|By Eric Gillin|
"While I'm out, can I get anything for you?" I'll ask, to my roommate before heading out into the wilds of New York City. He'll usually say "cigarettes and booze," which is why I was leaving to get in the first place. I'll ask it to my mother when I'm headed to the grocery store, and she'll say, "Nothing," because she knows I'll be returning with cigarettes and booze.
It's a polite gesture, on par with "How's it going?" on the conversation scale of throwaway rhetorical devices. Unfortunately, you always run the risk that someone will actually answer the damn thing seriously and then you're fucked. Ever ask a total drama queen about their day? Five cocktails later, you're still knee-deep in some story involving the boss' Chihuahua, three gallons of honey mustard, some janitor named Ed and the Wilson-Jones W1252 Heavy-Duty Paper Shredder. Unable to buy the embellishments any more, ice cubes become damn interesting as you ponder how a simple question spawned this mind-numbing bullshit.
So, you can only imagine my dread when Dr. Hunter S. Thompson answered my "Can I get anything for you?" throwaway with all the seriousness of a grand-jury inquisition. He said yes. He named a place where I could pick up this little item for him, while I was on my way from New York City to the middle of nowhere in Colorado. Was it booze and cigarettes?
Twenty-seven pounds of explosive materials, known commonly as parachute flares to people in the boating industry. One dozen Paines Wessex MK3 Red Distress Rockets. We drove all the way across the United States with explosives in the backseat. We drove through Texas. You can read about all of this in great detail elsewhere on the site.
So, why did Hunter want these fucking things? I asked. Here's the answer:
"Umm. Have you, uh, uh, even seen one of these?" Hunter asks, wandering away, trailing cigarette smoke. He bends down and begins rummaging through the collection of old photographs, clips of ammunition and rusty political buttons that seem to cover everything. Seconds later, Thompson stands, his solid, yet aging frame looming over me in a terrible, terrible manner.
He holds a bright orange box. He flips it open and there's a matching orange handgun inside with blue elephant bullets. It looks like a toy. Until I look closely at a bullet, which is clearly labeled "flare."
For now, just ignore the fact that Hunter S. Thompson has neither extinguished, nor ashed the Dunhill cigarette that hovers just inches from the miniature canned lightning. I have never seen a flare gun.
"Ah. This. This is a flare gun," he says, loading and unloading the gun, tossing it from hand to hand. "One time, we were in the harbor and I, uh, popped one off, you know, just fucking around, thinking, 'Oh, Jesus, well, I've never really fucked with something like this before, let's give it a little whirl, see what kind of things happen.' And then I let her rip and the whole marina comes to a screeching halt. So when you asked me, I dunno, I was just thinking about the big leagues."
The Big Leagues.
We brought the big leagues to Hunter. It wasn't enough to stop the activity of a busy marina with a deceptively simple flare gun. The man wants a fucking missile launcher, the kind of artillery that will attract the attention of the United States Fucking Air Force! And as Hunter gleefully received his gift of a dozen flares in a big square box, I watched the whole horrifying exchange in slow motion.
Hunter extends his arms. I gently place the box of flares onto a swivel chair. He extends his arms a little further, fingers tickling the cardboard, ready to tear into it, ready to feel the paper pulled from staples and tape, ready to find the meat inside. My eyes dim. I'm telling him, "You don't really need these, Hunter" with my eyes. His eyes gleam. He responds with, "I will be the lightning God. I will burn and char whatever I want. Feel my throbbing power sticks." It was like watching the Key Master meet the Gate Keeper. Hunter's fingers touch the box, creep around the sides and clutch it, ready for the opening. The bloodthirsty, all-powerful, menacing Eagle has landed.
"Good fucking work, man!"
The box is opened. Inside is a metal canister, which I pop open using my bare hands while Hunter goes into the garage to find the hammer and flat-head screwdriver. There's no way in fucking hell I'm letting him bang and smoke near the explosives. Not in his heightened state of madness.
The top off, we see them. The rockets, a furious hue of red, like bloodshot eyes. Huge firecrackers with ominous-looking directions and warnings on them. Hunter's pretty assistant takes a step back. My traveling compadre Will has gone a deceptive color of white, half wonder because he'd been obsessing over the flares for two solid weeks and half worry because if there's a person in the room that'd get accidentally scorched and maimed with a rocket, it'd be him.
I stand and watch Hunter play with his toys.
He immediately spins around the flare and reads the warning label out loud, adding all sorts of little side comments, such as, "Yer damn right it'll do that!" or "Gotta be careful about that!" My favorite was when he said, "Shit, man. These'll really get the kids ready for Christmas."
A few questions: One, what kids? Two, Christmas? And, could you please stop smoking that fucking cigarette near the motherfucking flares? Please?
After demonstrating everything short of actually firing the flares, Thompson could not be badgered into actually firing one off. We tried. We asked over and over again, but the simple fact of the matter is, Colorado is on fire. Not all of it, but damn near close. Hunter doesn't want to burn down the entire state. And besides, he'd been arrested just a few days earlier for wounding his assistant, with an errant, yet harmless, shotgun blast.
Something tells me the man isn't ready for huge, wind-blown walls of flame or a visit from Air Force officials who were wondering exactly what the hell Thompson was doing with nautical flares out in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
But we need to see these flares go off. Maybe in the winter. Could we come back?
I asked Hunter directly. His response: "Oh, uh, yeah. Boy, that'd be nice. We can make a whole thing of it. Sure."
And so we shall. In November. So, once the snows come, extinguishing flames and summer and fall, I shall return to Woody Creek to complete the circle and blow some serious shit up. We will make a whole thing of it.