Monday, March 16, 2015
A tribute to one of my influences
“I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.” -HST
Gentlemen, in life we all have our influences, things that helped mold us into who we became as adults. As a writer I've had several influences on my style. Among those who have influenced my writing over the past three decades are George Carlin, Dennis Miller, Kevin Smith, Denis Leary, Sam Kinison, and Kurt Vonnegut, of all people.
Another of my influences, and perhaps one of my earliest, was “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson. As a freshman in high school I had a subscription to none other than National Lampoon Magazine and I became a huge fan of satire and parody, and I admittedly do a lot of both in a very deadpan serious delivery. One of the articles in The NLM that always stuck in my craw was an essay/short story that was so absurd and over the top that 30+ years later I went looking for it yet again on the web trying to secure a copy of it. I had always assumed the author was Thompson, based on the title alone; “Fear and Loathing on the Kindergarten Trail”, a play off on his books "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail”.
For years and years, I searched the web all over far and wide for any sort of reference to this work. Turns out I was somewhat up my own ass about things as I have FINALLY found the essay in question.
Turns out I had the title wrong for 30 years. And it was a parody, as stated before, and not actually one of Hunter’s works. So much for the steel-trap memory I had at 14. I finally found it on a site that archived a lot of the late 70’s and early 80’s issues of The National Lampoon, and they were saved in a bad quasi-Notepad-meets-ASCII format that I had to clean up and edit to make readable.
So, without further ado, I bring you that essay that started me down the road to being a twisted writer….
Exclusive! An excerpt from a new work by the author of The Curse of the Yoyo.
Fear and Loathing on the Nursery School Trail
I WAS JANGLED OUT OF MY SLEEP by the sound of the telephone ringing. I tried to ignore it. A long, hot summer of continuous horror-film watching and high-speed sugar ingestion had left me physically racked and vulnerable to the slightest attack. The mere mention of responsibility or summer's end gave rise to uncontrollable spasms and a baroque brain paralysis that turned me into a scratching, weeping specimen that even a leper would pity.
The phone persisted. I grabbed for it blindly, upsetting my night light and causing the eerie white beam to fall into my younger brother's lower bunk. It came to rest next to his head, illuminating his skull like a strange jack-o'-lantern. I finally located the telephone receiver and held it to my ear. My attorney was on the other end, yelling loudly.
"Hunter, is that you? Jesus, don't you know what time it is?"
"Time?" I tried to talk, but a spiral of yellow phlegm clung to my windpipe like a leech.
"It's seven in the morning, for Crissakes. We've got less than an hour before school…”
Mother of Babbling God. I had forgotten completely about school. My head cleared like a high-voltage jolt coursing through my rubber wee-wee sheets. It was 7:00 AM Monday morning, the first day of school, and I didn’t even have a loose-leaf organizer. My attorney was still talking, rattling on at a frantic pace.
"Meet me in front of Hymie's Candy and Cigarettes in fifteen minutes. We still have time to organize an effective game plan.”
I told him I’d be there and hung up. I slowly slipped off the upper bunk, taking pains not to step into Davison's open mouth, and switched on the lights. It looked like rabid wolverines had stampeded through our room while we slept. Chairs and tables were overturned, and the television, still blaring from the night before, had a viscous brown streak of hardened liquid streaked across the screen, giving Mush Mouse and Pumpkin Puss the distorted appearance of a hydra-headed wildebeest.
I loped across the garbage-strewn carpet, avoiding jagged objects, picked up Burl Ives's "Blue Tail Fly," and plunked it down on my trusty "Groove Tunes" plastic record player. I cranked it up to maximum volume, fixed myself a beaker of cold Nestle Quik, and slumped into an oversize beanbag chair. This was a little ritual designed to soothe my nerves and send my next-door neighbor into a lathering, wall-punching fit. The man was a despicable Nazi lowlife who deserved to have his upper and lower epidermis scraped off with three-grit sandpaper, for reasons I won't get into here.
I dressed and ate a fast breakfast consisting of orange juice, grapefruit juice, and six different varieties of pre-sweetened cereal. At 7:30 I bade my sleeping younger brother farewell and climbed onto the Big Wheel, a big dangerous bike with an unsettling tendency to spin out without the slightest warning or provocation.
After several close calls, one of which sent me fishtailing into the back end of a matronly crossing guard, I got the beast under control and arrived at Hymie's in one piece. My attorney was waiting outside. He greeted me heartily, a large paper sack clutched under his right arm.
