REVIVAL Resurrecting the Process Church of the Final Judgment

Who is seeking to destroy all esoteric religious movements, starting with The Process Church of the Final Judgement? The Process was the most fascinating innovative cult of the 1960s, then vanished for four decades before being virtually reborn using information technology.

Revival seems to be fiction, yet it’s based on fact and explores the implications of the internet, and the disintegration of conventional faiths. As reported in the author’s anthropological study, Satan’s Power, the Process was polytheistic, asserting the union of Jehovah with Lucifer, and the unity of Christ with Satan. Each Process member was a fragment of a god, with a corresponding personality trait: Jehovah = Discipline, Lucifer = Liberation, Christ = Unification, Satan = Separation.

Before the first page of this book, the computer magician who resurrected the Process Church was murdered. Was this man Christ?

Christianity may be the opposite of what it seems, a Satanic plot that subconsciously preaches, “Release the fiend that lies dormant within you, for he is strong and ruthless, and his power is far beyond the bounds of human frailty. Come forth in your savage might, rampant with the lust of battle, tense and quivering with the urge to strike, to smash, to split asunder all that seek to detain you.” Can the surviving Processeans achieve the hopes expressed in their blessing: “May the life-giving water of the Lord Christ and the purifying fire of the Lord Satan bring the presence of love and unity into this assembly”?

Author William Sims Bainbridge earned his doctorate in sociology from Harvard University in 1975 and  he has published about 300 articles and written or edited 40 books in a variety of scientific fields. Currently, he is Co-Director, Cyber-Human Systems (Human-Centered Computing) at the National Science Foundation.

http://feralhouse.com/revival/

End-to-End Encryption 101

And do the Vault 7 Revelations Mean Encryption Is Useless?

If you’ve used the internet at any point since May 2013, you’ve probably heard that you should use encrypted communications. Edward Snowden’s revelation that the National Security Agency logs all of our calls, texts, and emails sparked a surge in the development and use of encryption apps and services. Only a few years later, encryption is widely used for daily communication. If you use any of these encryption tools, you’ve probably also heard the phrase “end-to-end encryption,” or “E2EE.” The name seems straightforward enough: end-to-end means content is encrypted from one endpoint (generally your phone or computer) to another endpoint (the phone or computer of your message’s intended recipient). But what level of security does this promise for you, the user?

Since the beginning of Trump’s administration, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has stepped up its invasions of travelers’ privacy. The CBP has been demanding that both US citizens and visitors log into their phones and laptops and hand them over to the CBP for inspection. They’ve also demanded that travelers provide their passwords or log into their social media accounts. Travelers who don’t comply face the threat of being denied entry.

Yesterday, Wikileaks publish a trove of leaked CIA documents including knowledge of security vulnerabilities and exploits that the CIA paid for and kept secret from the general public. Now that this information has leaked, it’s no longer just the CIA that knows these vulnerabilities—it’s everyone. The New York Times and others misreported that the CIA had broken the encryption in apps like Signal and WhatsApp, when in fact what the CIA did was target and compromise specific people’s Android devices.

In short, this revelation confirms the importance of using end-to-end encrypted communications, which hinder state-level actors from performing broad spectrum dragnet surveillance. E2EE is still important.

Many reports around Vault 7 have given the impression that encrypted apps like Signal have been compromised. In fact, the compromise is at the device level—at the endpoint. There is no reason to believe the encryption itself does not work.

Limitations: Plaintext Endpoints

First, it’s important to understand that if you can read a message, it is plaintext—that is, no longer encrypted. With end-to-end encryption, the weak links in the security chain are you and your device, and your recipient and their device. If your recipient can read your message, anyone with access to their device can also read it. An undercover cop could read your message over your recipient’s shoulder, or the police could confiscate your recipient’s device and crack it open. If there is any risk of either of these unfortunate events taking place, you should think twice before sending anything you wouldn’t want to share with the authorities.

This particular limitation is also relevant to the recent “Vault 7” reveals, which demonstrate how apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram may not be useful if an adversary (like the CIA) gains physical access to your device or your contact’s device and is able to unlock it. Many reports around Vault 7 have been somewhat misleading, giving the impression that the apps themselves have been compromised. In this case, the compromise is at the device level—at the endpoint. The encryption itself is still good.

Limitations: Targeted Surveillance

Considering that you can’t control the security conditions of your message’s recipient, you should consider the possibility that any message you send them might be read. While rare, there are cases of state powers targeting people with direct surveillance. In these cases, targets may be working with malware-infected devices intended to log all of their incoming and outgoing communications. This compromise functions at the endpoint level, rendering E2EE useless against these specific adversaries. Because it is difficult to know whether you (or your message recipient) are the target of this type of attack, it is always best to default to not sending overly-sensitive information via digital communications. Currently, such attacks appear to be rare, but one should never take risks needlessly.

The third thing you should know about E2EE is that it doesn’t necessarily protect your metadata. Depending on how communications are transmitted, logs may still show the time and size of communication, as well as the sender and recipient. Logs may also show the location of both sender and recipient at the time of communication. While this is not typically enough to land someone in jail on its own, it can be useful in proving associations between people, establishing proximity to crime scenes, and tracking communication patterns. All these pieces of information are useful in establishing larger behavioral patterns in cases of direct surveillance.

So… Why?

So, if end-to-end encryption doesn’t necessarily protect the content of your communications, and still gives up useful metadata, what’s the point of using it?

One of the most important things E2EE does is ensure that your data never hits someone else’s servers in a readable form. Since end-to-end encryption starts from the moment you hit “send” and persists until it hits your recipient’s device, when a company—like Facebook—is subpoenaed for your logged communications, they do not have any plaintext content to give up. This puts the authorities in a position in which if they wish to acquire the content of your communications, they are forced to spend a significant amount of time and resources attempting to break the encryption. In the United States, your right to a speedy trial may render this evidence useless to prosecutors, who may not be able to decrypt it quickly enough to please a judge.

Mass Surveillance

Another use of E2EE serves is to make dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other law enforcement agencies much more difficult. Since there is no point in the middle at which your unencrypted communications can be grabbed, what is grabbed instead is the same encrypted blocks of text available by subpoena. Dragnet surveillance is generally conducted by collecting any available data and subjecting it to automated sorting rather than individual analysis. The use of encryption prevents algorithmic sifting for content, thus making this process much more difficult and generally not worthwhile.

Stingrays

In addition to NSA’s data collection, federal and state law enforcement agencies around the country have, and frequently use, cell site simulators known as “IMSI catchers” or “Stingrays.” IMSI catchers pretend to be cell towers in order to trick your phone into giving up identifying information, including your location. Cell site simulators also grab and log your communications. As with other methods of interception, encryption means that what is retrieved is largely useless, unless the law enforcement agency is willing to go to the trouble to decrypt it.

Encryption At Rest

In addition to using end-to-end encryption to protect the content of your messages while they’re being sent, you can use full-disk encryption to protect your information while it’s stored on your device. Proper full-disk encryption means that all of the information on your device is indecipherable without your encryption key (usually a passphrase), creating a hardened endpoint which is much more difficult to compromise. Although encrypting your endpoints is not necessarily protection against some of the more insidious methods of surveillance, such as malware, it can prevent adversaries who gain possession of your devices from pulling any useful data off of them.

End-to-end encryption is by no means a magical shield against surveillance by nation states or malicious individuals, but Vault 7 highlights how using it can help force a procedural shift from dragnet surveillance to resource-intensive targeted attacks. When paired with good sense, encrypted devices, and other security practices, E2EE can be a powerful tool for significantly reducing your attack surface. Consistent, habitual use of end-to-end encryption can nullify many lower-tier threats and may even cause some higher-level adversaries to decide that attacking you is simply not worth the effort.

Further reading

— By Elle Armageddon

A Deconstruction of Love: Mary and Percy Shelley Edition

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Flavorwire is deconstructing a few famous pop-culture romances. Here’s our first effort, on Mary and Percy Shelley.

You know, people present the romance of Mary and Percy Shelley as one of history’s great love stories. Possibly because it involved a sudden elopement, and sudden elopements seem so romantic in theory. But they are often just flat-out crazy in practice.

To consider, for starters: Mary (then-Wollstonecraft Godwin) was 16 when she snuck off to meet her future husband, Percy Shelley. They were acquainted through her father, but that rendezvous would be their first tryst. And it would happen in a graveyard. Taken alone, that would be ghoulish enough, as first dates go. But this particular graveyard had, as one of its inhabitants, Mary’s own famous suffragette mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. The symbolism of standing over your dead mother as you profess your love for a hot young poet: tough to ignore. Though the drama of the atmosphere certainly let you ignore that the hot young poet is already married, and expecting a child.

Shelley was 21 himself, so not that much older and certainly not much wiser. He almost instantly slept with Mary (possibly in the cemetery, Miranda Seymour’s recent biography speculates, though who knows), and within two weeks had announced his affections to Mary’s father. Shockingly, the elder Godwin, who had counted Shelley a friend, was less than pleased at these developments. He tried to place himself between Shelley and the “fair and spotless fame of my young child.” He was foiled by his other daughters, one of whom was helping run love notes back and forth between the lovers. Jane had also been a chaperone on that night (or those nights) in the graveyard, though she was more accomplice than hall monitor, obviously.

Meanwhile, Shelley told his wife, Harriet, in a letter that he would continue to be friendly but that she must consider Mary’s own suffering, and “the tyranny which is exercised upon her,” meaning, it seems, Godwin’s control over his daughter. The man had balls, telling his pregnant wife to sympathize with his mistress of perhaps a month’s standing. He began to make financial plans to leave Harriet, plans no doubt made easier by the fact that Shelley was an endless borrower from his father’s estate.

Never one to stick to the practicalities, this plan-making did not prevent Shelley from, on at least two occasions, threatening suicide by laudanum. At least once, he tried to induce Mary herself to do the same in a sort of misbegotten Romeo-and-Juliet drama. Finally, he hatched a plan that they would leave and go abroad, and Mary dashed to the end of a street after a chaise, trailing Jane too, running in black silk ball gowns. It was under two months after the first night in the cemetery and the thing had already gone all to hell. Though Shelley was happy, and even toying with the idea of eventually having Harriet join them when the trio settled in continental Europe.

The thing he might not have known then, as they rushed to Dover to sail across the English channel, was that Mary was already pregnant.

She would eventually miscarry that child. Bad childbirths became a theme of her life, possibly one reflected in the fleshy grostesqueness of Frankenstein, as Ruth Franklin has speculated. Of the five pregnancies she’d have in the four years she’d be with Shelley, only one child would actually survive.

In fact, most things, after the pretty elopement, went sour. Jane, who continued to live with the couple for some time, changed her name to Claire and promptly began to deeply annoy Mary by carrying on what was at least an emotional affair with Shelley.

Harriet Shelley committed suicide a couple of years later.

Godwin’s former financial stability began to evaporate, and he reconciled with his daughter just in time to become a financial burden on her.

Shelley’s interest in Mary herself began to wane.

And then Shelley died in a sailing accident, and his family refused to support Mary or the one surviving child of the alliance, William.

Appropriately, though, for someone whose romantic life hit its peak in a graveyard, she managed to keep his heart, cut from the decaying body they took from the sea. Later, she burned it with Shelley’s friends on a pyre. (The apocrypha holds that Shelley was a bit afraid of being buried alive, and had often hoped for this.) After Mary died, Seymour notes, what remained of the heart was found among her things, wrapped in silk. People like to think of this as a melodramatic testament to the lastingness of their love.

That, I think, is a bit of a teenager’s interpretation. Let me offer another counterintuitive reading, one which I have no real evidence for — but, I think, with a life of melodramatic boyfriends behind me, I do have some authority to offer. See, as for myself, I like to think there were nights when she saw keeping his heart imprisoned in a drawer so long after he was gone as a sort of payback, for his taking her own at such a young age. There is a level on which it all sounds like revenge.

A photographer edits out our smartphones to show our strange and lonely new world

Are you reading this on a handheld device? There’s a good chance you are. Now imagine how’d you look if that device suddenly disappeared. Lonely? Slightly crazy? Perhaps next to a person being ignored? As we are sucked in ever more by the screens we carry around, even in the company of friends and family, the hunched pose of the phone-absorbed seems increasingly normal.

US photographer Eric Pickersgill has created “Removed,” a series of photos to remind us of how strange that pose actually is. In each portrait, electronic devices have been “edited out” (removed before the photo was taken, from people who’d been using them) so that people stare at their hands, or the empty space between their hands, often ignoring beautiful surroundings or opportunities for human connection. The results are a bit sad and eerie—and a reminder, perhaps, to put our phones away.

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Photos courtesy of Eric Pickersgill.

When you think of global financial hubs, Dublin doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Indeed, it currently ranks 30th in the Z/Yen Group’s index of financial centers (pdf). But the Irish capital is poised to rise in the rankings, thanks to Brexit.

Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Britain’s many financial firms have explored setting up new subsidiaries—or even moving headquarters—elsewhere in the bloc, in order to keep a foothold in the EU’s single market. This has set off a battle between European cities to try and tempt banks, insurers, funds and the like.

The minutes of the Irish central bank’s last meeting (pdf), in December, revealed the details of a roundtable discussion a deputy governor had in December with financial industry players. On the inbound interest from UK financial firms:

There had been significant levels of interest in authorisations sought for new businesses looking to relocate from the UK. The levels of interest were larger than had been initially anticipated.

Dublin is well positioned to attract Brexit-related relocations for several reasons, including that it’s a short hop from London, shares the same language, and levies some of the lowest tax rates in the Europe. That makes the city less of an underdog in the scramble for Brexit business against established EU financial hubs like Frankfurt, Luxembourg, and Paris.

But Dublin recently complained to the European Commission about the sharp tactics other cities are using to lure British firms. Eoghan Murphy, the minister in charge of promoting Dublin’s financial centre, told Reuters that the cities are being “very aggressive” to get banks and other financial firms to relocate, but Ireland isn’t interesting in “brass plating.” Rather than just setting up a token operation with a brass plate on the door, Dublin expects “the mind and management of the entity” to be in Ireland, according to the central bank minutes.

Banks in London have repeatedly warned that they will shift staff from London to elsewhere in EU in order to maintain their legal ability to provide services across the region. Some estimates from City lobby groups suggest that up to 70,000 financial services jobs may move away from London. British prime minister Theresa May tried to charm bankers in Davos into believing that the economic prospects for post-Brexit Britain are bright, but some have pressed on with their relocation plans regardless.

The size of London’s massive financial industry could make it hard for any other city, including Dublin (paywall), to cope with a big influx. Ireland’s central bank is struggling to hire and retain enough staff to deal with the potential growth in authorizations (and subsequent supervision) of relocated firms. At the end of 2016, the central bank had almost 100 fewer full-time staff than it was authorized to hire. It is trying to boost its headcount by another 10% this year, a target the governor has called a “challenging target.”

The central bank is not the only Irish institution straining to staff up after Brexit. Last year, there was a 40% increase in applications for Irish passports from Brits, which has led to extended waiting times.

Carlos the Jackal Is Going on Trial Again

International terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (R), aka Carlos, arrives at the Criminal Court of the Palais de Justice in Paris on December 9, 2013. The trial of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a figure of international terrorism in the 70s and 80s, for contempt against a lieutenant of the prison administration during his appeal trial on May 22 was postponed until March 3, 2014. Bertrand Guay—AFP/Getty Images

International terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (R), aka Carlos, arrives at the Criminal Court of the Palais de Justice in Paris on December 9, 2013. The trial of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a figure of international terrorism in the 70s and 80s, for contempt against a lieutenant of the prison administration during his appeal trial on May 22 was postponed until March 3, 2014.  Bertrand Guay—AFP/Getty Images

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as “Carlos the Jackal” for a series of attacks in France in the 1970s and 1980s, faces trial again on Monday for the deadly bombing of a Paris shopping center in 1974.

Ramirez, who is Venezuelan and has called himself a “professional revolutionary,” has pleaded not guilty to the hand grenade attack on Drugstore Publicis, in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, which killed two men and injured 34. The 67-year-old is already serving two life terms for killings done in the name of Palestinian and communist causes, the BBC reports. If convicted in this French trial of first degree murder charges, he could get a third life sentence.

The lawyers representing the victims told the BBC that the families wanted to see him in court. “The victims have been waiting so long for Ramirez to be judged and convicted. Their wounds have never healed,” lawyer Georges Holleaux said.

Ramirez was given the nickname “Carlos the Jackal” when he was one of the world’s most hunted terror suspects. He was convicted for the murders of two police officers in Paris and of a Lebanese revolutionary, the Guardian reports. He was arrested in 1994 in Sudan, 20 years after the first attack he was accused of.

[BBC]

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

A savage journey to the heart of the American dream

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

It was almost noon, and we still had more than 100 miles to go. They would be tough miles. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out. Press registration for the fabulous Mint 400 was already underway, and we had to get there by four to claim our soundproof suite. A fashionable sporting magazine in New York had taken care of the reservations, along with this huge red Chevy convertible we’d just rented off a lot on the Sunset Strip … and I was, after all, a professional journalist; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.

The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed driving all over Los Angeles County – from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next gas station. We had sampled almost everything else, and now – yes, it was time for a long snort of ether. And then do the next 100 miles in a horrible, slobbering sort of spastic stupor. The only way to keep alert on ether is to do up a lot of amyls – not all at once, but steadily, just enough to maintain the focus at 90 miles an hour through Barstow.

“Man, this is the way to travel,” said my attorney. He leaned over to turn the volume up on the radio, humming along with the rhythm section and kind of moaning the words: “One toke over the line … Sweet Jesus … One toke over the line …”

One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats. I could barely hear the radio … slumped over on the far side of the seat, grappling with a tape recorder turned all the way up on “Sympathy for the Devil.” That was the only tape we had, so we played it constantly, over and over, as a kind of demented counterpoint to the radio. And also to maintain our rhythm on the road. A constant speed is good for gas mileage – and for some reason that seemed important at the time. Indeed. On a trip like this one must be careful about gas consumption. Avoid those quick bursts of acceleration that drag blood to the back of the brain.

My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”

“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”

The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.

“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”

O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Luckily, the noise in the car was so awful – between the wind and the radio and the tape machine – that the kid in the back seat couldn’t hear a word we were saying. Or could he?

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. Will he make that grim connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats and huge manta rays coming down on the car? If so – well, we’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere. Because it goes without saying that we can’t turn him loose. He’ll report us at once to some kind of outback nazi law enforcement agency, and they’ll run us down like dogs.

Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my attorney, but he seemed oblivious – watching the road, driving our Great Red Shark along at a hundred and ten or so. There was no sound from the back seat.

Maybe I’d better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhaps if I explain things, he’ll rest easy.

Of course. I leaned around in the seat and gave him a fine big smile … admiring the shape of his skull.

“By the way,” I said. “There’s one thing you should probably understand.”

He stared at me, not blinking. Was he gritting his teeth?

“Can you hear me?” I yelled.

He nodded.

“That’s good,” I said. “Because I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.” I smiled. “That’s why we rented this car. It was the only way to do it. Can you grasp that?”

