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
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.