15 April 2014

“N” is for Nonsense and Naughtiness – a Tribute to the Late & Great Hunter S Thomson

I have had a Hunter S Thomson day today. He is amongst my very favourite writers and I am currently re-reading the Rum Diary. I have read all of Thomson’s works and his brilliance and genius dazzles me. I rate him right up there with Vonnegut and John Irving. The man knew how to combine words. He was drug addled and some would argue psychotic but wow how he could write.

The ‘S’ stands for Stockton in case you are interested.

Hunter Stockton Thomson.

After work today I went down to have a splash about in the swimming pool in my apartment complex then to have a quiet read whilst laying on one of the poolside deck chairs. April and May are the warmest months of the year in Singapore – and the heat and humidity are at times almost unbearable.

I think that the heat contributes - and may perhaps even cause - a great deal of the insanity that is here on the Island and I believe that Hunter would have very much enjoyed the place. He would most certainly have been incarcerated  - and probably executed – as there is a zero tolerance for drug users and drug dealers in Singapore. They first cane them and they then execute them by hanging them.

There is nothing like a good caning before a hanging.

The term 'flogging a dead horse' is an idiom. I like idiom and I use them a lot. It has nothing to do with the zero-tolerance beat-then-hang-them policy of the Singaporean government but it just came to mind. In these modern times the phrase relates to a futile line of argument and it is thought to have originated in the seventeenth century in Ye Olde London town.

I have spelled this in Old English just because I felt like it.

It is my writing and I can do as I please.

In the olden days a 'dead horse' was a descriptor for work that was paid for in advance. Many labourers supposedly used these advance wages to get drunk or to pay off debts they had accumulated.

Thus the term arose.

Thomson’s most famous work is probably ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’ - mainly by virtue that a film was made of it. He wrote the book in 1972 and the film adaptation was released in 1998. It is perhaps an autobiography of sorts. The book is a first person account of a fictional character he named Raoul Duke who travels to Las Vegas with his ‘300 pound Samoan attorney’ named Gonzo to report on a National Narcotics Police Convention and a desert motorcycle race that was being held there.

Raoul is sidetracked in his reporting of these events by his search for the ‘American Dream’ and the fact that he consumes every known narcotic ever invented. The star of the film was Johhny Depp - with whom Thomson subsequently became very good friends.

My best mate Berty lives in Las Vegas and he is also a big Hunter S Thomson fan. I have been to the city many times to visit Berty. He is not very well at the moment. Get well soon mate – you are constantly on my mind.

There is as much insanity in Vegas as there is here in Singapore.

Perhaps more.

I love it.

I love Berty too.

Thomson was a greatly disturbed but incredibly insightful American journalist and author. I say that he was disturbed – well, because he was.

He was born in Kentucky in 1937 into a normal and middle class family and his father died when he was in his early teens. The death of his father left the Thomson family impoverished and Hunter then began to get into trouble with the law. He challenged Authority throughout his life and he had several stints in jail. In 1966 Hunter spent a year living with the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Gang and in 1967 his work, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was published.

Thus began his era of unconventional writing and journalism that he himself described as “Gonzo”. This was a type of writing where he as the reporter became the central character. He named his writing style after the fictitious 300-pound Samoan attorney character from his novel ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’

Thomson became very famous in the American ‘Counter-culture” movement in the US but he all but stopped his prolific writing in the late 1970’s. He had a particular hatred of the US President Richard Nixon - well before the Watergate scandal - and he had a great contempt for Authority and Politicians in general.

So do I.  

Hunter used and abused alcohol and drugs for pretty much all of his adult life and he also liked to shoot guns. Not at people though – he just liked to fire away at things in the desert and on his property in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where he lived and died. One of his most infamous quotes that describes himself to a tee is:

“I hate to advocate drugs, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”

Thomson lived in a heavily fortified compound in a place he called ‘Owl Farm’ in Colorado and he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head on February 20, 2005. He was 67 years old. It is believed that his suicide was not as a result of any act of desperation but was due to the chronic physical pain that he long endured from a series of serious health problems. Many of these issues likely resulted from decades of drug abuse but also from complications that he suffered following hip-replacement surgery.

A suicide note that was written by Thomson to his wife was published well after his death in the Rolling Stone Magazine in an article that he titled, “The Football Season is over”.

Hunter wrote:

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won't hurt."