He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.

“I want you to have all the background,” I said. “Because this is a very ominous assignment – with overtones of extreme personal danger. … Hell, I forgot all about this beer; you want one?”

He shook his head.

“How about some ether?” I said.

“What?”

“Never mind. Let’s get right to the heart of this thing. You see, about 24 hours ago we were sitting in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel – in the patio section, of course – and we were just sitting there under this palm tree when this uniformed dwarf came up to me with a pink telephone and said, ‘This must be the call you’ve been waiting for all this time, sir.'”

I laughed and ripped open a beer can that foamed all over the back seat while I kept talking. “And you know? He was right! I’d been expecting that call, but I didn’t know who it would come from. Do you follow me?”

The boy’s face was a mask of pure fear and bewilderment.

I blundered on: “I want you to understand that this man at the wheel is my attorney! He’s not just some dingbat I found on the Strip. Shit, look at him! He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s a foreigner. I think he’s probably Samoan. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Are you prejudiced?”

“Oh, hell no!” he blurted.

“I didn’t think so,” I said. “Because in spite of his race, this man is extremely valuable to me.” I glanced over at my attorney, but his mind was somewhere else.

I whacked the back of the driver’s seat with my fist. “This is important,goddamnit! This is a true story!” The car swerved sickeningly, then straightened out. “Keep your hands off my fucking neck!” my attorney screamed. The kid in the back looked like he was ready to jump right out of the car and take his chances.

Our vibrations were getting nasty – but why? I was puzzled, frustrated. Was there no communication in this car? Had we deteriorated to the level of dumb beasts?

* * *

Because my story was true. I was certain of that. And it was extremely important, I felt, for the meaning of our journey to be made absolutely clear. We had actually been sitting there in the Polo Lounge – for many hours – drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side and beer chasers. And when the call came, I was ready.

The dwark approached our table cautiously, as I recall, and when he handed me the pink telephone I said nothing, merely listened. And then I hung up, turning to face my attorney. “That was headquarters,” I said. “They want me to go to Las Vegas at once, and make contact with a Portuguese photographer named Lacerda. He’ll have the details. All I have to do is check into my suite and he’ll seek me out.”

My attorney said nothing for a moment, then he suddenly came alive in his chair. “God hell!” he exclaimed. “I think I see the pattern. This one sounds like real trouble!” He tucked his khaki undershirt into his white rayon bellbottoms and called for more drink. “You’re going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over,” he said. “And my first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top and get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours.” He shook his head sadly. “This blows my weekend, because naturally I’ll have to go with you – and we’ll have to arm ourselves.”

“Why not?” I said. “If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right. We’ll need some decent equipment and plenty of cash on the line – if only for drugs and a super-sensitive tape recorder, for the sake of a permanent record.”

“What kind of a story is this?” he asked.

“The Mint 400,” I said. “It’s the richest off-the-road race for motorcycles and dune-buggies in the history of organized sport – a fantastic spectacle in honor of some fatback grossero named Del Webb, who owns the luxurious Mint Hotel in the heart of downtown Las Vegas … at least that’s what the press release says; my man in New York just read it to me.”

“Well,” he said, “as your attorney I advise you to buy a motorcycle. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?”

“No way,” I said. “Where can we get hold of a Vincent Black Shadow?”

“What’s that?”

“A fantastic bike,” I said. “The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing 200 brake horsepower at 4000 revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly 200 pounds.”

“That sounds about right for this gig,” he said.

“It is,” I assured him. “The fucker’s not much for turning, but it’s pure hell on the straightaway. It’ll outrun the F-111 until takeoff.”

“Takeoff?” he said. “Can we handle that much torque?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I’ll call New York for some cash.”

II

The seizure of $300 from a pig woman in Beverly Hills

The New York office was not familiar with the Vincent Black Shadow: they referred me to the Los Angeles bureau – which is actually in Beverly Hills just a few long blocks from the Polo Lounge – but when I got there, the money-woman refused to give me more than $300 in cash. She had no idea who I was, she said, and by that time I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Not with the soaking sweats … wild red eyeballs and trembling hands.

So I took the $300 and left. My attorney was waiting in a bar around the corner. “This won’t make the nut,” he said, “unless we have unlimited credit.”

I assured him we would. “You Sa-moans are all the same,” I told him. “You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking bagnio, stone broke and paralyzed for the weekend, when a call comes through from some total stranger in New York, telling me to go to Las Vegas and expenses be damned – and then he sends me over to some office in Beverly Hills where another total stranger gives me $300 raw cash for no reason at all … I tell you, my man, this is the American Dream in action! We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end.”

“Indeed,” he said. “We must do it.”

“Right,” I said. “But first we need the car”. And after that, the cocaine. And then the tape recorder, for special music, and some Acapulco shirts.” The only way to prepare for a trip like this, I felt, was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the story. Never lose sight of the primary responsibility.

But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.

There was also the socio-psychic factor. Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun. Just roll the roof back and screw it on, grease the face with white tanning butter and move out with the music at top volume, and at least a pint of ether.

* * *

Getting hold of the drugs had been no problem, but the car and the tape recorder were not easy things to round up at 6:30 on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood. I already had one car, but it was far too small and slow for desert work. We went to a Polynesian bar, where my attorney made 17 calls before locating a convertible with adequate horsepower and proper coloring.

“Hang onto it,” I heard him say into the phone. “We’ll be over to make the trade in 30 minutes.” Then after a pause, he began shouting: “What? Of course the gentleman has a major credit card! Do you realize who the fuck you’re talking to?”

“Don’t take any guff from these swine,” I said as he slammed the phone down. “Now we need a sound store with the finest equipment. Nothing dinky. We want one of those new Belgian Heliowatts with a voice-activated shotgun mike, for picking up conversations in oncoming cars.”

We made several more calls and finally located our equipment in a store about five miles away. It was closed, but the salesman said he would wait, if we hurried. But we were delayed enroute when a Stingray in front of us killed a pedestrian on Sunset Boulevard. The store was closed by the time we got there. There were people inside, but they refused to come to the double-glass door until we gave it a few belts and made ourselves clear.

Finally two salesmen brandishing tire irons came to the door and we managed to negotiate the sale through a tiny slit. Then they opened the door just wide enough to shove the equipment out, before slamming and locking it again. “Now take that stuff and get the hell away from here,” one of them shouted through the slit.

My attorney shook his fist at them. “We’ll be back,” he yelled. “One of these days I’ll toss a fucking bomb into that place! I have your name on this sales slip! I’ll find out where you live and burn your house down!”

“That’ll give him something to think about,” he muttered as we drove off. “That guy is a paranoid psychotic, anyway. They’re easy to spot.”

We had trouble, again, at the car rental agency. After signing all the papers, I got in the car and almost lost control of it while backing across the lot to the gas pump. The rental-man was obviously shaken.

“Say there … uh … you fellas are going to be careful with this car, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Well, good god!” he said. “You just backed over that two-foot concrete abutment and you didn’t even slow down! Forty-five in reverse! And you barely missed the pump!”

“No harm done,” I said. “I always test a transmission that way. The rear end. For stress factors.”

Meanwhile, my attorney was busy transferring rum and ice from the Pinto to the back seat of the convertible. The rental-man watched him nervously.

“Say,” he said. “Are you fellas drinking?”

“Not me,” I said.

“Just fill the goddamn tank,” my attorney snapped. “We’re in a hell of a hurry. We’re on our way to Las Vegas for a desert race.”

“What?”

“Never mind,” I said. “We’re responsible people.” I watched him put the gas cap on, then I quickly poked the thing into low gear and we lurched into traffic.

“There’s another worrier,” said my attorney. “He’s probably all cranked up on speed.”

“Yeah, you should have given him some reds.”

“Reds wouldn’t help a pig like that,” he said. “To hell with him. We have a lot of business to take care of, before we can get on the road.”

“I’d like to get hold of some priests’ robes,” I said. “They might come in handy in Las Vegas.”

But there were no costume stores open, and we weren’t up to burglarizing a church. “Why bother?” said my attorney. “And you have to remember that a lot of cops are good vicious Catholics. Can you imagine what those bastards would do to us if we got busted all drugged-up and drunk in stolen vestments? Jesus, they’d castrate us!”

“You’re right,” I said. “And for Christ’s sake don’t smoke that pipe at stoplights. Keep in mind that we’re exposed.”

He nodded. “We need a big hookah. Keep it down here on the seat, out of sight. If anybody sees us, they’ll think we’re using oxygen.”

We spent the rest of that night rounding up materials and packing the car. Then we ate the mescaline and went swimming in the ocean. Somewhere around dawn we had breakfast in a Malibu coffee shop, then drove very carefully across town and plunged onto the smog-shrouded Pasadena Freeway, heading East.

III

Strange medicine on the desert … a crisis of confidence

I am still vaguely haunted by our hitchhiker’s remarks about how he’d “never rode in a convertible before.” Here’s this poor geek living in a world of convertibles zipping past him on the highways all the time, an he’s never even ridden in one. It made me feel like King Farouk. I was tempted to have my attorney pull into the next airport and arrange some kind of simple, common-law contract whereby we could just give the car to this unfortunate bastard. Just say: “Here, sign this and the car’s yours.” Give him the keys and then use the credit card to zap off on a jet to some place like Miami and rent another huge fireapple-red convertible for a drug-addled, top-speed run across the water all the way out to the last stop in Key West … and then trade the car off for a boat. Keep moving.

But this manic notion passed quickly. There was no point in getting this harmless kid locked up – and, besides, I had plans for this car. I was looking forward to flashing around Las Vegas in the bugger. Maybe do a bit of serious drag-racing on the Strip: Pull up to that big stoplight in front of the Flamingo and start screaming at the traffic:

“Alright, you chickenshit wimps! You pansies! When this goddamn light flips green, I’m gonna stomp down on this thing and blow every one of you gutless punks off the road!”

Right. Challenge the bastards on their own turf. Come screeching up to the crosswalk, bucking and skidding with a bottle of rum in one hand and jamming the horn to drown out the music … glazed eyes insanely dilated behind tiny black, gold – rimmed greaser shades, screaming gibberish … a genuinely dangerousdrunk, reeking of ether and terminal psychosis. Revving the engine up to a terrible high-pitched chattering whine, waiting for the light to change …

How often does a chance like that come around? To jangle the bastards right down to the core of their spleens. Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.

But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country – but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.

My attorney understood this concept, despite his racial handicap, but our hitchhiker was not an easy person to reach. He said he understood, but I could see in his eyes that he didn’t. He was lying to me.

The car suddenly veered off the road and we came to a sliding halt in the gravel. I was hurled against the dashboard. My attorney was slumped over the wheel. “What’s wrong?” I yelled. “We can’t stop here. This is bat country!”

“My heart,” he groaned. “Where’s the medicine?”

“Oh,” I said. “The medicine, yes, it’s right here.” I reached into the kit-bag for the amyls. The kid seemed petrified. “Don’t worry,” I said. “This man has a bad heart – Angina Pectoris. But we have the cure for it. Yes, here they are.” I picked four amyls out of the tin box and handed two of them to my attorney. He immediately cracked one under his nose, and I did likewise.

He took a long snort and fell back on the seat, staring straight up at the sun. “Turn up the fucking music!” he screamed. “My heart feels like an alligator!

“Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass!” He flailed his naked arms at the sky. “What’s wrong with us? Are we goddamn old ladies?”

I turned both the radio and the tape machine up full bore. “You scurvy shyster bastard,” I said. “Watch your language! You’re talking to a doctor of journalism!”

He was laughing out of control. “What the fuck are we doing out here on this desert?” he shouted. “Somebody call the police! We need help!”

“Pay no attention to this swine,” I said to the hitchhiker. “He can’t handle the medicine. Actually, we’re both doctors of journalism, and we’re on our way to Las Vegas to cover the main story of our generation.” And then I began laughing. …

My attorney hunched around to face the hitchhiker. “The truth is,” he said, “We’re going to Vegas to croak a scag baron named Savage Henry. I’ve known him for years, but he ripped us off – and you know what that means, right?”

I wanted to shut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. What the fuck were we doing out here on this desert, when we both had bad hearts?

“Savage Henry has cashed his check!” My attorney snarled at the kid in the back seat. “We’re going to rip his lungs out!”

“And eat them!” I blurted. “That bastard won’t get away with this! What’s going on in this country when a scum-sucker like that can get away with sandbagging a doctor of journalism?”

Nobody answered. My attorney was cracking another amyl and the kid was climbing out of the back seat, scrambling down the trunk lid. “Thanks for the ride,” he yelled. “Thanks a lot. I like you guys. Don’t worry about me.” His feet hit the asphalt and he started running back towards Baker. Out in the middle of the desert, not a tree in sight.

“Wait a minute,” I yelled. “Come back and get a beer.” But apparently he couldn’t hear me. The music was very loud, and he was moving away from us at good speed.

* * *

“Good Riddance,” said my attorney. “We had a real freak on our hands. That boy made me nervous. Did you see his eyes?” He was still laughing. “Jesus,” he said. “This is good medicine!”

I opened the door and reeled around to the driver’s side. “Move over,” I said. “I’ll drive. We have to get out of California before that kid finds a cop.”

“Shit, that’ll be hours.” said my attorney. “He’s a hundred miles from anywhere.”

“So are we,” I said.

“Let’s turn around and drive back to the Polo Lounge,” he said. “They’ll never look for us there.”

I ignored him. “Open the tequila,” I yelled as the windscream took over again; I stomped on the accelerator as we hurtled back onto the highway. Moments later he leaned over with a map. “There’s a place up ahead called Mescal Springs,” he said. “As your attorney, I advise you to stop and take a swim.”

I shook my head. “It’s absolutely imperative that we get to the Mint Hotel before the deadline for press registration,” I said. “Otherwise, we might have to pay for our suite.”

He nodded. “But let’s forget that bullshit about the American Dream,” he said. “The important thing is the Great Samoan Dream.” He was rummaging around in the kit-bag. “I think it’s about time to chew up a blotter,” he said. “That cheap mescaline wore off a long time ago, and I don’t know if I can stand the smell of that goddamn ether any longer.”

“I like it,” I said. “We should soak a towel with the stuff and then put it down on the floorboard by the accelerator, so the fumes will rise up in my face all the way to Las Vegas.”

He was turning the tape cassette over. The radio was screaming: “Power to the People – Right On!” John Lennon’s political song, ten years too late. “That poor fool should have stayed where he was,” said my attorney. “Punks like that just get in the way when they try to be serious.”

“Speaking of serious,” I said. “I think it’s about time to get into the ether and the cocaine.”

“Forget ether,” he said. “Let’s save it for soaking down the rug in the suite. But here’s this. Your half of the sunshine blotter. Just chew it up like baseball gum.”

I took the blotter and ate it. My attorney was now fumbling with the salt shaker containing the cocaine. Opening it. Spilling it. Then screaming and grabbing at the air, as our fine white dust blew up and out across the desert highway. A very expensive little twister rising up from the Great Red Shark. “Oh, jesus!” he moaned. “Did you see what God just did to us?”

“God didn’t do that!” I shouted. “You did it. You’re a fucking narcotics agent! I was on to your stinking act from the start, you pig!”

“You better be careful,” he said. And suddenly he was waving a fat black .357 magnum at me. One of those snubnosed Colt Pythons with the beveled cylinder. “Plenty of vultures out here,” he said. “They’ll pick your bones clean before morning.”

“You whore,” I said. “When we get to Las Vegas I’ll have you chopped into hamburger. What do you think the Drug Bund will do when I show up with a Samoan narcotics agent?”

“They’ll kill us both,” he said. “Savage Henry knows who I am. Shit, I’m your attorney.” He burst into wild laughter. “You’re full of acid, you fool. It’ll be a goddamn miracle if we can get to the hotel and check in before you turn into a wild animal. Are you ready for that? Checking into a Vegas hotel under a phony name with intent to commit capital fraud and a head full of acid?” He was laughing again, then he jammed his nose down toward the salt shaker, aiming the thin green roll of a $20 bill straight into what was left of the powder.

“How long do we have?” I said.

“Maybe 30 more minutes,” he replied. “As your attorney I advise you to drive at top speed.”

Las Vegas was just up ahead. I could see the strip/hotel skyline looming through the blue desert ground-haze: The Sahara, the landmark, the Americana and the ominous Thunderbird – a cluster of grey rectangles in the distance, rising out of the cactus.

Thirty minutes. It was going to be very close. The objective was the big tower of the Mint Hotel, downtown – and if we didn’t get there before we lost all control, there was also the Nevada State prison upstate in Carson City. I had been there once, but only for a talk with the prisoners – and I didn’t want to go back, for any reason at all. So there was really no choice: We would have to run the gauntlet, and acid be damned. Go through all the official gibberish, get the car into the hotel garage, work out on the desk clerk, deal with the bellboy, sign in for the press passes – all of it bogus, totally illegal, a fraud on its face, but of course it would have to be done.

“Kill the Body and the Head will Die”

This line appears in my notebook, for some reason. Perhaps some connection with Joe Frazier. Is he still alive? Still able to talk? I watched that fight in Seattle – horribly twisted about four seats down the aisle from the Governor. A very painful experience in every way, a proper end to the Sixties: Tim Leary a prisoner of Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, Bob Dylan clipping coupons in Greenwich Village, both Kennedys murdered by mutants, Owsley folding napkins on Terminal Island, and finally Cassius/Ali belted incredibly off his pedestal by a human hamburger, a man on the verge of death. Joe Frazier, like Nixon, had finally prevailed for reasons that people like me refused to understand – at least not out loud.

… But that was some other era, burned out and long gone from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy One. A lot of things had changed in those years. And now I was in Las Vegas as the motor sports editor of this fine slick magazine that had sent me out here in the Great Red Shark for some reason that nobody claimed to understand. “Just check it out,” they said, “and we’ll take it from there. …”

Indeed. Check it out. But when we finally arrived at the Mint Hotel my attorney was unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure. We were forced to stand in line with all the others – which proved to be extremely difficult under the circumstances. I kept telling myself: “Be quiet, be calm, say nothing … speak only when spoken to: name, rank and press affiliation, nothing else, ignore this terrible drug, pretend it’s not happening. …”

There is no way to explain the terror I felt when I finally lunged up to the clerk and began babbling. All my well-rehearsed lines fell apart under that woman’s stoney glare. “Hi there,” I said. “My name is … ah, Raoul Duke … yes, on the list,that’s for sure. Free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage. … why not? I have my attorney with me and I realize of course that his name is not on my list, but we must have that suite, yes, this man is actually my driver. We brought this red shark all the way from the Strip and now it’s time for the desert, right? Yes. Just check the list and you’ll see. Don’t worry. What’s the score, here? What’s next?”

The woman never blinked. “Your room’s not ready yet,” she said. “But there’s somebody looking for you.”

