The Night of the Hunter. (S. Thompson)
This is Hunter Thompson. If you can get out here tomorrow, this job is yours.
I have an Ivy League diploma on my wall and an ice strainer in my hand. It’s 1992, and I'm a recent graduate in New York, trying to work for a magazine. Any magazine will do. In the meantime, I’m pouring drinks that involve too much blue curacao and Malibu rum for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd at a blues bar on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. I’m not too proud for this job, but some days I just want to take our ice pick and stab it in my eye. I live on the top floor of a fifth floor walkup in Soho, which you could do in 1992 making next to nothing if you had a roommate, which I do. We have no TV. Our Mac Classic computer was stolen during a break-in while I was sleeping. No one we know has a cell phone, or an email address. Our cheap entertainment consists of going to the all-night deli at all hours dressed in some version of our pajamas and getting a bottle of Budweiser in a brown paper bag. We smoke cigarettes and drink the Bud in the park on Thompson and Spring.
That February, my roommate tells me our friend Dan, who has a job interning at Rolling Stone, says Hunter S. Thompson is looking for an “assistant.” What this means I have no idea. I’ll find out later when I’m drinking scotch in a hot tub surrounded by seven key lime pies and a gun; right now I only know that whatever it involves will be better than shaking another Long Island Iced Tea. It will be better than one more “informational interview” at Conde Nast, where I have failed the fucking typing test twice. It will be amazing. If I get it.
I write a letter. Not a long one, but not one out of any career book. It is an honest letter. One in which I’m sure it comes through that I feel like a pathetic underachiever in this mean, closed-up city. One in which I tell him how much I really like his work. One that does not ignore the fact that I’m ripe, ready, and very much able to mix a drink. It’s a longshot, but it feels good. I don’t want to get this job any other way—by lying or embellishing how qualified I am. I’m 22 for God’s sake. I’m not Tina Brown. We both know that. I fax the letter, because that is what you do in 1992.
I’m often up until 2, but almost never 3. And even though at this hour I’ve slept through hotel fire alarms, the phone jars me awake. The voice could be a prank, but it’s too random, and too much as I’ve imagined from what I’ve read. It’s a barky mumble, at once shy and demanding.
“Can you get out here tomorrow?”
“I’m sorry?” I say, sitting up.
“This is Hunter Thompson. If you can get out here tomorrow, this job is yours. I’ll have my assistant buy you a ticket. You can pick it up at the airport. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow.” I say this as a statement, not a question. Not an “are you out of your fucking head” indictment.
You don’t become the father of Gonzo journalism by waiting. You make things happen.
If I hesitate, I’ll chicken out. Or worse, he’ll sense my trepidation and wake up the next candidate on his list.
“Of course I can.”
“Great. She’ll call in the morning. I liked your letter.”
And then the click. We were done.
I lie back in bed. I could think about details right now, like what I will wear tomorrow and who will cover my next shift at the bar. Or: just what in the hell I’m getting myself into. I could be scared or triumphant. But I’m neither. I roll over and wrap the covers to my chin like a child on Christmas Eve, content, anticipating. I sleep so soundly, ten fire alarms couldn’t wake me.
And I'm about to be thrown directly into the fire.