May 7, 2009

The Weird Turn Gold

"The delicate illusions that get us through life
can only stand so much strain."
-Hunter S. Thompson, "The Rum Diary"

I can't pride myself on much. I don't have the looks or the skill. No one would pay for me to play the piano, strut on a catwalk, lecture on superstring theory (I had to Google that) or review a four course meal. I'm not discovering a cure for anything, and can only boast "almost half of an associates degree" with an estimated completion time of around 2018. Even simple things like folding fitted sheets have been proven unsuccessful.

But I can read. This one ability has often saved me from appearing completely inadequate. I remember sitting in an a break room as a 19 year old secretary. I tuned everyone out and concentrated on a book. It was around the time I read "Wuthering Heights" by Charlotte Bronte, "More, Now, Again" by Elizabeth Wurtzel, and "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redfield Jamison. I can't remember which one it was that day (if not "Wuthering Heights, it would be even more outrageous), but another girl commented to everyone there, "Look at Erika! She always reads those smart books." I started to laugh until I saw the romance novels everyone held in one hand, sandwiches aloft in the other. If 'smart books' were anything above Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, than I was a genius.

So at a friend's apartment party last summer, on a humid Evansville night, I was embarrassed when I was asked about Hunter S. Thompson. I'd heard of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in a vague, uninterested way, and had certainly never read anything by him. Her boyfriend excitedly pulled books from the shelf and piled them into my arms, the three of us drunk enough to think I would read them all in a weekend or so. I handed some back before I left that night. But I held onto "The Rum Diary".

The book followed me through the end of that summer and the goodbyes to those friends. It was packed into a box with my alarm clock and other bedside necessities. I read a paragraph here and there. When I moved, it was moved from the nightstand to the living room table in an attempt to remind myself it should have been finished by this time. Once I made an honest effort, however, I couldn't get enough.

Somehow, a 22 year old guy wrote a novel (his first) that I loved. I generally am not enthused with novels. I don't like made up things. Generally, I want some gritty non-fiction, an autobiography, or some poetry that is too floaty to be mistaken for realness. Yet, as I discovered the genre of Gonzo journalism that he's credited for, I realised it was just as good, because in most ways I was reading Thompson's memoir. There were some names thrown in here and there, but so much of it was simply him. The way he looks in every picture-the sunglasses, the cigarettes-is exactly how I pictured Paul Kemp, and I believe that's exactly what he aimed for.

The way he wrote about people especially fascinated me. He seemed so careless about everyone, himself included. His closest friends, his girl, his job-everything was laid back to the point that I couldn't picture a guy like him sitting down to pay the bills. The only thing he did in the book was drink (you'll never guess) rum, and half-heartily work for a failing newspaper. He always had money for his booze, and chance meetings were commonplace to him, as if he were in a movie. Somehow, though, it was all completely believable. Add the awesome reflections now and then, and the result is masterpiece prose.

At the end of his life a couple years ago, he called his wife. With her on the phone, and family in the next room, he shot himself. There was a partially-typed paper in the typewriter. The scene sounds like he wanted to work it into his next book, but needed to experience it before he wrote it. And it makes me sad to to think about all the things he'd said that I hadn't heard until now, and all the Rolling Stone articles he'd written. Basically, I just regret I didn't know about him before. His cult following makes perfect sense to me now.

I'll probably be back to my shallow and uninteresting relay of my life's happenings on the next post. Tonight, though, I will be grateful to the friends on that backyard patio who gave me one of the best gifts ever-the discovery of a new favorite thing.

2 kind comments from you:

Miss Peach said...

I miss you, and I'm tired of it.

chambanachik said...

I expect you and Shad to be my first out-of-town guests. I miss you and the fun we had-there are many Katie moments (only you would find funny) that I want to share with you!

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