Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In Memorium: Hunter S. Thompson

Prologue: Hunter S. Thompson, who committed suicide this week, was one of my favorite writers for many reasons. His obnoxious, irreverant behavior was the center of his wild-eyed stories about crashing political and sporting events around the world. Thompson's writing style was a pure delight - it defies description and has to be read to be appreciated. The closest analogy I can think of is if Frankenstein's monster had kept a diary, this is how it would look.

What made Thompson's dispatches so entertaining to me was the fact that I was dying to live as he did - with total debauchery - but as a pre-med student, then medical student, et cetera, I couldn't. What would the dean say if I and my buddies showed up for anatomy lab plastered to the gills, with a suitcase full of hacksaws, ether and gila monsters? Like many other studious, goal-oriented preppies of my generation, I could only experience true madness vicariously through his writings. Back then I was ambitious and serious - in other words, boring. Hunter S. Thompson was a string of firecrackers thrown into a hot charcoal grill during a church picnic; he was a man in a gorilla suit running after an ICU attending with defibrillator paddles; he was the avatar (to use one of his pet words) of insubordination, mixed with just enough silliness and insanity to awe a milquetoast like me. He is the only character I have ever dressed up as on Hallowe'en since I left boyhood.

Tom Wolfe has just called Hunter S. Thompson "the century's greatest comic writer in the English language". (He's wrong, of course - that distinction belongs to P. G. Wodehouse). Nevertheless, in Doctor Gonzo's memory I offer the following parody, as a tribute to the man who once said:

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."


FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE E. R.
(written in the manner of one Raoul Duke)

Why am I here? Who is this woman in a giant muu-muu, standing before me squeezing what appears to be a copperhead snake in her hands? She spoke to me in some strange language - obviously disrespectful of the country that took her in after a long canoe trip across the oceans. I thought of screaming "Back! Get Back!" but suddenly sat bolt upright and remembered:

I am a doctor...on call in the emergency room of the world's greatest hospital. My shoes were smeared with thick crusts of vomit and blood, as were my pants, except I wasn't wearing any. I must find them, I thought. The lights above my head burned into my skull like the first kiss of the electric chair. I reached for my pistol to shoot at them, but it, too, was missing. The situation was rapidly deteriorating. I began to sweat like a champagne fountain at a coal miner's wedding.

She continued to bark at me as I stood up and surveyed the room. I had been working since six o'clock the previous evening, and felt like I had been stomped by buffaloes. I desperately wanted to claw my eyes out, but instead hunched over the desk, searching for a pack of cigarettes. What was it - 12 hours of pure massacre, or had I been trapped in this reptile pit for weeks? No one seemed to hear me as I asked for matches and a can of kerosene...

"Yes, yes," I said to the nurse. "You're doing fine, doing a fine job for all of us here." She glared at me as if she had just seen Martin Bormann in an Argentinian health club. What did she want from me? She followed me across the floor as I attempted to break into the crash cart...a nice ampule of epinephrine ought to help, I thought - perks a man up to the point where he would not hesitate to offer his aunt a quick game of Russian roulette. I looked over my shoulder at the nurse. Maybe I should inject her first - give her just enough to get her to dance on the counter top, holding a gunny sack full of live rats. I laughed hysterically at this idea until a security officer tried to club me with a sap. He missed and accidentally whacked a pizza delivery man right in the pepperonies.

I quickly grabbed a clipboard and walked into the nearest exam room. "What is your problem, sir?" It was difficult to see him through the cheap Saigon sunglasses my attorney had given me.

"My chest hurts and I can't breathe so good" he said. My God! His left arm suddenly fell off and he grabbed it and flung it at me! Another damn zombie in the emergency room - how they sneak past the metal detectors is beyond me. I rushed the gurney and toppled it over, sending the fiend crashing into an EKG machine. Musn't panic, I thought - just walk nonchalantly out of the room and down the hall to the lounge. Poor bastards... they'll find out soon enough what the living dead can do to a man's aorta with their teeth. Better let Security handle this, or better yet an armored company of Camp Pendleton's finest.