Thomson left very specific instructions for his funeral service and this was conducted on 20th August 2005. This was exactly six months after his death – which is a long time. The funeral service was a private affair and in accordance with his instructions his ashes were fired from a cannon whilst fireworks were let off and Bob Dylan’s song “Mr. Tambourine Man” played. The cannon that fired Hunter’s ashes did so from atop a 50-metre tall tower that was constructed in the shape of a giant fist clutching a hallucinogenic peyote button.  His good mate – the actor Johhny Depp, made all the funeral arrangements.

Depp was quoted as saying:

"All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out”

Nice one Johhny.

In attendance at the funeral were some other good mates of Thomson’s including the actors Jack Nicholson, John Cusack, Bill Murray and Sean Penn.

It was very esteemed company.

I wish I had known him.

Sometimes when chatting with people over drinks or in other social settings the question is asked, “if you had a dinner party and could invite anyone you wanted to, living or dead, who would you invite?” I myself often ask this question. My list is easy. Hunter S Thomson, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, John Belushi, Winston Churchill, Billy Connelly and Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn would be the only girl at the dinner table and I would be mainly interested to hear what she knew about the Kennedy’s. I would not have invited any of the Kennedy’s to my dinner party to ask them direct - as it a well known fact that all politicians lie.

Five of my nine invitees are dead so they wouldn’t eat much.

When I was lying on the poolside couch reading the Rum Diary a shadow fell upon me. Mr. Tan – the Building Manager of my apartment complex, cast the shadow. He had a small bandage on his forehead that was covering an injury that was sustained at the very spot I was now laying. Mr. Tan and I had butted heads last week. It was an accidental butting that resulted in the temporary hospitalization of the little fellow.

It was a most unfortunate event that pains me to think of it so I will not elaborate any further on the incident.

“Good evening Mr. Peter” said Mr. Tan.

“Good Evening Mr. Tan” I replied as I put my book aside.

Mr. Tan was alone – which was unusual. He is normally accompanied by one or both of the Raj who are the Sikh Security Guards of the complex in which I live. I like Raj and Raj very much but I was somewhat relieved that they were not with Mr. Tan as they salute me incessantly and it is driving me nuts.

“Are you feeling better Mr. Tan?” I enquired.

“Much better thank you Mr. Peter” he replied.

I did not really want to engage with Mr. Tan as I had suffered a long day at the office dealing with the English with whom I work and I was enjoying relaxing and reading the great Hunter Thomson. I decided then and there though that I would converse with Mr. Tan purely in Hunter Thomson quotes – or variations of them. I know and have memorised many. My very good Irish mate James who, like me, lives in Singapore is also a big Hunter S Thomson fan and we often thrown his quotes at each other.

“How are you Mr. Peter?

“Things are no longer what they seem to be Mr. Tan. My telephones are haunted and animals whisper at me from unseen places.” 

Mr. Tan looked startled.

“Will you be attending the Owners and Tenants Committee meeting to night Mr. Peter?’ Mr. Tan asked.

After accepting an invitation from Mr. Tan, I recently became a Member of the Owners and Tenants Committee. It is a truly mad and insane event that Hunter S Thomson would have greatly enjoyed.

“I will indeed Mr. Tan – I am looking forward to it. It will be like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.” 

He nodded his head knowingly in reply but I could tell that he was both alarmed and confused.

“I believe that Mr. Jens has his twin brother staying with him Mr. Peter - have they caused you any concern that I should be aware of?”

"He may be a swine, but he's our swine." I replied.

Jens is a deranged Danish man who also lives in our condominium. He currently has his identical twin brother Dag staying with him. Dag is as mad as his brother and they both amuse me greatly.

Mr. Tan again nodded an affirmation but he was now quite obviously nervous. His anxiety was bubbling and brewing.

“Are you alright Mr. Peter?”

“I feel a tremendous distance between myself and everything real.”  I responded.

I said all of this to Mr. Tan in a deadpan fashion. 

Deadpan is a type of comic expression that is delivered without any visible sign of emotion. It is oblique and blunt. The term and humour emerged in America during the bleak times of Great Depression in the 1920’s. The word ‘pan’ was a slang term for the face and dead was expression-less.

With a bit of hindsight  - the Great Depression of the 1920’s doesn’t seem so Great. We now use the term “Global Financial Crisis” and we have suffered a couple of these in the last decade.

We are suffering one still.

Mr. Tan hopped about a bit at my Hunter S Thomson deadpan end of the conversation. I have noticed that hopping about is something that he is inclined to do when he is agitated or anxious.
“Is there anything wrong Mr. Peter?” Mr. Tan asked.

