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Opinion

Costume influenced by Gonzo writer

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November 7, 2014

This past Halloween I costumed as Hunter S. Thompson, and my experience took place over two and a half days.

The easiest way to introduce Thompson is by his most famous book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It eventually got made into a film featuring Johnny Depp acting as the main character. The story follows a journalist and a lawyer tripping to Las Vegas on everything you can imagine in a red convertible.

Nearly every break in the plot is filled by the two of them popping a variety of drugs held in a suitcase. I remember Thompson saying somewhere in his “Generation of Swine” book that any man who would actually consume that excessive amount of drugs would be quickly dead.

The casual fan of Thompson often thinks of this extreme story. This is how I thought of him until I started reading his work and watching documentaries about his life. I learned that in the 1970s and 80s, he was a very prominent and influential journalist that wrote freelance pieces for Playboy, Rolling Stone and many others.

He invented his own journalism style called “Gonzo,” and in his book “The Great Shark Hunt” he says, “It is a style of ‘reporting’ based on William Faulkner’s idea that ‘the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism.'” Thompson goes on to write that “true Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist and the heavy balls of an actor.”

The style can read as easy as getting drunk, and can sometimes be unbelievable, but that isn’t the truth.

The past few years, Halloween has become my favorite celebration influenced by my passion of snowboarding and one of its most famous snowboard crews –- the House of 1817. People from all over the world probably claim the 1-8-1-7, but the origin lies in the Twin Cities. They advocate all things dark and scary, their catchphrase is “Stay Spooky”, and they were out snowboarding this past Halloween at both Wild Mountain and Trollhaugen.

Both of these places compete every year to be the first snow area to open in North America. This aspect of Halloween makes it my absolute favorite: it means that the shred not only looms, but it intermittently can be consumed on the weekends until the grass is surely doomed.

My Halloween began early with a leftover breakfast burrito at my house — the House of Powers. The name comes from the Austin Powers cutout hung in our porch that acts as a watchdog and spooks every passerby without fail.

Normally, my breakfast spread would be fresh and nearly consistent to what Thompson was known for, which were multiple entrees and glasses of water, coffee, juice and whiskey. We both like to be fueled with plenty of brain food.

I went to politics class donning only one part of my costume — a red Hawaiian shirt. I complemented it with red pants and red shoes. The topic of the day was warrantless surveillance and the Edward Snowden revelations and I wondered what Thompson would have thought about it if he were still alive. After all, he lived through the Watergate scandal. And the secret collection and storage of every American’s data is much bigger than Watergate in my opinion.

The end of class meant the weekend and the freedom to acquire the rest of my costume. The sun was out, so I put on my green-lensed Fear and Loathing inspired Aviator sunglasses and skateboarded to the bookstore.

Through my research, I learned that Thompson was no fluke. He studied inspirations such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. My interest quickly turned to these figures, so they are whom I browsed for.

Eventually, I came away with “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald– who was another inspiration to Thompson. Through documentaries, I learned that Thompson used to re-type Fitzgerald’s second and most famous novel “The Great Gatsby” to know what it felt like to write like a master. I thought this practice was a great idea, so I did the same thing over the summer.

The next stop was the liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey because with a Thompson costume, it was mandatory. And it had to be Kentucky bourbon because that is where Thompson was from. I settled for some Old Thompson branded American whiskey because the name was too fitting and the bottom shelf nature meant I could fit more dollar bills back into my pocket.

Cigarettes were a big part of Thompson’s life, so I went and picked up a pack. I am not usually a smoker, so I chose the cigarette with least amount of tar and carbon monoxide, making them not “a safer cigarette” — as it says on the package — but the a healthier cigarette. I thought that logically, they were the healthiest a man could buy.

I then entered the barbershop next door to truly transform into Thompson.

“How much are we taking off?” the barber said.

“All of it”, I said.

By the end, he joked that he wouldn’t charge me by the pound. I paid the man for a job well done with a crisp $20 and exited.

Now bald and shaven, I passed the costume threshold and finally felt like Thompson, so I celebrated with the first cigarette of the day. Thompson was very well known for using a cigarette holder. In the movie “Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas,” a holder never leaves Depp’s mouth throughout the entire movie.

I drew my first cancer-stick on the Veteran’s park bridge, looking over the river and the ducks, thinking about what to do next. The idea came quicker than the flick of the flame: I needed a briefcase for my whiskey.

I browsed the thrift store for about a minute before realizing it was past noon: I needed a drink before this whole story got off on the wrong track: the sober track.

I went back to the House of Powers and twisted and popped the cap off Old Thompson and poured myself a jar full–neat. After the first taste, my face crinkled and shook while my eyes watered. Taking this stuff straight was certainly tougher than Windsor or Bird Dog.

Luckily, a friend showed up with some advice: He said, “Chase it with candy.” So I did.

