( BEGIN NOTE: You start to become as angry as he was when he wrote it, but keeping in mind to be on the side of sanity in such an insane world. He mentions Sisyphus and the book, The Myth of….and it’s sort of strange that later on George Bush Jr was asked what book he was reading one time, and he said, The Stranger. Camus seems to be a staple in the minds of american politicians of both the right and the left. I don’t know what this means, you figure it out and talk talk talk. Anyway. END NOTE)
“Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off.” — J. Conrad
Well. . . yes, and here we go again. But before we get to The Work, as it were, I want to make sure I know how to cope with this elegant typewriter — (and, yes, it appears that I do) — so why not make this quick list of my life’s work and then get the hell out of town on the 11:05 to Denver? Indeed. Why not? But for just a moment I’d like to say, for the permanent record, that it is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New York at one o’clock in the morning on the night before Christmas Eve, 2000 miles from home, and compiling a table of contents for a book of my own Collected Works in an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on The Plaza Fountain. Very strange. I feel like I might as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone. . . and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below and at least 200 yards out in the air and across Fifth Avenue. Nobody could follow that act. Not even me. . . and in fact the only way I can deal with this eerie situation at all is to make a conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live — (13 years longer, in fact) — and everything from now on will be A New Life, a different thing, a gig that ends tonight and starts tomorrow morning. So if I decided to leap for The Fountain when I finish this memo, I want to make one thing perfectly clear — I would genuinely love to make that leap, and if I don’t I will always consider it a mistake and a failed opportunity, one of the very few serious mistakes of my First Life that is now ending. But what the hell? I probably won’t do it (for all the wrong reasons), and I’ll probably finish this table of contents and go home for Christmas and then have to live for 100 more years with all this goddamn gibberish I’m lashing together. But, Jesus, it would be a wonderful way to go out. . . and if I do you bastards are going to owe me a king-hell 44-gun salutr (that word is “salute,” goddamnit — and I guess I can’t work this elegant typewriter as well as I thought I could). . . But you know I could, if I had just a little more time. Right? Yes.
Fear and Loathing in the Bunker
Hunter S. Thompson
“. . . the milkman left me a note yesterday. Get out of this town by noon You’re coming on way too soon And besides that we never liked you anyway. . .” — John Prine
Woody Creek, Col.– Strange epitaph for a strange year and no real point in explaining it either. I haven’t had a milkman since I was ten years old. I used to ride around on the route with him, back in Louisville. It was one of those open-door, stand-up vans that you could jump in and out of on the run. He would creep that rancid-smelling truck along the street from house to house while I ran back and forth with the goods. I was the runner, the mule, and occasionally the bagman when some poor wretch behind on her milk bill had to either pay up or drink water for breakfast that morning.
Those scenes were always unsettling — some half-awake, middle-aged housewife yelling at me in her bathrobe through the screen door. But I was a cold-hearted little bastard in those days. “Sorry ma’am, but my boss out there in the truck says I can’t leave these bottles here unless you give me $21.16. . .” No argument ever fazed me. I doubt that I even heard the words. I was there to collect, not to listen and I didn’t give a hoot in hell if they paid or not; all I really cared about was the adrenalin rush that came with sprinting across people’s front lawns, jumping hedges, and hitting that slow- rolling truck before it had to stop and wait for me. There is some kind of heavy connection between that memory and the way I feel right now about this stinking year that just ended. Everybody I talk to seems very excited about it. “God damn, man! it was a fantastic year,” they say. “Maybe the most incredible year in our history.” Which is probably true. I remember thinking that way, myself, back on those hot summer mornings when John Dean’s face lit my tube day after day. . . incredible. Here was this crafty little ferret going down the pipe right in front of our eyes, and taking the President of the United States along with him. It was almost too good to be true. Richard Milhous Nixon, the main villain in my political consciousness for as long as I can remember, was finally biting that bullet he’s been talking about all those years. The man that not even Goldwater or Eisenhower could tolerate had finally gone too far — and now he was walking the plank, on national TV, six hours a day — with The Whole World Watching, as it were. That phrase is permanently etched on some grey rim on the back of my brain. Nobody who was at the corner of Michigan and Balboa on that Wednesday night in August of 1968 will ever forget it. Richard Nixon is living in the White House today because of what happened that night in Chicago. Hubert Humphrey lost that election by a handful of votes — mine among them — and if I had to do it again I would still vote for Dick Gregory. If nothing else, I take a certain pride in knowing that I helped spare the nation eight years of President Humphrey — an Administration that would have been equally corrupt and wrongheaded as Richard Nixon’s, far more devious, and probably just competent enough to keep the ship of state from sinking until 1976. Then with the boiler about to explode from eight years of blather and neglect, Humphrey’s cold-war liberals could have fled down the ratlines and left the disaster to whoever inherited it. Nixon, at least, was blessed with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity that caused him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mind-bending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both. . . but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long. But we will get to that point in a moment. For now, we should make every effort to look at the bright side of the Nixon Administration. It has been a failure of such monumental proportions that political apathy is no longer considered fashionable, or even safe, among millions of people who only two years ago thought that anybody who disagreed openly with “the Government” was either paranoid or subversive. Political candidates in 1974, at least, are going to have to deal with an angry, disillusioned electorate that is not likely to settle for flag-waving and pompous bullshit.
