Friday, February 25, 2005

Get ready. Apologies in advance. I think this is one of the darkest things I’ve ever written.


Another damned cybersermon by Rev. Paul Mathers

“Everything, everything is more than it seems. Everything, everything is more than it seems.” -Robert H. Morris

I recently got back in touch with Ether, my favorite ex-girlfriend (or rather the only one I like at all.) She told me that she’d thought of me the other day when she picked up a book of short stories by Charles Bukowski and he was forever linked to me in her mind. I was surprised. It’s been years since I’ve even thought about the poet Charles Bukowski much less read anything by him. The last time I thought about him was at my friend Gary’s funeral when the pastor pronounced it “Buck-oo-wow-ski” and the row of poets in the back of the church all had to stifle laughs. I imagine it would have been Gary’s favorite moment from the service, at least the Gary I knew.
It’s strange how we get linked to things that we really have no tangible connection to.

Last Sunday the calls started coming in around 10 pm. I didn’t pick up because it was
Sunday and I was reading a dense European post-modernist novel and I didn’t want to be bothered on the Lord’s day. But it got the better of me and the first message I checked was Lob telling me that Hunter S Thompson shot himself in the head about an hour ago. The next twelve hours I got a lot of calls, some from people I haven’t talked to in a long time but who knew to call me when they heard the news. It was a rough day and I had a lot of work to do. I didn’t know what to say to people when they called but I knew I’d have to say something at some point. My only thought last Sunday was “why are all of my heroes killing themselves?”

It was almost exactly a year ago that they found the body of Spalding Gray. Gray was a monologist who may have more to do with why I write the way I do than anyone else (just as Hunter Thompson’s work did a lot to form my political and modern sociological world view.) Gray’s work changed the way I thought about writing and performance. I met Spalding Gray once. He seemed very polite but distant. When he killed himself he was a man in his sixties who was in a lot of physical pain. There hasn’t been an official statement on Hunter Thompson yet, but most of his personal friends, the ones who are saying anything on the subject, are saying that he was a man in his sixties who was in a lot of physical pain.
I don’t know if Spalding Gray and Hunter Thompson knew one another. They hit the peaks of their fame in roughly the same period. For all I know they may have known one another. For all I know they went on picnics together, made paper hats, and in the wee hours of the morning when they were supposed to be sleeping called one another to talk about their secret crushes.
But I doubt it.

I never met Hunter Thompson. I have an autographed leather-bound book of his. I have a pen that he wrote with that one of my least favorite ex-girlfriends gave to me. I have a tattoo on my right shoulder of his Gonzo symbol. He was big into the cult of personality in order to sell books. He had a rabid public image (already I’m restraining myself from aping his writing style and vocabulary to describe him, such is the vortex of personality) much like Andy Warhol or Paris Hilton. They may have been a little like that in their personal lives but dollars to donuts when cameras rolled they became cartoons of themselves. I’m not condemning it at all. In fact I think it’s fabulous.
I never knew him and yet I have stories to tell.
When I was in college, I didn’t take English 102 for some reason and my senior year rolled around before any of the crack team in the advisor’s office noticed. So there I was taking it my senior year and really pissed off about it. Our final project was to do a report on an author. I went to the professor after class and said I’d like to do mine on Hunter Thompson. I prepared a presentation on satire, on the span of his career from the new journalism to the political commentary to the sports writing. He’d spent the last 30 years of his life in political commentary, documenting the decline of American politics with a firm, intelligent grasp on polls, data, election results, laws and so forth but presented sort of as if the prophet Jeremiah had been a political commentator. Worked on many levels and was hilarious, brilliant subversion.
The class before my presentation a rich kid frat boy got up and said, “my presentation is on Hunter Thompson” (uh oh.) Then he showed a clip from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (oh no.) Then he said things like “To me, Hunter Thompson is like about having a good time and just partying.”
And that was the day I got a job in the cafeteria and started slipping sterilization drugs into the food.

I'm just kidding about that. I didn't really do that last part.

This week Paris Hilton’s cell phone was hacked into and all of her personal information was posted on the Internet. There’s a term called “schadenfreude” which is when you take delight in the misfortune of someone else. There’s been a lot of schadenfreude over this by people who watch her carefully edited image on a lighted screen because her public image is as if someone mixed the DNA of Leona Helmsley with Marie Antoinette and the child was raised by the Ayn Rand institute’s special ed department. I’ve never met her, so I don’t know if she’s really anything like that. But that’s the image.
But I do know that there’s a girl who works at Chico Natural Foods who got a virus on her computer. I was sorry to hear that. I see her twice a week and chat with her often. Save my brother’s family she’s probably one of the people I see most often these days. I don’t know her name.
I know the name of everyone in Hunter Thompson’s immediate family. I know the name of Paris Hilton and her sister.
But then I didn’t cry when Hunter Thompson died. I cried when my friend Gary died.

