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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

When gas prices skyrocketed in the summer of 2008, I actually had to stop huffing that sweet shit and resumed mainlining heroin to occupy all the time I suddenly found on my hands in the absence of a solid addiction. This was probably a good move, economically speaking at least, especially since I’m pretty much a priss about my huffing, and sternly refuse to douse my rags with anything with a gradation below that of rocket fuel (and don’t even bother trying to pawn off some ‘smoke’ on me, unless When gas prices skyrocketed in the summer of 2008, I actually had to stop huffing that sweet shit and resumed mainlining heroin to occupy all the time I suddenly found on my hands in the absence of a solid addiction. This was probably a good move, economically speaking at least, especially since I’m pretty much a priss about my huffing, and sternly refuse to douse my rags with anything with a gradation below that of rocket fuel (and don’t even bother trying to pawn off some ‘smoke’ on me, unless you happen to have some of the fabled One-Eyed Jack, the mad chronic known as Indiana’s Finest, or the oft-celebrated White Rhino). Alas, I gave up toking too, unfortunately, as trying to acquire it became a logistical nightmare, especially with dealers applying a hefty fuel surcharge for delivery to their driver’s-license-lacking clientele. With this changing of the guard, what could be more appropriate than another reading of Fear & Loathing as a fond farewell to my old pastimes? It was also fitting in that in my first year on goodreads and having joined the ‘50 Books in 2008’ group, as I slowly drew near the finish line, I wanted to make sure the fiftieth was a certifiable winner; to wrap it up on a high note, and I figured there was no way to go wrong with one of my all-time favorites, representing the feel-good/comedy genre (I hesitate to apply the ‘journalism’ label most affix to this work). Granted, almost 20 of those 50 were re-reads, but hey, what the hell do you expect from a gas-huffer scouring the Chicago burbs for a lid of ‘Purple Haze’ on a Tuesday night. To be honest, I was pretty late in jumping on the F&L bandwagon; hell, I didn’t even smoke grass until I was out of high school, and when the Terry Gilliam adaptation of Fear and Loathing came out, all my fiends immediately ran off to see it. I didn’t follow suit, recollecting that these same wankers had similarly scurried off to see “Showgirls” (which I must admit, I ended up seeing in my mid-twenties, and thought it was better than the universal slander it received from critics and the disgruntled masses alike, if only because I got to hear Robert Davi, of “Goonies” fame, drop the line, “It must be weird, not having people cum on you”). However, everyone pretty much always assumed that I partook in the ganja, and I think it’s fair to assume this was because the vast majority of my peeps were a bunch of good-for-nothing potheads. In spite of this unwarranted stigma applied solely on my associations with dunderheaded doobie-smokers aplenty, I wasn’t compelled to get into ‘the lifestyle’ (meaning I’ve never worn tie-dye or Birkenstocks, have never owned a ‘Dead’ album, and vomit at the slightest whiff of patchouli or thought of world peace). Finally, drinking by some pond one night, carelessly chucking the empty cans into the murky water while lamenting another pitfall in my varied history with the ladies, my companion decided to roll up a torpedo for himself, and he was completely floored when I asked to partake. How he chuckled; what a joke his little buddy was making, the guy who’d sat there amidst a thousand bongloads and witnessed the smoking of overflowing bowls for years without the slightest inclination to take a toke, the lameass who only strangers even bothered to ask for inclusion in the rotation of a passing joint, as even the politest of friends had long since learned this guy just wasn’t interested, and here he was, on just some random night killing time and brain cells asking for a hit. This curmudgeonly Latvian bastard continued to sit there and suck away on the thing, and being I novice, I wondered if he thought he’d hallucinated my request. I repeated my appeal, and it dawned on the Latvian that he was going to be present for an historic event; he’d get the honor of being the one to say that he’d been there when I first danced with the green gremlin, and I can only imagine he hoped I’d do something noteworthy, foolish, and perhaps entertaining to make this story a staple in his repertoire when attempting to pick up trim. To be totally honest, it wasn’t very noteworthy, but, then again, I was pretty bird-shitty drunk. Naturally, having smoked a single joint, I went through the usual routine; instant marijuana dependency and progression into cocaine, heroin, and giraffe-piss addiction, financial despair, selling my body on the mean streets of Lisle, Illinois, constant arrests and other legal entanglements, intermittent blindness, absolutely reckless behavior beyond description, ostracism from family and friends after constantly fucking up, and the growth of an enormous, third testicle which forever imbued my salty seed with a teal hue.

Perhaps the only benefit from my newfound habit (aside from the colorful joy-juice destined to be a showstopper at parties) was being introduced to Fear and Loathing, which remains one of the funniest damn things I’ve ever read in my life. I recommend this to absolutely anyone without hesitation, and while I’m sure many might suppose you have to be down with the reefer to enjoy this, I can’t imagine this being the case, as most of the richest humor and hilarious insight

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is independent of the drug-fueled binge the estimable Raoul Duke embarks upon with his twisted attorney Dr. Gonzo, and instead relies heavily on witty and wry writing... or maybe it isn’t. Mayhap, had I never partaken in the sweet leaf and immediately become a permanent mental cripple and social pariah, I wouldn’t appreciate a single element of this vile filth. I’m probably not the man to make this fine distinction.