The Watergate spectacle was a shock, but the fact of a millionaire President paying less income tax than most construction workers while gasoline costs a dollar in Brooklyn and the threat of mass unemployment by spring tends to personalize Mr. Nixon’s failures in a very visceral way. Even Senators and Congressmen have been shaken out of their slothful ruts, and the possibility of impeachment is beginning to look very real. Given all this, it is hard to shed anything but crocodile tears over White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan’s tragic analysis of the Nixon debacle. “It’s like Sisyphus,” he said. “We rolled the rock all the way up the mountain. . . and it rolled right back down on us.” Well. . . shucks. It makes a man’s eyes damp, for sure. But I have a lot of confidence in Pat, and I suspect he won’t have much trouble finding other rocks to roll. I have not read “The Myth of Sisyphus” for a while, but if memory serves there is nothing in that story to indicate that the poor bugger ever gave any thought to the real nature or specific gravity of that rock that would eventually roll back on him — which is understandable, perhaps, because when you’re locked into that kind of do-or-die gig, you keep pushing and ask questions later. If any of those six hundred valiant fools who rode in The Charge of the Light Brigade had any doubts about what they were doing, they kept it to themselves. There is no room in Crusades, especially at the command level, for people who ask “Why?” Neither Sisyphus nor the commander of the Light Brigade nor Pat Buchanan had the time or any real inclination to question what they were doing. They were Good Soldiers, True Believers. . . and when the orders came down from above they did what had to be done: Execute. Which is admirable in a queer kind of way. . . except that Sisyphus got mashed, the Light Brigade slaughtered, and Pat Buchanan will survive in the footnotes of history as a kind of half-mad Davy Crockett on the walls of Nixon’s Alamo — a martyr, to the bitter end, to a “flawed” cause and a narrow, atavistic concept of conservative politics that has done more damage to itself and the country in less than six years than its liberal enemies could have done in two or three decades. When the cold eye of history looks back on Richard Nixon’s five years of unrestrained power in the White House, it will show that he had the same effect on conservative/Republican politics as Charles Manson and the Hells Angels had on hippies and flower power. . . and the ultimate damage, on both fronts, will prove out to be just about equal. Or maybe not — at least not on the scale of sheer numbers of people affected. In retrospect, the grisly violence of the Manson/Angels trips affected very few people directly, while the greedy, fascistic incompetence of Richard Nixon’s Presidency will leave scars on the minds and lives of a whole generation — his supporters and political allies no less than his opponents. Maybe that’s why the end of this incredible, frantic year feels so hollow. Looking back on the sixties, and even back to the fifties, the fact of President Nixon and everything that has happened to him — and to us — seem so queerly fated and inevitable that it is hard to reflect on those years and see them unfolding in any other way.
One of the strangest things about these five downhill years of the Nixon Presidency is that despite all the savage excesses committed by the people he chose to run the country, no real opposition or realistic alternative to Richard Nixon’s cheap and mean-hearted view of the American Dream has ever developed. It is almost as if that sour 1968 election rang down the curtain on career politicians. This is the horror of American politics today — not that Richard Nixon and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed — but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out hacks who have been fouling our air with their gibberish for the last twenty years. How long, oh Lord, how long?
