Like a lot of this prior to email and texting business…this one starts with a phone call from Woody Creek, Colorado into Burroughs Communications office in Lawrence, KS.
NOTES FROM WBC - Watching a Grown Man Cry… HST visits WSB. Gonzo Goat Fuck.
By Jim McCrary
Coulda been mid 1990’s. And it was either Hunter or his ‘assistant’ whose name might have been Laura. The question was, “Would it be a good time to visit Bill Burroughs?” That was not an unusual request at the office. Lots of folks wanted to visit WSB and some of them actually took time to call and ask questions. Most all of them were deflected with the reply that Mr. Burroughs was too busy at the moment to have visitors. Truth be told he had enough visitors whom he wanted to see to keep him occupied.
So………..HST…..wanted to come visit. He would have to drive over since he wanted to bring lots of guns and ammo to share. How long would the drive be? 10 hours maybe….all on I70 interstate. Get on….get off. Get a room at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence. I think he and William talked it over on the phone. William was fine with all that…..and since Dr. Thompson was asking only for some time together….it seemed to William that it would be a good thing. And, in the end it was. Indeed.
So the date was set and off they went. Down the hill from Owl Farm and into the flatland of western Kansas. We expected them to call in a couple of days when they got to town. Nothing happening for a while. Then finally a call: "We haven’t left yet. Had to clear some things up, maybe leave Friday." The call came on Friday. "We're gonna leave Monday." And they did.
And I think four days later…”We're here at the Eldridge. Car broke down somewhere west of Salina. Dry county. Garage didn’t have the part. Paid a fortune for grease monkey to go get the part. Luckily had enough booze and coke to survive. Awful place. Stopped in Salina to watch Final Four playoffs. More later.”
(The story later told and I cannot do justice…believe me…Hunter stops in Junction City to watch a ball game at sports bar after getting car repaired and replacing booze stash. He watches the game in usual style and interacts with off-duty army personnel from nearby base. Ready to head out, he reaches for the keys on the bar….not there. “Where the motherfuck are my keys, you redneck assholes???” says Dr. Thompson. Says the barkeep…”I have them, sir, and you are in no condition to drive. Sir.” Imagine that…..dear reader…..just for a moment imagine that. As is often said in such stories…cooler heads prevailed…things were ‘settled’ and off they went. Who drove? Don’t know.)
That evening I went to Eldridge Hotel to pick them up. As I approached the desk to ask the room number, the concierge looked up and pointed at the elevator and mumbled 402. He looked exhausted.
When the door opened to the room a blast of hot steam escaped into the hallway. The assistant had the shower running full blast with hot water to steam out the wrinkles of a dress. His Gonzoness had the basketball game on full blast and all surfaces in the room were covered with dishes of food, drink and papers scattered around. He had obviously wound up the staff of the hotel and spent the morning moving from one room to another and had finally settled down. For the moment.
We spoke about the schedule for next couple days. Tonight, dinner at a local restaurant and then a short visit with Bill. Tomorrow a full day at the range, shooting. Dinner at Williams house. Drive back to Colorado. What could go wrong with that?
It took a while to get them out of the hotel room. We walked a bit around downtown Lawrence. It was pretty quiet. Thompson asked me where his old buddy and fellow sportswriter George Kimball hung out when he lived in Lawrence. I pointed out some of the spots where he used to hang, including the bridge where Kimball threw bricks of marijuana into the river during a press conference when he (and HST in Colorado), was running for office.
We finally settled at a patio table at an Italian place near William's home. It didn’t take long for the servers to figure out who they were serving and a never-ending group of them grazed around the table asking if we needed anything. Thompson was most happy to suggest something new that was needed. In the midst of all that he somehow managed to let slip off his lap a Skoll tin half-full of exceptional cocaine onto the concrete floor. I immediately joined him under the table in a valiant attempt to help clean up the mess best we could using the doubled v credit card method. Quickly done and actually applauded by one of the co-ed servers. Food flying around and across the table, pitchers of margaritas floating past…the evening continued.
