Fear and Loathing at the Funeral: Goodbye, Friend

Anyone who’s read me for forever and a day will know I draw upon Hunter Stockton Thompson as probably my strongest writing influence.

I was about 18 when Hunter got introduced to me by Whipped Boy, who’s lasted through the crowds of friends I had way back when, and is one of two people I’ll call to Dead Body Removal Services when required.

The other body-removing-friend is GayBoy, who I barely even knew at the time, but who I then proceeded to indoctrinate into the writings of the Good Doctor.

Who I knew better was Dan, but only for that short year that we hung out together. But we’ll come back to him in a moment.

Hunter blew my mind, and helped me figure out my own writing style, which I suspect emulates HST from time to time, but I think it’s more that his writing made my mindset finally feel all right, like it was okay to be a bit rageful and over the top. It was all right to think my opinion was the only one that mattered. If he could get away with it, then what did my journalism professors know after all? Objectivity? Fuck objectivity! Oh, how freeing that became.

Seldom have I ever truly tried to borrow HST’s style, but I bring it out on special occasions, usually ones involving drugs and travels, because sometimes imitation really, truly is the finest form of flattery.

One such time was when I tried to capture the experience of my first exposure to marijuana.

My story I wrote way back then is only on paper, somewhere in my boxes of writing… but I almost want to go digging through everything, as I’d love to see it again.

Still, I remember the start of the story, but only two people have read it, as it was before the advent of blogging, before I had an outlet. It was one of the few times back then I felt like I might be an all right writer, so it’s a bit nostalgically that I can recall my being excited enough about this one to actually show it to anyone else.

“We were somewhere around Cambie and 65th when the drugs began to take hold. I began feeling a bit light-headed and said, “Maybe you should solder–” when all of a sudden…”*

A completely honest and blatant rip-off of the brilliant opening to HST’s iconic novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it was a story about a night that forever changed me.

It was about the night that Dan introduced me to pot. He never pressured me, just let me go there if I wanted, since he and GB were indulging. The three of us hung out a fair bit for a while there, but Dan began to grow away from us. Now and then we’d still get together, and this was one of those happy convergences where we all had a good time, after when I’d begun becoming much better friends with GayBoy, and Dan was off becoming some new guy with new friends.

But the introduction to pot was huge, and changed me to my core (over time). I’m not encouraging anyone to try it; I vehemently believe a lot of people should never touch the stuff, and a lot of the people who are doing it could maybe use a break. I’m not one of them.

Yet I had been radically antidrug at that point. I’m still pretty radically anti-anything-not-pot, but I was really judgmental of potsmokers, thinking they were all unmotivated losers, swallowing Anslinger’s big ol’ myth on that count. So, y’know, toking up wasn’t exactly something I’d ever itched to do.

Thing is, this Hunter Thompson guy I’d read not too long before that, well, it made me sort of start to realize how linear my perception of the world was. Could I see more of the big picture? Was I too uptight and rigid in my assumptions? Was I missing out?

So, I tried it. Nothing huge happened. It didn’t blow my mind… it just made me feel less restrained and happy and pleasantly amused at, well, just about everything.

Not long after that, I moved up north. Within a matter of weeks, really. I’d only smoked up a handful of times, hadn’t bought it, so when I moved to the Yukon, I didn’t touch any dope since I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a connection.

GayBoy cured that conundrum, bringing some ganja up for a visit in the spring, after I’d been up there for six months or so. It wasn’t till after he headed back south that I had the chance to finally, at long last, try dope on my own, sans company.

And it blew my mind. The Northern lights were playing on the skies and I just… got lost in it all, finally understood my smallness, and how beautiful it was that I got to plug my smallness into a world this big. I felt gifted, fortunate, and ready for the world. And the sounds! The crunch of snow under tires, the whistle of the wind… Wow. For someone born with a hearing impairment, even the most fleeting moments of aural clarity can just stop one’s heart. Amazing, amazing experience to just suddenly hear things in nature you’ve never picked up on before.

On Saturday we’ll be laying Dan to rest. 33 years old. A 10-day-old baby girl left behind, fatherless. She’s the only really sad thing in all this, but Dan certainly wasn’t robbed of life; life was robbed of him.

I may not have been friends with Dan the last 10 years, but for a short time he was someone who pushed me to write, helped me try things, and set an example as someone who may not have made millions, but who really fucking lived his life while he could. The guy really understood that “live” is a verb.

As I forge through this year of change and growth in my life, he’s already been in the back of my mind. That I should hear of his death really rocked me a bit this week, despite him being so far removed from my life of late. I’m sad he’s gone. I’m sad he and I drifted apart. I’m fortunate to have had the gift of his friendship while I did.

I cycled home from work last night, and stopped at the highest point of my ascent over the city, stared down at the skyscrapers and the inlet and across to the mountains as golden light from the setting sun washed over the peaks and the scattered marine clouds dotted their space, lit up a bowl of dope, smoked a bit, listened to MLK by u2 as I took a rest on the grass a moment, and said a prayer of thanks to Dan, because, in a way, he’s the man who taught me how to find “god” in ordinary moments in an extraordinary world.

He exalted our nature, our part of the world, this incredibly rugged, beautiful rainforest landscape that is Vancouver. Fitting, then, that he should die at its hands in a river he’d probably made his bitch time and time again.

Tonight I’m left wondering if I’ve learned all I could from those who’ve been in my life, wondering if I should be less inclined to let people slip from my grasp, wondering who’s next, what’s next.

Saturday, we’ll lay him to rest. Saturday, we’ll all remember what exuberance he had, how indomitable and immortal he always seemed. Saturday, we’ll all go back to our respective lives and, with any luck, the lessons he taught us all about life and friendship and adventure will endure long past his too short 33 years.

*”Maybe you should solder–“… That really does need expanding, doesn’t it? Right, well, Dan didn’t have a coffee table. He apparently had connections with BC Tel and managed to snag an old massive, massive… hmm, the word escapes me. Spindle? The massive 4-foot-round wooden contraptions they’d roll the hundreds of yards of exterior telephone wires around… …all right, “discarded telephone wire spindle” it is, then. So, he had this for a coffee table, about 2 feet high, and he had a soldering iron he’d keep nearby and would plug in when people came over. He’d fired it up and once we’d sparked the doobie, we all started burning sentiments into the “table” top. At some point I realized I had become transfixed in watching the heat searing the wood, the resulting smoke, and I began pressing my luck, egging on the sparks and, potentially, a fire– then I realized I was getting a little too in touch with my inner would-be arsonist and passed off the soldering rod to GayBoy with Dan laughing hysterically at me. Ahh, youth.