As I reached the lounge I realized that the sun was shining, meaning my hell-night was about over. All that was left to do was clean up the forty or so charts that I had tossed behind the soda machine, locate the rest of my clothes, sign in to the intern relieving me and slip out through the window in the men's room. Before leaving I decided to eat - after all, being a servant of the needy gives one an appetite like a crazed Samoan wrestler. My forged I.D. card was good for at least one more trip through the outlet store for the local waste dump, also known as the hospital cafeteria.

My surgical colleague sat next to me as I sliced up grapefruit with a stiletto. "Man, you sure had a rough night, didn't you? Last I saw of you, you were standing on a trash can during that code, screaming 'Somebody get me a chainsaw!' How long have you been on E. R. call?"

I turned my head to reply, but gasped - scorpions were crawling out of his eyes! He grinned at me like a Jolly Roger as I sprang from the table. I tossed my glass of ice water at him as he tried to grab my arm. I could hear him bleating like a goat caught in a vise as I ran through the glass doors and out to my car. I jumped into my 1971 red Cadillac convertible and sped off, playing "Mr. Tambourine Man" at full volume. I looked at my watch.

My next shift in the emergency room would start in just 23 hours and 14 minutes.

Epilogue: If any readers are unfamiliar with Thompson's bizarro world, a word of caution is advisable: his books are filled with unhealthy and illegal behavior. Take it all as a fantasy, like a trip through a haunted house - and remember, as they say on television: don't try this at home!

28 Comments:

At 9:53 PM, Blogger Undermar said...

Brilliant, simply brilliant. It's hard to believe you are a physician. You ought to be published, blogs are not good enough for someone of your caliber.

 
At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

truly inspired. bravo!

-ali

 
At 12:02 AM, Blogger GNN Staff Writer said...

I'm only posting to tell you how heartened I am to see the name P.G. Wodehouse mentioned anywhere. You display excellent taste, good sir.

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger Internal Medicine Doctor said...

great post

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger sue said...

Finally, a fitting tribute to the gonzo journalist. I remember hearing about the hot tub parties, complete with impromtu target practice and the ingestion of many unknown substances, at Thompson's Woody Creek house when I lived in Aspen many moons ago. My friends who went lived to tell the tales, but were never quite the same again. All I had to do was read the books--had the same effect. Thank you for channeling him for a few minutes.

P.S. I'm with undermar--you should write a book.

 
At 8:25 PM, Blogger Carol said...

In my mid-teen years one of the many ways I pissed my mother off was by subscribing to Rolling Stone. I would read Thompson's articles and dream of growing up to be a malcontent, hedonistic debaucher of all that was good and proper in the world. I'd like to think I didn't do half bad!! You have channelled him beautifully.

 
At 1:43 AM, Blogger Jarle said...

It's sad that Hunter S. Thompson has "left the building". Must he rest in peace.

 
At 12:24 PM, Anonymous liz said...

Thank you...I was made nostalgic by the news of his passing.

Here I am in another ski town, more sedate than Aspen of 1972 (when I spent the winter there, skiing and working part time, and finding out I wasn't nearly as wild as I thought I was)...

A wild man cannot age, he has to go out in a blaze of glory.

Fare you well, Hunter S. Thompson

 
At 5:16 AM, Blogger not4me said...

Please take this in stride as I'm not familiar with this author but did he always use so many similes? That was just wrong.

After reading that bit I felt the need to troll through your other posts to compare them (knowing very well that you were in character here, so to speak) and you certainly are a wonderful writer. Please don't take this personally...I think a simile did me wrong in the past or something. ;)

Lynne

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

To not4me:

My parody of HST, compared to his actual writing style, is like (simile alert!) comparing a pre-schooler's finger painting to "Guernica"! I encourage anyone interested in Thompson to pick up a copy of F & L in L.V.

 
At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Craig Press said...

For anyone interested in a less trippy but all the while truely Hunter S. Thompson read, I would suggest "Better than Sex". His story about the battle of Bush V Clinton in the 90's.

 
At 10:07 PM, Blogger Dr. Charles said...

i'm better late than never for having read this post! superb channeling!

 
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