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Kingdom of Fear, Page 2

Hunter S. Thompson

  “Shit! Not again!” cried my lawyer. “I have to fly to Boston tomorrow. What the fuck is going on in this country?”

  “Never ask that question,” I warned her, “unless you already know the answer.”

  “I do,” she said. “We are fucked, utterly fucked.”

  The Author’s Note—if it exists at all—is invariably the worst and lamest part of any book, my own included. That is because it is necessarily the last and most blind-dumb desperate “final touch” that gets heaped into a book just before it goes to the printer—and the whole book, along with the two years of feverish work and anguish, is doomed to failure and ruin if the author won’t produce the note in time for publication.

  Make no mistake about it. These 4 pointless pages of low-rent gibberish are by far the most important part of the book, they say Nothing else matters.

  And so, with that baleful wisdom in mind, let us get on with the wretched task of lashing this “author’s note” together, for good or ill. I am not really in much of a mood to deal with it, no more than I am eager to take a course in how to write commercial advertising copy for my own good, at this time.

  I savagely rejected that swill 40 years ago because I hated it and I hated the people who tried to make me do it. But so what, eh? We are somehow back to square one. . . . Is this a great country, or what?

  . . .

  The safe answer to that question is “Yes, and thank you for asking.” Any other answer will get your name on the waiting list for accommodations at Guantánamo Bay.

  How’s that for a great country, dude? It’s all yours now, and good luck in jail. Cuba is a beautiful island, perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They don’t call it The Pearl of the Antilles for nothing. The white sand beaches are spectacular, and every soft Caribbean breeze that you feel in the midnight air will speak to you of love and joy and atavistic romance.

  Indeed, the future looks good for Cuba, especially with the dollar-economy that will come when the entire island is converted to a spacious concentration camp for the U.S.A., which is already happening. Little did President Theodore Roosevelt know, when he effectively annexed Cuba in 1906, that he had seized for his country what would later become the largest and most permanent prison colony in the history of the world.

  Good old Teddy. Everything he touched was doomed to be beautiful. The man could do no wrong.

  . . .

  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Raiders were whipping the shit out of the heavily favored Broncos, who were wallowing in their own Condition Red. Their top-ranked Defense had gone all to pieces, and now they were being humiliated.

  “George Bush is far greater than Roosevelt,” said my lawyer. “I wish we could be with him now.”

  “You fool,” I snorted. “If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, he would be so ashamed of this country that he would slit his own wrists.”

  “So what? I still have to get to Boston tomorrow,” she muttered. “Will any planes be flying?”

  Just then the football game was interrupted again—this time by a paid commercial about the terrors of smoking marijuana. “Jesus Christ,” she said. “Now they say that if I smoke this joint, I’ll be guilty of murdering a federal judge—Hell, that’s a capital crime, the death penalty.”

  “You’re right,” I replied. “And if you even offer the filthy little thing to me, I will be guilty under the law of conspiring to murder a federal judge.”

  “Well, I guess we will have to stop smoking this stuff,” she said mournfully, as she handed the joint to me. “What else can I smoke to relax after a losing day in court?”

  “Nothing,” I said. “Especially not Xanax: The Governor of Florida just sentenced his own daughter to jail for trying to buy Xanax.”

  And so much for drug talk, eh? Even talking about drugs can get you locked up these days. The times have changed drastically, but not for the better.

  . . .

  I like this book, and I especially like the title, which pretty well sums up the foul nature of life in the U.S.A. in these first few bloody years of the post-American century. Only a fool or a whore would call it anything else.

  It would be easy to say that we owe it all to the Bush family from Texas, but that would be too simplistic. They are only errand boys for the vengeful, bloodthirsty cartel of raving Jesus-freaks and super-rich money mongers who have ruled this country for at least the last 20 years, and arguably for the past 200. They take orders well, and they don’t ask too many questions.

