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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:
[T]he Pentagons war strategy has failed miserably, nobody has any money to spend, and our once-mighty America is paralyzed by Mutinies in Iraq and even Fort Bragg.
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 Thompsons 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 cant quite say what it is.
Its been a long time since Thompson could see half of Kezar Stadium from his old apartment above the Haight Ashbury, when hed 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 had a soft spot in my heart for Ronald Reagan, he writes, if only because he was a sportswriter in his youth, and also because his wife gave the best head in Hollywood.
I ask Thompson if only gamblers can enjoy sports with todays 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 sons dollar. You have to force people to pay off, Thompson continues. Otherwise the gambling wouldnt 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 isnt the only thing that has changed in Thompsons 40 years of professional writing. The publics desire to read has undergone a transformation for the worse.
I cant see that people are going to be reading a hell of lot past this generation, he says. Ive already become a mastodon in print I dont 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 dont know if youre 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 Thompsons Boswell and Beardsley. The long-out-of-print book, which shows Thompsons humor at its driest, is so rare that it doesnt even exist in the L.A. Public Library system. This time Lono will 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 Thompsons life, due out in summer 2005, that will document his evolution all the way back to childhood.