Gonzo At Rest

He pounced, throwing an arm lock around Rice’s neck. “Ah-ha,” Thompson exclaimed. Rice’s drink, ice cubes and all, flew toward the ceiling. Rice choked, turned red. As Thompson released his grip, Rice jerked around with a look of pain and primal fear on his face—and then broke into a wide grin. “Hunter!” he yelled, “Hunter, you almost killed me.”

The famous writer came back to his hometown this week. The purpose of his visit was a little improbable. He came back for a reunion of the Castlewood Athletic Club, a defunct sports and social club for middle-school kids that he belonged to when Eisenhower was President.

There was neither fear nor loathing during this trip, only heart-deep nostalgia and high jinks. It was three days of visiting family and old friends, a time devoted to slapping backs and yelling nicknames and horsing around with the boys grown gray and middle-aged.

In a guttural staccato, Thompson tried to explain his presence. “It’s an emotional thing with me. When we were growing up, we didn’t know what bonding was, but that’s what it was. We were a gang, and we still are.”

So he gorged on Norman Rockwell stuff—memories of leather football helmets striking leather pads on crisp autumn afternoons—strange for a writer who made his name by way of drug-infused explorations into American culture. With a highly personal style, known as “Gonzo,” Thompson raised his middle finger to generals and presidents (“that swine Nixon”) and heaped scorn on the establishment in such books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

In a magazine piece called “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” he savaged the hometown party, attacking Louisville’s “whiskey gentry,” an affluent breed marked by “pink faces with a stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and button-down collars.”

The packed crowd included lawyers, doctors, real-estate executives, and three bank presidents—some dressed in seersucker coats and button-down collars. The Gonzo writer moved among them easily, wearing dark glasses and a plaid shirt, a cigarette holder jutting from the corner of his mouth.

The source of memories and the cause of this gathering, Castlewood was founded in 1929. The club thrived in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, then fell out of fashion and finally disbanded in the social upheaval of the Sixties—ironically when Thompson was making his name as a writer.

Its members were boys who ranged in age from 10 to 16. Boys started the club, and boys ran it. In the spirit of its heyday, Castlewood had strict rules. Fines were levied for disrespectful behavior and cursing. Was Hunter Thompson ever fined for cursing?

“Hell, yes!”

—The Courier-Journal

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