"Jesus” I said, "What have you got in there? Hymie's inventory?” He laughed and dumped the contents of the bag into the Big Wheel.
"Just a few necessary supplies," he said, spreading out the pile for closer examination.
Cazart! If any of you parents ever learn anything it should be this: under absolutely no circumstances should you ever subsidize a fat, crazed, self-indulgent five-year-old attorney with a connoisseur's appreciation for fine candy.
The stockpile broke down as follows: Two one-pound bags of M&M's, plain and peanut. Six packs of Twizzlers. Six packs of Necco's. Three dozen peanut -butter cups. A month's supply of Oh Henrys. Two cartons of Three Musketeers and Snickers. A carton of Kit Kais. A case of Pepsi. A rainbow assortment of bubble gums, lollipops, and penny candies. A blotter sheet of button drops. Enough licorice shoelace to strangle a boar hog. A twelve-ounce bar of Cadbury Fruit & Nuts and a small vial of pure cooking vanilla.
"This is a week's worth of candy," I pointed out. "We’ll never make it by the front door with this stuff."
My attorney nodded his head solemnly and looked at me through vaguely dilated pupils. I suspected he'd already dipped into the M&Ms.
"As your attorney I think it s in our best interests to consume as much of this candy as possible. It would be a shame to throw even half of it away,"
"You're insane," I reasoned. "This much candy would reduce both of us to a pair of babbling, dangerously over-loaded freaks,"
My attorney grinned at me knowingly.
"We'll fit in perfectly. Remember, this is the first day of school."
He climbed onto the Big Wheel and wasted no time ripping open wrappers; the Snickers went first, three apiece, washed down with a bolt of Pepsi. Then the rest of the M&M's and the Oh Henry's.
"Those Snickers are pure glucose.” my attorney warned. "You’ll feel the first rush any minute now." He was right. As we picked up speed and rumbled down Main Street a fine light wave trickled up my spine and came to rest at the base of my head.
"Hand me that licorice, you greedy whore," I said to my attorney. "That's supposed to be enough for both of us."
He shrugged and dropped a half-eaten clump into my lap. We ate an entire carton of Kit Kats in the next three blocks, and by the time we reached the halfway point in our journey we were both hopelessly twisted.
"They’ll probably hang us both from the flagpole as an example to all the other students." I said, peeling back the plastic wrapper from a Charms Blow Pop.
"Yes," my attorney agreed, chuckling like Mussolini. Suddenly his smile disappeared and his eyes filled with terror.
"Watch out for Papa Smurf!!!” he screamed, grabbing at the controls. "My God. Look at that! I wonder where the rest of the gang is?"
I couldn't see Papa Smurf, but the sky was full of black-fanged pterodactyls and I was having trouble pedaling.
My attorney howled and lashed out at the handlebars, nearly capsizing us.
"Get a grip on yourself' I screamed. “I thought you could handle the candy." He slumped back in his seat and ate a fistful of Necco's.
"Of course, of course. I've been acting crazily. It’s those Three Musketeers. They're horribly unpredictable.”
I stopped at a red light, and a pair of first-graders on a red Schwinn pulled up beside us. They had their brand-new clothes on and looked as eager as mongrels looking for potential masters at a dog pound. My attorney leaned over the side of the Big Wheel and stared at them.
"You want some fucking candy?" he screamed, spitting and drooling chocolaty goo from his mouth. "Hubba Bubba. Snickers. Pure granulated sugar, man. Blow your fucking head off!"
I glanced over at the Schwinn and saw the pair was frozen with shock.
The bike they were riding had a wicker basket on it and my attorney was tugging at it, trying to get their attention.
"Can't you hear me, you crazy bastards? Are you deaf? I'm talking about two-two-two mints in one. A fistful of peanuts in every bar!!!”
I tried to maneuver the Big Wheel past them but I was up against the curb and couldn't turn without knocking into them.
"M&M's. Hershey's chocolate motherfucker. Melt in your fucking brain, not in your mouth!"
The light finally changed and the Schwinn took off like a turbo jet. My attorney burst out laughing.
"Jesus, what fucking zombies. They're exactly the type of pigs infiltrating the school system. Christ, did you see the decals on their knapsacks?"
I could see he was getting worse by the minute. While he talked he scratched incessantly at an invisible rash and rocked to and fro spasmodically. Suddenly he started rummaging through a pile of wax wrappers, frantically searching for something.
"Where's my balloon?" he shouted. "Where did I put my balloon?"
