[lit-ideas] Re: Whatever Happened to Hunter Thompson?

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 25 May 2004 17:04:20 -0700

It's possible I had dinner with Hunter S. Thompson on Saturday night, in a
"genuine Mayan restaurant" near Salt Lake City, Utah.  The meal was exactly
as the fliers for the restaurant promised, "a most uncommon experience."

We gave our names to the guy at the cash register in the giant
souvenir-selling dungeon, and stood aside to let others do the same.  For a
while we browsed like earnest heifers, loosed among the stuffed "Bobs."
There was Bob, the bobbing iguana, and Bob, the bobbing toucan wearing a
beret, and Bob, some other kind of jungle bird...There were also plastic
rattlesnakes and spiders, and t-shirts with the restaurant logo on them,
and...a thousand square feet or more of stacked kitsch.

The maitre d' guy was in a chipper mood.  He came over to tell us he had
show business ancestry; he said his grandfather had been a jazz musician on
Groucho Marx's, "You Bet Your Life."  I was about to ask him who really is
buried in Grant's tomb, when he launched into a joke about a cop pulling
over a van which was loaded with penguins.  "You can't drive around with
penguins.  Take them to the zoo."  The next day the cop pulls the same van
over.  Same penguins, now wearing sunglasses.  "I'm taking them to the beach
today."  

We laughed.  He announced we could be seated right away...at the table
usually reserved for Larry Miller.
"Who's he?" we chorused thickly, out-of-towners almost blowing it.
Miller owns the Utah Jazz.

It was a climb of three storeys.  On ramps that wound their way up through
plastic cliffs, we passed among echoes of recordings of jungle noises, and
fresh choruses of waiters singing the restaurant's happy birthday song, "I
don't know, but I've been told"--other waitpersons respond with same line,
and then-- "something, something, something old."

I looked to the source of the song.  The birthday person was standing on her
chair and holding a perspex fan, covered with Ostrich feathers.  "Sound off,
one two, three four..."  Across the way others began with a shout,"Hey
everybody, Mary's got a birthday."  Shrieks and cheers.  "I don't know but I
been told..."  A hot zone of birthdays.

We eventually came out on a platform in a plastic tree top, beside three
waterfalls that dropped to a small pool below.  Right away I spied Bob the
toucan and Bob the iguana and all his animatronic friends, latent in the
semi-darkness.  Lights came on.  Jerky motions began.  The animals talked.
I couldn't decipher the words, but I did note that the one with the beret
talked with the kind of French accent people sometimes affect.  Very "ooh la
la."  The skit built to a climax.  All the jungle's beasts sang the song
from "Bend it like Beckham,"...you know the one..."Oh lay, oh lay, oh lay,
oh lay, oh lay, oh lay, oh lay, feeling hot, hot, hot..."

The climb gave me time to wonder what exactly Mayans used to eat, other than
the living hearts of their enemies.  Or was that the Aztecs?  Chocolate
maybe?  The waitress handed out menus.  No offal on offer.  It turns out
Mayans ate burritos and tacos and guacamole and refried beans and that sort
of thing.  Very like Mexican food, really.  And they drank a brownish liquid
that the waitress said was "Sonoran" beer.
"A choice location for a brewery, the Sonoran desert," I muttered.  "It's
the water, you know."
I asked if they had a local brew, Dead Horse Ale (slogan: "You can't beat a
Dead Horse").

Suddenly there was a thunderclap from large, Mayan loudspeakers.  Theatrical
Mayan lights played over the plastic Mayan cliff face.  Someone increased
the waterfalls' throughput, and out onto tiny platforms stepped buff guys in
Mayan Speedos: sacrificial divers from the local university team.  Morman
Mayans maybe?  In round one, they plummeted one by one.  In round two, they
did it in concert.  One then made a dive after climbing into the lighting
struts and hanging upside down.  Another did a handstand on the ledge right
beside our table.  Impressive.  I briefly wondered about etiquette.  Should
I have tried to tuck a bill into the fellow's trunks as he passed me by?

The food arrived, stone cold.  As I say, it was then that I thought I caught
a brief glimpse of Hunter Thompson, scribbling tales of gonzo life out west,
of sick degeneration, and fumbling for succor in his handy medicine bag.

David Ritchie
Portland, Oregon

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