He was wringing his hands now and hopping even more and although I wanted to go back to my reading and solitude, I was beginning to enjoy myself.

“A man can live on his wits and his balls for only so long Mr. Tan.” I said in a very serious voice.
“You won't find reasonable men on the tops of tall mountains.” I added.
“Mountains Mr. Peter?”

“Mountains Mr. Tan” I repeated.

“That is very wise Mr. Peter”
“No man is so foolish that he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.”  I replied.
“Yes” the now stunned Mr. Tan answered.

“I will leave you now in peace then with your reading Mr. Peter and I will see you at the meeting later this evening”

As he started to walk away I said:

“Drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested Mr. Tan.” 

He seemed to pause in his stride when I said this but he neither replied nor looked back - and I resumed my reading.

I have decided that for tonight’s Owners and Tenants Committee meeting I will also speak just in Hunter S Thomson quotes. I will do it in honor of the great man and because it will be very good fun.

Vidistis Accessistis Uuicistis Hunter S Thomson  - you came, you saw and you conquered.

You crazy fucker gonzo genius.

May you Rest in Peace. 

All right - I have just returned from the meeting and it was indeed very good fun.

I did a fair bit of note taking from my Hunter S Thomson books prior to attending the meeting and I took the notes with me to the meeting. I also added to my notes some Vonnegut quotes - as I consider his literary and comic genius to be almost the equal of Thomson’s.

On the Owners and Tenants Committee are four Tans - two of whom are a couple, one is the Building Manager – the little fellow Tan – and there is another man Tan. There are three male Tan’s and one female. There is also a Mr. Sim, a Mr. Lim and a bloke called Howard.

They are all very nice people.

Tan is a common name in the Chinese community and it is the equivalent of Smith or Jones to we Western folk. Sim is quite common as well. I do not know what Howard’s surname is – which is a bit strange – as is he.

I am referred to as Mr. Peter by all of my fellow Committee members – with the exception of Howard – who I am pleased to say is happy to just call me Peter.

Nearly everything to do with the apartment complex in which I live, including my co-tenants and the Owners and Tenants Committee of which I am member, is bizarre.

Life in Singapore is too.

Sometimes I feel as if I have stepped through the Looking Glass and I have entered Alice’s Wonderland – or the whole Island has consumed a large dose of magic mushrooms.

Hunter S Thomson and Kurt Vonnegut would I am sure have loved it.

They really would.

The only agenda item that appears to have been discussed at past Owners and Tenant Committee meetings is the issue of whether or not to get the complex painted. This discussion has apparently been going on for nearly a year now and while everyone seems to be in agreement that the exterior of the building needs painting - no one wants to pay for it.

I attended my first meeting last month at the invitation of the Building Manager Mr. Tan and I then raised the point that I thought that we needed more Pool Rules. We only have about 20 that are currently posted. As I knew it would, the suggestion was greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Singaporeans love Rules.

My recommendation was that additional signage should be erected to specify that there was to be no peeing or pooing in the pool, no swearing in any Scandinavian languages, no nudity - and dogs should not be allowed to swim. Howard – to both my surprise and delight, chipped in and suggested that cats should also not be permitted to swim in the pool.

To the best of my knowledge no animals have ever been in or anywhere near the waters of our swimming pool.

Under the new Rule system they never will be.

The word facetious means to treat serious issues with deliberate and inappropriate humour. I use it often and even though it is a little wasted on many Singaporeans – as they just don’t get it – it entertains me. As is the case with many modern day English words, the origin of the word facetious is Latin. In this case the origin is from the word ‘facetia’ which means ‘jest’ or ‘wit’.

I arrived at the Owners and Tenant Committee meeting this evening with two packets of Tim Tam biscuits to share with my fellow members. These are Australian invented and manufactured chocolate biscuits that are rich and creamy and delicious. The Americans would call these biscuits cookies but they would be wrong.

They are biscuits.

The term ‘biscuit’ is also Latin in origin and is derived from the term ‘bis cotus’ - which translates to ‘twice baked’. To the best of my knowledge the Tim Tan is only once baked. The origins of the American term ‘cookie’ are of no interest to me.

None whatsoever.

The Sim, the Lim, the four Tans and Howard all seemed to like the Tim Tams as they ate a couple each. I asked the question, “Tim Tam Mr. Tan?” several times as I passed around the biscuits and I found it to be a bit of a tongue twister. I enjoyed saying it though and I take pleasure from writing it as well.

I shall write it again. “Tim Tam Mr. Tan?”

