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An American Affidavit

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hunter S Thompson, High Times and how to survive the hangover from hell by Jill Rothenberg from The Guardian

Hunter S Thompson, High Times and how to survive the hangover from hell

Anyone who spent a little bit of time with the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was lucky – especially if he forgave their unconscionable behaviourI could barely move from my prone position on the bed. My head was pounding and my stomach was awash with a queasiness that meant one thing: I was in for a hangover from hell.
The room was dark, the TV was on low and from the other bed there was the glow of a lit cigarette. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw a bare-chested guy in jeans, lying on his back, blowing smoke at the ceiling. He turned to look at me. I had a vague memory of being carried up some stairs, over his shoulders.
Memories started to come back. Peacocks squawking in cages, Johnny Cash tunes on the stereo. Me taking a thick cigarette from a strong-jawed man with dark glasses, his face only inches from mine, and, later, crawling over the whitest carpet I had ever seen. A couple guys who seemed nice enough earlier in the evening, but who wanted me gone later on. They picked me up and carried me outside, where they pushed me into the cab of a truck – which, that’s right, belonged to the guy in the bed.
Shit. Now I knew. I had ruined my friend Ben’s big score – a High Times cover story on Hunter S Thompson.
We had been thrown out of Hunter’s own house because I – never exactly a party girl – had gotten totally lit from doing hits with Hunter. And now I was in the middle of a scene that could have been written by the gonzo journalist himself.

That was more than a decade ago, months before the author killed himself.
Anyone who spent even a little bit of time with Hunter S Thompson was lucky, but especially so if they were a writer or editor. It felt like he had bestowed some kind of glow, some sort of spark that reminded you it was life’s adventures – and especially its fuck-ups and mistakes – that might teach you the most and that would probably take your readers on the most amazing of journeys.

Once I’d slept off the worst of my hangover, Ben and I packed up his truck outside the motel in Basalt and headed for home, near Denver. The only time we talked was at a Village Inn in Glenwood Springs, where we stopped for food.
“I’m really pissed at you, Jill, but you gotta eat. It’ll make you feel a lot better,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief at his memories of the previous night but concerned that I was in bad shape.
We were good friends, the kind who called each other at 2am when we couldn’t sleep, even if we were dating people at the time. Now I had ruined an opportunity for him that might not ever come again. He had become a sort of protégé of Thompson, visiting him often in Woody Creek, pushing hard for his cover story. My drunk-girl behavior had ruined it all.
The next day, after Ben dropped me off at home, not a word between us for 300 miles, I did the only thing I knew to do – I called my mother. I realize how uncool this sounds, especially considering I was 38 years old at the time, but though we’re miles away and worlds apart, mom always understands the scrapes I get myself into, and the best way to get myself out.
Of course, I never appreciate it at the time.
“What? You want me to do what?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You’ve probably never heard of Hunter S Thompson, but he’s the biggest partier and party crasher in history.”
“I know who he is,” she said, sounding exasperated. “But what you did was inexcusable and rude and you need to write him a letter of apology.”
This is why my mother is so great and maddening; her rules of etiquette spare no one, in any situation.
“Let’s do it now over the phone,” she began. “Do you have a pen? ‘Dear Mr Thompson, I would like to sincerely apologize for my behavior at your home.’”

My “behavior” had indeed been unlike me. But I had recently been laid off, and the prospect of not working with writers anymore depressed me. A road trip and a possible job as Hunter’s assistant – all arranged through Ben – seemed the perfect antidote to reality.
That evening, Ben had made the call all reporters did, checking in and making sure Hunter was home and expecting him. When we arrived, a party was in full swing. I was feeling good, and greeted Hunter’s lovely wife Anita and some of the neighbors. And then I met him, sitting on a stool behind the kitchen counter, his recently broken leg in a cast.
It was like seeing the wizard behind the curtain: he wasn’t the long-striding big man with the strong-jaw, flannel shirt and commanding voice I’d come to expect, shooting at one thing or another with one of his high-powered shotguns. He was a bit slumped, and thinner than I expected, but totally focused on me, beckoning me with one thick finger.
“Hey, so you’re Ben’s friend,” he said. “You want to come work for me?”
Even though he wore dark glasses, I could see his eyes, and they were amused.
“Here, let’s smoke this,” Hunter said, offering me what looked like a much-larger-than-average cigarette, almost a cigar. It smelled sweet. He put his arms around my waist. “Just try it.”
I’m about to get high with Hunter S Thompson, I remember thinking. I took the cigarette. As I did, I looked up and saw Ben from across the room. “No,” he seemed to be saying, his head moving back and forth almost imperceptibly. “Don’t do it.”
Screw that, I thought. Life is made to be lived. I am with Hunter Fucking Thompson and I think I know how to hang here.
That was a mistake – and the only comfort I get looking back is in knowing I haven’t been the only one who incorrectly thought they could keep up with Hunter S Thompson’s drug intake.
Whatever was in that joint – plain old pot, hash, PCP, or some secret recipe – set me alight. I got immediately loud, then sick, then sicker, then even sicker, and all in Hunter and Anita’s sanctum.
A few neighbors thought I needed to leave, to take my drunken self elsewhere, though Anita was nothing but kind and helpful. I remember her saying she felt bad because she had been there herself. But Hunter’s neighbors were protective of him, given the shenanigans that had gone on in that house over the years. They were going to see that I was removed. Out to the truck I went.

Hunter got my letter of apology, which he said was one of the nicest he had ever received. And Ben got his story, Thompson telling him to invite me back, that he of all people should not have let a girl having fun be kicked out of his house.
But life was moving on; I was focused on getting another job. I ended up living in Oakland, where I met a guy who would introduce me to a world that Hunter knew well – that of the Hell’s Angels.
No matter what the subject, Hunter put himself into the story and thought you should be there, too – not just reading about it but actually living in it for a while, being true to interview subjects.
Hunter pioneered that approach, and his great legacy for those of us who make our living with words is that he helped teach us how to pull readers right through the pages and take them on journeys by which they could learn something, and maybe feel transformed in the process.
You might not like where Hunter took you, or maybe you were transfixed. Either way, you were changed – a traveler to a world you may never otherwise have seen.

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