Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (12 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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Thompson enjoyed keeping up with his old Louisville gang. Life was going well for him except for constant bouts of “accidental” insubordination toward his superior officers and keeping secret his civilian life as Thorne Stockton. At this time he was penning two weekly columns: “The Spectator” for the
Command Courier
and “World of Sport” for the
Playground News.

March 3,1957
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Dear Judy,

I am astounded by your scholastic prowess. I drop to my literary knees and beg forgiveness for ever doubting that you were indeed a scholar of renown. Just where I got the impression that you were majoring in typing, I'll never know; but you have now set me straight and I stand in the ranks of the true believers. Selah.

For that matter, it cheers me considerably to know that at least someone from Louisville has not fallen before the educational battle-axe. The list of flunkees and potential flunkees is imposing and lends credence to the popular theory concerning the inadequacy of the Derby town schools. But by far the most blood-curdling news was the bit about Chip
donning the
AF blue. To me, he was the personification of utter degeneracy and the old way of life, a virtual bastion of depraved strength, stemming the tide of progress and change which threatens us all. To see such a figure fall is a sad thing, for he was the last of a breed, a hellish lot of misfits and eight-balls who made up an era. One by one they sink into oblivion; first me (I exploded out of sight) then Butler, Bier, Pinky, Sam, Willis, Roy, Rabbit, Lord, Smitty, and many others too numerous to name. God only knows what will happen to Reed, he was arrested last week for robbing and beating the proprietor of a grocery in Bowling Green. He was going to enter University of Louisville at mid-term after being expelled from Stanford. Now, needless to say, he will not enter Louisville.

I can see that your ambition to get into Hollins [College] by hook or crook remains as strong as ever. But supposing that you don't get in there (forgive me), where will you go? As for my coming to New York, I could have come this week, but decided that it would be too short notice to get anyone down to drink with me. We have a boy who's fighting in the AF boxing finals and I could have gone with him had I wanted to. If I had gotten your letter a day or so sooner, I would have come. Unfortunately, he has already gone. The tournament is from March 4 through March 8. However, my latest project is an effort to get a position on the Armed Forces Press Service staff in New York. I probably won't be able to land it, but I'm trying anyway. I'll let you know how I come out. If I make it, that means that I'll spend the rest of my hitch in New York, writing whatever they want me to for the weekly publication: a pretty soft deal. […]

I was getting along pretty well with my AF buddies until recently, when I seemed to run amuck and burst out in flames. Last week, nine sergeants simultaneously filed charges of insubordination against me, I was arrested on three charges of operating a motor scooter in a reckless manner, and was found drunk in the office in the dead of night for the second time. About a month ago, they found me passed out on Colonel Evans' couch at 7:30 in the morning after an all-night orgy. I am scheduled to see the commander about all this either tomorrow or Tuesday. It should be an unpleasant visit, but nothing like the wild inquisition I was constantly attending at Scott. I shall survive.

I was finally forced to sell the huge Chrysler. It had deteriorated to the point where I was getting 7 miles to the gallon, throwing 2 quarts of oil every 100 miles, and was just too damn expensive to operate. Some idiot bought it for $60, after I had sold the hub caps for $10, the radio for $20, and stripped it of everything of value. He immediately shelled out $23 for
a license, $86 for insurance, $21 for a muffler and tailpipe, and will soon have to buy at least 2 tires. I bought a motor scooter for $50. At least it's transportation. […]

Before I go, I repeat my invitation to come down and see me whenever you can. With all your flitting about, you should be able to drop in on me for a few days. Of course it's a bit cool now, but the beaches will begin to come to life again any day now. If I don't get the AFPS job, I hope I can stay here for the summer. It's nice.

Let's be a little quicker on the reply this time!!!

Until then, I remain …

P.S. Are you still getting fatter and fatter? My new address is on the back of this sheet. If you aren't too fat, how about sending me another picture of you. The two I have are a little old. But I gaze fondly on them in moments of reverie.


Although Thompson was enjoying his journalism career, he was becoming desperate to get out of the Air Force. Much of his energy was devoted to pursuing an honorable discharge.

March 10, 1957
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Mon ami,

My apologies are abject, my heart is down, my head is spinning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town. The procrastination of it all is humiliating. Fain would I have written sooner.

None of this makes much sense, but I do apologize for not having written sooner. Between both of these damn jobs, I never know whether I'm coming or going. It came as something of a shock, after leafing through my files, to find that the last letter addressed to you bore the date of December 12, 1956. This is inexcusable, but will not happen again.

After reading your letter again, I find that I have indeed written since then. My confusion must be apparent.

As it is now, I am three days behind on both sports pages and am scheduled for a terrifying inquisition of some sort tomorrow, concerning innumerable
charges of insubordination which have been placed against me within the last two weeks. At last count, nine NCOs had registered complaints, the Air Police had found me drunk in the office at 3:30 last Sunday night, I had been turned in for reckless driving on my new motor scooter, and the Colonel had discovered that I was working for the
without his permission. Needless to say, the situation is unsettled.

To add to everything else, I dropped a gallon-jug full of beer in the office Friday night, and the odor has permeated the very walls, being particularly offensive in the Colonel's office, which has no ventilation. I am seriously considering applying for an unadaptable discharge (inability to adapt to the military way of life).

For the sake of everything you presently take for granted, give up all ideas of volunteering for the draft: or for anything military. It is a way of life which was never meant for our type. Being almost wholly composed of dullards and intellectual sluggards, it is a painful hell for anyone with an I.Q. over 80. Be a beachcomber, a Parisian wino, an Italian pimp, or a Danish pervert; but stay away from the Armed Forces. It is a catch-all for people who regard every tomorrow as a hammer swinging at the head of man, and whose outstanding trait is a fearful mistrust of everything out of the ordinary. Should you volunteer, it will be two years lost in a sea of ignorance.