We left soon enough and managed the final few blocks to Williams’s house. And then something amazing happened. Dr. Thompson switched gears. The minute he walked into the house his demeanor, his energy, his self became as quiet and attentive as a student before the master. Hmmm.
Well, there was the smoke and drink of course. The ur and not ur. The this and that. The how are you and all that. Yes. All that. And there they were. Across the table from one another. Mumble this and mumble that. Quiet. Then done. William had announced that it was his bedtime…and that was accepted by the company. As was his habit, William stepped out onto his front porch and waved a goodbye.
I went home and I do believe that Dr. Thompson continued his evening over a fresh batch of coke at the offices of the local alt newspaper after leaving the Burroughs residence. Later reports from friends indicated that the Doctor held forth for quite a while in the office above the Bottleneck club. As he was.
The big day arrived. And it would be fuck all. Another goat fuck for sure. The entourage grew and grew. Usually it was William and his old buddy George Kaull, a fellow geezer libertarian and crack shot. The two of them…some pot, some vodka and coke, some ‘snacks’ and a sack full of guns and ammo. Go out shoot, have a drink and smoke to steady the hand, shoot some more. Eat some cheese and crackers or whatnot. Have a drink and smoke. Shoot some more.
However, this time with HST it was lots more action. A video camera was unloaded and Miss Thing was told by Hunter to set up halfway between the targets and the shooters. William stopped that at once. No way would the young lady film beyond the firing line…which, by the way, moved around as the day progressed.
And there were others with aims to make or shots to take…some friends and handlers and who knows by now. Hunter was wound up and after the first round of shots from William and George with their favorite pistols and someone shooting a shotgun…Hunter announced the big surprise he had talked about since his arrival…the gift he had brought for William.
He pulled out a large wooden box that had an American flag embossed on the walnut. Opened it up and there in purple velvet lay a Freedom Arms, one-of-a-kind, 454-caliber pistol with all the goodies. A marker on the box proclaimed this was one of a hundred, if memory serves. And by the way, a 454-caliber gun has a hole in the end of the barrel the size of your big toe. The gun was admired and passed around. Hunter dug into the back of his transport for the ammo and then dug some more and then some more and then starting howling and throwing shit on the ground.
“Motherfucker….mothergoddamfucker shit my ass!!!!!!!!! WHERE THE FUCK IS THE AMMO!!!” Well, it wasn’t there. Gonzo was fucked and sat slumped on the tailgate looking a lot like he was ready to break into tears.
And then a friend of Bill's who was a shooter and a hunter and a photographer and a local says: “Well shit, I'll just run over to Topeka and get some 454.”
“They won’t have any, you stupid fuck,” Hunter said.
“Oh,” the guy said, ” I do believe they will.” And off he went and in the time it takes to empty a handy 44 Colt or a 38 S&W snubbie or a vodka and coke….he was back and the fun began.
Hunter was happy and pleased with himself and loaded up the 454 and handed it to WSB who looked it over, walked a bit closer to the target, hoisted it up and pulled the trigger. Motherfuck indeed. It did back him up at least five feet and when the smoke cleared there was a rivulet of blood tricking down Williams thumb and wrist. “Son of a bitch bit me,” said William giggling. He loved it. And shot it again and passed it around. Hunter was happy. Again. He had brought the old man a gift and the old man thanked him. The afternoon wore on in the noise and smoke and crash of lead into wooden targets and Kansas dirt clods turned to atoms.
(Aside to Johnny Depp or anyone who might know or has Thompson’s archives and/or belongings. Somewhere there should be a video tape of this trip. I once asked HST biographer Doug Brinkley to poke around for it but he never had any luck. Too bad.)
And that is that. The day ended with drinks and food at William's but I don’t remember. Hunter did hire a couple guys to drive his car back to Woody Creek. He and the friend flew from Kansas City back home.
I don’t know if that was the only or the last time those two were together. It was good time spent. Both would agree. Well spent. Indeed.
That was then.
[Jim McCrary lives in Lawrence, KS and worked at William Burroughs Communications for a decade beginning early 1990s. Misses the old man to this day. Every day.]
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