And how much longer will we have to wait before some high-powered shark with a fistful of answers will finally bring us face-to-face with the ugly question that is already so close to the surface in this country, that sooner or later even politicians will have to cope with it? Is the democracy worth all the risks and problems that necessarily go with it? Or, would we all be happier by admitting that the whole thing was a lark from the start and now that it hasn’t worked out, to hell with it. That milkman who made me his bagman was no fool. I took my orders from him and it never occurred to me to wonder where his came from. It was enough for me to cruise those elm-lined streets in a big, bright-colored van and deliver the goods. But I was ten years old then and I didn’t know much. . . or at least not as much as I know now. But every once in a while, on humorless nights like these, I think about how sharp and sure I felt when I was sprinting across those manicured lawns, jumping the finely-trimmed hedges and hitting the running board on that slow-cruising truck. If the milkman had given me a pistol and told me to put a bullet in the stomach of any slob who haggled about the bill, I would probably have done that, too. Because the milkman was my boss and my benefactor. He drove the truck — and as far as I was concerned he might as well have been the Pope or the President. On a “need to know” basis, the milkman understood that I was not among the needy. Nor was he, for that matter. We were both a lot happier just doing what we were told. George Orwell had a phrase for it. Neither he nor Aldous Huxley had much faith in the future of participatory democracy. Orwell even set a date: 1984 — and the most disturbing revelation that emerged from last year’s Watergate hearings was not so much the arrogance and criminality of Nixon’s henchmen, but the aggressively totalitarian character of his whole Administration. It is ugly to know just how close we came to meeting Orwell’s deadline. Meanwhile, it is tempting to dismiss the ominous fact that Richard Nixon is still the President. The spectre of impeachment lends more and more weight to the probability of his resignation. If I were a gambling person– which I am, whenever possible– I would bet that Nixon will resign for “reasons of health” within the next six months. It will be a nasty gig when it happens; a maudlin spectacle in prime time on all four TV networks. He will kick out the jams in a desperate bid for martyrdom, and then he will fly off, forever, to a life of brooding isolation– perhaps on one of Robert Abplanalp’s private islands in the Bahamas. There will be all-night poker games on the palm-screened patio, with other wealthy exiles like Howard Hughes and Robert Vesco and occasionally Bebe Rebozo. . . and Nixon, the doomed exile, will spend the daylight hours dictating his memoirs in a permanent state of high fever and vengefulness to his faithful secretary and companion, Rose Mary Woods. The only other residents on the island will be Secret Service guards assigned on a six-month rotation basis by Acting President Gerald Ford.
That is one scenario, and the odds would seem to favor it. But there are quite a few others– all based on the grim possibility that Richard Nixon might have no intention at all of resigning. He just may have already sketched out a last-ditch, D-Day style battle plan that would turn the tide with one stroke and scuttle any move for impeachment. Which brings us back to the question of nuclear war, or at least a quick nuclear zap against China, with the full and formal support of our old ally, Russia. There is a fiendish simplicity in this plan, a Hitieresque logic so awful that I would not even think about printing it unless I were absolutely certain that Nixon was at least a year ahead of me in the plan and all its details. Even now, I suspect, he spends the last half hour of each day keeping it constantly up to date on one of his yellow legal pads. So here it is — the Final Solution to Almost All Our Problems: 1) A long-term treaty with Russia, arranged by Henry Kissinger, securing Moscow’s support of an American invasion, seizure and terminal occupation of all oil-producing countries in the Middle East. This would not only solve the “energy crisis” and end unemployment immediately by pressing all idle and able-bodied males into service for the invasion/occupation forces. . . but it would also crank up the economy to a wartime level and give the Federal Government unlimited “emergency powers.” 2) In exchange for Russian support for our violent seizure of all Middle East oil reserves, the United States would agree to support the USSR in a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” against targets in China, destroying at least 90 per cent of that nation’s industrial capacity and reducing the population to a state of chaos, panic and famine for the next hundred years. This would end the Kremlin’s worries about China, guarantee peace in Indochina for the foreseeable future, and insure a strong and friendly ally, in Japan, as kingpin of the East.
These are merely the highlights of the Final Solution. No doubt there are other and uglier aspects, but my time and space are too limited for any long screeds on the subject. The only real question is whether Mr. Nixon is mad enough to run the risk of paralyzing both the Congress and the people by resorting to such drastic measures.”