Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Rum Diary"

Believe me when I say that taking on anything by Hunter S. Thompson for the Friday Fiction Fix is no small challenge. Selecting The Rum Diary was key in that, by the time it came out in 1998, I figured I'd already read everything great that Thompson would pen in his life. The irony in that is that the author actually wrote this when he was 22, which would be somewhere around 1959. It has even been dubbed "The Long Lost Novel."

At the time of its release, I was roughly a year away from commencing at THE Fort Lewis College, and well, like any other thing not called homework, I devoured the book. It, like everything else I've ever read by the man, was fantastic. So today we revisit it, and given that there has been much ado with the Kansas City Chiefs' end-of-season changes, turmoil since, and the voluntary mini-camp taking place this weekend, it came as a bit of a surprise that running back Larry Johnson would be in attendance.

If you need an introduction to Hunter S. Thompson, find it yourself. If you have no idea of the conduct of Larry Johnson since the Chiefs drafted him out of Penn State in the first round of 2003, I'm confused as to how you wound up here. Assuming you're familiar with both, today's exercise, like all of them, will examine a couple of snapshots into Johnson's, or Paul Kemp's, if you will, post-college days.


"My apartment in New York was on Perry Street, a five minute walk from the White Horse. I often drank there, but I was never accepted because I wore a tie. The real people wanted no part of me.

It occurred to me that the real reason these people were leaving this island was basically the same reason I had left...and said to hell with all the things I was supposed to want -- indeed, all the things I had a responsibility to want -- to uphold, as it were -- and I wondered how I might have sounded if someone had interviewed me...on the day I left...with two suitcases and three hundred dollars...

'Tell me, Mr. Kemp, just why are you leaving...where your family has lived for generations and where you could, for the asking,

have a niche carved out for that you might live in peace and security for the rest of your well-fed days?'"

"Sanderson's office was on the top floor of the tallest building...I sat in a leather lounge chair...There was a definite feeling of being in a control tower.

Sanderson had his feet on the window sill.

'Two things,' he was saying. 'This business...won't amount to much...Zimburger's project is a big one.'

'Zimburger?' I said.

He nodded. 'I didn't want to mention it yesterday because he might have dropped in.'

'Wait a minute,' I said. 'Are we talking about

the same Zimburger -- the General?'

He looked annoyed. 'That's right, he's one of our clients.'

'Damn,' I said. 'Business must be falling off. The man's a jackass...'

...'Look,' he said sharply, 'you've been here long enough to begin learning a few things, and one of the first things you should learn is that money comes in odd packages.' He tapped his pencil on the desk. 'Zimburger -- known to you as 'the jackass' -- could buy and sell you thirty times...'

...'One of these days,' he said, 'this silly arrogance of yours is going to cost you a lot of money.'

'Goddamnit,' I replied, 'I didn't come here to be analyzed.'"


"Sometime after midnight we found ourselves in front of a place called the Blue Grotto,

a hall with a two dollar cover charge. I tried to pay, but people laughed and a squatty woman grabbed my arm.

'Oh, no,' she said. 'You come with us. We go to the real party...'

...We ran down the street to where they had a car, and about six more people piled in with us...We stopped a a house full of lights and music...The squatty girl gave a loud whoop and ran up the steps...It was jammed from wall to wall, and over in one corner a band was playing...and I began looking for a dark corner where I could drink without being seen...

...A few feet to my left was a door and I edged toward it, bumping more dancers. When I finally got outside I felt like I'd escaped from a jail...The dancing was getting wilder now...There was a driving rhythm to the music; the movements on the floor were jerky and full of lust, a swinging and thrusting of hips, accompanied by sudden cries and groans. I felt a temptation to join in, if only for laughs. But first I would have to get drunker.

On the other side of the room I found Yeamon,

standing by the entrance to the hall. 'I'm ready to do the dinga,' I said with a laugh. 'Let's cut loose and go crazy.'

He glared at me, taking a long slug of his drink...Yeamon was staring at the dancers, looking very morose...

...'Look at that bitch,' he said...

...'Yeah,' I said. 'She's hell on this dancing.'

'She's part nigger,' he replied...

'Careful,' I said quickly. 'Watch what you say in this place...'

...'Fine with me,' he replied. 'Try talking to her...'

...'Hell,' I said. 'Just grab her. Let's go.'

He shook his head. 'I did. She screamed like I was killing her.'"

"Suddenly, I was next to Chenault. I shrugged helplessly and kept up the stomp. She laughed and bumped me with her hips.

Then she danced back to her partner...the music fromt the crowd was getting crazier...They had made a big circle, and in the middle of it Chenault and the small, spade-bearded man were doing the cance. Chenault had dropped her skirt and was dancing in her panties and her white sleevless blouse. Her partner had taken off his shirt exposing his glistening black chest...

...Now, as if in some kind of trance, Chenault began to unbutton her blouse. She popped buttons slowly, like a practiced stripper, then flung the blouse aside and pranced there in nothing but her bra and panties...

...I looked again at Yeamon. He was waving his hands in the air now, trying to get Chenault's attention. But he looked like just another witness, carried away with the spectacle.

Now they were close together and I saw the brute reach around Chenault and unhook the strap of her bra. He undid it quickly, expertly, and she seemed unaware that now she wore nothing but her thin silk panties. The bra slid down her arms and fell to the floor. Her breasts bounced violently with the jerk and thrust of the dance...

...I watched, fascinated and terrified, and then I heard Yeamon beside me as he lunged toward the dance floor. There was a commotion and then I saw the big bartender move up behind him and grab his arms. Several others pushed him back, treating him like a harmless drunk as they made room for the dance to go on.

Yeamon was screaming hysterically, struggling to keep his balance. 'Chenault!' he shouted...

...Suddenly Yeamon broke loose...The melee stopped the dance...I staggered through the crowd, cursing, shoving...Behind me I could hear Yeamon, still yelling...Several people whacked me before I got to the door, but I paid no attention...

...Sometime during the night it started raining and when I woke up I was soaking wet. I thought it was dawn, but when I looked at my watch it said nine o'clock. My head felt swollen to twice its normal size and there was a big, painful bump in from of my right ear...The more I remembered, the more depressed I became...

...The cop asked if he could come in and take a look...

...'No sign of a white girl,' he said, looking Yeamon straight in the eye...

...I had several Chenaults on my mind right then:

...When I woke up the next morning Chenault was already in the kitchen. 'It's my turn to do something,' she said with a bright smile. 'You just sit there and be waited on...'

...The bathroom door was closed and I pulled it open. The curtain jerked back and Yeamon peered out of the shower. 'Kemp?' he said, peering through the steam. 'Who the hell is it?'

'God damn you!' I shouted. 'How did you get in here?'

'Your window was open. I'll have to stay here tonight...'

'You dumb bastard!' I snapped. 'You might have a murder rap on your ass...'

He jumped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. 'Jesus,' he said. "I better get out of here.'"

And that'll do it for this week's edition. If you're interested in obtaining your own copy of The Rum Diary, you can do so here.