“The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others — the living — are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In.” – Hunter S. Thompson, from Hell’s Angels
Blood runs cold down the snow-covered mountains of Aspen today, seeping into the fiber of the American Dream as it goes. The fear & depravity continue to spread & pool along its path and, sadly, there is one less able hand to help staunch the bleeding.
Hunter S. Thompson is dead.
Many people are probably surprised he lasted this long but, by most accounts, nobody would’ve guessed it would end this way. A drug casualty? Probably. Vehicular accident? Possibly. A mishap involving guns or explosives? There was always that chance. A life-ending incident involving a combination of all three of those choices? Most likely.
But methodically and by his own hand? Who saw that coming? Or maybe it was plain as day & as big as the American Dream itself all along.
I remember the first time I met Thompson. It was a wild gathering, at his fortified compound near Aspen, with many of those in attendance already in various states of undress and drug-induced stupor. I had gone out onto the porch for a moment of solitude when I felt a strong presence approach from behind. I say approach, but stagger might be a more apt description. I turned to see who this staggering behemoth was – it was Thompson.
He was a towering figure back then, as he invited me to wander the yard with him. The sun was just setting and the peacocks were gathering out back, slowly returning from their daily jaunt. There we stood among the birds – majestic with brightly colored tails aflutter – when Thompson pulled his gun. He pointed it right at me and said the peacocks liked to dance, would I care to join them? I tried to protest but Thompson squinted his eyes and motioned the gun in the birds’ direction, speaking but a single word – “Dance.”
Needless to say I danced & the whole yard was soon buzzing with activity as the peacocks raced to & fro, all trying to avoid my high-steppin’ moves.
Thompson laughed & said he couldn’t believe I didn’t call his bluff.
We returned to the porch, and I lifted a quart of Chivas from out of a nearby ice bucket and poured us both a healthy glass on the rocks.
I was seven years old at the time.
It would be many years before I’d run into Thompson again. I saw him at a swanky hotel party and he looked more than uncomfortable with the situation. He was sweating profusely and his eyes kept darting as he took it all in. A young waifish man sporting a black ponytail had cornered him & was profusely exclaiming, “I can’t believe it’s you! Hunter fucking S. Thompson! You’re my hero, dude!”
Thompson was chain smoking one whiskey-soaked Camel cigarette after another as this barrage continued. When the man finally stopped to take a breath, Thompson went into his “wild man gonzo journalist” routine, letting loose with a string of incoherent expletives before segueing into a scintillating discourse on the state of America & the follies of another war in Iraq.
At that moment, the young man began backing up. He looked physically ill & psychically wounded. Thompson continued berating him & just before the man turned & disappeared into the crowd, he quietly muttered, “Hey dude, I’m a Republican. That shit’s fucked up, you burned out lunatic dope fiend!”
The final time I saw Thompson was only a few months ago. I was passing through Aspen & stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall bar on the way. I had heard he was neither going out much these days nor seeing visitors so, out of respect for his privacy, I hadn’t planned to stop by the compound.
But there was my old friend in the bar, slumped over in a poorly lit booth near the back door. He looked bloated & when I tried to engage him in conversation he simply lifted his glass and, after mumbling “To America!”, slugged the gin back. He looked sick – as if something was eating away at him from the inside – but passed out before I could reply.
I retreated to the relative safety of the cold winds outside but, in retrospect, wonder if I should’ve stayed – if there was anything more I could have done.
But what can anybody do once others begin on a methodical path to self-destruction?
You can only find your way out of so many bad situations before the walls close in and the final darkness falls, as Thompson himself asserted when he wrote, “The American nation is in the worst condition I can remember in my lifetime, and our prospects for the immediate future are even worse. I am surprised and embarrassed to be a part of the first American generation to leave the country in far worse shape than it was when we first came into it. Our highway system is crumbling, our police are dishonest, our children are poor, our vaunted Social Security, once the envy of the world, has been looted and neglected and destroyed by the same gang of ignorant greed-crazed bastards who brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan, the disastrous Gaza Strip and ignominious defeat all over the world…Big Darkness, soon come. Take my word for it.”
He may’ve only been speaking for himself when expressing that opinion but sometimes words fall short.
Action becomes necessary. Decisions are made.
And those who are left behind try to make some sense out of the incomprehensible.