And then I proceeded to chain-eat the candy. My bag of thirty pieces had already almost completely diminished. I am an addict, and not just on Halloween. I am so much a sugar addict that I can pick out the burnt and the stale. I still eat them anyway, but I don’t recommend the variety pack bags! They are the most prone.

From that point on, this story can absolutely be considered drunken. But what else would someone expect? I am a newly turned 21-year-old living in Wisconsin. A fact’s a fact.

I went back to the thrift store and the decision was quickly made to pick up the suitcase I found because the briefcase that the worker located was too small for a bottle of booze. I spent the rest of the afternoon skateboarding around with my whiskey, cigarettes, camera, writing materials, and the rest of my tricks. Soon, the darkness would blanket River Falls, and the mood of Halloween would truly set in.

The best part about my costume was that I could continue to do journalism in it. I found myself at the Kleinpell art gallery taking notes, snapping pictures and eating a few brownies.

The only applicable art that I saw was titled “Whiskey Cup 1” and “Whiskey Cup 2”. If I needed something other than the bottle I was packing, I would have paid Pat Barnick $20-$90 to simply just drink from it, and not to buy it.

After some art, it was time to swing by Maverick’s Corner Saloon to vacuum up information from their Twerk Contest they held. I summoned the bartender and asked who won. He looked down at my notebook when I asked a second time. “I need to get my facts straight!” I shouted. He gave me the answer and a second shot of Fireball. I needed the warmth boost for the trip to Grimm. And besides, like I said, there was snow now on the ground.

I saw no action in any of the dorms as I gained speed down the concrete. I stopped thinking I overshot Grimm and asked some costumes where it was. They gave directions and said, “It’s worth the wait!”…

Ha! One of the great tools my journalist’s suitcase of tricks is my ability to spark up a conversation. So, after reading the “Welcome to Grimm Haunted House” sign, written in a bloody swash of red, I simply eased my way into the stacked line and found a group in need of one more person by way of talking to people.

I bought my ticket, and then the ride started. As we walked into the labyrinth of black tarped walls, I already gathered that this scare tactic was about 25-years-old, it took two months to prepare, and 40-50 “beasts” awaited us. Our guide began the tour with “I won’t scare you, but something might”.

I got scared, but I left smiling at its success. My favorite parts were the sacrifice room and the limbs in the hallway to end it.

I never went inside the party I went to after. I called a limousine before meeting myself — Another Thompson costume, that is. We had a cigarette on the back deck, picked a period in our lives, and exchanged a conversation about our crazy, Gonzo selves. We were, in fact, a little “gone-zo”.

The limo brought me to Junior’s bar. I didn’t even make it inside there either. I didn’t need to because I didn’t need to win that trip to Vegas. I already looked like I had just gotten back from Vegas with a fat wad, so I got picked up for a second house party, this one out of town. Vegas trip. I have drawn a blank for much of that party’s time. Whether that’s the lack of pen, alcohol or safety of memory, I don’t know. The details of that one will have to be left to private question and answer.

My job at the dry cleaners is a great one. It allows me the freedom in between customers to do as I please. I mulled over the Halloween happenings that occurred and tried to organize and scribe them for this column. Then I looked at my cigarette pack. Eight of them were left. A couple went to bums, and one I found broken inside my right pants pocket. Thompson was a chain smoker, so I concluded that I was behind and lit one up outside.

As I viewed Main Street, pacing, I decided the next stop was Mariachi Loco despite growing expenses. It might have been the faint Spanish music coming from the radio inside, but eating out, renting cars, staying in hotels, and getting the story is how Thompson lived. He was an objectivist along with an individualist.

At Mariachi Loco, I continued to recollect the events over a hot burrito and enchilada. However, they made it so damn quick that I didn’t get an idea down on paper before they brought out the food. The most important part was the margarita. I needed something to keep myself awake for round two of the nightly Halloween festivities. Tonight there would be no children out for trick or treating. The adults will now be explicitly drinking, and no longer observing slowly behind their kids with sneaky alcohol.

I didn’t get in my legitimate Thompson- like breakfast regimen until the last morning of my excursion. With the last dose of Old Thompson whiskey, I realized that the man’s actions are impossible to duplicate.

In many of the stories I’ve read, Thompson described scrambling very late to meet the deadlines the next day, yet he always seemed to meet them. Sometimes that pressure and adrenaline is what journalist’s seeks to complete a piece. However being the last one in the silent newsroom finishing up my own a day past deadline made me feel very calm. I had the room to myself, for however long I wanted. Every word typed on my MacBook was blank space filled on the second screen in front of me–the one that holds the design for the new newspaper issue.

To my surprise, a cop peered inside the door around 3 a.m.

Cop: “You’re really working this late?”

Me: “Yes. I have a story to finish.”

Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.