Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Great American Ne'er-do-well

If pressed, I would have to describe myself as "risk averse". I'm a born worrier, I was yielded by two prescription-strength worriers, it's a trait that runs deeper in my veins than red blood cells. I am always looking before I leap, sometimes never leaping but instead peering into some hypothetical chasm of worst case scenarios. It's held me back, sure, but its the same instinct that also sees me to work on time, secures that steady "C" grade point average my mom is so proud of, that doesn't let me fall in love with the wrong person (well. almost). I'm a planner, always keeping an eye out for the next available pitfall in order to avoid it, or at least, escape with minimal damage.

In 2006 I went to art school, and met a whole bevy of people that were the opposite of risk averse. Summer after summer I would watch them vacate the city, in painted vans and rusting two-door lemons, with trunks full of sleeping bags, drugs, and whiskey. I stood in the driveway and waved at them as they drove away, squinting into the sun with a feeling of "better them than me." Fall came and they'd come back, straggling into town, one by one, with empty pockets and festival stories of horrors and triumphs.

Reading "Gonzo" is similar to hearing those festival tales. Polaroids and photographs of Hunter Thompson's extensive travels peek out from the pages with little to no description, no key to name the characters until you reach the end. Only in the very last pages of the book can you go back, matching names to faces, putting time into context. Its one long experience, the scroll of a wild man who lived all over and then some. I think my favorite thing about Thompson is you can never quite tell if he's good or evil; he is always both, will first smash the bottle over your head only to help you bandage the wound later.

A book like this will, of course, give you the unshakable feeling that you've missed out, gravely, on the possibilities of life. The pictures of Thompson, in his trademark bermuda shorts, nursing a something-on-the-rocks in a highball glass while musing over a typewriter under black and white palm trees from the past will no doubt give you pause. For me, however, it's just a pause. I never claimed to be a Thompson; I wouldn't even have been able to be in his acquaintance. We can't all hit the road, throw caution to the wind and embrace the unknown. I mean sure, it was a different time he was living and writing in, but beyond that; some of us can never see past today, and that is an excellent way to live. Still, I see tomorrow. I can't help it, it fills my line of vision and I cough and sputter until the smoke clears and I remember where I am. This book, and others like it, are magic to me. Bona fide dark arts. Something to wave at while you squint into the sun, displaced from time for a moment. Just a moment.

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