“No!” I shouted. “Why? We haven’t done anything yet!” My legs felt rubbery. I gripped the desk and sagged toward her as she held out the envelope, but I refused to accept it. The woman’s face was changing: swelling, pulsing … horrible green jowls and fangs jutting out, the face of a Moray Eel! Deadly poison! I lunged backwards into my attorney, who gripped my arm as he reached out to take the note. “I’ll handle this,” he said to the Moray woman. “This man has a bad heart, but I have plenty of medicine. My name is Doctor Gonzo. Prepare our suite at once. We’ll be in the bar.”

The woman shrugged as he led me away. In a town full of bedrock crazies, nobody even notices an acid freak. We struggled through the crowded lobby and found two stools at the bar. My attorney ordered two cuba libres with beer and mescal on the side, then he opened the envelope. “Who’s Lacerda?” he asked. “He’s waiting for us in a room on the 12th floor.”

I couldn’t remember. Lacerda? The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t concentrate. Terrible things were happening all around us. Right next to me a huge reptile was gnawing on a woman’s neck, the carpet was a blood-soaked sponge – impossible to walk on it, no footing at all. “Order some golf shoes,” I whispered. “Otherwise, we’ll never get out of this place alive. You notice these lizards don’t have any trouble moving around in this muck – that’s because they have claws on their feet.”

“Lizards?” he said. “If you think we’re in trouble now, wait till you see what’s happening in the elevators.” He took off his Brazilian sunglasses and I could see he’d been crying. “I just went upstairs to see this man Lacerda,” he said. “I told him we knew what he was up to. He says he’s a photographer, but when I mentioned Savage Henry – well, that did it; he freaked. I could see it in his eyes. He knows we’re onto him.”

“Does he understand we have magnums?” I said.

“No. But I told him we had a Vincent Black Shadow. That scared the piss out of him.”

“Good,” I said. “But what about our room? And the golf shoes? We’re right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody’s giving booze to these goddamn things! It won’t be long before they tear us to shreds. Jesus, look at the floor! Have you ever seen so much blood? How many have they killed already?” I pointed across the room to a group that seemed to be staring at us. “Holy shit, look at that bunch over there! They’ve spotted us!”

“That’s the press table,” he said. “That’s where you have to sign in for our credentials. Shit, let’s get it over with. You handle that, and I’ll get the room.”

IV

Hideous music and the sound of many shotguns … rude vibes on a Saturday evening in Vegas

We finally got into the suite around dusk, and my attorney was immediately on the phone to room service – ordering four club sandwiches, four shrimp cocktails, a quart of rum and nine fresh grapefruits. “Vitamin C,” he explained. “We’ll need all we can get.”

I agreed. By this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level. The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood. The only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside the window, blocking our view of the mountains – millions of colored balls running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filigree, giving off a loud hum. …

“Look outside,” I said.

“Why?”

“There’s a big … machine in the sky, … some kind of electric snake … coming straight at us.”

“Shoot it,” said my attorney.

“Not yet,” I said. “I want to study its habits.”

He went over to the corner and began pulling on a chain to close the drapes. “Look,” he said, “You’ve got to stop this talk about snakes and leeches and lizards and that stuff. It’s making me sick.”

“Don’t worry,” I said.

Worry? Jesus, I almost went crazy down there in the bar. They’ll never let us back in that place – not after your scene at the press table.”

“What scene?”

“You bastard,” he said. “I left you alone for three minutes! You scared the shit out of those people! Waving that goddamn marlin spike around and yelling about reptiles. You’re lucky I came back in time. They were ready to call the cops. I said you were only drunk and that I was taking you up to your room for a cold shower. Hell, the only reason they gave us the press passes was to get you out of there.”

He was pacing around nervously. “Jesus, that scene straightened me right out! I must have some drugs. What have you done with the mescaline?”

“The kit-bag,” I said.

He opened the bag and ate two pellets while I got the tape machine going. “Maybe you should only eat one of these,” he said. “That acid’s still working on you.”

I agreed. “We have to go out to the track before dark,” I said. “But we have time to watch the TV news. Let’s carve up this grapefruit and make a fine rum punch, maybe toss in a blotter … where’s the car?”

“We gave it to somebody in the parking lot,” he said. “I have the ticket in my briefcase.”

“What’s the number? I’ll call down and have them wash the bastard, get rid of that dust and grime.”

“Good idea,” he said. But he couldn’t find the ticket.

“Well, we’re fucked,” I said. “We’ll never convince them to give us that car without proof.”

He thought for a moment, then picked up the phone and asked for the garage. “This is Doctor Gonzo in eight-fifty,” he said. “I seem to have lost my parking stub for that red convertible I left with you, but I want the car washed and ready to go in 30 minutes. Can you send up a duplicate stub? … What … Oh? … Well, that’s fine.” He hung up and reached for the hash pipe. “No problem,” he said. “That man remembers my face.”

“That’s good,” I said. “They’ll probably have a big net ready for us when we show up.”

He shook his head. “As your attorney, I advise you not to worry about me.”

The TV news was about the Laos Invasion – a series of horrifying disasters: explosions and twisted wreckage, men fleeing in terror, Pentagon generals babbling insane lies. “Turn that shit off!” screamed my attorney “Let’s get out of here!”

A wise move. Moments after we picked up the car my attorney went into a drug coma and ran a red light on Main street before I could bring us under control. I propped him up in the passenger seat and took the wheel myself … feeling fine, extremely sharp. All around me in traffic I could see people talking and I wanted to hear what they were saying. All of them. But the shotgun mike was in the trunk and I decided to leave it there. Las Vegas is not the kind of town where you want to drive down Main Street aiming a black bazooka-looking instrument at people.

Turn up the radio. Turn up the tape machine. Look into the sunset up ahead. Roll the windows down for a better taste of the cool desert wind. Ah yes. This is what it’s all about. Total control now. Tooling along the main drag on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, two good old boys in a fireapple-red convertible … stoned, ripped, twisted … Good People.

* * *

“Great God! What! What is this terrible music? “The Battle Hymn of Lieutenant Calley”:

“… as we go marching on …
When I reach my final
campground, in that land beyond the sun,
and the Great Commander
asks me …”

(What did he ask you, Rusty?)

“… Did you fight or did you run?”

(and what did you tell him, Rusty?)

“… We responded to their rifle fire with everything we had …”

No! I can’t be hearing this! It must be the drug. I glanced over at my attorney, but he was staring up at the sky, and I could see that his brain had gone off to that campground beyond the sun. Thank Christ he can’t hear this music, I thought. It would drive him into a racist frenzy.

Mercifully, the song ended. But my mood was already shattered … and now the fiendish cactus juice took over, plunging me into a sub-human funk as we suddenly came up on the turnoff to the Mint Gun Club. “One mile,” the sign said. But even a mile away I could hear the crackling scream of two-stroke bike engines winding out … and then, coming closer, I heard another sound.

Shotguns! No mistaking that flat hollow boom.

I stopped the car. What the hell is going on down there? I rolled up all the windows and eased down the gravel road, hunched low on the wheel … until I saw about a dozen figures pointing shotguns into the air, firing at regular intervals.

Standing on a slab of concrete out here in the mesquite-desert, this scraggly little oasis in a wasteland north of Vegas … They were clustered, with their shotguns, about 50 yards away from a one-story concrete/block-house, half-shaded by ten or 12 trees and surrounded by cop-cars, bike-trailers and motorcycles.

Of course. The Mint Gun Club! These lunatics weren’t letting anything interfere with their target practice. Here were about a hundred bikers, mechanics and assorted motorsport types milling around in the pit area, signing in for tomorrow’s race, idly sipping beers and appraising each other’s machinery – and right in the middle of all this, oblivious to everything but the clay pigeons flipping out of the traps every five seconds or so, the shotgun people never missed a beat.

Well, why not? I thought. The shooting provided a certain rhythm – sort of a steady bass-line – to the high-pitched chaos of the bike scene. I parked the car and wandered into the crowd, leaving my attorney in his coma.

I bought a beer and watched the bikes checking in. Many 405 Husquavarnas, high-tuned Swedish fireballs … also many Yamahas, Kawasakis, a few 500 Triumphs, Maicos, here & there a CZ, a Pursang … all very fast, super-light dirt bikes. No Hogs in this league, not even a Sportster … that would be like entering our Great Red Shark in the dune buggy competition.

Maybe I should do that, I thought. Sign my attorney up as the driver, then send him out to the starting line with a head full of ether and acid. How would they handle it?

Nobody would dare go out on the track with a person that crazy. He would roll on the first turn, and take out four or five dune buggies – a Kamikaze trip.

“What’s the entry fee?” I asked the desk-man.

“Two fifty,” he said.

“What if I told you I had a Vincent Black Shadow?”

He stared up at me, saying nothing, not friendly. I noticed he was wearing a .38 revolver on his belt. “Forget it,” I said. “My driver’s sick, anyway.”

His eyes narrowed. “Your driver ain’t the only one sick around here, buddy.”

“He has a bone in his throat,” I said.

“What?”

The man was getting ugly, but suddenly his eyes switched away. He was staring at something else … my attorney; no longer wearing his Danish sunglasses, no longer wearing his Acapulco shirt … a very crazy looking person, half-naked and breathing heavily.

“What’s the trouble here?” he croaked. “This man is my client. Are you prepared to go to court?”

I grabbed his shoulder and gently spun him around. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s the Black Shadow – they won’t accept it.”

Wait a minute!” he shouted. “What do you mean, they won’t accept it? Have you made a deal with these pigs?”

“Certainly not,” I said, pushing him along toward the gate. “But you notice they’re all armed. We’re the only people here without guns. Can’t you hear that shootingover there.”

He paused, listened for an instant, then suddenly began running toward the car. “You cocksuckers!” he screamed over his shoulder. “We’ll be back!”

By the time we got the shark back on the highway he was able to talk. “Jesus christ! How did we get mixed up with that gang of psychotic bigots? Let’s get the fuck out of this town. Those scumbags were trying to kill us!”

V

Covering the story … a glimpse of the Press in action … ugliness & failure

The racers were ready at dawn. Fine sunrise over the desert. Very tense. But the race didn’t start until nine, so we had to kill about three long hours in the casino next to the pits, and that’s where the trouble started.

The bar opened at 7:00. There was also a “koffee & donut canteen” in the bunker, but those of us who had been up all night in places like the Circus-Circus were in no mood for coffee & donuts. We wanted strong drink. Our tempers were ugly and there were at least two hundred of us, so they opened the bar early. By 8:30 there were big crowds around the crap-tables. The place was full of noise and drunken shouting.

A boney, middle-aged hoodlum wear-a Harley-Davidson T-shirt boomed up to the bar and yelled: “God damn! What day is this – Saturday?”

“More like Sunday,” somebody replied.

“Hah! That’s a bitch, ain’t it?” the H-D boomer shouted to nobody in particular. “Last night I was out home in Long Beach and somebody said they were runnin’ the Mint 400 today, so I says to my old lady, ‘Man, I’m goin’.” He laughed. “So she gives me a lot of crap about it, you know … so I started slappin’ her around and the next thing I knew two guys I never even seen before got me out on the sidewalk workin’ me over. Jesus! They beat me stupid.”

He laughed again, talking into the crowd and not seeming to care who listened. “Hell yes!” he continued. “Then one of ’em says, ‘Where you going?’ And I says, ‘Las Vegas, to the Mint 400.’ So they gave me ten bucks and drove me down to the bus station. …” He paused. “At least I think it was them. …

“Well; anyway, here I am. And I tell you that was one hell of a long night, man! Seven hours on that goddamn bus! But when I woke up it was dawn and here I was in downtown Vegas and for a minute I didn’t know what the hell I was doin’here. All I could think was, ‘O Jesus, here we go again: Who’s divorced me this time?'”

He accepted a cigarette from somebody in the crowd, still grinning as he lit up. “But then I remembered, by God! I was here for the Mint 400 … and, man, that’s all I needed to know. I tell you it’s wonderful to be here, man. I don’t give a damn who wins or loses. It’s just wonderful to be here with you people. …”

Nobody argued with him. We all understood. In some circles, the “Mint 400” is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. This race attracts a very special breed, and our man in the Harley T-shirt was clearly one of them.

* * *

The correspondent from Life nodded sympathetically and screamed at the bartender: “Senzaman wazzyneeds!”

“Fast up with it,” I croaked. “Why not five?” I smacked the bar with my open, bleeding palm. “Hell yes! Bring us ten!”

“I’ll back it!” The Life man screamed. He was losing his grip on the bar, sinking slowly to his knees, but still speaking with definite authority: “This is a magic moment in sport! It may never come again!” Then his voice seemed to break. “I once did the Triple Crown,” he muttered. “But it was nothing like this.”

The frog-eyed woman clawed feverishly at his belt. “Stand up!” she pleaded. “Please stand up! You’d be a very handsome man if you’d just stand up!”

He laughed distractedly. “Listen, madam,” he snapped. “I’m damn near intolerably handsome down here where I am. You’d go crazy if I stood up!”

The woman kept pulling at him. She’d been mooning at his elbows for two hours, and now she was making her move. The man from Life wanted no part of it; he slumped deeper into his crouch.

I turned away. It was too horrible. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the national sporting press. And we were gathered here in Las Vegas for a very special assignment: to cover the Fourth Annual “Mint 400” … and when it comes to things like this, you don’t fool around.

* * *

But now – even before the spectacle got under way – there were signs that we might be losing control of the situation. Here we were on this fine Nevada morning, this cool bright dawn on the desert, hunkered down at some greasy bar in a concrete blockhouse & gambling casino called the “Mint Gun Club” about ten miles out of Vegas … and with the race about to start, we were dangerously disorganized.

Outside, the lunatics were playing with their motorcycles, taping the headlights, topping off oil in the forks, last minute bolt-tightening (carburetor screws, manifold nuts, etc.) … and the first ten bikes blasted off on the stroke of nine. It was extremely exciting and we all went outside to watch. The flag went down and these ten poor buggers popped their clutches and zoomed into the first turn, all together, then somebody grabbed the lead (a 405 Husquavarna, as I recall), and a cheer went up as the rider screwed it on and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

“Well, that’s that,” somebody said. “They’ll be back around in an hour or so. Let’s go back to the bar.”

* * *

But not yet. No. There were something like a hundred and ninety more bikes waiting to start. They went off ten at a time, every two minutes. At first it was possible to watch them out to a distance of some 200 yards from the starting line. But this visibility didn’t last long. The third brace of ten disappeared into the dust about 100 yards from where we stood … and by the time they’d sent off the first 100 (with still another hundred to go), our visibility was down to something like 50 feet. We could see as far as the hay-bales at the end of the pits. …

Beyond that point the incredible dust-cloud that would hang over this part of the desert for the next two days was already formed up solid. None of us realized, at the time, that this was the last we would see of the “Fabulous Mint 400” –

By noon it was hard to see the pit area from the bar/casino, 100 feet away in the blazing sun. The idea of trying to “cover this race” in any conventional press-sense was absurd: It was like trying to keep track of a swimming meet in an Olympic – sized pool filled with talcum powder instead of water. The Ford Motor Company had come through, as promised, with a “press Bronco” and a driver, but after a few savage runs across the desert – looking for motorcycles and occasionally finding one – I abandoned this vehicle to the photographers and went back to the bar.

It was time, I felt, for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene. The race was definitely underway. I had witnessed the start; I was sure of that much. But what now? Rent a helicopter? Get back in that stinking Bronco? Wander out on that goddamn desert and watch these fools race past the checkpoints? One every 13 minutes. …?

By ten they were spread out all over the course. It was no longer a “race”; now it was an Endurance Contest. The only visible action was at the start/finish line, where every few minutes some geek would come speeding out of the dust-cloud and stagger off his bike, while his pit crew would gas it up and then launch it back onto the track with a fresh driver … for another 50-mile lap, another brutal hour of kidney-killing madness out there in that terrible dust-blind limbo.

Somewhere around 11, I made another tour in the press-vehicle, but all we found were two dune-buggies full of what looked like retired petty-officers from San Diego. They cut us off in a dry-wash and demanded, “Where is the damn thing?”

“Beats me,” I said. “We’re just good patriotic Americans like yourselves.” Both of their buggies were covered with ominous symbols: Screaming Eagles carrying American Flags in their claws, a slant-eyed snake being chopped to bits by a buzz-saw made of stars & stripes, and one of the vehicles had what looked like a machine-gun mount on the passenger side.

They were having a bang-up time – just crashing around the desert at top speed and hassling anybody they met. “What outfit you fellas with?” one of them shouted. The engines were all roaring; we could barely hear each other.

“The sporting press,” I yelled. “We’re friendlies – hired geeks.”

Dim smiles.

“If you want a good chase,” I shouted “you should get after that skunk from CBS News up ahead in the big black jeep. He’s the man responsible for The Selling of the Pentagon.”

“Hot damn!” two of them screamed at once. “A black jeep? You say?”

They roared off, and so did we. Bouncing across the rocks & scrub oak/cactus like iron tumbleweeds. The beer in my hand flew up and hit the top, then fell in my lap and soaked my crotch with warm foam.

“You’re fired,” I said to the driver. “Take me back to the pits.”

It was time, I felt, to get grounded – to ponder this rotten assignment and figure out how to cope with it. Lacerda insisted on Total Coverage. He wanted to go back out in the dust storm and keep trying for some rare combination of film and lens that might penetrate the awful stuff.

“Joe,” our driver, was willing. His name was not really “Joe,” but that’s what we’d been instructed to call him. I had talked to the FoMoCo boss the night before, and when he mentioned the driver he was assigning to us he said, “His real name is Steve, but you should call him Joe.”

“Why not?” I said. “We’ll call him anything he wants. How about ‘Zoom’?”

“No dice,” said the Ford man. “It has to be ‘Joe.'”

Lacerda agreed, and sometime around noon he went out on the desert, again, in the company of our driver, Joe. I went back to the blockhouse bar/casino that was actually the Mint Gun Club – where I began to drink heavily, think heavily, and make many heavy notes. …

VI

A night on the town … confrontation at the Desert Inn … drug frenzy at the Circus-Circus

Saturday midnight … Memories of this night are extremely hazy. All I have, for guide-pegs, is a pocketfull of keno cards and cocktail napkins, all covered with scribbled notes. Here is one: “Get the Ford man, demand a Bronco for race-observation purposes … photos? … Lacerda/call … why not a helicopter? … Get on the phone, lean on the fuckers … heavy yelling.”

Another says: “Sign on Paradise Boulevard – ‘Stopless and Topless’ … bush-league sex compared to L.A., pasties here – total naked public humping in L.A. … Las Vegas is a society of armed masturbators/gambling is the kicker here/sex is extra/weird trip for high rollers … house-whores for winners, hand jobs for the bad luck crowd.”

* * *

A long time ago when I lived in Big Sur down the road from Lionel Olay I had a friend who liked to go to Reno for the crap-shooting. He owned a sporting-goods store in Carmel. And one month he drove his Mercedes highway-cruiser to Reno on three consecutive weekends – winning heavily each time. After three trips he was something like $15,000 ahead, so he decided to skip the fourth weekend and take some friends to dinner at Nepenthe. “Always quit winners,” he explained. “And besides, it’s a long drive.”

