Last weekend, after I described my trip to Richmond for Liberty 101 -- the Virginia Tea Party Patriots are wonderful people -- I got a worried e-mail from Ben Marchi, Virginia state director of Americans For Prosperity, as a result of these paragraphs:
Of course, my feelings were still sore that AFP's Erik Telford insulted me by leaving me out of next month's RightOnline National Conference in Pittsburgh with Michelle Malkin. When I mentioned Erik's name, Ben reminded me that Telford recently made No. 2 on Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" list. As usual, Olbermann gets the facts wrong -- Telford's No. 1.So I sent an e-mail back to Ben and explained that I wasn't really angry at Telford. He's a nice kid and I was only joking about the beating.
That surge of registrations for RightOnline the past two days was caused by my friends signing up for a seminar Telford left off the Pittsburgh conference agenda: "I've Got T-Shirts Older Than You, Punk: Stacy McCain Explains Why He Just Beat the Crap Out of Erik Telford in the Sheraton Lobby." But I digress . . .
Well, probably joking. It's been years since I've risked an assault charge by giving some ungrateful punk the thrashing he so richly deserved, but just because I've become a top Hayekian public intellectual -- the pinnacle of journalistic respectability -- doesn't mean my enemies should feel they can grossly insult me without fearing the violent consequences.
These kids, they don't know from Gonzo. Back in the day, when Hunter S. Thompson was living the precarious and poverty-stricken freelancer's life, it became his habit to respond to rejection notices and unfruitful job applications with outrageous letters full of hyperbolic denunciations and threats.
People who actually knew Thompson understood that these letters were, for the most part, just writing exercises. A writer improves his craft by constant practice, and if you have just been denied the opportunity to get paid for your craft, why not exercise the rejected skill at the expense of the philistine wretch who failed to recognize your genius?
Long after he became famously successful -- genius must ultimately have its reward -- Thompson never forgot the experience of poverty and obscurity. For example, one reason he took such great delight in becoming a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner in the 1980s was that, 25 years earlier, his application for a reporting job at the rival Chronicle had been rejected. And then there was this 1972 love-note to a good buddy of his:
"Dear John . . .Thompson's unpredictable sense of humor made him a constant source of carnival amusement for his friends. So as Moe and Attila relax and enjoy their cocktails Saturday evening at the Red State Gathering, they should not dismiss the possibility that their conviviality will be disturbed by a sudden Gonzo episode:
"You skunk-sucking bastard . . ."
-- Hunter S. Thompson, letter to John Chancellor of NBC News, Sept. 11, 1972, reprinted in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
Merely another hypothetical scenario, you see. No way I would actually do something that crazy. Even if I had time to drive to Atlanta this weekend, the gas alone would chew up the commission check that just came in the mail this morning, and my wife wants to make the overdue car payment with that. On the other hand, if a couple dozen readers were to hit the tip jar today . . .
"Sweetheart, give me a cold Corona, with lime," I told the redhead behind the bar, loud enough to be heard by Miss Attila, sitting at a table in the corner with Moe Lane. As usual, Attila was zonked on gin and entirely oblivious. But Moe glanced over and froze with the shock of recognition. I nodded at him and smiled, tossed a $10 on the bar -- the redhead was cute and the service was prompt -- grabbed my Corona and strolled casually to their table.
Strolling casually was difficult, considering I was jacked up on no fewer than six cups of truck-stop coffee I'd consumed on my 700-mile drive from Hagerstown. I'd made it in just a shade over 14 hours, although I could have done it in less than 11, if I hadn't been forced to exit I-81 south of Bristol to elude the Tennessee state trooper who blue-lighted me when I flew past him at 110 mph.
With my thorough knowledge of the region's back roads and a half-mile head-start -- the trooper must have been a rookie and was just a tad slow on the jump -- I knew he'd never overtake me. But like the moonshiners used to say, you can't outrun the Motorola, so I'd been forced to park the rented Mustang for half an hour behind a Pentacostal church near Walnut Hill while half the law-enforcement personnel in Sullivan County raced back and forth on the Blountville Highway trying to find me. I sat there on the front steps of the church, reading that morning's New York Times, smoking Camel Lights and enjoying the show until I was sure they'd called off the pursuit.
Given that the trooper had never gotten close enough to see my tags, I was reasonably safe from further harassment, but now there was a BOLO for the Mustang, so I had to wind my way through backroads until I picked up I-26, then cut back over to I-81 and kept it cool all the way through Knoxville before opening it up again once I made it on I-75.