  The real power in America is held by a fast-emerging new Oligarchy of pimps and preachers who see no need for Democracy or fairness or even trees, except maybe the ones in their own yards, and they don’t mind admitting it. They worship money and power and death. Their ideal solution to all the nation’s problems would be another 100 Year War.

  Coming of age in a fascist police state will not be a barrel of fun for anybody, much less for people like me, who are not inclined to suffer Nazis gladly and feel only contempt for the cowardly flag-suckers who would gladly give up their outdated freedom to live for the mess of pottage they have been conned into believing will be freedom from fear.

  Ho ho ho. Let’s not get carried away here. Freedom was yesterday in this country. Its value has been discounted. The only freedom we truly crave today is freedom from Dumbness. Nothing else matters.

  My life has been the polar opposite of safe, but I am proud of it and so is my son, and that is good enough for me. I would do it all over again without changing the beat, although I have never recommended it to others. That would be cruel and irresponsible and wrong, I think, and I am none of those things.

  Whoops, that’s it, folks. We are out of time. Sorry. Mahalo.


  P.S. “The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is . . . the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

  —Mark Twain

  (Lynn Goldsmith)


  When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro

  There are no jokes. Truth is the funniest joke of all.

  —Muhammad Ali

  The Mailbox: Louisville, Summer of 1946

  My parents were decent people, and I was raised, like my friends, to believe that Police were our friends and protectors—the Badge was a symbol of extremely high authority, perhaps the highest of all. Nobody ever asked why. It was one of those unnatural questions that are better left alone. If you had to ask that, you were sure as hell Guilty of something and probably should have been put behind bars a long time ago. It was a no-win situation.

  My first face-to-face confrontation with the FBI occurred when I was nine years old. Two grim-looking Agents came to our house and terrified my parents by saying that I was a “prime suspect” in the case of a Federal Mailbox being turned over in the path of a speeding bus. It was a Federal Offense, they said, and carried a five-year prison sentence.

  “Oh no!” wailed my mother. “Not in prison! That’s insane! He’s only a child. How could he have known?”

  “The warning is clearly printed on the Mailbox,” said the agent in the gray suit. “He’s old enough to read.”

  “Not necessarily,” my father said sharply. “How do you know he’s not blind, or a moron?”

  “Are you a moron, son?” the agent asked me. “Are you blind? Were you just pretending to read that newspaper when we came in?” He pointed to the Louisville Courier-Journal on the couch.

  “That was only the sports section,” I told him. “I can’t read the other stuff.”

  “See?” said my father. “I told you he was a moron.”

  “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the brown-suit agent replied. “Tampering with the U.S. Mail is a Federal offense punishable under Federal law. That Mailbox was badly damaged.”

  Mailboxes were huge, back then. They were heavy green vaults that stood like Roman mile markers at corners on the neighborhood bus routes and were rarely, if ever, moved. I was barely tall enough to
reach the Mail-drop slot, much less big enough to turn the bastard over and into the path of a bus. It was clearly impossible that I could have committed this crime without help, and that was what they wanted: names and addresses, along with a total confession. They already knew I was guilty, they said, because other culprits had squealed on me. My parents hung their heads, and I saw my mother weeping.

  I had done it, of course, and I had done it with plenty of help. It was carefully plotted and planned, a deliberate ambush that we set up and executed with the fiendish skill that smart nine-year-old boys are capable of when they have too much time on their hands and a lust for revenge on a rude and stupid bus driver who got a kick out of closing his doors and pulling away just as we staggered to the top of the hill and begged him to let us climb on. . . . He was new on the job, probably a brain-damaged substitute, filling in for our regular driver, who was friendly and kind and always willing to wait a few seconds for children rushing to school. Every kid in the neighborhood agreed that this new swine of a driver was a sadist who deserved to be punished, and the Hawks A.C. were the ones to do it. We saw it more as a duty than a prank. It was a brazen Insult to the honor of the whole neighborhood.

