Last Dude in the Tub Wins.

But now, looking at the big red notebook I carried all through that scene, I see more or less what happened. The book itself is somewhat mangled and bent; some of the pages are torn, others are shriveled and stained by what appears to be whiskey, but taken as a whole, with sporadic memory flashes, the notes seem to tell the story.
–Scanlan’s Monthly, June 1970

Hunter S. Thompson was too far gone to write. Up for days — a week maybe.

Not coming down off drugs precisely. Coming down can be a bitter & ugly thing. Still there is hope; when the drugs wear off there is hope. If there are more drugs to take that is.

Preferably a wide, tolerance-bashing variety.

Scanlan’s magazine rented a Manhattan hotel room for their writer to finish his ‘work’ in. The writer soaked sweatily in luke-warm bathwater. Periodically a hired Dwark would pop by from the magazine, eager for Copy. Which Hunter could not produce. His trouble: not that he was coming down from drugs. This thing was different. More heavy.

The drugs didn’t work anymore.

By now taking more drugs was like pumping quarters into a laundromat dryer to make a milk-drenched bowl of Fruit Loops less soggy.

Futile. And a bit nonsensically confusing.

He’d been up for too long. His only hope was 60 to 70 continuous hours of sleep. But fate afforded him no such luxury.

The expense money was long spent. His illustrator had fled home to England. The horse he’d bet on faltered in the last quarter mile after leading most of the race. The good Doctor could not remember who won. Or why – for that matter if — it mattered.

Hunter S. Thompson knew only that had some explaining to do regarding the Kentucky Derby.

Periodically some dwark would visit him in the bath to insist on copy.

But his brain was sharp as a soggy Fruit Loop. He could write nothing.

So when the dwarks came he ripped fresh pages from the book of notes he’d compiled over the deleterious weekend. These raw notebook pages were whisked away. Edited for legibility. Then hustled off to the printer – to be published ver batim in the forthcoming, premier issue of Scanlan’s.

Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track…nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game.Five million dollars will be bet today. Many winners, more losers. What the hell.

The press gate was jammed up with people trying to get in, shouting at the guards, waving strange press badges: Chicago Sporting Times, Pittsburgh Police Athletic League…they were all turned away. “Move on, fella, make way for the working press.” We shoved through the crowd and into the elevator, then quickly up to the free bar. Why not? Get it on.

The Grim Reaper comes early in this league…
Scanlan’s Monthly, June 1970

Hunter emerged from his bath. Retreated to his fortified Woody Creek, Colorado compound. Hunkered nervously. Waited for bad news; the promising young scribe reasonably expected he would never be paid to write a word again.

The resultant article — The Kentucky Derby is Decadent & Depraved was more potent than a bathtub gin martini. It reads like a literary prize fight: with total Subjectivity pitted against the bogus demands of Objectivity.

And Subjectivity wins big.

The word Gonzo was reputedly used by Irish Americans to describe the last man standing after an all night bout of booze drinking. That’s the meaning longtime Thompson friend Bill Cardoso — then editor of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine — intended, when he used the word to praise the Derby piece.

“This is it,” Cardoso said, “This is pure Gonzo.”

“OK. That’s what I do.” Thompson agreed. “Gonzo.”

With that all he needed was a trunk-load of drugs & a stolen Cadillac convertible & a pocket full of bogus credentials — to properly cover the story.

But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.

A perfect gig for the dude who — while not standing exactly — was the last one still wild-eyed in the tub after a week up on drugs, booze & deeply subjective weirdness at the Kentucky Derby.

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2 Responses to “Last Dude in the Tub Wins.”


  1. 1 fatsavage April 7, 2007 at 9:56 am

    I don’t want to encourage your dark side and I must be totally losing it, but this is really good writing. What ever you took had to be the right thing and just enough.

    Thanks for the comments at my house – they seem equally lucid.

    PS Please dont kill me off in your next post. I think I’m creating enough natural enemies on my own.

  2. 2 Mike E April 7, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    All I really took was a subject about which I care deeply — and study obsessively.

    That & enough ADD medicine to pull off — in weird public spots that are just not natural to write in — what, I quite agree, is “really good writing.”

    You made my day by noticing! Thanks muchly.

    Not to worry! You’ve asked that I not kill you and I’ll respect that. Unless of course someone pays me to.

    In which case all I can say is “Hey — a hungry man must eat.”

    But it’s not likely. I am quite certain that I am attached to a sign, visible to everyone but me, that in blinking neon says Please Do Not Feed The Artist!!

    …Yep. It’s against the rules. Because it will destroy the artist’s habitat if he is not starving!

    What can a poor boy do? Adapt I suppose. Which I’ve done; I am now able to synthesize cellular energy — ATP — from high-quality reader comments. For example: I ate your compliment for breakfast this morning.

    Thanks immensely!


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