We all exchanged pleasantries for a little while and we drank some Green Tea before the meeting formally commenced. We were seated around a square table in one of two function rooms that are in the building. I had a Tan on either side of me and was seated directly opposite Howard. The Mr. Tan who is the Building Manager of the apartment complex is the Chair of the Committee and he sat at the head of the table.

The one female Tan - who is the wife of one of the other three Tans – but not the Tan who is the Building Manager - is the recorder of minutes for the meeting and she is a copious taker of notes.

Meeting minutes have got nothing to do with time and there is yet again a Latin connection. In Latin the word ‘minute’ translates to ‘very small’. In the 1500’s records of meetings were transcribed in a type of shorthand – which is abbreviated or very little writing. Ergo they were referred to as minutes.

The name stuck.

My several pages of Vonnegut and Thomson quotes were cunningly concealed in a manila folder that I took to the meeting. They were buried amongst some brochures about painting as well as some fumigation pamphlets.

Mr. Tan commenced proceedings by asking us all whether there were any issues that anyone would like to raise. No one said anything for what seemed like a long time but it was probably only thirty seconds or so. I actually had a couple of issues to discuss but I wanted to pick my moment and the moment had not yet arrived.

We have arranged for new signage at the swimming pool to include the new Rules suggested by Mr. Peter and agreed to by the Committee at the last meeting” Mr. Tan the Building manager declared.

“The new signage will specify that there is to be no swearing - in any language Mr. Peter, not just Scandinavian – and there is to be no nude bathing, no defecation in the water and no dogs or cats will be permitted to swim in the pool”

I looked at Howard when Mr. Tan mentioned that cats were not permitted to swim and I gave him a small nod acknowledging that this was his suggestion.

He looked much chuffed.

It was my motion to put in the no swearing in Scandinavian or defecating in the pool. This was directed at the crazy Danish tenant Jens who has been guilty of both heinous acts. He remains the prime suspect in the pooing-in-the-pool incident earlier this year and last month he was arrested for peeing in a public park.

“Nice one Mr. Tan – these additional rules will hopefully dissuade the Dane Jens,” I said.

We all know that he is often drunk and he is crazy at times and people tremble and curse when he goes to the pool and starts screaming in Danish” I added.

This was a little variation on a Hunter S Thomson quotation – and my first of the evening.

I had another one too that I had prepared that related to the deranged Dane and I casually looked down at my notes for the reference then I looked up and uttered:

“Disgusting as Jens usually is, on rare occasions he shows flashes of stagnant intelligence - but his brain is so rotted with drink and dissolute living that whenever he puts it to work it behaves like an old engine that has gone haywire from being dipped in lard.

Mrs. Tan was in a writing frenzy.

All other Tans and the Lim and Sim were nodding their heads in a solemn fashion, and Howard was grinning from ear to hear. I think that he was still in a state of euphoria that I had acknowledged his no-swimming-in-the-pool rule recommendation regarding cats.

“I believe that we also have a cockroach problem in the complex Mr. Tan that needs to be addressed”

We do have a cockroach problem in the condominium complex – or at least in my apartment. Well it is not a problem really. I have seen one and I don’t like cockroaches at all.

Two of the man Tans looked bemused, Mr. Sim and Mr. Lim sat expressionlessly, Mrs. Tan began scrawling notes again and Howard was grinning like a lunatic.

“A cockroach problem Mr. Peter?

“A cockroach problem Mr. Tan” I repeated.

“I have seen one of these foul creatures in my apartment and I vote that we arrange for a full fumigation. May I suggest that we have a raising of hands for those people who concur?” I added.

Three of the Tans hands shot up as well as Mr. Sim’s. Howard sat there grinning but he did not raise his hand - and the Lim remained impassive – also without raising his hand.

“Those of you who believe in telekinetics please raise my hand” I said.

All hands slowly retracted and Mrs. Tan continued taking notes. Howard suddenly shot his hand up which I thought was as brilliant as it was bizarre.

“We will get a quotation for a pest inspector of the common areas Mr. Peter but it is the responsibility of tenants to arrange their own fumigation” Mr. Tan the Building Manager advised.

“All right thanks - on some days you get what you want Mr. Tan - and on others, you get what you need” I responded.

I had successfully used a couple of my quotes and thought that it was a good beginning. Howard – who still had his hand in the air then said:

“I have also seen a cockroach in my office and I did not like it either”

“Your office is in the city Mr. Howard” Mr. Tan interjected.

He said this quite a curt voice and he looked a little annoyed.