On Monday morning he got a phone call from Reno – from the general manager of the casino he’d been working out on. “We missed you this weekend,” said the GM. “The pit-men were bored.”

“Shucks,” said my friend.

So the next weekend he flew up to Reno in a private plane, with a friend and two girls – all “special guests” of the GM. Nothing too good for high rollers. …

And on Monday morning the same plane – the casino’s plane – flew him back to the Monterey airport. The pilot lent him a dime to call a friend for a ride to Carmel. He was $30,000 in debt, and two months later he was looking down the barrel of one of the world’s heaviest collection agencies.

So he sold his store, but that didn’t make the nut. They could wait for the rest, he said – but then he got stomped, which convinced him that maybe he’d be better off borrowing enough money to pay the whole wad.

Mainline gambling is a very heavy business – and Las Vegas makes Reno seem like your friendly neighborhood grocery store. For a loser, Las Vegas is the meanest town on earth. Until about a year ago, there was a giant billboard on the outskirts of Las Vegas, saying:

Don’t Gamble with Marijuana!

In Nevada: Possession – 20 years

Sale – Life!

I was not entirely at ease drifting around the casinos on this Saturday night with a car full of marijuana and head full of acid. We had several narrow escapes: at one point I tried to drive the Great Red Shark into the laundry room of the Landmark Hotel – but the door was too narrow, and the people inside seemed dangerously excited.

* * *

We drove over to the Desert Inn, to catch the Debbie Reynolds/Harry James show. “I don’t know about you,” I told my attorney, “but in my line of business it’s important to be Hep.”

“Mine too,” he said. “But as your attorney I advise you to drive over to the Tropicana and pick up on Guy Lombardo. He’s in the Blue Room with his Royal Canadians.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Why what?”

“Why should I pay out my hard-earned dollars to watch a fucking corpse?”

“Look,” he said. “Why are we out here? To entertain ourselves, or to do the job?”

“The job, of course,” I replied. We were driving around in circles, weaving through the parking lot of a place I thought was the Dunes, but it turned out to be the Thunderbird … or maybe it was the Hacienda.

My attorney was scanning The Vegas Visitor, looking for hints of action. “How about “‘Nickle Nik’s Slot Arcade?'” he said. “‘Hot Slots,’ that sounds heavy … 29c hotdogs …”

Suddenly people were screaming at us. We were in trouble. Two thugs wearing red/gold military overcoats were looming over the hood: “What the hell are you doing?” one screamed. “You can’t park here!”

“Why not?” I said. It seemed like a reasonable place to park, plenty of space. I’d been looking for a parking spot for what seemed like a very long time. Too long. I was about ready to abandon the car and call a taxi … but then, yes, we found this space.

Which turned out to be the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to the Desert Inn. I had run over so many curbs by this time, that I hadn’t even noticed this last one. But now we found ourselves in a position that was hard to explain … blocking the entrance, thugs yelling at us, bad confusion. …

My attorney was out of the car in a flash, waving a five dollar bill. “We want this car parked! I’m old friend of Debbie’s. I used to romp with her.”

For a moment I thought he had blown it … then one of the doormen reached out for the bill, saying: “Ok, Ok. I’ll take care of it, sir.” And he tore off a parking stub.

“Holy shit!” I said, as we hurried through the lobby. “They almost had us there. That was quick thinking.”

“What do you expect?” he said. “I’m your attorney … and you owe me five bucks. I want it now.”

I shrugged and gave him a bill. This garish, deep-orlon carpeted lobby of the Desert Inn seemed an inappropriate place to be haggling about nickel/dime bribes for the parking lot attendant. This was Bob Hope’s turf. Frank Sinatra’s. Spiro Agnew’s. The lobby fairly reeked of high-grade formica and plastic palm trees – it was clearly a high-class refuge for Big Spenders.

We approached the grand ballroom full of confidence, but they refused to let us in. We were too late, said a man in a wine-colored tuxedo; the house was already full – no seats left, at any price.

“Fuck seats,” said my attorney. “We’re old friends of Debbie’s. We drove all the way from L.A. for this show, and we’re goddamn well going in.”

The tux-man began jabbering about “fire regulations,” but my attorney refused to listen. Finally, after a lot of bad noise, he let us in for nothing – provided we would stand quietly in back and not smoke.

We promised, but the moment we got inside we lost control. The tension had been too great. Debbie Reynolds was yukking across the stage in a shiny black Afro wig … to the tune of “Sergeant Pepper,” from the golden trumpet of Harry James.

“Jesus creeping shit!” said my attorney. “We’ve wandered into a time capsule!”

Heavy hands grabbed our shoulders. I jammed the hash pipe back into my pocket just in time. We were dragged across the lobby and held against the front door by goons until our car was fetched up. “Ok, get lost,” said the wine-tux-man. “We’re giving you a break. If Debbie has friends like you guys, she’s in worse trouble than I thought.”

“We’ll see about this!” my attorney shouted as we drove away. “You paranoid scum!”

I drove around to the Circus-Circus Casino and parked near the back door. “This is the place,” I said. “They’ll never fuck with us here.”

“Where’s the ether?” said my attorney. “This mescaline isn’t working.”

I gave him the key to the trunk while I lit up the hash pipe. He came back with the ether-bottle, un-capped it, then poured some into a kleenex and mashed it under his nose, breathing heavily. I soaked another kleenex and fouled my own nose. The smell was overwhelming, even with the top down. Soon we were staggering up the stairs towards the entrance, laughing stupidly and dragging each other along, like drunks.

This is the main advantage of ether: it makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel … total loss of all basic motor skills: blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue – severence of all connection between the body and the brain. Which is interesting, because the brain continues to function more or less normally … you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can’t control it.

You approach the turnstiles leading into the Circus-Circus and you know that when you get there, you have to give the man two dollars or he won’t let you inside … but when you get there, everything goes wrong: you misjudge the distance to the turnstile and slam against it, bounce off and grab hold of an old woman to keep from falling, some angry Rotarian shoves you and you think: What’s happening here? What’s going on? Then you hear yourself mumbling: “Dogs fucked the Pope, no fault of mine. Watch out! … Why money? My name is Brinks; I was born … born? Get sheep over side … women and children to armored car … orders from Captain Zeep.”

Ah, devil ether – a total body drug. The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. The hands flap crazily, unable to get money out of the pocket … garbled laughter and hissing from the mouth … always smiling.

Ether is the perfect drug for Las Vegas. In this town they love a drunk. Fresh meat. So they put us through the turnstiles and turned us loose inside.

* * *

The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos … but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego … so you’re down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half-naked 14-year-old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver-painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid-air on the wolverine’s neck … both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables – but they bounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they’re about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies.

This madness goes on and on, but nobody seems to notice. The gambling action runs 24 hours a day on the main floor, and the circus never ends. Meanwhile, on all the upstairs balconies, the customers are being hustled by every conceivable kind of bizarre shuck. All kinds of funhouse-type booths. Shoot the pasties off the nipples of a ten-foot bull-dyke and win a cotton-candy goat. Stand in front of this fantastic machine, my friend, and for just 99¢ your likeness will appear, 200 feet tall, on a screen above downtown Las Vegas. Niney-nine cents more for a voice message. “Say whatever you want, fella. They’ll hear you, don’t worry about that. Remember you’ll be 200 feet tall.”

Jesus Christ. I could see myself lying in bed in the Mint Hotel, half-asleep and staring idly out the window, when suddenly a vicious nazi drunkard appears 200 feet tall in the midnight sky, screaming gibberish at the world: “Woodstock Uber Alles.”

We will close the drapes tonight. A thing like that could send a drug person careening around the room like a ping-pong ball. Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing.

But nobody can handle that other trip – the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas 12 times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.

* * *

Good mescaline comes on slow. The first hour is all waiting, then about halfway through the second hour you start cursing the creep who burned you, because nothing is happening … and then ZANG! Fiendish intensity, strange glow and vibrations … a very heavy gig in a place like the Circus-Circus.

“I hate to say this,” said my attorney as we sat down at the Merry-Go-Round Bar on the second balcony, “but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the Fear.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “We came out here to find the American Dream, and how that we’re right in the vortex you want to quit.” I grabbed his bicep and squeezed. “You must realize,” I said, “that we’ve found the main nerve.”

“I know,” he said. “That’s what gives me the Fear.”

The ether was wearing off, the acid was long gone, but the mescaline was running strong. We were sitting at a small round gold formica table, moving in orbit around the bartender.

“Look over there,” I said. “Two women fucking a polar bear.”

“Please,” he said. “Don’t tell me those things. Not now.” He signaled the waitress for two more Wild Turkeys. “This is my last drink,” he said. “How much money can you lend me?”

“Not much,” I said. “Why?”

“I have to go,” he said.

“Go?”

“Yes. Leave the country. Tonight.”

“Calm down,” I said. “You’ll be straight in a few hours.”

“No,” he said. “This is serious.”

“George Metesky was serious,” I said. “And you see what they did to him.”

“Don’t fuck around!” he shouted. “One more hour in this town and I’ll kill somebody!”

I could see he was on the edge. That fearful intensity that comes at the peak of a mescaline seizure. “Ok,” I said. “I’ll lend you some money. Let’s go outside and see how much we have left.”

“Can we make it?” he said.

“Well … that depends on how many people we fuck with between here and the door. You want to leave quietly?

“I want to leave fast,” he said.

“Ok. Let’s pay this bill and get up very slowly. We’re both out of our heads. This is going to be a long walk.” I shouted at the waitress for a bill. She came over, looking bored, and my attorney stood up.

“Do they pay you to screw that bear?” he asked her.

“What?”

“He’s just kidding,” I said, stepping between them. “Come on, Doc – let’s go down and gamble.” I got him as far as the edge of the bar, the rim of the merry-go-round, but he refused to get off until it stopped turning.

“It won’t stop,” I said. “It’s not ever going to stop.” I stepped off and turned around to wait for him, but he wouldn’t move … and before I could reach out and pull him off, he was carried away. “Don’t move,” I shouted. “You’ll come around!” His eyes were staring blindly ahead, squinting with fear and confusion. But he didn’t move a muscle until he’d made the whole circle.

I waited until he was almost in front of me, then I reached out to grab him – but he jumped back and went around the circle again. This made me very nervous. I felt on the verge of a freak-out. The bartender seemed to be watching us.

Carson City, I thought. Twenty years.

* * *

I stepped on the merry-go-round and hurried around the bar, approaching my attorney on his blind side – and when we came to the right spot I pushed him off. He staggered into the aisle and uttered a hellish scream as he lost his balance and went down, thrashing into the crowd … rolling like a log, then up again in a flash, fists clenched, looking for somebody to hit.

I approached him with my hands in the air, trying to smile. “You fell,” I said. “Let’s go.”

By this time people were watching us. But the fool wouldn’t move, and I knew what would happen if I grabbed him. “Ok,” I said. “You stay here and go to jail. I’mleaving.” I started walking fast towards the stairs, ignoring him.

This moved him.

“Did you see that?” he said as he caught up with me. “Some sonofabitch kicked me in the back!”

“Probably the bartender,” I said. “He wanted to stomp you for what you said to the waitress.”

“Good god! Let’s get out of here. Where’s the elevator?”

“Don’t go near that elevator,” I said. “That’s just what they want us to do … trap us in a steel box and take us down to the basement.” I looked over my shoulder, but nobody was following.

“Don’t run,” I said. “They’d like an excuse to shoot us.” He nodded, seeming to understand. We walked fast along the big indoor midway – shooting galleries, tattoo parlors, money-changers and cotton-candy booths – then out through a bank of glass doors and across the grass downhill to a parking lot where the Red Shark waited.

“You drive,” he said. “I think there’s something wrong with me.”

VII

Paranoid terror … and the awful specter of sodomy … a flashing of knives and green water

When we got to the Mint I parked on the street in front of the casino, around a corner from the parking lot. No point risking a scene in the lobby, I thought. Neither one of us could pass for drunk. We were both hyper-tense. Extremely menacing vibrations all around us. We hurried through the casino and up the rear escalator.

We made it to the room without meeting anybody – but the key wouldn’t open the door. My attorney was struggling desperately with it. “Those bastards have changed the lock on us,” he groaned. “They probably searched the room. Jesus, we’re finished.”

Suddenly the door swung open. We hesitated, then hurried inside. No sign of trouble. “Bolt everything,” said my attorney. “Use all chains.” He was staring at two Mint Hotel Room keys in his hand. “Where did this one come from?” he said, holding up a key with number 1221 on it.

“That’s Lacerda’s room,” I said.

He smiled. “Yeah, that’s right. I thought we might need it.”

“What for?”

“Let’s go up there and blast him out of bed with the fire hose,” he said.

“No,” I said. “We should leave the poor bastard alone, I get the feeling he’s avoiding us for some reason.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” he said. “That Portuguese son of bitch is dangerous. He’s watching us like a hawk.” He squinted at me. “Have you made a deal with him?”

“I talked with him on the phone,” I said, “while you were out getting the car washed. He said he was turning in early, so he can get out there to the starting line at dawn.”

My attorney was not listening. He uttered an anguished cry and smacked the wall with both hands. “That dirty bastard!” he shouted. “I knew it! He got hold of my woman!”

I laughed. “That little blonde groupie with the film crew? You think he sodomized her?”

“That’s right – laugh about it!” he yelled. “You goddamn honkies are all the same.” By this time he’d opened a new bottle of tequila and was quaffing it down. Then he grabbed a grapefruit and sliced it in half with a Gerber Mini-Magnum – a stainless-steel hunting knife with a blade like a fresh-honed straight razor.

“Where’d you get that knife?” I asked.

“Room service sent it up,” he said. “I wanted something to cut the limes.”

“What limes?”

“They didn’t have any,” he said. “They don’t grow out here in the desert.” He sliced the grapefruit into quarters … then into eighths … then 16ths … then he began slashing aimlessly at the residue. “That dirty toad bastard,” he groaned. “I knew I should have taken him out when I had the chance. Now he has her.”

I remembered the girl. We’d had a problem with her on the elevator a few hours earlier: my attorney had made a fool of himself.

“You must be a rider,” she’d said. “What class are you in?”

“Class?” he snapped. “What the fuck do you mean?”

“What do you ride?” she asked with a quick smile. “We’re filming the race for a TV series – maybe we can use you.”

Use me?”

Mother of God, I thought. Here it comes. The elevator was crowded with race people: it was taking a long time to get from floor to floor. By the time we’d stopped at Three, he was trembling badly. Five more to go. …

“I ride the big ones!” he shouted suddenly. “The really big fuckers!”

I laughed, trying to de-fuse the scene. “The Vincent Black Shadow,” I said. “We’re with the factory team.”

This brought a murmur of rude dissent from the crowd. “Bullshit,” somebody behind me muttered.

“Wait a minute!” my attorney shouted … and then to the girl: “Pardon me, lady, but I think there’s some kind of ignorant chicken-sucker in this car who needs his face cut open.” He plunged his hand into the pocket of his black plastic jacket and turned to face the people crowded into the rear of the elevator. “You cheap honky faggots,” he snarled. “Which one of you wants to get cut?”

I was watching the overhead floor-indicator. The door opened at Seven, but nobody moved. Dead silence. The door closed. Up to eight … then open again. Still no sound or movement in the crowded car. Just as the door began to close I stepped off and grabbed his arm, jerking him out just in time. The doors slid shut and the elevator light dinged Nine.

“Quick! Into the room,” I said. “Those bastards will have the pigs on us!” We ran around the corner to the room. My attorney was laughing wildly. “Spooked!” he shouted. “Did you see that? They were spooked. Like rats in a death-cage!” Then, as we bolted the door behind us, he stopped laughing. “God damn,” he said. “It’s serious now. That girl understood. She fell in love with me.”

* * *

Now many hours later, he was convinced that Lacerda – the so-called photographer had somehow got his hands on the girl. “Let’s go up there and castrate that fucker,” he said, waving his new knife around in quick circles in front of his teeth. “Did you put him onto her?”

“Look,” I said, “you’d better put that goddamn blade away and get your head straight. I have to put the car in the lot.” I was backing slowly towards the door. One of the things you learn, after years of dealing with drug people, is that everything is serious. You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug – especially when it’s waving a razor-sharp hunting knife in your eyes.

“Take a shower,” I said. “I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” I left quickly, locking the door behind me and taking the key to Lacerda’s room – the one my attorney had stolen earlier. That poor geek, I thought, as I hurried down the escalator. They sent him out here on this perfectly reasonable assignment – just a few photos of motorcycles and dune buggies racing around the desert – and now he was plunged, without realizing it, into the maw of some world beyond his ken. There was no way he could possibly understand what was happening.

* * *

What were we doing out here? What was the meaning of this trip? Did I actually have a big red convertible out there on the street? Was I just roaming around these Mint Hotel escalators in a drug frenzy of some kind or had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a story?

I reached in my pocket for the room key; “1850,” it said. At least that much was real. So my immediate task was to deal with the car and get back to that room … and then hopefully get straight enough to cope with whatever might happen at dawn.

Now off the escalator and into the casino, big crowds still tight around the crap tables. Who are these people? These faces! Where do they come from? They look like caricatures of used-car dealers from Dallas. But they’re real. And, sweet Jesus, there are a hell of a lot of them – still screaming around these desert-city crap tables at 4:30 on a Sunday morning. Still humping the American Dream, that vision of the Big Winner somehow emerging from the last-minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino.

Big strike in Silver City. Beat the dealer and go home rich. Why not? I stopped at the Money Wheel and dropped a dollar on Thomas Jefferson – a $2 bill, the straight Freak ticket, thinking as always that some idle instinct bet might carry the whole thing off.

But no. Just another two bucks down the tube. You bastards!

No. Calm down. Learn to enjoy losing. The important thing is to cover this story on its own terms; leave the other stuff to Life and Look – at least for now. On the way down the escalator I saw the Life man twisted feverishly into the telegraph booth, chanting his wisdom into the ear of some horny robot in a cubicle on that other coast. Indeed: “Las Vegas at Dawn – The racers are still asleep, the dust is still on the desert, $50,000 in prize money slumbers darkly in the office safe at Del Webb’s fabulous Mint Hotel in the bright heart of Casino Center. Extreme tension. And our Life team is here (as always, with a sturdy police escort. …).” Pause. “Yes, operator, that word was police. What else? This is, after all, a Life Special. …”

The Red Shark was out on Fremont where I’d left it. I drove around to the garage and checked it in – Dr. Gonzo’s car, no problem, and if any of your men fall idle we can use a total wax job before morning. Yes, of course – just bill the room.

* * *

My attorney was in the bathtub when I returned. Submerged in green water – the oily product of some Japanese bath salts he’d picked up in the hotel gift shop, along with a new AM/FM radio plugged into the electric razor socket. Top volume. Some gibberish by a thing called “Three Dog Night,” about a frog named Jeremiah who wanted “Joy to the World.”

First Lennon, now this, I thought. Next we’ll have Glenn Campbell screaming “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Where indeed? No flowers in this town. Only carnivorous plants. I turned the volume down and noticed a hunk of chewed-up white paper beside the radio. My attorney seemed not to notice the sound-change. He was lost in a fog of green steam; only half his head was visible above the water line.