There’s this site on the Internet that Lob told me about called MySpace. You make a profile, a public image for yourself and other people link to you as a friend and your network grows and you can write to people. I spend some time on there, but not a lot because most of my time is spent trying to scrape together enough money to cover my naked ass.
I have a few friends on MySpace. Lob, Ether my favorite ex-girlfriend, some people I knew in college, a few bands I like, and one person I write to but have never met. And Hunter Thompson is one of my friends. He added me before he died along with thousands of other people OR someone out there pretending to be him added me before the real life guy died never having come into direct contact with me at all. Writing to people online is a strange thing. There’s an element of distrust that isn’t there in real life. That’s because people get burned by people online all the time. The mask of the lighted screen is too complete and now in the hands of unskilled amateurs. Trolls hide in their Internet masks and act like scoundrels, blow hards and perverts in ways that would start lynchings in real life.
If I were to go up to someone at Chico Natural Foods and strike up a conversation it’s most likely they’ll be friendlier and more trusting than someone you initially as a stranger “talk to” online. If you’re walking up to somebody in flesh you at least know you’re talking to what you’re looking at. If the hypothetical person at Chico Natural Foods responded to me like online strangers do, I would assume that person was a sociopath. I wonder if in 20 years or so attitudes will devolve into what they are in our little boxes of insulation every time we deal with someone else in an insulated box.
Part of the reason we cling to celebrities is that our television friends accept us unconditionally and don’t hurt us. When our favorite ones die violently and suddenly, it turns a mirror onto our loneliness. We’re all going to die alone. Our own consciousness is what’s going to be snuffed out, nothing more (jeez, I’ve read too much Shakespeare. See what I mean?) This has everything to do with why we couple, procreate (well, some do) and love.

Around Chico I’m a lot of different guys. At the post office I’m the guy who ships a lot of books, the antique stores I’m the guy who collects vintage photographs, the comic book store (the good one, not the crappy one downtown) I’m the Neil Gaiman fan, the church I’m Pat’s brother. All of those people are similar nameless descriptions to me that end up serving as a name. Just as good as one.
I see them every day. We are Chico. We keep the economy running. We pump money in and take money for our trouble. In a way we’re a tribe. In other ways, my MySpace friends are a tribe. If I write a list of “The Best Concerts I’ve Ever Seen” and post it all of them will see it. My family is a tribe. The other night I helped my brother run his church café. Then I went home and cut my finger to the bone while making a sandwich. It bled for twelve hours. I had to call Pat at four in the morning. We almost went to the hospital, but finally just wrapped it and knocked me out with legal drugs.
If you’re reading this you’re one of my tribe.

Call it what you will, Baraka, pantheism, quantum physics, The Butterfly Effect, Bell’s theorem, the great web of life. When you look at us on a sub-atomic level, when you get down below a quark of us, the distinction of where my arm ends and the armrest of this chair begins gets really blurred. In essence the duality I’ve been talking about all along is an entirely human invention, created by our society to… well, I don’t really know why it was created. To keep us separate and lonely I suppose. Perhaps a way for the big guy with the club to get more of the tribe’s meat than us.

The people online or on the freeway who treat people with the same patriarchal, selfish perversions really can’t be blamed for having been trained that way. The ones who scream at the lady in the post office they see every week and then go home to cry when Friends goes off the air are only following orders. The president needs to keep glutting our economy with more fossil fuels and can’t be bothered with future generations, the lives of entire species or trees that have taken hundreds to thousands of years to grow. See where I’m going with this? It doesn’t have to be this way. Insulation is carefully taught and entirely unnatural. It’s time to get naked.
There are three ways out of this prison. One, which a lot of people take, is to serve your time and wait to be released. The second way, well, Hunter Thompson and Spalding Gray knew that they had the key to the prison and one day they used it. Why they used it is their own damned business. There’s a third way. There’s a way to rename the prison into something pleasant like a tribe or a commune. Of course the main problem becomes trying to convince the other prisoners that they aren’t convicts. But then, what else do you have to do?

I’ve heard a lot of talk from a lot of people about how they didn’t expect Hunter Thompson to go like that. Most of them expected an overdose or a drunken accidental drive off of a cliff. They didn’t expect it to be anything so brutal and hopeless. And maybe that was his point. Maybe that was Hunter Thompson’s way of saying “That feeling you have right now? That’s what I’ve been talking about my entire adult life.”
But I doubt it. Instead I imagine he simply was an older man in a lot of physical pain.


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