 “Yes” said Howard loudly.

I do not know Howard very well. I met him for the first time at the last Owners and Tenants Committee meeting. His apparent madness was alluring though and I was warming to him very quickly. I shuffled through my manila folder to find an adequate comment.

“I will fight for your right to be weird Howard - just as I know you will fight for mine,” I declared with a tone of triumph.

Howard seemed quite pleased and he put down his hand. Mr. Tan the building Manager now appeared a little anxious.

“One cockroach is not necessarily a problem Mr. Peter” Mr. Lim said.

“Paranoia is just another word for ignorance Mr. Lim,” I rebutted.

It wasn’t a great rebuttal but it was all I had in the way of a quotation reply. For some inexplicable reason it caused Howard to shoot his hand into the air again.

I warmed to him even more.

I knew I had a Thomson quotation about being alone and I thought that it could well apply to the single cockroaches that both Howard and I had seen. I quickly found it in my scrawled notes.

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and - in spite of True Romance magazines - we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way” I told Mr. Tan.

“Yes Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan said a nervous voice.

“Yes’ Howard added in a now quite excited voice and then he shot his arm in the air again.

“Are you getting all of this down Mrs. Tan?” I asked.

She looked up from her note taking and nodded an affirmation and then she resumed her writing.

“So on the issue of the painting of the condominium” Mr. Tan the building Manager asserted.

He was endeavouring to get the session back on track.

“I have received quotations for all external painting from three vendors and the costs are considerable”

He then passed around several pieces of paper to we Committee members. They were all in Chinese Mandarin so I could not read them.

“I can not read any of these Mr. Tan”

“I am sorry Mr. Peter”

“I can read them,” Howard announced to me.

This time he raised both of his arms.

“We are not voting on anything Mr. Howard” Mr. Tan said.

“Yes,” said Howard and he then put his arms down.

I like this Howard a lot.

His madness is superb.

“Would you mind if we discuss these quotations in Hokkien Peter?

“Not at all Mr. Tan” I replied.

I watched on in silence, as there was a lengthy and what appeared to be at times quite a heated discussion between the Committee members. Mr. Lim and one of the Tans who was not the Building Manager appeared to be arguing over some point. Whilst the jabbering was going on I shuffled through my notes to see what Hunter S Thomson quotes I might be able to use when they were finished. I noticed that the only people not contributing to the discussion were Mrs. Tan - the minute-taker - who was writing away, and Howard who was now picking his nose.

Whether the exterior of the apartment gets painted or not is of no consequence to me. I am but a tenant, the interior of my apartment is well painted - and it will be the owners who will be required to bare the cost for any exterior painting.

After about ten minutes some consensus seem to have been reached.

Yes consensus is also Latin in origin. It means agreement or accord.

“We have agreed to consider the matter and cost of the painting further Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan advised.

I was prepared for this outcome - as this issue has been going on for a long time and I suspected that the Committee would make a decision of further delay. I had a Thomson quote ready to reply.

“I share a vagrant optimism that you are making real progress, that you had taken an honest road, and that the best of us will inevitably make it over the top Mr. Tan. At the same time, I share a dark suspicion that the life we are leading is a lost cause, that we are all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It is the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other — that keep us going.”

“Yes” Howard said again.

Mr. Tan looked perplexed and perhaps a little vexed.

“It is obvious that you are a man who marches through life to the rhythms of some drum I will never hear Howard” I said to the strange little fellow.

“Yes” he repeated.

He was beaming when he said this and I was waiting for him to put up his hand again however it never eventuated.

As a group we talked for a little while longer about whether the shrubbery at the front of the complex should be trimmed monthly or every six weeks and it was agreed that we would all consider this matter further and discuss it again at the next meeting. Unfortunately there was no opportunity during this discussion to throw any more Thomson or Vonnegut quotes into the mix.

After that Mr. Tan asked if there was any further business and I looked at Howard hopefully for a spark of insanity but he had nothing more to add. I saw that he had resumed the picking of his nose.

We finished our Green Tea and the last of the Tim Tams and I then said goodbye to everyone. I left with the parting comment:

“Farewell my friends. Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors”

I think that Mrs. Tan wrote this down and all of the other Committee members looked a bit confused - with the exception of Howard, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat and he once again said a very loud “Yes”.

I very much like Howard. His peculiarity is intriguing and I shall seek him out soon to see if I can work out what makes him tick.

Once again it was a very enjoyable Owners and Tenants Committee meeting and I look forward to doing it all again next month.

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