“You ate this?” I asked, holding up the white pad.

He ignored me. But I knew. He would be very difficult to reach for the next six hours. The whole blotter was chewed up.

“You evil son of a bitch,” I said. “You better hope there’s some thorazine in that bag, because if there’s not you’re in bad trouble tomorrow.”

“Music!” he snarled. “Turn it up. Put that tape on.”

“What tape?”

“The new one. It’s right there.”

I picked up the radio and noticed that it was also a tape recorder – one of those things with a cassette-unit built in. And the tape, Surrealistic Pillow, needed only to be flipped over. He had already gone through side one – at a volume that must have been audible in every room within a radius of 100 yards, walls and all.

“‘White Rabbit,'” he said. “I want a rising sound.”

“You’re doomed,” I said. “I’m leaving here in two hours – and then they’re going to come up here and beat the mortal shit out of you with big saps. Right there in the tub.”

“I dig my own graves,” he said. “Green water and the White Rabbit … put it on; don’t make me use this.” His arm lashed out of the water, the hunting knife gripped in his fist.

“Jesus,” I muttered. And at that point I figured he was beyond help – lying there in the tub with a head full of acid and the sharpest knife I’d ever seen, totally incapable of reason, demanding the White Rabbit. This is it, I thought. I’ve gone as far as I can with this waterhead. This time it’s a suicide trip. This time he wants it. He’s ready. …

“Ok,” I said, turning the tape over and pushing the “play” button. “But do me one last favor, will you? Can you give me two hours? That’s all I ask – just two hours to sleep before tomorrow. I suspect it’s going to be a very difficult day.”

“Of course,” he said. “I’m your attorney. I’ll give you all the time you need, at my normal rates: $45 an hour – but you’ll be wanting a cushion, so why don’t you just lay one of those $100 bills down there beside the radio, and fuck off?”

“How about a check?” I said. “On the Sawtooth National Bank. You won’t need any ID to cash it there. They know me.”

“Whatever’s right,” he said, beginning to jerk with the music. The bathroom was like the inside of a huge defective woofer. Heinous vibrations, overwhelming sound. The floor was full of water. I moved the radio as far from the tub as it would go, then I left and closed the door behind me.

The room was very quiet. I walked over to the TV set and turned it on to a dead channel – white noise at maximum decibels, a fine sound for sleeping, a powerful continuous hiss to drown out everything strange.

VIII

“Genius ’round the world stands hand in hand, and one stock of recognition runs the whole circle round” – Art Linkletter

I live in a quiet place, where any sound at night means something is about to happen: You come awake fast – thinking, what does that mean?

Usually nothing. But sometimes … it’s hard to adjust to a city gig where the night is full of sounds, all of them comfortably routine. Cars, horns, footsteps … no way to relax; so drown it all out with the fine white drone of a cross-eyed TV set. Jam the bugger between channels and doze off nicely. …

Ignore that nightmare in the bathroom. Just another ugly refugee from the Love Generation, some doom-struck gimp who couldn’t handle the pressure. My attorney is not a candidate for the Master Game.

And neither am I, for that matter. I once lived down the hill from Dr. Robert DeRopp on Sonoma Mountain Road, and one fine afternoon in the first rising curl of what would soon become the Great San Francisco Acid Wave I stopped by the Good Doctor’s house with the idea of asking him (since he was even then a known drug authority) what sort of advice he might have for a neighbor with a healthy curiosity about LSD.

I parked on the road and lumbered up his gravel driveway, pausing enroute to wave pleasantly at his wife, who was working in the garden under the brim of a huge seeding hat … a good scene, I thought: The old man is inside brewing up one of his fantastic drug-stews, and here we see his woman out in the garden, pruning carrots, or whatever … humming while she works, some tune I failed to recognize.

Humming. Yes … but it would be nearly ten years before I would recognize that sound for what it was: Like Ginsberg far gone in the Om, DeRopp was trying to humm me off. He was playing the Master Game. That was no old lady out there in that garden; it was the good doctor himself – and his humming was a frantic attempt to block me out of his higher consciousness. But he hadn’t written The Master Game yet, so I had no way of knowing. …

I made several attempts to make myself clear – just a neighbor come to call and ask the doctor’s advice about gobbling some LSD in my shack just down the hill from his house. I did, after all, have weapons. And I liked to shoot them – especially at night, when the great blue flame would leap out, along with all that noise … and, yes, the bullets, too. We couldn’t ignore that. Big balls of lead/alloy flying around the valley at speeds up to 3700 ft. per second. …

But I always fired into the nearest hill or, failing that, into blackness. I meant no harm; I just liked the explosions. And I was careful never to kill more than I could eat.

“Kill?” I realized I could never properly explain that word to this creature in DeRopp’s garden. Had it ever eaten meat? Could it conjugate the verb “hunt?” Did it understand hunger? Or grasp the awful fact that my income averaged around $32 a week that year?

No … no hope of communication in this place. I recognized that – but not soon enough to keep the drug doctor from humming me all the way down his driveway and into my car and down the mountain road. Forget LSD, I thought. Look what it’s done to that poor bastard.

So I stuck with hash and rum for another six months or so, until I moved into San Francisco and found myself one night in a place called “The Fillmore Auditorium.” And that was that. One grey lump of sugar and Boom. In my mind I was right back there in DeRopp’s garden. Not on the surface, but underneath – poking up through that finely cultivated earth like some kind of mutant mushroom. A victim of the Drug Explosion. A natural street freak, just eating whatever came by. I recall one night in the Matrix, when a road-person came in with a big pack on his back, shouting: “Anybody want some L … S … D …? I got all the makin’s right here. All I need is a place to cook.”

Ray Anderson was on him at once, mumbling, “Cool it, cool it, come on back to the office.” I never saw him after that night, but before he was taken away, the road-person distributed his samples. Huge white spansules. I went into the men’s room to eat mine. But only half at first, I thought. Good thinking, but a hard thing to accomplish under the circumstances. I ate the first half, but spilled the rest on the sleeve of my red Pendleton shirt … And then, wondering what to do with it, I saw the bartender come in. “What’s the trouble,” he said.

“Well,” I said. “All this white stuff on my sleeve is LSD.”

He said nothing: Merely grabbed my arm and began sucking on it. A very gross tableau. I wondered what would happen if some Kingston Trio/young stockbroker type might wander in and catch us in the act. Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it’ll ruin his life – forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know. Would he dare to suck a sleeve? Probably not. Play it safe. Pretend you never saw it. …

* * *

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era – the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle Sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run … but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. …

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time – and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights – or very early mornings – when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at 100 miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket … booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) … but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. …

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. …

And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. …

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

IX

No sympathy for the Devil … newsmen tortured? … flight into madness

The decision to flee came suddenly. Or maybe not. Maybe I’d planned it all along – subconsciously waiting for the right moment. The bill was a factor, I think. Because I had no money to pay it. And no more of these devilish credit-card/reimbursement deals. Not after dealing with Sidney Zion. They seized my American Express card after that one, and now the bastards are suing me – along with the Diner’s Club and the IRS. …

And besides, the magazine is legally responsible. My attorney saw to that. We signed nothing. Except those room service tabs. We never knew the total, but – just before we left – my attorney figured we were running somewhere between $29 and $36 per hour, for 48 consecutive hours.

“Incredible,” I said. “How could it happen?”

But by the time I asked this question, there was nobody around to answer. My attorney was gone.

He must have sensed trouble. On Monday evening he ordered up a set of fine cowhide luggage from room service, then told me he had reservations on the next plane for L.A. We would have to hurry, he said, and on the way to the airport he borrowed $25 for the plane ticket.

I saw him off, then I went back to the airport souvenir counter and spent all the rest of my cash on garbage – complete shit, souvenirs of Las Vegas, plastic fake-Zippo-lighters with a built-in roulette wheel for $6.95, JFK half-dollar money clips for $5 each, tin apes that shook dice for $7.50 … I loaded up on this crap, then carried it out to the Great Red Shark and dumped it all in the back seat … and then I stepped into the driver’s seat in a very dignified way (the white top was rolled back, as always) and I sat there and turned the radio on and began thinking.

How would Horatio Alger handle this situation?

One toke over the line, sweet Jesus … one toke over the line.

Panic. It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy. All these horrible realities began to dawn on me: Here I was all alone in Las Vegas with this goddamn incredibly expensive car, completely twisted on drugs, no attorney, no cash, no story for the magazine – and on top of everything else I had a gigantic goddamn hotel bill to deal with. We had ordered everything into that room that human hands could carry – including about 600 bars of translucent Neutrogena soap.

The whole car was full of it – all over the floors, the seats, the glove compartment. My attorney had worked out some kind of arrangement with the mestizo maids on our floor to have this soap delivered to us – 600 bars of this weird, transparent shit – and now it was all mine.

Along with this plastic briefcase that I suddenly noticed right beside me on the front seat. I lifted the fucker and knew immediately what was inside. No Samoan attorney in his right mind is going to stomp through the metal-detector gates of a commercial airline with a fat black .357 Magnum on his person. …

So he had left it with me, for delivery – if I made it back to L.A. Otherwise … well, I could almost hear myself talking to the California Highway Patrol:

What? This weapon? This loaded, unregistered, concealed and maybe hot .357 Magnum? What am I doing with it? Well, you see, officer, I pulled off the road near Mescal Springs – on the advice of my attorney, who subsequently disappeared – and all of a sudden while I was just sort of walking around that deserted waterhole by myself for no reason at all when this little fella with a beard came up to me, out of nowhere, and he had this horrible linoleum knife in one hand and this huge black pistol in the other hand … and he offered to carve a big X on my forehead, in memory of Lt. Calley … but when I told him I was a doctor of journalism his whole attitude changed. Yes, you probably won’t believe this, officer, but he suddenly hurled that knife into the brackish mescal waters near our feet, and then he gave me this revolver. Right, he just shoved it into my hands, butt-first, and then he ran off into the darkness.

So that’s why I have this weapon, officer. Can you believe that?

No.

But I wasn’t about to throw the bastard away, either. A good .357 is a hard thing to get, these days.

So I figured, well, just get this bugger back to Malibu, and it’s mine. My risk – my gun: it made perfect sense. And if that Samoan pig wanted to argue, if he wanted to come yelling around the house, give him a taste of the bugger about midway up the femur. Indeed. 158 grains of half-jacketed lead/alloy, traveling 1500 feet per second, equals about 40 pounds of Samoan hamburger, mixed up with bone splinters. Why not?

* * *

Madness, madness … and meanwhile all alone with the Great Red Shark in the parking lot of the Las Vegas airport. To hell with this panic. Get a grip. Maintain.For the next 24 hours this matter of personal control will be critical. Here I am sitting out here alone on this fucking desert, in this nest of armed loonies, with a very dangerous carload of hazards, horrors and liabilities that I must get back to L.A. Because if they nail me out here, I’m doomed. Completely fucked. No question about that. No future for a doctor of journalism editing the state pen weekly. Better to get the hell out of this atavistic state at high speed. Right. But, first – back to the Mint Hotel and cash a $50 check, then up to the room and call down for two club sandwiches, two quarts of milk, a pot of coffee and a fifth of Bacardi Anejo.

Rum will be absolutely necessary to get through this night – to polish these notes, this shameful diary … keep the tape machine screaming all night long at top volume: “Allow me to introduce myself … I’m a man of wealth and taste.”

Sympathy?

Not for me. No mercy for a criminal freak in Las Vegas. This place is like the Army: the shark ethic prevails – eat the wounded. In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.

It is a weird feeling to sit in a Las Vegas hotel at four in the morning – hunkered down with a notebook and a tape recorder in a $35 a day suite and a fantastic room service bill, run up in 48 hours of total madness – knowing that just as soon as dawn comes up you are going to flee without paying a fucking penny … go stomping out through the lobby and call your red convertible down from the garage and stand there waiting for it with a suitcase full of marijuana and illegal weapons … trying to look casual, scanning the first morning edition of the Las Vegas Sun.

This was the final step. I had taken all the grapefruit and other luggage out to the car a few hours earlier.

Now it was only a matter of slipping the noose: Yes, extremely casual behavior, wild eyes hidden behind these Saigon-mirror sun glasses … waiting for the Shark to roll up. Where is it? I gave that evil pimp of a carboy $5, a prime investment right now.

Stay calm, keep reading the paper. The lead story was a screaming blue headline across the top of the page:

Trio Re-Arrested in Beauty’s Death

“An overdose of heroin was listed as the official cause of death for pretty Diane Hamby, 19, whose body was found stuffed in a refrigerator last week, according to the Clark County Coroner’s office. Investigators of the sheriff’s homicide team who went to arrest the suspects said that one, a 24-year-old woman, attempted to fling herself through the glass doors of her trailer before being stopped by deputies. Officers said she was apparently hysterical and shouted, ‘You’ll never take me alive.’ But officers handcuffed the woman and she apparently was not injured. …”

Gi Drug Deaths Claimed

“Washington (AP) – A House Subcommittee report says illegal drugs killed 160 American GI’s last year – 40 of them in Vietnam … Drugs were suspected, it said, in another 56 military deaths in Asia and the Pacific Command … It said the heroin problem in Vietnam is increasing in seriousness, primarily because of processing laboratories in Laos, Thailand and Hong Kong. ‘Drug suppression in Vietnam is almost completely ineffective,’ the report said, ‘partially because of an ineffective local police force and partially because some presently unknown corrupt officials in public office are involved in the drug traffic'”

To the left of that grim notice was a four-column center-page photo of Washington, D.C., cops fighting with “young anti-war demonstrators who staged a sit-in and blocked the entrance to Selective Service Headquarters.”

And next to the photo was a large black headline: Torture tales told in war hearings.

“Washington – Volunteer witnesses told an informal congressional panel yesterday that while serving as military interrogators they routinely used electrical telephone hookups and helicopter drops to torture and kill Vietnamese prisoners. One Army intelligence specialist said the pistol slaying of his Chinese interpreter was defended by a superior who said, ‘She was just a slope, anyway,’ meaning she was an Asiatic. …”

Right underneath that story was a headline saying: Five wounded near NYC Tenement … by an unidentified gunman who fired from the roof of a building, for no apparent reason. This item appeared just above a headline that said: Pharmacy owner arrested in probe … “a result,” the article explained, “of a preliminary investigation (of a Las Vegas pharmacy) showing a shortage of over 100,000 pills considered dangerous drugs. …”

Reading the front page made me feel a lot better. Against that heinous background, my crimes were pale and meaningless. I was a relatively respectable citizen – a multiple felon, perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. And when the Great Scorer came to write against my name, that would surely make a difference.

Or would it? I turned to the sports page and saw a small item about Muhammad Ali; his case was before the Supreme Court, the final appeal. He’d been sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to kill “slopes.”

“I ain’t got nothin’ against them Viet Congs,” he said.

Five years.

X

Western Union intervenes: A warning from … Mr. Heem … a new assignment from the Sports Desk and a savage invitation from the police

Suddenly I felt guilty again. The Shark! Where was it? I tossed the paper aside and began to pace. Losing control. I felt my whole act slipping … and then I saw the car, swooping down a ramp in the next-door garage.

Deliverance! I grasped my leather satchel and moved forward to meet my wheels.

“Mister Duke!”

The voice came from over my shoulder.

“Mister Duke! We’ve been looking for you!”

I almost collapsed on the curb. Every cell in my brain and body sagged. No! I thought. I must be hallucinating. There’s nobody back there, nobody calling … it’s a paranoid delusion, amphetamine psychosis … just keep walking towards the car, always smiling. …

“Mister Duke! Wait!”

Well … why not? Many fine books have been written in prison. And it’s not like I’ll be a total stranger up there in Carson City. The warden will recognize me; and the Con Boss – I once interviewed them for the New York Times. Along with a lot of other cons, guards, cops and assorted hustlers who got ugly, by mail, when the article never appeared.

Why not? They asked. They wanted their stories told. And it was hard to explain; in those circles, that everything they told me went into the wastebasket or at least the dead-end file because the lead paragraphs I wrote for that article didn’t satisfy some editor 3000 miles away – some nervous drone behind a grey formica desk in the bowels of a journalistic bureauracracy that no cob in Nevada will ever understand – and that the article finally died on the vine, as it were, because I refused to rewrite the lead. For reasons of my own …

None of which would make much sense in The Yard. But what the hell? Why worry about details? I turned to face my accuser, a small young clerk with a big smile on his face and a yellow envelope in his hand. “I’ve been calling your room,” he said. “Then I saw you standing outside.”

I nodded, too tired to resist. By now the Shark was beside me, but I saw no point in even tossing my bag into it. The game was up. They had me.

The clerk was still smiling. “This telegram just came for you,” he said. “But actually it isn’t for you. It’s for somebody named Thompson, but it says ‘care ofRaoul Duke’; does that make sense?”

I felt dizzy. It was too much to absorb all at once. From freedom, to prison, and then, back to freedom again – all in 30 seconds. I staggered backwards and leaned on the car, feeling the white folds of the canvas top beneath my trembling hand. The clerk, still smiling, was poking the telegram at me.

I nodded, barely able to speak. “Yes, “I said finally, “it makes sense.” I accepted the envelope and tore it open:

“Holy shit !” I muttered. “This can’t be true!”

“You mean it’s not for you?” the clerk asked, suddenly nervous. “I checked the register for this man Thompson. We don’t show him, but I thought he was part of your team.”

“He is,” I said quickly. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it to him.” I tossed my bag into the front seat of the Shark, wanting to leave before my stay of execution ran out. But the clerk was still curious.

“What about Doctor Gonzo?” he said.

I stared at him, giving him a full taste of the mirrors. “He’s fine,” I said. “But he has a vicious temper. The Doctor handles our finances, makes all our arrangements.” I slid into the driver’s seat and prepared to leave.

The clerk leaned into the car. “What confused us,” he said, “was Doctor Gonzo’s signature on this telegram from Los Angeles – when we knew he was here in the hotel.” He shrugged. “And then to have the telegram addressed to some guest we couldn’t account for … well, this delay was unavoidable. You understand, I hope. …”

I nodded, impatient to flee. “You did the right thing,” I said. “Never try to understand a press message. About half the time we use codes – especially with Doctor Gonzo.”

He smiled again, but this time it seemed a trifle odd. “Tell me,” he said, “when will the doctor be awake?”

I tensed at the wheel. “Awake?” What do you mean?”

He seemed uncomfortable. “Well … the manager, Mister Heem, would like to meet him.” Now his grin was definitely malevolent. “Nothing unusual. Mr. Heem likes to meet all our large accounts … put them on a personal basis … just a chat and a handshake, you understand.”

“Of course,” I said. ‘But if I were you I’d leave the doctor alone until after he’s eaten breakfast. He’s a very crude man.”

The clerk nodded warily. “But he will be available. … Perhaps later this morning?”