  We would need ropes and pulleys and certainly no witnesses to do the job properly. We had to tilt the iron monster so far over that it was perfectly balanced to fall instantly, just as the fool zoomed into the bus stop at his usual arrogant speed. All that kept the box more or less upright was my grip on a long “invisible” string that we had carefully stretched all the way from the corner and across about 50 feet of grass lawn to where we crouched out of sight in some bushes.

  The rig worked perfectly. The bastard was right on schedule and going too fast to stop when he saw the thing falling in front of him. . . . The collision made a horrible noise, like a bomb going off or a freight train exploding in Germany. That is how I remember it, at least. It was the worst noise I’d ever heard. People ran screaming out of their houses like chickens gone crazy with fear. They howled at one another as the driver stumbled out of his bus and collapsed in a heap on the grass. . . . The bus was empty of passengers, as usual at the far end of the line. The man was not injured, but he went into a foaming rage when he spotted us fleeing down the hill and into a nearby alley. He knew in a flash who had done it, and so did most of the neighbors.

  “Why deny it, Hunter?” said one of the FBI agents. “We know exactly what happened up there on that corner on Saturday. Your buddies already confessed, son. They squealed on you. We know you did it, so don’t lie to us now and make things worse for yourself. A nice kid like you shouldn’t have to go to Federal prison.” He smiled again and winked at my father, who responded with a snarl: “Tell the Truth, damn it! Don’t lie to these men. They have witnesses!” The FBI agents nodded grimly at each other and moved as if to take me into custody.

  It was a magic moment in my life, a defining instant for me or any other nine-year-old boy growing up in the 1940s after World War II—and I clearly recall thinking: Well, this is it. These are G-Men. . . .

  WHACK! Like a flash of nearby lightning that lights up the sky for three or four terrifying split seconds before you hear the thunder—a matter of zepto-seconds in real time—but when you are a nine-year-old boy with two (2) full-grown FBI agents about to seize you and clap you in Federal prison, a few quiet zepto-seconds can seem like the rest of your life. . . . And that’s how it felt to me that day, and in grim retrospect, I was right. They had me, dead to rights. I was Guilty. Why deny it? Confess Now, and throw myself on their mercy, or—

  What? What if I didn’t confess? That was the question. And I was a curious boy, so I decided, as it were, to roll the dice and ask them a question.

  “Who?” I said. “What witnesses?”

  It was not a hell of a lot to ask, under those circumstances—and I really did want to know exactly who among my best friends and blood brothers in the dreaded Hawks A.C. had cracked under pressure and betrayed me to these thugs, these pompous brutes and toadies with badges & plastic cards in their wallets that said they worked for J. Edgar Hoover and that they had the Right, and even the duty, to put me in jail, because they’d heard a “Rumor in the neighborhood” that some of my boys had gone belly up and rolled on me. What? No. Impossible.

  Or not likely, anyway. Hell, Nobody squealed on the Hawks A.C., or not on its President, anyway. Not on Me. So I asked again: “Witnesses? What Witnesses?”

  And that was all it took, as I recall. We observed a moment of silence, as my old friend Edward Bennett Williams would say. Nobody spoke—especially not me—and when my father finally broke the eerie silence, there was doubt in his voice. “I think my son has a point, officer. Just exactly who have you talked to? I was about to ask that myself.”

  “Not Duke!” I shouted. “He went to Lexington with his father! And not Ching! And not Jay!—”

  “Shut up,” said my father. “Be quiet and let me handle this, you fool.”

  And that’s what happened, folks. We never saw those FBI agents again. Never. And I learned a powerful lesson: Never believe the first thing an FBI agent tells you about anything—especially not if he seems to believe you are guilty of a crime. Maybe he has no evidence. Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe you are innocent. Maybe. The Law can be hazy on these things. . . . But it is definitely worth a roll.

  In any case, nobody was arrested for that alleged incident. The FBI agents went away, the U.S. Mailbox was put back up on its heavy iron legs, and we never saw that drunken swine of a substitute bus driver again.