No, on second thought, this would still be uproariously hilarious. Sure, maybe there would be a few gags here and there that would drift right over my head as one of the uninitiated, but these would be far less frequent and less baffling than the detailed and heartfelt sentiments Thompson often invokes with rage and disgust with the ‘establishment’ and social mores circa 1971, at least for someone who wasn’t born for another half-decade.

As for the story itself, Mr. Duke (an esteemed Doctor of Journalism) and his hellacious colleague (and attorney) Dr. Gonzo are slumming it at the Polo Lounge when Duke gets a call recruiting him to cover a what seems to be a pointless, piece of shit story, the Mint 400, some off-road dirt-bike race out in Las Vegas. While the assignment itself appears to be little more than a lackluster fuckaround (eventually abandoned and written off when Duke declares ”The idea of trying to ‘cover this race’ in any conventional press-sense was absurd: it was like trying to keep track of a swimming meet in an Olympic-sized pool filled with talcum powder instead of water”), Mr. Duke and Dr. Gonzo don’t just curse their ill fate and dawdle with their tallywhackers in hand, hell no, they’ve prepared themselves to make the most of this trip by collecting an impressive array of drugs and Acapulco shirts with which to assist in assuring their sojourn is a memorable one, and they began their stupefying narcotic binge before even reaching Vegas.

After running amok in a drug-induced frenzy and creating general disarray over the weekend covering the ‘fabulous’ Mint 400 (which they attend ever-so-briefly, as Duke recounts ”I didn’t even know who won the race. Maybe nobody. For all I knew, the whole spectacle had been aborted by a terrible riot..””), Dr. Gonzo quickly heads back to LA after their fiendish spree, leaving Duke in the hands of the powers that be in the hotel room they’ve ransacked. As Duke prepares to flee amidst paralyzing paranoia, he receives a telegram from the Good Doctor, informing him to stay put in Vegas, as Rolling Stone wants him to cover the National Conference of District Attorney’s annual seminar on narcotic and dangerous drugs at the Dunes Hotel. Staying in Vegas, and especially voluntarily walking into a conference full of cops is an act of lunacy not even Duke will consider, and he bails.

Or at least, Duke tries to. His retreat to California is plagued with obstacles and his own frayed nerves, which eventually leaves him enough time to sober up slightly, reassess the situation, and come to the conclusion that the allure of infiltrating the District Attorney’s conference is too crazy/awesome to ignore. He heads back to Vegas, and the pair finish what they started in grand fashion, which is to completely debase every social convention Vegas (herein representing some extreme nexus of American culture in microcosm) holds dear while assbitingly twisted.

Many readers probably chreish and relate to Fear & Loathing for Thompson’s ‘outsider-looking-in’ attacks on the social milieu in the USA at the time; his most notable grievances are the Nixon Administration, the ongoing clusterfuck in Viet Nam, and the thoroughly pitiful collective mindset that immediately fears or discounts anything which doesn’t walk the straight and narrow in mindless goose-step with the masses. I’m sure an equal number of readers just enjoy the bizarre tale of a pair of fiends engaged in the “excessive consumption of every drug known to civilized man since 1544 AD” while partying like Motley Cru on the Vegas strip. I myself liked it for the humor, and not specifically the humor lambasting the American mores of the day, but just some of the absurd shit that Thompson comes up with, especially his ability to resurrect banalities laid throughout the story with greater flair when reintroduced (nuisance characters, the Great American and Samoan Dreams, comments concerning Fatty Arbuckle, and the menacingly-monikered Vincent Black Shadow). I also happen to like the Dead Milkmen, which may or may not be relevant.

I consider this one of the books which has had the most influence in my own life; it helped inspire me in keeping a scrapbook/journal-thing which, while abandoned when I began working 60 hour weeks a few years ago, helped me unfuck myself and unwrap my head when I really needed it at times, plus I’ve probably copped more material from this book and ripped off choice quotes to suit my own needs more than from anything else. For instance, one time my pal, I’ll call him ‘Mike’, and I were en route to a head shop so this poor fool could buy some piece of shit called a ‘proto-pipe’, and while I was driving and filling a balloon (yes, I thought whip-its were cool at the time), the balloon managed to slip from my hand, and sputter throughout my posh 96 Toyota Corolla, to which I could only exclaim “Did you see what God just did to us, man!?”, and my compatriot, who was too much of a tool to be filling his own balloon and allowed a half-wasted driver to do it, replied in kind, “God didn’t do that, You did it! You’re a fucking narcotics agent!” proving, I suppose, that my repeated lending of this book and non-stop promotion of it’s virtues even managed to penetrate the thick skulls of my fellow wastoids, perhaps the most enduring testament to its greatness. ...more

Category: Review

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