I saw what he was getting at. “Look,” I said. “That telegram was all scrambled. It was actually from Thompson, not to him. Western Union must have got the names reversed.” I held up the telegram, knowing he’d already read it. “What this is,” I said, “is a speed message to Doctor Gonzo, upstairs, saying Thompson is on his way out from L.A. with a new assignment – a new work order.” I waved him off the car. “See you later,” I snapped. “I have to get out to the track.”

He backed away as I eased the car into low gear. “There’s no hurry,” he called after me. The race is over.”

“Not for me,” I said, tossing him a quick friendly wave.

“Let’s have lunch!” he shouted as I turned into the street.

“Righto!” I yelled. And then I was off into traffic. After a few blocks in the wrong direction on Main Street, I doubled back and aimed south, towards L.A. But with all deliberate speed. Keep cool and slow, I thought. Just drift to the city limits. …

What I needed was a place to get safely off the road, out of sight, and ponder this incredible telegram from my attorney. It was true; I was certain of that. There was a definite valid urgency in the message. The tone was unmistakable. …

But I was in no mood or condition to spend another week in Las Vegas. Not now.I had pushed my luck about as far as it was going to carry me in this town … all the way out to the edge. And now the weasels were closing in; I could smell the ugly brutes.

Yes, it was definitely time to leave. My margin had shrunk to nothing.

Now idling along Las Vegas Boulevard at 30 miles an hour, I wanted a place to rest and formalize the decision. It was settled, of course, but I needed a beer or three to seal the bargain and stupefy that one rebellious nerve end that kept vibrating negative. …

It would have to be dealt with. Because there was an argument, of sorts, for staying on. It was treacherous, stupid and demented in every way – but there was no avoiding the stench of twisted humor that hovered around the idea of a gonzo journalist in the grip of a potentially terminal drug episode being invited to cover the National District Attorneys’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

There was also a certain bent appeal in the notion of running a savage burn on one Las Vegas Hotel and then – instead of becoming a doomed fugitive on the highway to L.A. – just wheeling across town, trading in the red Chevy convertible for a white Cadillac and checking into another Vegas hotel, with press credentials to mingle with a thousand ranking cops from all over America, while they harangued each other about the Drug Problem.

It was dangerous lunacy, but it was also the kind of thing a real connoisseur of edge-work could make an argument for. Where, for instance, was the last place the Las Vegas police would look for a drug-addled fraud-fugitive who just ripped off a downtown hotel?

Right. In the middle of a National District Attorneys’ Drug Conference at an elegant hotel on the strip. … Arriving at Caesar’s Palace for the Tom Jones dinner show in a flashing white Coupe de Ville … At a cocktail party for narcotics agents and their wives at the Dunes?

Indeed, what better place to hide? For some people. But not for me. And certainly not for my attorney – a very conspicuous person. Separately, we might pull it off. But together, no – we would blow it. Too much aggressive chemistry in that mix; the temptation to run a deliberate freak-out would be too heavy.

And that of course would finish us. They would show us no mercy. To infiltrate the infiltrators would be to accept the fate of all spies: “As always, if you or any member of your organization is apprehended by the enemy, the Secretary will deny any Knowledge, etc. …”

No, it was too much. The line between madness and masochism was already hazy; the time had come to pull back … to retire, hunker down, back off and “cop out,” as it were. Why not? In every gig like this, there comes a time to either cut your losses or consolidate your winnings – whichever fits.

I drove slowly, looking for a proper place to sit down with an early morning beer and get my head together … to plot this unnatural retreat.

XI

Aaawww, Mama, can this really he the end? … down and out in Vegas, with amphetamine psychosis again?

Tuesday, 9:00 AM … Now, sitting in “Wild Bill’s Cafe” on the outskirts of Las Vegas, I saw it all very clearly. There is only one road to L.A. – US Interstate 15, a straight run with no exits, no alternate routes, just a flat-out high-speed burn through Baker and Barstow and Berdoo and then on the Hollywood Freeway straight into frantic oblivion: safety, obscurity, just another freak in the Freak Kingdom.

But in the meantime, for the next five or six hours, I’d be the most conspicuous thing on this goddamn evil road – the only fireapple-red shark convertible between Butte and Tijuana … blazing along this desert highway with a half-naked hillbilly mental case at the wheel. Is it better to wear my purple and green Acapulco shirt, or nothing at all?

No way to hide in this monster.

This will not be a happy run. Not even the Sun God wants to watch. He has gone behind a cloud for the first time in three days. No sun at all. The sky is grey and ugly.

Just as I pulled into Wild Bill’s back-street, half-hidden parking lot I heard a roar overhead and looked up to see a big silver smoke-trailing DC-8 taking off – about 2000 feet above the highway. Was Lacerda aboard? The man from Life? Did they have all the photos they needed? All the facts? Had they fulfilled their responsibilities?

I didn’t even know who’d won the race. Maybe nobody. For all I knew, the whole spectacle had been aborted by a terrible riot – an orgy of senseless violence, kicked off by drunken hoodlums who refused to abide by the rules.

I wanted to plug this gap in my knowledge at the earliest opportunity: Pick up the L.A. Times and scour the sports section for a Mint 400 story. Get the details. Cover myself. Even on the Run, in the grip of a serious Fear …

I knew it was Lacerda in that plane, heading back to New York. He told me last night that he meant to catch the first flight.

So there he goes … and here I am, with no attorney, slumped on a red plastic stool in Wild Bill’s Tavern, nervously sipping a Budweiser in a bar just coming awake to an early morning rush of pimps and pinball hustlers … with a huge red shark just outside the door so full of felonies that I’m afraid to even look at it.

But I can’t abandon the fucker. The only hope is to somehow get it across 300 miles of open road between here and Sanctuary. But, sweet Jesus, I am tired! I’m scared. I’m crazy. This culture has beaten me down. What the fuck am I doing out here? This is not even the story I was supposed to be working on. My agent warned me against it. All signs were negative – especially that evil dwark with the pink telephone in the Polo Lounge. I should have stayed there … anything but this.

Aaaww … Mama
can this really be the end?

No!

Who played that song? Did I actually hear that fucking thing on the jukebox just now? At 9:19 on this filthy grey morning in Wild Bill’s Tavern?

No. That was only in my brain, some long-lost echo of a painful dawn in Toronto … a long time ago, half-mad in another world. … but no different.

How many more nights and weird mornings can this terrible shit go on? How long can the body and the brain tolerate this doom-struck craziness? This grinding of teeth, this pouring of sweat, this pounding of blood in the temples … small blue veins gone amok in front of the ears, 60 and 70 hours with no sleep. …

* * *

And now that is the jukebox! Yes, no doubt about it … and why not? A very popular song: “Like a bridge over troubled waters … I will lay me down …”

Boom. Flashing paranoia. What kind of rat-bastard psychotic would play thatsong – right now, at this moment? Has somebody followed me here? Does the bartendress know who I am? Can she see me behind these mirrors?

All bartenders are treacherous, but this one is a surly middle-aged fat woman wearing a muu-muu and Iron Boy overalls … probably Wild Bill’s woman.

Jesus, bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing – intolerable vibrations in this place. Get out. Flee … and suddenly it occurs to me, some final flash of lunatic shrewdness before the darkness closes in, that my legal/hotel checkout time is not until noon … which gives me at least two hours of legitimate high-speed driving to get out of this goddamn state before I become a fugitive in the eyes of the law.

Wonderful luck. By the time the alarm goes off, I can be running full bore somewhere between Needles and Death Valley – jamming the accelerator through the floorboard and shaking my fist up at Efrem Zimbalist Jr. swooping down on me in his FBI/Screaming Eagle helicopter.

You can run, But you can’t hide*

Fuck you, Efrem, that wisdom cuts both ways.

As far as you and the Mint people know, I am still up there in 1850 – legally and spiritually if not in the actual flesh – with a “Do Not Disturb” sign hung out to ward off disturbance. The maids won’t come near that room as long as that sign is on a doorknob. My attorney saw to that – along with 600 bars of Neutrogena soap that I still have to deliver to Malibu. What will the FBI make of that? This Great Red Shark full of Neutrogena soap bars? All completely legal. The maids gave us that soap. They’ll swear to it … Or will they?

Of course not. Those goddamn treacherous maids will swear they were menaced by two heavily-armed crazies who threatened them with a Vincent Black Shadow unless they gave up all their soap.

Jesus Creeping God! Is there a priest in this tavern? I want to confess! I’m a fucking sinner! Venal, mortal, carnal, major, minor – however you want to call it, Lord … I’m guilty.

But do me this one last favor: just give me five more high-speed hours before you bring the hammer down; just let me get rid of this goddamn car and off of this horrible desert.

Which is not really a hell of a lot to ask, Lord, because the final incredible truth is that I am not guilty. All I did was take your gibberish seriously … and you see where it got me? My primitive Christian instincts have made me a criminal.

Creeping through the casino at 6:00 in the morning with a suitcase full of grapefruit and “Mint 400” T-shirts, I remember telling myself, over and over again, “you are not guilty.” This is merely a necessary expedient, to avoid a nasty scene. After all, I made no binding agreements; this is an institutional debt – nothing personal. This whole goddamn nightmare is the fault of that stinking, irresponsible magazine. Some fool in New York did this to me. It was his idea, Lord, not mine.

XII

Hellish, speed … grappling with the California Highway Patrol … mano a mano on Highway 61

Tuesday, 12:30 PM … Baker, California … Into the Ballantine Ale now, zombie drunk and nervous. I recognize this feeling: three or four days of booze, drugs, sun, no sleep and burned out adrenalin reserves – a giddy, quavering sort of high that means the crash is coming. But when? How much longer? This tension is part of the high. The possibility of physical and mental collapse is very real now. …

… but collapse is out of the question; as a solution or even a cheap alternative, it is unacceptable. Indeed. This is the moment of truth, that fine and fateful line between control and disaster – which is also the difference between staying loose and weird on the streets, or spending the next five years of summer mornings playing basketball in the yard at Carson City.

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride … and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well … maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten. It’s all in Kesey’s Bible. … The Far Side of Reality.

And so much for bad gibberish; not even Kesey can help me now. I have just had two very bad emotional experiences – one with the California Highway Patrol and another with a phantom hitchhiker who may or may not have been who I thought it was – and now, feeling right on the verge of a bad psychotic episode, I am hunkered down with my tape machine in a “beer bar” that is actually the back room of a huge Hardware Barn – all kinds of plows and harnesses and piled-up fertilizer bags, and wondering how it all happened.

About five miles back I had a brush with the CHP. Not stopped or pulled over: nothing routine. I always drive properly. A bit fast, perhaps, but always with consummate skill and a natural feel for the road that even cops recognize. No cop was ever born who isn’t a sucker for a finely-executed hi-speed Controlled Drift all the way around one of those cloverleaf freeway interchanges.

Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. Your normal speeder will panic and immediately pull over to the side when he sees the big red light behind him … and then he will start apologizing, begging for mercy.

This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop-heart. The thing to do – when you’re running along about 100 or so and you suddenly find a red-flashing CHP-tracker on your tail – what you want to do then is accelerate. Never pull over with the first siren-howl. Mash it down and make the bastard chase you at speeds up to 120 all the way to the next exit. He will follow. But he won’t know what to make of your blinker-signal that says you’re about to turn right.

This is to let him know you’re looking for a proper place to pull off and talk … keep signaling and hope for an off-ramp, one of those uphill side-loops with a sign saying “Max Speed 25” … and the trick, at this point, is to suddenly leave the freeway and take him into the chute at no less than 100 miles an hour.

He will lock his brakes about the same time you lock yours, but it will take him a moment to realize that he’s about to make a 180-degree turn at this speed … but you will be ready for it, braced for the Gs and the fast heel-toe work, and with any luck at all you will have come to a complete stop off the road at the top of the turn and be standing beside your automobile by the time he catches up.

He will not be reasonable at first … but no matter. Let him calm down. He will want the first word. Let him have it. His brain will be in a turmoil: he may begin jabbering, or even pull his gun. Let him unwind; keep smiling. The idea is to show him that you were always in total control of yourself and your vehicle – while helost control of everything.

It helps to have a police/press badge in your wallet when he calms down enough to ask for your license. I had one of these – but I also had a can of Budweiser in my hand. Until that moment, I was unaware that I was holding it. I had felt totally on top of the situation … but when I looked down and saw that little red/silver evidence-bomb in my hand, I knew I was fucked. ….

Speeding is one thing, but Drunk Driving is quite another. The cop seemed to grasp this – that I’d blown my whole performance by forgetting the beer can. His face relaxed, he actually smiled. And so did I. Because we both understood, in that moment, that my Thunder Road, moonshine-bomber act had been totally wasted: We had both scared the piss out of ourselves for nothing at all – because the fact of this beer can in my hand made any argument about “speeding” beside the point.

He accepted my open wallet with his left hand, then extended his right toward the beer can. “Could I have that?” he asked.

“Why not?” I said.

He took it, then held it up between us and poured the beer out on the road.

I smiled, no longer caring. “It was getting warm, anyway,” I said. Just behind me, on the back seat of the Shark, I could see about ten cans of hot Budweiser and a dozen or so grapefruits. I’d forgotten all about them, but now they were too obvious for either one of us to ignore. My guilt was so gross and overwhelming that explanations were useless.

The cop understood this. “You realize,” he said, “that it’s a crime to …”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know. I’m guilty. I understand that. I knew it was a crime, but I did it anyway.” I shrugged. “Shit, why argue? I’m a fucking criminal.”

“That’s a strange attitude,” he said.

I stared at him, seeing for the first time that I was dealing with a bright-eyed young sport, around 30, who was apparently enjoying his work. “You know,” he said. “I get the feeling you could use a nap.” He nodded. “There’s a rest area up ahead. Why don’t you pull over and sleep a few hours?”

I instantly understood what he was telling me, but for some insane reason I shook my head. “A nap won’t help,” I said. “I’ve been awake for too long – three or four nights; I can’t even remember. If I go to sleep now, I’m dead for 20 hours.”

Good God, I thought. What have I said? This bastard is trying to be human; he could take me straight to jail, but he’s telling me to take a fucking nap. For Christ sake, agree with him: Yes, officer, of course I’ll take advantage of that rest area. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this break you want to give me. …

But no … here I was insisting that if he turned me loose I would boom straight ahead for L.A. which was true, but why say it? Why push him? This is not the right time for a showdown. This is Death Valley … get a grip on yourself.

Of course. Get a grip. “Look,” I said. “I’ve been out in Las Vegas covering the Mint 400.” I pointed to the “VIP Parking” sticker on the windshield. “Incredible,” I said. “All those bikes and dune buggies crashing around the desert for two days. Have you seen it?”

He smiled, shaking his head with a sort of melancholy understanding. I could see him thinking. Was I dangerous? Was he ready for the vicious, time-consuming scene that was bound to come if he took me under arrest? How many off-duty hours would he have to spend hanging around the courthouse, waiting to testify against me? And what kind of monster lawyer would I bring in to work out on him?

I knew, but how could he?

“Ok,” he said. “Here’s how it is. What goes into my book, as of noon, is that I apprehended you … for driving too fast for conditions, and advised you … with this written warning” … he handed it to me … “to proceed no further than the next rest area … your stated destination, right? Where you plan to take a long nap …” He hung his ticket-pad back on his belt. “Do I make myself clear?” he asked as he turned away.

I shrugged. “How far is Baker? I was hoping to stop there for lunch.”

“That’s not in my jurisdiction,” he said. “The city limits are two-point-two miles beyond the rest area. Can you make it that far?” He grinned heavily.

“I’ll try,” I said. “I’ve been wanting to go to Baker for a long time. I’ve heard a lot about it.”

“Excellent seafood,” he said. “With a mind like yours, you’ll probably want the land-crab. Try the Majestic Diner.”

* * *

I shook my head and got back in the car, feeling raped. The pig had done me on all fronts, and now he was going off to chuckle about it – on the west edge of town, waiting for me to make a run for L.A.

I got back on the freeway and drove past the rest area to the intersection where I had to turn right into Baker. As I approached the turn I saw … Great Jesus, it’s him, the hitchhiker, the same kid we’d picked up and terrified on the way out to Vegas. Our eyes met as I slowed down to make the corner. I was tempted to wave, but when I saw him drop his thumb I thought, no, this is not the time … God only knows what that kid said about us when he finally got back to town.

Acceleration. Get out of sight at once. How could I be sure he’d recognized me? But the car was hard to miss. And why else would he back away from the road?

Suddenly I had two personal enemies in this godforsaken town. The CHP cop would bust me for sure if I tried to go on through to L.A., and this goddamn rotten kid/hitchhiker would have me hunted down like a beast if I stayed. (Holy Jesus, Sam! There he is! That guy the kid told us about! He’s back!)

Either way, it was horrible – and if these righteous outback predators ever got their stories together … and they would; it was inevitable in a town this small … that would cash my check all around. I’d be lucky to leave town alive. A ball of tar and feathers dragged onto the prison bus by angry natives. …

This was it: The crisis. I raced through town and found a telephone booth on the northern outskirts, between a Sinclair station and … yes … the Majestic Diner. I placed an emergency collect call to my attorney in Malibu. He answered at once.

“They’ve nailed me!” I shouted. “I’m trapped in some stinking desert crossroads called Baker. I don’t have much time. The fuckers are closing in.”

“Who?” he said. “You sound a little paranoid.”

“You bastard!” I screamed. “First I got run down by the CHP, then that kidspotted me! I need a lawyer immediately!”

“What are you doing in Baker?” he said. “Didn’t you get my telegram?”

“What? Fuck telegrams. I’m in trouble.”

“You’re supposed to be in Vegas,” he said. “We have a suite at the Flamingo. I was just about to leave for the airport. …”

I slumped in the booth. It was too horrible. Here I was calling my attorney in a moment of terrible crisis and the fool was deranged on drugs – a goddamn vegetable! “You worthless bastard,” I groaned. “I’ll cripple your ass for this! All that shit in the car is yours! You understand that? When I finish testifying out here, you’ll be disbarred!”

“You brainless scumbag!” he shouted. “I sent you a telegram! You’re supposed to be covering the National District Attorneys’ Conference! I made all the reservations … rented a white Cadillac convertible … the whole thing is arranged!What the hell are you doing out there in the middle of the fucking desert?”

Suddenly I remembered. Yes. The telegram. It was all very clear. My mind became calm. I saw the whole thing in a flash. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s all a big joke. I’m actually sitting beside the pool at the Flamingo. I’m talking from a portable phone. Some dwarf brought it out from the casino. I have total credit! Can you grasp that?” I was breathing heavily, feeling crazy, sweating into the phone.

“Don’t come anywhere near this place!” I shouted. “Foreigners aren’t welcome here.”

I hung up and strolled out to the car. Well, I thought. This is how the world works. All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy him. He knew. He knew all along. It was He who sacked me in Baker. I had run far enough, so He nailed me … closing off all my escape routes, hassling me first with the CHP and then with this filthy phantom hitchhiker … plunging me into fear and confusion.