  (HST archives)

  Would You Do It Again?

  That story has no moral—at least not for smart people—but it taught me many useful things that shaped my life in many fateful ways. One of them was knowing the difference between Morality and Wisdom. Morality is temporary, Wisdom is permanent. . . . Ho ho. Take that one to bed with you tonight.

  In the case of the fallen mailbox, for instance, I learned that the FBI was not unbeatable, and that is a very important lesson to learn at the age of nine in America. Without it, I would be an entirely different man today, a product of an utterly different environment. I would not be talking to you this way, or sitting alone at this goddamn typewriter at 4:23 A.M. with an empty drink beside me and an unlit cigarette in my mouth and a naked woman singing “Porgy & Bess” on TV across the room.

  On one wall I see an eight-foot, two-handled logging saw with 200 big teeth and CONFESSIONS OF THE BEST PIECE OF ASS IN THE WORLD scrawled in gold letters across the long rusty saw blade. . . . At one end of it hangs a petrified elk’s leg and a finely painted wooden bird from Russia that allegedly signifies peace, happiness & prosperity for all who walk under it.

  That strange-looking bird has hung there for 15 extremely active years, no doubt for sentimental reasons, and this is the first time I have thought about adding up the score. Has this graven image from ancient Russian folk art been a good influence on my life? Or a bad one? Should I pass it on to my son and my grandson? Or should I take it out in the yard and execute it like a traitorous whore?

  That is the Real question. Should the bird live and be worshiped for generations to come? Or should it die violently for bringing me bad luck?

  The ramifications of that question are intimidating. Is it wise to add up the Score right now? What if I come out a Loser? Ye gods, let’s be careful about this. Have we wandered into dangerous territory?

  Indeed. At this point in my life I don’t need a rush to judgment, whatever it is. Only a superstitious native would believe that kind of bullshit, anyway.

  . . .

  Suddenly I heard Anita screeching from the office, as if a fire had erupted somewhere on the other side of the house. Wonderful, I thought. I am a lucky man to get a break like this. Bring it on. Attack it now. I reached for a red 20-pound fire extinguisher near the door, thinking finally to have some real fun.

  Ah, but it was not to be. Anita came rushing around the corner with a computer printout in her hands. “T
he President is threatening to seize the Saudi Arabian oil fields if they don’t help us wipe out the Evil of Terrorism—seize them by military force.” The look on her face was stricken, as if World War IV had just started. “This is insane!” she wailed. “We can’t just go over there and invade Saudi Arabia.”

  I put my arm around her and flipped the dial to CNN, which was showing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waving his cast at the camera like a clenched fist as he denounced the rumor as “nonsense” and once again threatened to “track down and eliminate” these “irresponsible leaks” to the press from somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. He wanted to Punish somebody immediately. Of Course the United States would not declare war on a close Arab ally like the Saudis. That would be insane.

  “Not necessarily,” I said, “at least not until it turns into a disastrous botch and Bush gets burned at the stake in Washington. Sane is rich and powerful; Insane is wrong and poor and weak. The rich are Free, the poor are put in cages.” Res Ipsa Loquitur, Amen, Mahalo. . . .

  . . .

  Okay, and so much for that, eh? No more of these crude hashish ravings. What if the bird says I am wrong and have been wrong all my life?

  Certainly I would not be entirely comfortable sitting here by myself and preparing, once again, to make terminal judgments on the President of the United States of America on the brink of a formal war with a whole world of Muslims. . . . No. That would make me a traitor and a dangerous Security Risk, a Terrorist, a monster in the eyes of the Law.

  Well, shucks. What can I say? We are coming to a big fork in the road for this country, another ominous polarization between right and wrong, another political mandate to decide “Which side are you on?”. . . Maybe a bumper sticker that asks ARE YOU SANE OR INSANE?

  I have confronted that question on a daily basis all my life, as if it were just another form to fill out, and on most days I have checked off the SANE box—if only because I am not dead or in prison or miserable in my life.