The sub-title of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is “A Savage Journey To The Heart of The American Dream.”
I was thinking about this yesterday for two reasons. First, I was wearing my “Fear and Loathing” t-shirt which, in an addition to the famous Ralph Steadman drawing has the sub title blazed across the front. All I need do is look in the mirror and be reminded.
But that was of intention. I had put the t-shirt on because I was flying to Hawaii. You may say, that makes sense. Going to Hawaii “American Dream” etc. But Hunter Thompson covered that in “The Curse of Lono.” No, the reason I had put the t-shirt on was because the purpose of this trip was to live out the last part of my best friend’s savage American dream and toss his ashes, along with his sons, into the depths off of his Hawaii.
Richard has been dead over a year now. His son, Patrick, a little less than a year. I cannot say with any honesty that I have managed to move beyond the grief over their deaths. I doubt that I will ever be over their loss as both left unfillable voids in me and the desire to speak with them happens daily and occasionally hourly. What I can say, is the time since their deaths have given me enough time to imagine what how they would like their life celebrated.
In passing, and certainly not in any maudlin way, Rich and I talked about what kind of funeral he would want. He told me wanted to be eulogized with people spouting all of his faults and telling stories horrible horrible stories about him. It would forces you to be less sentimental. You say, ‘That guy was a rat,’ and I’m a rat too, and I’d better do something about it rather than weep my life away.”
My buddy Rich was not a perfect person. In fact like most of us he had glaring flaws. If I were giving the eulogy for him he wanted, what would I say? The first thing I would mention is that he was way too charming, and he knew it. No doubt his charisma was rooted in his Irish heritage and perhaps a pinch from the time we kissed the Blarney Stone. He would use his charm to his advantage despite the consequences to the person he was charming. Such as the night he convinced me to steal an industrial size jar of pickled onions from my employer, the Beacon Hill Club, because he liked eating them so much. The end result of this episode was that I got fired and he got the pickled onions he wanted. (Although to be completely forthcoming the jar eventually broke in the back seat of his father’s car which caused problems for both of us.)
Please do not get me wrong. I have free will. I could have said no, and over time it was something that I became adept at with him. But I mention it because there is not a single person I know who loved Rich who hasn’t felt the backside of his charm. Where they have done something that should not have done because Rich convinced them that it would be a good idea to head down that path.
The amazing part of his gift, if amazing is the correct word, was even when RP had used his charm and lied to us or betrayed us in some way, we most often forgave him. So complete is that gift that now a little more than a year after his death I struggle to remember any of the bullshit that he managed to foist on me or on others.
Far easier to remember, are the good times we had together. Suffice it to say, that wherever Rich was a party or a good time was to follow. As a disciple of the great Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson he insisted on it. For years, whether it be in Stockholm where he got a party started by telling a group of Swedes gathered for a wedding how fucked up their country was or in Key West the night Ronald Regan was elected President and he kept pouring “Hurricanes” down my throat to ease the pain brought about by that victory, he insisted on calling himself the Dr. (as in Hunter S.) and me his attorney based on characters from Rich’s favorite books Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. .
I never asked Rich why he loved the Dr. so much. I did not have to because I knew. It was the Gonzo writers code for life. He believed that “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body , but rather skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What A Ride!” And, “the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived rather or he who who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed.”
Richard would have wanted a funeral like Thompson’s. His carbonized remains were shot from a canon placed upon a 150 foot tower accompanied by red, white, blue and green fireworks while accompanied by Norman Greenbaum’s” Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I believe that is the type of finale my buddy would have loved only he probably would have substituted Bruce Springsteen’s “Growing Up” for Tamborine Man. Unfortunately, Thompson’s funeral cost an estimated $3M and that was just not in our budget. Which is why we will let his carbonized remains will be placed in the placid Pacific from a boat in the middle of the Pacific. Not quite as spectacular but I have no doubt that Rich would have approved.
I do not want to leave you with the impression my buddy was a complete hedonist. He wasn’t. That was only the part that showed above the surface. For as long as I knew him Rich was a seeker of a bigger truth. Whether that was embracing transcendental meditation and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when we were in high school or reading the poetry of Kahlil Gibran (his high school year book quote was “In on drop of water were found the secrets of the oceans.” To becoming “born again” and his embrace of evangelical Christianity he sought deeper meaning for his purpose on earth.
The bigger meaning and what came next was very much on his mind after he received his diagnosis. Shortly after he began his first round of chemo, I flew out to Manhattan Beach to hang out with him. To cheer him up I took to Blue Star Donuts because while donuts are not a cure all I have found that while eating them you often forget your problems. Sitting out in the SoCal sunshine, chowing down on Blueberry Bourbon and Meyer Lemon and Key Lime donuts, he confessed to me while he was saying to everyone else that he was going to lick this thing “even that had to give him a new brain”, he knew the score. The clock was ticking down and getting louder by the second. He was staring into the abyss we all will face and he was scared about what came next. He asked me if I thought there was something that came after our life here was done.
I told him that I was the last person in the world he should be asking that question. I was a heathen: a non-practicing Jew. But he insisted. After a moment’s hesitation I shared with him that since my mother’s death the previous month I had spent a good amount of time thinking about what came next. I told him that it made no sense to me that the essence of who we are would not be preserved in some form. Didn’t Newton’s law of the conservation of energy state “ energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.” Aren’t we, or the parts that make us, us, energy?
I said that, unremarkably, I spent a lot of time seeking solace in books because that is something Mom and I both loved. The book that made the biggest impression was the Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, a book he and I had read in a Humanities class we had taken in high school. It was about a man’s search for the purpose and meaning of life after living through the slaughter of the first World War as told by an urbane and witty British dilettante. I told him the protagonist in the book reminded me of him at least in the sense he was an American whose experiences in life had made him go in search of a higher truth.
I shared there was one passage in the book that had resonated with me. “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. … “
I told him none of us knew when we would die. For all we knew I could pass away before he did. Our sacred obligation to ourselves and to those around us is to delight in our life while we have it. That he, had the greatest capacity for delight in life of anyone I knew. He should not abandon that just because of a cancer diagnosis.
I am not sure what effect my words had on Rich that day. I know that when his son and daughter in law took over as his primary care givers, he found joy every day because they were there every day for him. Perhaps it was in the comfort of his care that he found the true meaning of his existence. To paraphrase Maugham
“The man I am speaking about is not famous. He never will be. When his life came to a close, he left no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over those who knew and loved him so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”
Rich you were a remarkable creature. You left your mark on everyone who knew you and loved you. And even though your time with us has ended, who you were and what you shared with us, carries on.