Jesus, I thought, he's falling apart. Any second now he'll turn violent and they'll find us both on the side of the road, holding each other's spleens in our hands, our foreheads ripped open and dripping blood in the sun. He rose out of the pile and smiled broadly. Clenched in his fist was a red balloon.
"I couldn't function without this," he said. "If the situation gets tense you just load this baby up with water and drench every man, woman, and child within a twelve-foot radius. Never fails to jolt the bastards straight down to their socks.”
We arrived two hours late and parked the Big Wheel on the front steps. It was a terrible scene, both of us falling over each other as we tried to pry the school doors open. "These things have no fucking handles," my attorney screamed, clawing at the steel doors stupidly. "They built a school without any handles,"
"It's clearly an act of aggression." I said, my entire body now soaked in a trembling spastic sweat. "They want us to use the back entrance like common house servants.'
A small boy with fear in his eyes parted the doors from inside and pushed on past us; either he'd been thrown out or he'd seen all he wanted to.
"Jesus," my attorney said. "Did you see the look on that kid's face? I wonder what they did to him in there?"
I stared at him and smiled weakly, "They probably dragged him into the bathroom and beat him around the kidneys with pointers and yardsticks.”
"Jesus," my attorney muttered.
I shrugged and headed into the school lobby. Violence was commonplace the first day of school, I'd seen unacclimated teachers go completely berserk and start swinging in a crowded classroom, knocking children senseless by the barrelful.
"Hell," I continued, "I remember last year, on the first day, my homeroom teacher grabbed a talkative child in the first row and erased the entire goddamn blackboard with his head. His head! The kid inhaled so much chalk dust that he went instantly blind and fell into an irreversible coma.” I could see my attorney was starting to look a little uneasy. I laughed and swatted him on the back.
"Don't worry," I reassured him. "They only hurt you if you look like a troublemaker."
"Well fuck that," he said. "I'm a model student no matter what these evil scum-suckers say."
The corridors looked like the verge of a bad riot scene; rat-faced faculty members herded
shell-shocked brats up and down the hallways like meal hogs while the PA system periodically blurted garbled instructions to "kindly proceed to your designated home-room."
My attorney glanced down at a crumpled schedule.
"What room are you boys supposed to be in?" I whirled around and came face to face with an ugly fat man.
“Ah.. .of course, what room?" I said, thinking frantically. "What room indeed? Room 200. Yes. Probably room 200, of course, I remember distinctly now. Or was it room 244? We're new here, you know. Just trying to blend in and enjoy the scenery. The last thing we'd want is any trouble. Are you a member of the line staff?"
I assaulted him with some more gibberish but he wasn't buying it.
"Could I see your schedule, young man?"
I dug through my pockets, but all I could come up with was a pile of candy wrappers. "I must have left it in my other coat," I said, walking fast in the other direction. I hadn't gotten three steps when I felt his hard grip on my shoulder.
"I think you better come with me to the principal's office.'
Suddenly my attorney was in the middle of it, snarling at the fat man.
"Get your hands off my client, you worthless pig-fucker; How would you like to be brought up in front of the board for physically manhandling a student? You could lose your job for that."
The fat guy wasn't biting. He paraded us down the hall in a primitive version of a Nazi death march.
Christ, I thought. They'll find the cooking vanilla in our knapsacks. The man will tell the principal we're both vicious impostors and that we threatened him with his life. No! Our only hope was to run.
We made a break for it, but the sugar comedown clouded our brains and it seemed as if we were moving in slow motion. The principal's goon squad nailed us ten feet from the door. Caught like doomed rats.
Editor's Note: Dr Thompson's notes became very jumbled at this point. The following is a transcript from an interview Dr. Thompson had with his attorney and Rick Bloom, Dr. Thompson's campaign manager during his failed bid for election to the school council earlier that year:
HST: You worthless pig. I didn't think you'd have the guts to show your face after you bungled my campaign.
ATT: Hey. Rick, do you have any chocolate milk?
RB: Jesus. Hunter, you sabotaged that campaign yourself when you scrawled Report Cards Are Weird" on the side of the principal's Volkswagen.
HST: The man was a vicious misanthrope. And besides, the polls showed I was trailing by nearly three hundred votes. I had to do something drastic. I would have gotten away with it, too, if you hadn't panicked and dropped the Magic Markers.
RB: My heart wasn't in it. I kept thinking people were watching from behind the handball courts.
ATT: Cooking vanilla?