking to yesterday. See how different things affect different people. Then avoid them if you have to, or keep an eye on them. You can help people at some stage of their anger, but there's a point beyond which you can't do anything.

Steroid-based nasal spray can turn you into a monster.

The worst side of drug use is getting the drugs. Yeah, the police are my drug problem. You just can't travel with drugs anymore. That forces you to get your drugs from the local market when you go to a strange town. That affects the people you spend time with.

I've never made a nickel or dime off drugs. Never sold them. That's vital to the karma. Keeping a balance—not getting greedy. I would also feel somehow responsible for my clients. And most full-time dealers I've known have spent time in prison. It's part of the bargain. You have to put some of that profit away—probably half of it—against the day when you have to make a big bail or pay a lawyer. The one thing the Hells Angels did religiously was pay their bail bondsman. Every month, every bill. He's the guy who would be right there when anybody got busted. Call him anytime day or night, anywhere. He'd always come get you.

I don't advocate drugs and whiskey and violence and rock and roll, but they've always been good to me. I've never advised people who can't handle drugs to take them, just as people who can't drive well should not drive 80 miles an hour on any road. That's a point.

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read more: entertainment, magazine, hunter s thompson


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