Has it been a year already? Of course it has, I can tell by simply gazing at a mirror. The hairline has, impossibly, receded even further back on my skull in a grand attempt to meet my neck. What little hair remains is a bit grayer, the creases in my face are a bit deeper, and the joints in my body make a bit more noise. And so much for aging gracefully. They lied to us about that part but what are we going to do about it? Those liars are already dead or dying and the energy we have left is better spent thinking about our own inevitable demise.
This time last year I was in the sticks of Georgia, sweltering in near triple-digit heat, watching the wells evaporate dry and wondering when it would all come to a fiery end as we inched our way to glorious spontaneous combustion. That fire never came though, we got through it and somehow between then and now I made my back to my favorite city, that fair maiden of the West, my old lover, San Francisco. The hellfire of Georgia has been replaced with a blanket of cold mist and I sit with a mug of green tea, bundled up in more layers than I have bones, contemplating the merits of powering up the space heater. Whatever happened to the July of my childhood?
San Francisco is an amazing city. It is somehow both inspiring and unpleasant, a place where the rich get richer and the dreams of peasants get crushed under thousand-dollar designer boots. The working class can no longer afford to live here and must be shuttled in by crowded bus or train to beg for pennies or the dregs of someone's Soy Latte. And yet... we all scratch and claw and bite and curse to stay here so there must be something about it.
The Good Doctor spent a fair amount of time here. His residence at 318 Parnassus isn't that far from where I am now and rumor has it that if you look closely you can still make out where the bullet holes were patched. From drunk stumbling in Haight Ashbury to drunk dancing in the Marina to drunk drinking South Of Market, Hunter had this town wired. He was equally at home writing in the offices of Rolling Stone or "managing" a gritty sex theater in the Tenderloin or partying with Hells Angels in Potrero Hill. It's said that Hunter knew the location of every motel ice machine in the city, the better to make his famous Chivas snowcones with, and I choose to believe it. The stories those ice machines must have.
Oh to have been in San Francisco during that time and with that man. I can totally imagine what it was like... roaring down Geary Boulevard to Point Lobos Avenue in a car with the top down, cold beers comfortably nestled between thighs, the remnants of a joint dangling from the ashtray, rock music blaring into the night. The ocean would come into view and Hunter would smile, flick his eyes to make sure I was cool with this and then he would floor the accelerator and we would be airborne, soaring through the air silent and weightless, flying off the cliff until we landed with a crashing thud on the beach below. He'd drain his beer and toss it into the waves, grab another from the six-pack and pop it open. "See," he would say, "nothing to worry about."
I wasn’t there that day but I have no doubt that it was miserable -- the air hot, humid, and thick with fifty different species of mosquitoes. There could be no other way to welcome the cranky Good Doctor to the planet that would trap him for nearly seventy years before he took it upon himself to leave and explore the cosmos.
But we’re not here to dredge up painful memories or mourn the passing of a great man, no, we’re here to celebrate a Rocket that burned powerful and bright and ignited the world with his white phosphorus afterglow.
I’m sitting on a front porch in rural Georgia and I can’t help but think that this is what it must have been like when Hunter was born. It’s not even eleven o’clock in the morning and the temperature is already at an oppressive ninety-seven degrees, sure to rise another ten or twelve or fifteen degrees more before the day is done. The humidity is intolerable and sits on my chest like a drunken Lady Wrestler, chafing the skin and causing the hair to grow inward and down where it will fester and poison the blood.
Bourbon is the only thing that saves in times like these. It’s too fucking hot for bourbon, yet here I sit, gulping Wild Turkey 101 like a fish gulps water. I have to, though, because of Tradition. It’s My Way and the only way I know so I keep at it, year after year, drinking a bottle of The Dirty Bird to celebrate the birthdate of that mean S.O.B. Thompson. In the years following his death my Tradition often tastes like a bitter, jagged pill that cuts all the way to the core before tearing a new asshole as it makes its way out and Beyond. But still, we do what we must and we suck it up and keep our mouths shut.
I don’t even know if the Good Doctor drank bourbon on a regular basis. Many accounts I’ve read of him suggest that he had a penchant for colorful girly drinks that contained rum and umbrellas and pieces of fruit. And so what? The man was from Kentucky -- bourbon country if there ever was one, and in my mind that makes him a bourbon drinker by default.
A birthday in America is traditionally celebrated with friends and gifts and cake but I fantasize that Hunter would have no part of that, preferring instead to pour a glass of liquor and maybe go outside and shoot something or blow some shit up and finish the day with a nice cut of beef or perhaps the heart of a bear.
I’m close to that, really close. I’m sipping straight from the bottle because I can’t stand dirtying a glass when the liquor comes in its own, and I have a .22 Long Rifle instead of heavy-duty firepower that Thompson was known for, and I don’t have any beef or hearts immediately available but I do have a ham sandwich. Sit, sip, shoot, nibble. The sitting and sipping and nibbling are easy but the shooting is something I’m not entirely used to, being a pacifist sissy City Boy and all that. So instead of taking potshots at the squirrels and foxes and lizards that seem to rule this part of the country I go for pine trees. Bang, take that you useless fucker! As far as trees go I find pine to be utterly worthless and have zero problems pumping them full of hot lead. The Doc would be proud of the War Cry that escapes from my throat every time I’m actually able to hit one, my aim being one of my truly horrible qualities that shouldn’t be discussed while in Polite Company.
And so we sit and eat ham and drink bourbon and shoot trees. Pretty tame compared to what Hunter would get himself up to but it’s what I have so Carpe Diem and all that. Happy Birthday, you weird Fucker, thanks for the inspiration and good times. We’ll do this again next year.