So it was nearly 8 p.m. when I handed the keys to the valet in front of the Grand Hyatt, grabbed my satchel and tried to be inconspicuous as I pushed through the side door and crossed the lobby to the men's room.
Quickly washing, shaving and brushing my teeth, I changed clothes and looked as sharp as a CEO when I re-entered the lobby and approached the concierge, handing him the satchel containing my toiletry kit, washcloth and dirty laundry.
"No problem, sir," he said, handing me a ticket in exchange for a $5 tip.
"You're a gentleman and a scholar, Reginald," I replied, with the manic sincerity of a man who'd had nine hours sleep in the past three days, including a fitful 90-minute nap in the front seat of the Mustang in a truckstop parking lot near Adairsville.
Moe Lane knew none of this, of course, and my stroll across the Hyatt bar was supremely casual.
"Stacy!" he said. "What the . . I mean, what's with the tux?"
Attila stared glassy-eyed, predictably having skipped dinner to start in on the gin at five o'clock. She seemed to be trying to form the words of a greeting, but I just smiled, took a big swig of the Corona and pulled up a chair.
"Oh, my buddy Phil Kent invited me to a state GOP fund-raiser, and I thought I'd swing by over here and see how things were going."
"Stacy!" said Attila at last, putting her hand on my wrist.
"Sweetheart, how are ya?" I said, but she was too far gone to comprehend even this simple pleasantry, much less formulate an answer.
"Stacy!" she repeated, but then was distracted when the waiter walked past our table. She grabbed him and thrust her empty glass at him, demanding more gin. I turned my attention to Moe.
"Hey, good to see ya, man. Where's Mr. Erickson?" I said, taking another long drink from the Corona and trying to be as nonchalant as possible.
"Oh, he's still finishing up at the reception. I'm sure he'll be here in 10 minutes."
Still nonchalant, I shook my head and finished the Corona with another long gulp. "Too bad. Can't stick around. I've got to run back over to Phil's party. But maybe I can drop in and say howdy to Erick on my way out. Where's the reception?"
Moe told me the name of the ballroom and I nodded as he told me which floor it was on.
"Thanks, buddy," I said, then reached inside my jacket and pulled out the souvenir Bowie knife I'd bought for $30 at that Adairsville truck stop. Now my eyes gleamed crazily as I briefly brandished the seven-inch blade. "I've got some old business to settle with Mr. Erickson tonight . . ."
With that, I stood up and, holding the knife down beside my leg as if to conceal it, walked quickly toward the side door, glancing back just once to see Moe frantically typing a text-message into his Blackberry. Perfect.
Ditching the knife in the nearest trash can -- definitely $30 of fun -- I headed up the corridor to the pay phones, dropped in some change and made a quick call. After hanging up, I went around the corner, down the hall and turned left, back into the lobby. The concierge spotted me as I strode cheerfully toward him, holding the ticket for my satchel. He took the ticket and handed me the bag with a smiling "thank you, sir."
When I walked out the door, Phil's car was waiting. I threw the satchel in the back seat, climbed in and closed the door.
"Stace, old buddy, how's it going?" Phil said. "It's been a while."
"Yeah, too long, Phil. But you know how it is -- busy, busy, busy."
He wheeled the car through the driveway, but stopped when he heard the sirens of the Atlanta P.D. cars that came screaming down Peachtree Street toward us.
"Wow? What's that?" Phil said.
"Ah, some drunk woman was getting rowdy in the bar. She started talking a lot of crazy stuff about a knife. I guess somebody finally called the cops."
"Yeah, that happens a lot around here," Phil said, turning onto Peachtree after the cop cars had roared past.
"Yeah, I said. "It happens . . ."
Well, I probably still wouldn't drive to Atlanta just for the fun of startling Moe and Attila by my unexpected arrival, but isn't it important for them to think I could?
(Erick: No need to pay me for promoting the Red State Gathering. It's entirely my pleasure, you skunk-sucking bastard.)
UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Givler for playing the Grammar Nazi in the comments. "Strode" is just one of those irregular past-tenses that sounds so weird that it doesn't occur to the ear naturally, and I tend to write by ear, having paid only enough attention in freshman comp class to slide through with a B. Nothing against English majors or Advanced Grammar classes, you understand. Some of my best friends were English majors. NTTAWWT.