Feature

To: Dr. Gonzo, For His Birthday

Chad W. Lutz
Dear Stockton,

I know if I had ever met you in person you would never have let me get away with calling you Stockton, but I feel like you might almost respect the fact that I will post mortem in some abstractly twisted way, if only for my gall. It’s not often someone of your caliber comes along and stirs such a scene in the world. Both the size of your bullets and the strangeness in your heart are something of a myth. Nearly a decade after you ended your life staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun to ultimately arrive as paint for the walls, the legend of Hunter Stockton Thompson lives on.

I was 18 when your name first graced my ears. I was fresh out of high school and living on my own. My roommate at the time suggested one hazy evening that we watch a movie called, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even back then I was a long-time aspiring writer and my roommate felt the movie was right up my alley. I’ll never forget only being able to make it through the first half of the movie because certain “extracurricular activities” got in the way. It took me almost a full year to watch the movie in one sitting from beginning to end. But when I finally did, I felt spoken to on a level few films ever had before, even despite the inherent madness.

Two weeks later I was shouting, “We can’t stop here, this is bat country!” at random and carried around a fly swatter for good measure. I rediscovered my love of tacky Hawaiian shirts and found myself talking in slur whenever possible, for fun or otherwise. Every now and again I still break out a dialect even you might be proud of, Dr. Thompson. But if push came to shove I’d leave it to the professionals like Depp and Murray.

Years later I would purchase my first “bag”. No, it’s not what you’re thinking, that “bag” had been purchased long before I ever participated in my first Fear and Loathing screening. No, the bag I’m referring to might better draw comparison to the black bag o’ goodies the Good Doctor used to carry around, only mine never held six-inch safari blades, cantaloupes, or hypodermic needles. Writing paraphernalia, that’s another story.

It was navy, with three pockets, one big and two small on the front, a side pocket where I kept unmentionables, and two large compartments accessed by zippers running up the sides and over the top like surgical scars. In it was homage to writers like Hemmingway, Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Notebooks and binders with endless pages of random scribbles, back-dated stories written from elementary school through the present day; I used to take that bag everywhere, with a severely worn and torn Golden Corral hat sitting like some damned obelisk atop my head. I’d jaunt from park to park, random point of interest to random point of interest with a 10-year old mechanical pencil and a brand-new Mac Book at my side, writing everything I saw and trying to see the world through the eyes of you and the many others you emulated, generally to pragmatic frustration and desire to go get high.

Then in fall 2008, I became a writer, full-time, paid and everything. It was one of those surreal moments I feel we all experience at one point or another in life. I had emulated and modeled my life after yours, read several of your books, watched documentaries and aspired to hold the same sort of reckless abandon for truth, perception, and America in mind. In October 2011, Johnny Depp, again, played your likeness in a movie adapted from one of your novels. Millions came out to see it, and everyone still remembers your name.

And so, on the 75th anniversary of your birth, it’s hard to say what you might think of the world. It’s as dark and as twisted as ever, and being an election year, I feel like you would take even more of an angry, active interest in the world, and America in specific.

But your life isn’t just about drugs or alcohol or high speed assaults on the mind and body with either/or. It isn’t about the reckless and often dangerous way in which you went about things we must celebrate. It’s your love of the pursuit; of which I’m speaking the pursuit of happiness a.k.a The American Dream. Perhaps no one, and I mean no one, in the history of the United States stands as much a patriot and firm believer in the words of our Declaration as you, Doctor Thompson. The impact you’ve had on so many young writers and Americans, such as me, speaks volumes to the kind of visceral journalism and clarity with which you sought to convey, drugs, violence, and Hawaiian shirts aside. And on your birthday, I hope you continue to live as free as you ever dreamed possible in the far reaches of whatever spatial realm of consciousness you’ve attained in death.

No sympathy for lost time.


Sincerely,

Chad