Never cross the Great Magnet. I understood this now … and with understanding came a sense of almost terminal relief. Yes, I would go back to Vegas. Slip the Kid and confound the CHP by moving East again, instead of West. This would be the shrewdest move of my life. Back to Vegas and sign up for the Drugs and Narcotics conference; me and a thousand pigs. Why not? Move confidently into their midst. Register at the Flamingo and have the White Caddy sent over at once. Do it right; remember Horatio Alger. …

* * *

I looked across the road and saw a huge red sign that said Beer. Wonderful. I left the Shark by the phone booth and reeled across the highway into the Hardware Barn. A Jew loomed up from behind a pile of sprockets and asked me what I wanted.

“Ballantine Ale,” I said … a very mystic long shot, unknown between Newark and San Francisco.

He served it up, ice-cold.

I relaxed. Suddenly everything was going right; I was finally getting the breaks.

The bartender approached me with a smile. “Where ya headin’, young man?”

“Las Vegas,” I said.

He smiled. “A great town, that Vegas. You’ll have good luck there; you’re the type.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m a triple Scorpio.”

He seemed pleased. “That’s a fine combination,” he said. “You can’t lose.”

I laughed. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m actually the district attorney from Ignoto county. Just another good American like yourself.”

His smile disappeared. Did he understand? I couldn’t be sure. But that hardly mattered now. I was going back to Vegas. I had no choice.

Ernst Jünger, the forest anarch by Federico Campagna

Written by Federico Campagna, 22.08.2014

“We were both Waldganger. We preferred the forest to the city.”

Albert Hofmann on Ernst Jünger

103 Years

In 1895, the year Ernst Jünger was born, Wilhelm II was holding the reins of the German Empire, while Wilhelm Rontgen experimented with the first X-rays machine. In 1998, when Jünger died at the age of 103, Pathfinder had already landed on Mars and Google was about to launch its campaign to conquer the digital world. In the course of his life, fit for a Biblical patriarch, Jünger survived two world wars, twice witnessed the passage of the Halley comet, and took part to the full unfolding of modernity. Yet, it would be fair to say that he was scarcely ever there. Whether fleeing to the Algerian desert, fighting in the mud in La Somme, or secluded in his hermitage in High Swabia, Jünger shared with monks and dandies the ability to be in the world, while remaining at an observant distance from it. He was a theoretician in the original meaning of the word: in a contemplative position even in the heat of battle.

It was as if sliding along an orbit around the present that Jünger managed to turn his perspective almost at 360 degrees, moving from the revolutionary conservatism of his youth, to the extreme existential anarchism of his old age. It was also for this reason that my first encounter with his work left me at once fascinated and skeptical. Jünger, the anarcho-nazi? How could anyone take this man seriously?
Yet, how could I remain indifferent to the flying architecture of his prose, the blade of his thinking, and the charm of his life? I learned to love Jünger against my ingrained ideological judgement, like a slowly acquired taste. Over the years I’ve kept returning to Jünger’s toolbox, and every time, without fail, I’ve found in it new weapons and methods to apply to my own existence.

Every good weapon has magic qualities; by merely looking at it we feel ourselves wonderfully strengthened” (1)

I deem myself lucky to be in the UK today, on the eve of a long overdue rediscovery of Jünger’s work in the English language. Seeing his books finally republished in English by Telos Press (2) reminds me of the pleasure of showing a friend one of my favourite films, which they had somehow missed until then. In the following pages I will attempt to compose something akin to subtitles to a trailer of Jünger’s life and works. It will be a strange, short film, full of action, horror and of metaphysical stillness.
I hope you will enjoy the vision.

Total Mobilisation

Despite his long career as a soldier, Jünger’s lifelong enemy was an entity that had no face, and wore no uniform. First identified by Nietzsche, the modern Linnaeus of the Western soul, Nihilism haunted Europe and Jünger’s life with the persistence of a persecutor. From the simple devaluation of all values, Nihilism took hold of the Modern world by inoculating its terrifying emptiness deep inside the social body. Infected by its virus, the social organism convulsed between phases of resigned decay, and outbursts of active nihilist fever. Still today, after the end of Modernity, the oscillation between catatonia and panic remains a pendulum swinging closely over our daily lives.

However, when 18 years-old Ernst run away from his father’s house to join the Foreign Legion in Sidi Bel Abbes, Nihilism wasn’t yet the ‘uncanniest of guests’ at the doorstep of his conscience. His life then was that of a romantic teenager, thirsty for chivalrous adventures in exotic lands. The following year, at the break of the First World War, it was still as a young romantic that Jünger volunteered to join the Fusilier Regiment and, shortly afterwards, the assault Shock Troops.
His perspective on life was to change irremediably. Sent to the Western front, Jünger landed on a lunar landscape, where tempests of fire swept craters overflowing with corpses, and a human life was lighter than a cloud of chlorine gas. Repugnance mixed with the sublime, while homicidal frenzy melted into suicidal catatonia.

Here, and really only here, I was to observe that there is a quality of dread that feels as unfamiliar as a foreign country. In moments when I felt it, I experienced no fear as such but a kind of exalted, almost demoniacal lightness; often attended by fits of laughter I was unable to repress. […] The ability to think logically and the feeling of gravity, both seemed to have been removed. We had the sensation of the ineluctable and the unconditionally necessary, as if we were facing an elemental force.” (3)

The author barely survived the experience, having been wounded in combat fourteen times over five years of war.

Although his bravery as part of the Stoßtrupp gained him the highest military decoration, and the publication of his war memoir Storm of Steel (4) propelled him to immediate fame, the experience of WWI had on him a much more profound effect than a medal and a writing career. In the trenches he had not only witnessed the utter degradation of the human body and mind; he had also experienced first-hand the coming kingdom of Technic. In the first ‘war of materials’, humans had failed to keep up with their technological equipment, and had turned into faulty appendixes to their weapons. Over the ‘fields of wrath’ of the Western front, active Nihilism had offered the first taste of its ‘Total Mobilisation’ of the world.

In his 1932 book The Worker (5), Jünger described the dawning world of Technic using a combination of epic and horror, apocalypse and ecstasy. A new age of the Titans was arising, and the world was soon to yield to their dominion. Humans no longer reigned, and the rule of Technic demanded their innermost depths as a sacrifice to the Total Mobilisation – firstly, by transforming all human activity into Work. Even the feature of their faces had to change, turning metallic and mechanical, like cyborgs ante-litteram. Individuals – those relics of the bourgeois era – were to give way to a new ‘human type’, already emerging among the factory workers and the soldiers of trench warfare. The battlefield had become a factory, and the factory a battlefield: the metaphysics of Technic was soon to drown the world under a millenarian flood.

One of the features of a fundamental creative energy is the ability to petrify symbols into an infinite repetition which resembles the process of nature, as in the acanthus leave, the phallus, the lingam, the scarab, the cobra, the sun circle, the resting Buddha. In worlds so constituted a foreigner doesn’t feel awe but fear, and still today it is not possible to face the great pyramid at night, or the solitary temple of Segesta, sunk in the sunlight, without being scared. Evidently the human type which represents the form of the Worker is moving towards such a kind of world, clear and closed upon itself like a magic ring; and as it grows closer to it, the individual increasingly turns into the type.” (6)

Reading The Worker today, one feels the melancholia of those who have passed to the other side of science-fiction. The future described by Jünger has already taken place, and its grip is tightening around us by the day. However, there appears to be no trace of the shimmering gleam which Jünger imagined would accompany its triumph. The light of the late capitalist spectacle spreads an opaque film on all that it touches. The type of the Worker has indeed eradicated the bourgeois concept of the individual, but instead of bathing humans in a heroism which transcends fear, it has sunk them in an epidemic of depression and anxiety. Similarly, the age of drone warfare has brought to perfection the clash of Titans which had first taken place in WWI, but Jünger’s metaphysical revelations in the face of destruction have left their place to bored operators staring at long-distance murder though their terminals’ screen.
The apocalypse of the individual befell us, and it was as miserable as it was underwhelming.

On The Marble Cliffs

Jünger spent most of the 1920s writing political pamphlets for the Conservative Revolutionary Movement – which included authors such as Thomas Mann, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger – while also occasionally flirting with Ernst Niekisch’s National Bolsheviks. The publication of Storm of Steel had gained him a prominent position as a public intellectual, and it had also won him the admiration of a then minor political leader, Adolf Hitler, who repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to be introduced to him. Contrary to a common misconception, Jünger never took part to or supported the Nazi party. When in 1927 Goebbels offered him a parliamentary seat, he laconically replied that he would “rather write one good poem than represent sixty thousand idiots.” In 1933, when Hitler became chancellor, he refused again a seat in the Reichstag, and insisted that the Nazi Party would never publish any of his writing on their official newspaper Volkisher Beobachter. As Goebbels recalled in his diaries, “we laid bridges of gold before him, which he refused to cross”.
After the Nazis took power, Jünger abandoned Berlin and withdrew to an isolated life in the province, interrupted only by international travels. He developed his passion for botany, marine zoology and entomology to academic standards, and limited his publications to a minimum.

When he did finally publish again, in 1939, he put his life at stake. On The Marble Cliffs (7) described the assault of the barbaric Chief Ranger – a thinly disguised caricature of Hitler – and of his hoard of savages against the peaceful city of Marina. Their assault is successful, and Marina sinks in a nightmare of tyranny, violence and terror. In this novel it also made its first appearance the magnetic force of anarchy, which Jünger already identified, though somewhat hermetically, as the only possible alternative to Nihilism.

Between full-blown nihilism and unbridled anarchy there is a profound difference. Whether the abodes of men shall become desert or primeval forest depends upon the outcome of this struggle.” (8)

Within two weeks of its publication, the novel had sold over fourteen thousand copies, and its growing success was unnerving the highest hierarchies of the Nazi party. When Philipp Bouhler – who had made a name for himself as the promoter of the Aktion T4 ‘involuntary euthanasia’ program – requested that the book be banned, Hitler not only replied that his favourite author had to be “left alone”, but shortly afterwards decided to put Jünger in charge of censorship in occupied Paris.

Once again Jünger became a soldier – and again, perhaps surprisingly, a volunteer – though this time his lodgings were in the luxury Hotel Raphael, near the Arc de Triomphe. He used his military position to ease the grip of police control over the French Resistance, destroying the more compromising correspondence intercepted by his office to keep it away from the eyes of the Gestapo. In the evenings, he took part to the cultural life of the city, meeting with artists and authors such as Picasso, Cocteau, Celine and Brecht. Years later, after the end of the war, it was Brecht who raised his voice in Jünger’s defence, asking, in Hitler’s exact words, that he be “left alone” by the new censors.
As he got involved in the Parisian life, he also created a distance from it, as it was in his style. Watching the heavy allied bombings over the city from the terrace of his hotel, for example, he could only acknowledge how the spectacle of devastation “looked rather like stage-lighting in a shadow theatre”.

Jünger contributed to the opposition to the regime, producing and distributing a number of anonymous pamphlets – later collected in the volume The Peace (9) – in which he denounced the horrors of Nazism, demanded an immediate end to the war and proposed the creation of a European Union. The necessity to move beyond nation states will be a recurring theme in Jünger’s work from then on, from his essay The World State (10) to the political imagination of his later science-fiction works. As he abandoned the fatherland defined by national borders, Jünger sought a new homeland in the ‘wilderness’ that each individual carries inside themselves. It was the beginning of his ‘forest passage’, and of his anarchic turn.

Although his role in the 1944 plot to kill Hitler was only indirect, in the eve of the event he was removed from his office and ‘dishonourably discharged’ from the army. The revenge of the regime found crueler, more transversal ways to reach him. A few months later, his 18 years old son was imprisoned for ‘subversive discussions’ and sent to a penal battalion, headed for sure destruction. With tragic irony, he was killed in combat ‘on the marble cliffs’ near Carrara, in occupied Italy. The remains of his mauled body reached his father only seven years later.

Into The Forest

After the end of the war, Jünger withdrew completely from metropolitan life. He moved to a mansion in High Swabia, which was given to him by the relatives of one of the officers involved in the 1944 plot. As American capitalism covered the Western hemisphere with its festoons of bright and empty promises, Jünger furthered his exploration of the darkness lying under the surface of its age. His science-fiction novel Heliopolis (11), published in 1949, described with uncanny precision the outlines of a world already entirely dominated by Technic. The difference between The Worker and Jünger’s later production is staggering, but it can be understood within the perspective of Jünger’s endless orbit around the present. While in The Worker the age of Nihilism was observed at its dawn, when the rising light transfigures in magical forms all that it touches, Heliopolis described the nuclear midday of Nihilism, when all shadows vanish under the radiating sun of Technic. Nihilism was no longer an ‘uncanny guests’: it had become the norm.

The idea that the Western world had finally reached the zero meridian of Nihilism returned in his 1950 essay Beyond The Line (12), which he wrote for Heidegger’s 60th birthday, and to which the German philosopher – who had already dedicated two lecture courses to Jünger in the 1930s – replied a few years later with the essay Over The Line. Despite his bleak diagnosis, Jünger maintained a subtle vein of optimism. The worst had already come, and it could no longer haunt humans as an anxious dream. The time was ripe to look at the future with the eyes of a strategist rather than with those of a prophet of doom. The question was no longer ‘when will Nihilism envelop us entirely?’, but ‘how can we find an outside, now that Nihilism has surrounded us?’.

The necessity to create a strategy of existential autonomy will run as a common thread through the rest of his work, until his death. His occasional predictions – such as his description of smartphones and gps in Heliopolis in 1949, of spy-drones in The Glass Bees (13) in 1953 and of the internet and virtual reality in Eumeswil (14) in 1977 – can be considered as the mere byproduct of his strategic reconnaissance of the present and the future.

For the first step of his exploration, Jünger borrowed a word that had its prehistory in an old Icelandic custom: der Waldgang – The Forest Passage (15).

A forest passage followed a banishment; through this action a man declared his will to self-affirmation from his own resources. This was considered honourable, and it still is today, despite all platitudes. In those times, the banishment was usually the consequence of a homicide, whereas today it happens to a man almost automatically, like the turning of a roulette wheel. None of us can know today if tomorrow morning we will not be counted as part of a group considered outside the law.” (16)

The forest of the Waldganger (‘forest fleer’ or ‘forest rebel’), however, no longer lied on the physical edges of the city. The route outside contemporary civilisation, outside Technic and its terrors, lead to a person’s inner Wildnis (wilderness) – perhaps the only possible outside left to individuals. A Waldganger could be any person strolling on the pavement of a contemporary city, dressed not unlike any of his/her neighbours, and not recognisable as a ‘forest rebel’ by any of his/her outer features. Jünger’s figure partly resembled the ‘prudent man’ portrayed by the 17th century baroque author Baltasar Gracian (17), who strategically advised against eccentricity in one’s appearance, as it could hinder the development of one’s inner autonomy and the possibility of effective subversive action. Jünger compared the Waldganger to the ‘grand spy’, disguised in the enemy’s uniform only to be in a better position to strike his opponent.

Yet, the Waldganger was also a figure of resistance, and one of Jünger’s acknowledged sources of inspiration was a young German social democrat who shot down a dozen Nazi Storm Troopers at the entrance of his apartment.

If we assume that we could have counted on just one such person in every street in Berlin, the things would have turned out very differently than they did. Long periods of peace foster certain optical illusions: one is the conviction that the inviolability of the home is grounded in the constitution, which should guarantee it. In reality, it is grounded in the family father, who, sons at his side, fills the doorway with an axe in his hand.”(18)

As they fled towards their own inner wilderness, individuals accessed the source both of their existential autonomy, and of the possibility of emancipatory violence. Unsurprisingly, Jünger was never a pacifist, and his strategic advice against a direct, violent attack to the State was ground exclusively in his considerations over the overwhelming asymmetry of forces in the field. Even though Jünger repeatedly declared that he would never repudiate his early, heroic works such as Storm of Steel, his later production suggests a more subtle, prudent course of action. While in his war memoir the discovery of an inner depth occasioned in the mist of the near-apocalypse of the battlefield, in the actual apocalypse of accomplished Nihilism the individual only needs an act of will to turn their gaze inwards, and – to paraphrase Max Stirner (19) – to ‘set their affair’ on their own ‘creative nothing’.

Even simply by reading through the wealth of erudition and the stylistic beauty of Jünger’s writing, it is evident how his escape from contemporary civilisation was never a movement towards self-punishing poverty. Jünger rejected the empty promises of society not beacuse of their luxurious surfaces, but because he was aware of their inner poverty. As in all ancient mythology, the wealth that lies in the heart of the forest is the prize which awaits the hero who dares to enter its dark shadows. According to Jünger, wealth, not poverty, should be the aim and the foundation of any philosophy worthy of its name – and, especially, of any true emancipatory theology.

A true theologian is someone who understands the science of abundance, which transcends mere economy, and who knows the mystery of the eternal springs, which are inexhaustible and always at hand. By a theologian we mean someone who knows – and a knower in this sense is the prostitute Sonya, who discovers the treasure of being in Raskolnikov and knows hot to raise it to the light for him.”(20)

Jünger’s tension towards those ‘eternal springs’ and ‘forests’ which alone can provide a safe haven from Technic and Nihilism, also influenced his durable and active interest in drugs. In his 1970 book Approaches (21), Jünger recalled his numerous experiences with substances spanning from hashish and cocaine, to opium and mescaline. LSD – which he tried on several occasions with its inventor Albert Hofmann, himself a Jünger fan – made a profound impression on him, and he valued it above all other drugs as a powerful tool to access that ‘excess’ which shares the same dangers and tensions with the way to the forest.

I exceed, I go outside, I go further afield, both from my own boundaries and from the social corral. Excessus means trespassing – and it is connected with the threat, sooner or later, of being excluded.”(22)

The Anarch

The 1970s and 1980s were two wonderfully productive and radical decades for the already elderly author. While in The Forest Passage he had sketched the outlines of the transitional character of the Waldganger, in his 1977 science-fiction novel Eumeswil he developed this melancholy figure to the full ripeness of the Anarch.

Set in an imaginary city-state named after the ancient diadoch Eumenes, the events narrated in the book take place after the collapse of the World State, which had followed the last great war between nations. The protagonist, Manuel Venator, a young historian of ‘unobtrusive appearance’, serves as night steward at the private bar of the city’s dictator, the Condor. His proximity to the tyrant is invaluable to him as a historian, but it also encourages him to seek a deeper autonomy than the mere assertion of ideological independence. The closer he lies to the centre of control, and the more he adapts his camouflage to the formality of his assigned role, the higher a chance he creates for himself to effectively escape the grip of power.

If an enterprise is to be concealed from society, there is a proven method: you secrete it in some undertaking that society approves of, indeed regards as commendable.”(23)

They found no mischief in me. I remained normal, however deeply they probed. And also straight as an arrow. To be sure, normality seldom coincides with straightness. Normalcy is the human constitution; straightness is logical reasoning. With its help, I could answer satisfactorily. […] Thus they were unable to penetrate my fundamental structure, which is anarchic. […] For everyone is anarchic; this is precisely what is normal about us.”(24)

Paradoxically, argues Jünger, it is those proclaiming their autonomy with the loudest voice, who more easily fall prey to an illusion of freedom, and to the hold of tyrannical control. Throughout the book, Jünger uses the figure of the anarchist – as opposed to the Anarch – as an example of this strategic fallacy. Traditional anarchists, claims Jünger, through their conspicuous and ineffective opposition make themselves “serviceable in many ways and also useful for the police”.