And that for the military.

You seem to be even more mercenary than I had previously imagined, but I wish you the best of luck next year in the company of Vaughn.
I now see the secret of capitalistic success, but unfortunately, the AF leaves little chance for this sort of thing. WE believe in democratic processes. […]

Until I hear from you,
I remain,
your friend …


On March 11 Thompson received a letter from the Athenaeum Literary Association reinstating him as a Class of 1955 member. (The society had excommunicated him from its ranks for “insufficient morals” when he was arrested for robbery.) This hometown boost of confidence did wonders for Thompson's sagging morale.

March 17, 1957
Eglin AFB
Fort Walton Beach, Florida


It would be a waste of time for me to carry on at length about how much I appreciate the action you have taken in re-instating me in the Class of 1955. If you will put yourselves in my place for a moment, I'm sure that you will see how I feel.

The Athenaeum meant a great deal to me, and to be separated from it under the conditions which brought about my resignation was a painful thing. But the very fact that I left the Association under a cloud has made the reinstatement something which I will always look on with pride. Needless to say, I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you for making it possible and I hope I will be able to thank you in person the next time I get home.

They say that you never really appreciate anything until you've lost it, and any old grad can tell you that this is true where the Athenaeum is concerned. To many of us, the ALA was, and still is, a way of life more than anything else. We look back on the friends, the meetings, the arguments, the dances and the bull sessions with a feeling of genuine regret that they are things which we will never do again. Appreciate it while you can because those years are short and I can guarantee that there won't be a one of you who won't wish he could live them over again.

Of all the things for which I am grateful to the Athenaeum, I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of thinking. Had I gained nothing else, the acquisition of this quality would have made those three hectic years worthwhile. A man who lacks the ability to think for himself is as useless as a dead toad, while the thinking man has all the powers of the universe at his command. If this has not been made clear to you so far, then you have missed one of the most valuable lessons the Athenaeum has to offer: something which has for years placed the Athenaeum man head and shoulders above his intellectual contemporaries.

If it seems strange that I should mention the development of the intellect before the consideration of friendship, let me say that it has been intentional. I have always wondered why some people feel compelled to verbally eulogize a quality which, in its essence, is understood rather than talked about. To make a point of declaring friendship is to cheapen it, for men's emotions are very rarely put into words successfully.

The two qualities I have mentioned, when properly perpetuated, are a tradition in themselves and can be very easily turned into the familiar triangle. Naturally, each man's triangle will be a little bit different from the others, but the differences will only be superficial and will leave room for
the individual to be appreciated as something separate, yet still linked to the group which has taught him to think as he does.

Leaving you with that, I shall now make an attempt to ward off what I feel sure will be a vicious attack on my character on the part of Mr. Colgan.
I ran into him and “Dangerous Dave” Ethridge last week somewhere in the vicinity of the Indian Mound Saloon in Fort Walton Beach.

Hearing a voice cry “Hunto,” I felt sure that it could be nothing else but a delusion brought on by lack of sleep and continued on my way to do battle with the proprietor of a motor scooter garage which has become a permanent resting place for my only means of transportation. Then, hearing the cry again, I turned slowly around and found myself staring at what appeared to be a bum in need of a drink. Here stood Ethridge, with at least eighteen days growth of scraggly beard on his face, and dressed like a man who had stolen his clothes off of a dead Cuban beachcomber.

After exchanging pleasantries, we were soon joined by Mr. Colgan, wearing exactly the same clothes he had on when I first laid eyes on him back in his sophomore days. It was obvious that the two had been drinking steadily for several days and I felt that my reputation would be in grave danger if I were spotted in their company.

I know that, even if I were to relate the whole story of their visit, Mr. Colgan would warp it to his own glorification, so I'll establish a few facts before he gets a chance to say anything.

First, I have been ill for months with a strange tropical disease which causes me to have frequent attacks of sleeping sickness. Anything he says to the contrary will be a definite untruth.

Second, recognizing the fact that there may be some truth in anything he says about my not leading the life of a good airman, let me simply say that there are extenuating circumstances which he may not have understood.

Third, knowing that they would undoubtedly become involved in some trouble, I felt it necessary to go with them to Panama City and see that nothing happened. As it turned out, I barely escaped having Spanish Fly put in my beer and avoided what would have been a virtual disaster. If it is implied that my conduct was anything but exemplary, that too will be an untruth. The fact of the matter is that Ethridge was thrown out of a respectable bar for using profane language and that Colgan was intent on destroying every known truth. Both posed as soldiers of fortune and barely missed being rolled for all they were worth. Unfortunately, I became ill shortly after midnight and fell asleep; whereupon they robbed me of most of my money and otherwise treated me rudely.

In a more serious vein, if you happen to find yourselves in the neighborhood of Fort Walton anytime in the near future, give me a call at either the town newspaper or the base and I'll come in and give you a ride on my motor scooter. This area really isn't a bad place to spend a few days (or the whole summer for that matter) and I'll do my best to arrange for hospitality.

Before I go, let me thank you again and say that I'm looking forward to coming back to a meeting the next time I get to Louisville.

Until then, I remain,
very sincerely,
Hunter S. Thompson


Davison Thompson, then a senior at Louisville Male High School, came to visit his older brother with the intent of spending a weekend in Florida. Instead they drove to New Orleans for a night of fun in the French Quarter with Henry “Ike” Eichelburger, who was studying at Tulane University.

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
6.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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