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By Catherine Wagley
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By L.A. Weekly critics
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“There is no such thing as Paranoia,” he writes. “Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” A July 21, 2003, entry reads remarkably prescient:
After the signing, Thompson had some more drinks and smoked some pot in the upstairs lounge, then hobbled unsteadily down the steps to read. He was guided by his young, protective wife, Anita, who handles his schedule and transcribes and uploads his columns to ESPN. (“Everything gets run through his wife,” I was told by a Taschen employee.)
Thompson had trouble standing, so Stanton, Del Toro and Huston took turns reading until Thompson was able to. The book contains more profanity than appears on the Disney-owned ESPN site but reflects Thompson’s metastasizing cynicism about sports: “I am watching more NFL football this year,” he writes in a November 2000 entry, “but enjoying it less and less. There is something wrong with the game, something vital is missing, but I can’t quite say what it is.”
It’s been a long time since Thompson could see half of Kezar Stadium from his old apartment above the Haight Ashbury, when he’d watch a pass sail from the west end zone toward the 50-yard line and then vanish into an existential question mark. Still, he betrays a lingering bonhomie for the sports world:
I ask Thompson if only gamblers can enjoy sports with today’s corporatized leagues, free agencies, incessant TV replays and deluge of meaningless statistics.
“I think gambling is a way to create an instant fan,” he says. “They should force people to gamble.” He then tells me how, years ago, he taught his then-6-year-old son Juan to bet, because otherwise it would have meant fighting over the TV set with him when the Sunday football games and Mr. Rogers were on at the same time.
“He had a dollar fifty in his piggy bank and bet a dollar. I gave him something like 28 points on the Texas-Oklahoma game. It was impossible for him to lose. Oklahoma was the national champion, and Texas was 18-point underdog. In the last quarter, fucking Texas returned a kickoff for a touchdown and [started to win].” Thompson pauses, I ask about his son’s dollar. “You have to force people to pay off,” Thompson continues. “Otherwise the gambling wouldn’t mean anything to him. He cried. He hated football until he was 20 years old. He finally came back and started betting with me again.”
Football isn’t the only thing that has changed in Thompson’s 40 years of professional writing. The public’s desire to read has undergone a transformation — for the worse.
“I can’t see that people are going to be reading a hell of lot past this generation,” he says. “I’ve already become a mastodon in print — I don’t see a consciousness for my kind of journalism.”
Journalism, which Thompson describes as “a conspiracy between a writer and the editor,” is especially endangered.
“The paper of record,” he says, turning over the phrase as though it were a historical description, like “Indian-head nickel” or “Oldsmobile 88.” “I don’t know if you’re going to be able to say that about any paper, including the Times, in 20 years. Of what record?”
Toward that end, perhaps, Thompson and Taschen have teamed up to republish his 1983 trade paperback, The Curse of Lono, a collection of ripping yarns swirling about the Hawaii Marathon and illustrated by Ralph Steadman, who has become Thompson’s Boswell and Beardsley. The long-out-of-print book, which shows Thompson’s humor at its driest, is so rare that it doesn’t even exist in the L.A. Public Library system. This time Lonowill be a coffee-table volume that prefigures a planned movie version in the works. Taschen is also preparing an as-yet-untitled photo-journal of Thompson’s life, due out in summer 2005, that will document his evolution all the way back to childhood.
For now, however, Thompson is obsessed with the election. He recently interviewed John Kerry, whom he’s known since 1971, for Rolling Stone.
“Two weeks ago,” Thompson says, “I was taking a five-point spread to bet on Kerry. You find out how people really think by betting with a campaign manager or the reporters who cover politics. I’ve got a pretty good fix on what people are really thinking.”
The phone, which has been ringing throughout the night, takes on a particularly urgent sound, and there is less time in between the calls Anita answers. More people will be over soon, the interview must end. Perhaps in the minutes between its finish and the arrival of his new visitors, Thompson will be able to get breakfast.
HEY RUBE: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness| By HUNTER S. THOMPSON | Simon & Schuster 272 pages | $23 hardcover
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