Dr. Thompson, I Presume

In 1990, I moved to Aspen, Colorado, knowing nothing about the place other than the skiing was supposed to be good and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was supposed to live nearby. That was reason enough for me. I got a job bartending at the Hotel Jerome, the four-star dorm for the rich and famous that the good doctor was rumored to frequent, but rumors being rumors, I never saw him there. Then, a few months into my tenure, at the end of a long Sunday shift, I had decided to call my girlfriend back home. The pay phones were in the hotel’s basement, three in a row, side-by-side in a tiny hallway that ended at a cigarette machine. About 10 minutes into the conversation, my girlfriend asked if I had managed to find Thompson yet. Before I could get around to telling her I unfortunately hadn’t, a man appeared at the end of the hallway. He was too tall and too wobbly, dressed for danger in thigh-high rubber fishing waders, a patchwork mackintosh raincoat, and one of those furry, Soviet military ushanka hats. It was a startling vision, but there was something familiar about the face. No sooner did I realize who it was than Thompson rushed down the hallway, grabbed the phone from my hand, let loose with a blood-curling “AAAAGGGHHH” into the receiver, tossed it back to me, calmly bought a pack of smokes and swaggered off as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t even sure it had happened, so I hung up and followed him upstairs, where he was sharing a table in the bar with 17 or 18 empty glasses and some menacing-looking chap in a suit and tie and baklava ski mask pushed high onto his forehead. If there was ever a couple to be avoided, it was this one, but it took all of two minutes for some oblivious Midwestern gal to ask Thompson if he would mind taking a picture of her and her family. “MIND?” screamed Thompson, “HAVEN’T HAD ONE FOR YEARS!” Then he grabbed the camera, jumped up onto the table, sent a beer glass flying and started bellowing: “SMILE! SMILE FOR THE RUSSIANS. SMILE FOR THE GODDAMN RUSSIANS!” I never saw him again.

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