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We'll now have a responsive reading from Ms. Parker. Dorothy? Yo, someone wake her......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 23, 2005.

In 1967, we were studying Dorothy Parker at college along with her Algonquin Hotel cronies, and her antipathy to people who used three names informed my own similar prejudice. She said about the wife of Time Magazine’s founder that her name, Claire Booth Luce, sounded like a girl’s school motto, and it did, and I can see it chiseled into a marble arch, as apparently could Mrs. Luce herself. It was perfect.

Three names bother me because they’re affected and associated with people so clearly self impressed that it’s difficult not to stoke what proletarian fires are banked within us all. Just about always, three names are accorded the clergy with gigantic and deserved insecurities and those academics, like college presidents, who have social aspirations. I’m quite convinced that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King would have made more headway with the middle class if he’d been just Reverend Martin King, but who knows? When Parker died in 1967 she left her estate to Dr. King despite his three names. Go figure.

This past week we’ve been treated to the tape recording of President Bush admitting pot use, an emerging crisis about the hypocritical drug and steroid scandals in sports highlighted by Barry Bonds’ press conference yesterday, and the suicide of Hunter Thompson. Sorry, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. For whatever reason, this has prompted in me, and not a few of you I suspect, to reflect upon - and evaluate - the lives we led or now pretend we led or wish we had led in the sixties and early seventies. Youth, Parker* famously said, is a terrible thing to waste upon the young, and no generation better illustrates that than my own. Something I suspect she’d resent. Hunter Thompson simply refused to admit youth had long departed, and as at least one eulogy said, there’s something truly pathetic about a man in his sixties taking recreational drugs.

For whatever reason, I find Hunter Thompson a reference for Dorothy Parker in a somewhat silly and deeply ironic way. His alleged wit, suicidal tendencies, and drunken excess are not dissimilar to hers, I guess. But Parker had immeasurable talent and Thompson for the last three decades simply pandered to the celebrity starved fans among those more screwed up than he was. They were both very funny and very sharp and excellent writers in their prime, which was of very short duration in Thompson’s case. You can mark his decent into irrelevance and unintended self-parody from his first appearance in Doonesbury as Uncle Duke in 1974.

It’s to be doubted that Thompson will ever be quoted much. His issues are long dead, his observations often faulty or painfully obvious. The movies made of his life unintentionally accented all the more pointless and transient and, well, stupid aspects of his life and lifestyle, and were considered failures.

When Calvin Coolidge died, it was Parker who inquired how they could tell, and six generations of American writers have tried to be that pithy and memorable and funny and failed, Thompson among them. Quick! What did he say about Nixon? About anyone? Quote with surety something Thompson said. Fades, doesn’t it?

Like Carlos Casteneda, Hunter Thompson’s works are so dependent on the assumed benefits of chemical infusion his readers, generally not well read anyway, never recognized the thumping fictions. Listening to people younger than I talk about Thompson was like watching The Simpsons with them. They didn’t recognize what was being satirized or even referenced. Gonzo only worked if people knew or at least suspected when he was making stuff up. The problem was, significant percentages of his readers, politically and historically ignorant, never could tell the difference. Towards the end, perhaps he couldn’t either, although I hate making such a smarmy and smug conclusion to the life of an extremely talented and smart individual. Still, truth in there.

In contrast, standing next to Dorothy Parker at a party must have been life-altering if any percentage of the remarks attributed to her are true. “You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think.” “That woman speaks eighteen languages and can't say No in any of them.” In contrast, standing next to Thompson was most likely to get your clothing seriously stained and yourself possibly shot. Also, bored. The one thing that all these eulogies for Dr. Hunter S. Thompson have in common is that they are devoid of the memorable quote, the truly sharp remark. Still, he reminds me of Parker.

"There must be courage,” Parker wrote "there must be no awe.  There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism.  There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind.  There must be a magnificent disregard for your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it."  It’s very odd to me, and perhaps revealing, that those lines describe Dr. Hunter S. Thompson even better than the fellow alcoholic who wrote them.

* Yes, it was George Bernard Shaw. I think I even knew it was Shaw. At one time. Maybe. So it wasn't a mistake. Mistakes are made by merely normal people. I'm not normal........