The anarchist is dependent – both on his unclear desires and on the powers that be. He trails the powerful man as his shadow; the ruler is always on his guard against him. […] The anarchist is the antagonist of the monarch, whom he dreams of wiping out. He gets the man and consolidates the succession. The -ism suffix has a restrictive meaning; it emphasises the will at the expense of the substance. […] The positive counterpart of the anarchist is the Anarch. The latter is not the adversary of the monarch but his antipode, untouched by him, though also dangerous. He is not the opponent of the monarch, but his pendant. After all, the monarch wants to rule many, nay, all people; the Anarch, only himself.”(25)

[The Anarch] is as sovereign as the monarch, and also freer since he does not have to rule.” (26)

The Anarch, as embodied by Venator, is a less idealistic development of the Waldganger. While the Waldganger can play a role on the eve of the triumph of Nihilism, the Anarch is best equipped to survive the endless afternoon of its established kingdom. Eumeswil, perhaps not dissimilarly from our contemporary world, exists in a state of perennial civil war, in which traditional authority has expanded into all-encompassing bio-power, while the emptying of all meaning and possible alternatives complements total-policing in ensuring absolute political stillness. At that stage, any attempt at open resistance would be suicidal, at best futile, and in any case immediately swallowed by its opponent – as it is so often the case in today’s late capitalism. In Eumeswil, the Waldganger appears as a remote possibility, which could arise only in the case of a sudden turn of events – an eventuality for which Venator prepares himself through the clandestine construction of a bunker/armoury, far from sight. Daily life, however, offers a different type of possibility for resistance. In the perfectly hedo-nihilistic emptiness of Eumeswil – which at times resembles the atmospheres of Italy under Berlusconi – rebels are not those who parade their anarchist garments, but those who are able to disappear completely. Through his vanishing, the Anarch reclaims the necessary space – mental, if not physical – to be able to retain the necessary autonomy to access the inner ‘wilderness’ of his own ‘creative nothing’ – as well as to violently strike back at power, whenever possible. It is not surprising that Max Stirner himself makes a lengthy appearance towards the end of the book, summoned by Venator through the internet-cum-virtual-reality technology of the Luminar.

Once again, Jünger’s judgement of technology avoids oversimplification. In Eumeswil, both the underground world of the ‘catacombs’ – where invisible scientists work relentlessly at the production of new, reality-changing technology – and the far and mysterious ‘forest’ – which embodies the ever-lasting primordial energy – coexist as symbols of eternal cosmic forces. While the Nihilism which engulfs the city has taken hold of the fearful, bourgeois soul of most of its inhabitants, the Anarch alone retains access to both the catacomb and the forest which perennially exist at his heart.

The importance of accessing the ever-existing cosmic wilderness, returns in connection to the figure of the Anarch in Jünger’s 1983 novella Aladdin’s Problem (27). The book begins with Friedrich Baroh, an Anarch serving as an officer in the Soviet Army, fleeing Eastern Germany to West Berlin. There, he starts a small funeral house, which thanks to his uncle’s capital he manages to develop into the multinational corporation Terrestra. His business idea is typically Jüngerian: in a relentlessly nihilist age, where even graves are temporary, humans long for the stability of an eternal burial. The protagonist buys a field of wild land in Cappadocia – large enough to house the mortal remains of the world’s population – and there sets up a huge, eternal graveyard for those who can afford it. “This is the answer to the motorised world” observes one of Friedrich’s friends. As his empire expands and the burial site progressively turns into a metropolis, his dissatisfaction also grows, and his mental balance starts to break. He is facing ‘Aladdin’s problem’: the empty thirst for power at the heart of the Faustian spirit, aimlessly dragging Modernity along its Nihilist route. Friedrich treated death and the depths of the Earth merely as a ‘standing reserve’ – to borrow Heidegger’s expression – rather than as the immediate symbol of Chtonian cosmic forces. He forgot the way to the forest, and remained wandering in the desert: away from the forest, even anarchy sinks down the circles of a nihilist hell.

Aristocracy

In the course of his long life, Jünger authored and published over fifty volumes. In these pages, I could only superficially present some of his works – those which I believe best express both his qualities as a writer and a thinker, and his intellectual progression through and beyond Modernity. I have also tried to provide the coordinates to the location of some of his fundamental ideas, which I believe might prove of greater relevance today than when they were first produced. I began by talking of Jünger’s work as a toolbox, and again I’d like to invite the reader not to stop at the beauty of Jünger’s style, but to test the usefulness of his concepts against his/her own daily existential struggles.

As well as his ideas, Jünger’s method also constitutes, in my opinion, an important contribution to contemporary existential strategies. As he once explained in an interview (28), his writing was almost the precise reflection of his observations of the world around him. Combining the attitudes of a botanist and of a philosopher, Jünger used to proceed from a particular observation of a social detail, to an analogy with a natural equivalent – often from botany or entomology – to the exploration of the metaphysical roots of its structure. In line with other great post-romantic German thinkers, Jünger reached back to Goethe as much as to Nietzsche. Despite his astonishing erudition, Jünger never aspired to become a scholar. Like his two predecessors, he was first of all a writer, a person, a true Anarch of knowledge. He dared exploring the world, both in its immediately visible appearance and in its supremely visible form, on the basis of an excessive idea of freedom, which surpassed the borders of academic specialism as well as of ideological allegiance. Like the very best anarchist thinkers, Jünger’s idea of anarchy can be summed up as a desire for an aristocracy of all – firstly, an anarcho-aristocracy of the gaze, and of the mind.

Reading Jünger today can be much more than a dry review of the curious works of a dead writer. Jünger remains one of the most accomplished craftsman to date of those magic lenses through which it is possible to examine in depth our experience of the world and our ever-shifting position within it. In his inexhaustible generosity, Jünger might even exceed the figure of the mere writer. As he offers us some of the things that we need to make better sense and actively deepen our enjoyment of our lives, his place can hardly be on our bookshelves. Upon consideration, we might decide that his place is rather on our side, as a friend.

NOTES

1 Ernst Jünger, On the Marble Cliffs, Penguin, 1970, p.68

2 Telos Press has published so far the English translations of On Pain (2008), The Adventurous Heart (2012), and The Forest Passage (2014)

3 Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel, Penguin, 2004, p.93, p.95

4 Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel, Penguin, 2004

5 Ernst Jünger, Der Arbeiter, Hanseatische Verlagsansalt, 1932. This book has never been translated in English.

6 Ernst Jünger, Der Arbeiter – my translation from the Italian edition, L’Operaio, Guanda, 2010, p.207-208

7 Ernst Jünger, On the Marble Cliffs, Penguin, 1970. The English edition of this book has been out of print for decades.

8 Ernst Jünger, On the Marble Cliffs, Penguin, 1970, p.82

9 Ernst Jünger, The Peace, Henry Regnery Company, 1948. The English edition of this book has been out of print for over half a century.

10 Ernst Jünger, Der Weldstaat, Klett Verlag, 1960. This book has never been translated in English.

11 Ernst Jünger, Heliopolis, Heliopolis Verlag, 1949. This book has never been translated in English

12 Ernst Jünger, Uber Die Linie, first published in Anteile. Martin Heidegger zum 60 Geburstag, Vittorio Klostermann, 1951. This text and Heidegger’s response have never been translated in English.

13 Ernst Jünger, The Glass Bees, New York Review Books, 2000

14 Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil, Marsilio Publishers, 1994. The English edition of this book has been out of print for over a decade.

15 Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage, Telos Press, 2014

16 Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage, Telos Press, 2014, p.37

17 see Baltasar Gracian, The Pocket Oracle And Art Of Prudence, Penguin, 2001

18 Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage, Telos Press, 2014, p.73

19 see Max Stirner, The Ego And His Own, Verso, 2014

20 Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage, Telos Press, 2014, p.63

21 Ernst Jünger, Annäherungen. Drogen und Rausch, Klett Verlag, 1970. This book has never been translated in English.

22 Ernst Jünger, Annäherungen. Drogen und Rausch, Klett Verlag, 1970 – my translation from the Italian edition, Avvicinamenti, Guanda, 2006, p.188.

23 Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil, Marsilio Publishers, 1994, p.132

24 Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil, Marsilio Publishers, 1994, p.41

25 Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil, Marsilio Publishers, 1994, p.42-43

26 Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil, Marsilio Publishers, 1994, p.155

27 Ernst Jünger, Aladdin’s Problem, Marsilio Publishers, 1996. The English edition of this book has been out of print for over a decade.

28 as part of the German documentary for television, Neunzig Verweht – der Schriftsteller Ernst Jünger

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SOLDIER, WORKER, REBEL, ANARCH: AN INTRODUCTION TO ERNST JÜNGER

 

∗ Alain de Benoist, “Types et figures dans l’oeuvre d’Ernst Jünger: Le Soldat du front, le Travailleur, le Rebelle et l’Anarque,” was originally presented as a lecture in Rome in May 1997. The translator wishes to thank Alain de Benoist for permission to translate and publish this essay and for his comments on the translation. Thanks also to Michael O’Meara for checking and editing the translation.

In Ernst Jünger’sIn Ernst Jünger’s writings, four great Figures appear successively, each corresponding to a quite distinct period of the author’s life. They are, chronologically, the Front Soldier, the Worker, the Rebel, and the Anarch. Through these Figures one can divine the passionate interest Jünger has always held toward the world of forms. Forms, for him, cannot result from chance occurrences in the sensible world. Rather, forms guide, on various levels, the ways sensible beings express themselves: the “history” of the world is above all morphogenesis. As an entomologist, moreover, Jünger was naturally inclined to classifications. Beyond the individual, he identifies the species or the kind. One can see here a subtle sort of challenge to individualism: “The unique and the typical exclude one another,” he writes. Thus, as Jünger sees it, the universe is one where Figures give epochs their metaphysical significance. In this brief esposition, I would like to compare and contrast the great Figures identified by Jünger.

* * *

The Front Soldier (Frontsoldat) is first of all a witness to the end of classical wars: wars that gave priority to the chivalrous gesture, that were organized around the concepts of glory and honor, that generally spared civilians, and that distinguished clearly between the Front and the Rear. “Though once we crouched in bomb craters, we still believed,” Jünger said, “that man was stronger than material. That proved to be an error.” Indeed, from then on, the “material” counted more than the human factor. This material factor signifies the irruption and dominion of technology. Technology imposes its own law, the law of impersonality and total war—a war simultaneously massive and abstract in its cruelty. At the same time, the Soldier becomes an impersonal actor. His very heroism is impersonal, because what counts most for him is no longer the goal or outcome of combat. It is not to win or lose, live or die. What counts is the spiritual disposition that leads him to accept his anonymous sacrifice. In this sense, the Front Soldier is by definition an Unknown Soldier, who forms a body, in all senses of the term, with the unit to which he belongs, like a tree which is not only a part but an exemplary incarnation of the forest.

The same applies to the Worker, who appears in 1932, in the famous book of that name, whose subtitle is: “Dominion and Figure.”1 The common element of the Soldier and Worker is active impersonnality.

They too are children of technology. Because the same technology that transformed war into monotonous “work,” drowning the chivalrous spirit in the mud of the trenches, has also transformed the world into a vast workshop where man is henceforth completely enthralled2 by the imperatives of productivity. Soldier and Worker, finally, have the same enemy: the contemptible bourgeois liberal, the “last man” announced by Nietzsche, who venerates moral order, utility, and profit. Also the Worker and the Soldier back from the Front both want to destroy in order to create, to give up the last shreds of individualism in order to found a new world on the ruins of the old “petrified form of life.”

However, while the Soldier was only the passive object of the reign of technology, the Worker aims actively to identify himself with it. Far from being its object, or submitting to its manifestations, the Worker, on the contrary, seeks in all conscience to endorse the power of technology that he thinks will abolish the differences between the classes, as well as between peace and war, civilian and military. The Worker is no longer one who is “sacrificed to carry the burdens in the great deserts of fire,” as Jünger still put it in the The Forest Path,3 but a being entirely devoted to “total mobilization.”4 Thus the Figure of the Worker goes far beyond the Type of the Front Soldier. For the Worker—who dreams all the while of a Spartan, Prussian, or Bolshevik life, where the individual would be definitively outclassed by the Type—the Great War was only the anvil where another way of being in the world was forged. The Front Soldier limited himself in order to embody new norms of collective existence. The Worker, for his part, intends to transplant them into civilian life, to make them the law of the whole society.

The Worker is thus not merely the man who works (the most common meaning), any more than he is the man of a social class, i.e., of a given economic category (the historical meaning). He is the Worker in a metaphysical sense: the one who reveals Work as the general law of a world that devotes itself entirely to efficiency and productivity, even in leisure and rest.

The elements of Jünger’s worldview—his aesthetic and voluntarist conception of technology, his decisionism of every moment, the opposition of the Worker to the bourgeois, the Nietzschean will “to transvalue all values” which already underlay Jünger’s “soldatic nationalism” of the Twenties—are sometimes summarized with the phrase “heroic realism.” However, under the influence of events, Jünger’s reflection would soon undergo a decisive inflection, which took it in another direction.

The turn corresponds to the novel On the Marble Cliffs,5 published in 1939. The heroes of the story, two brothers, herbalists from the Great Marina who recoil in horror at the inexorable outcome of the Great Forester’s enterprise, discover that there are weapons stronger than those that pierce and kill. Jünger, at that time, was not only informed by the rise of Nazism, he was influenced by his brother, Friedrich Georg Jünger, who in a famous book6 was one of the first to work out a radical critique of the technological framework.7 As children of technology, the Soldier and especially the Worker were on the side of the Titans. Yet Ernst Jünger came to see that the Titanic reign of the elemental leads straight to nihilism. He understood that the world should be neither interpreted nor changed, but viewed as the very source of the unveiling of truth (aletheia). He understood that technology is not necessarily antagonistic to bourgeois values, and that it transforms the world only by globalizing the desert. He understood that, behind history, timelessness returns to more essential categories, and that human time, marked off by the wheels of the watch, is an “imaginary time,” founded on an artifice that made men forgetful of their belonging to the world, a time that fixes the nature of their projects instead of being fixed by them, unlike the hourglass, the “elementary clock” whose flow obeys natural laws—a cyclic not a linear time. Jünger, in other words, realized that the outburst of the Titans is first and foremost a revolt against the gods. This is why he dismissed Prometheus. The collective Figures were succeeded by personal ones.

Against totalitarian despotism, the heroes of On the Marble Cliffs chose withdrawal, taking a distance. By this, they already announced the attitude of the Rebel, of whom Jünger would write: “The Rebel is . . . whoever the law of his nature puts in relation to freedom, a relation that in time brings him to a revolt against automatism and a refusal to accept its ethical consequence, fatalism.”

One sees by this that the Figure of the Rebel is directly connected to a meditation on freedom—and also on exclusion, since the Rebel is equally an outlaw. The Rebel is still a combatant, like the Front Soldier, but he is a combatant who repudiates active impersonnality, because he intends to preserve his freedom with respect to the cause he defends.

In this sense, the Rebel cannot be identified with one system or another, even the one for which he fights. He is not at ease in any them. If the Rebel chooses marginalization, it is above all to guard against the forces of destruction, to break the encirclement, one might say, using a military metaphor that Jünger himself employs when he writes:

“The incredible encirclement of man was prepared long ago by the theories that aim at giving a flawless logical explanation of the world and that march in lockstep with the development of technology.”

“The mysterious way goes towards the interior,” said Novalis. The Rebel is an emigrant to the interior, who seeks to preserve his freedom in the heart of the forests where “paths that go nowhere” intersect.

This refuge, however, is ambiguous, because this sanctuary of organic life not yet absorbed by the mechanization of the world, represents— to the precise extent that it constitutes a universe foreign to human norms—the “great house of death, the very seat of the destructive danger.” Hence the position of the Rebel can only be provisional.

The last Figure, whom Jünger calls the Anarch, first appeared in 1977 in Eumeswil,8 a “postmodern” novel intended as a sequel to Heliopolis9 and set in the third millennium. Venator, the hero, no longer needs to resort to the forest to remain untouched by the ambient nihilism. It is enough for him to have reached an elevation that allows him to observe everything from a distance without needing to move away. Typical in this respect is his attitude toward power.

Whereas the anarchist wants to abolish power, the Anarch is content to break all ties to it. The Anarch is not the enemy of power or authority, but he does not seek them, because he does not need them to become who he is. The Anarch is sovereign of himself—which amounts to saying that he shows the distance that exists between sovereignty, which does not require power, and power, which never confers sovereignty.

“The Anarch,” Jünger writes, “is not the partner of the monarch, but his antipode, the man that power cannot grasp but is also dangerous to it. He is not the adversary of the monarch, but his opposite.” A true chameleon, the Anarch adapts to all things, because nothing reaches him. He is in service of history while being beyond it. He lives in all times at once, present, past, and future. Having crossed “the wall of time,” he is in the position of the pole star, which remains fixed while the whole starry vault turns around it, the central axis or hub, the “center of the wheel where time is abolished.” Thus, he can watch over the “clearing” which represents the place and occasion for the return of the gods. From this, one can see, as Claude Lavaud writes regarding Heidegger, that salvation lies “in hanging back,  rather than crossing over; in contemplation, not in calculation; in the commemorative piety that opens thought to the revealing and concealing that together are the essence of aletheia.”10

What distinguishes the Rebel from the Anarch, is thus the quality of their voluntary marginalization: horizontal withdrawal for the first, vertical withdrawal for the second. The Rebel needs to take refuge in the forest, because he is a man without power or sovereignty, and because it is only there that he retains the conditions of his freedom. The Anarch himself is also without power, but it is precisely because he is without power that he is sovereign. The Rebel is still in revolt, while the Anarch is beyond revolt. The Rebel carries on in secret—he hides in the shadows—while the Anarch remains in plain sight. Finally, whereas the Rebel is banished by society, the Anarch banishes himself. He is not excluded; he is emancipated.

* * *

The advent of the Rebel and Anarch relegated the memory of the Front Soldier to the background, but it did not end the reign of the Worker. Admittedly, Jünger changed his opinion of what we should expect, but the conviction that this Figure really dominates today’s world was never abandoned. The Worker, defined as the “chief Titan who traverses the scene of our time,” is really the son of the Earth, the child of Prometheus. He incarnates this “telluric” power of which modern technology is the instrument. He is also a metaphysical Figure, because modern technology is nothing other than the realized essence of a metaphysics that sets man up as the master of a world transformed into an object. And with man, the Worker maintains a dialectic of possession: the Worker possesses man to the very extent that man believes he possesses the world by identifying himself with the Worker.

However, to the precise extent that they are the representatives of the elementary and telluric powers, the Titans continue to carry a message whose meaning orders our existence. Jünger no longer regards them as allies, but neither does he regard them as enemies. As is his habit, Jünger is a seismograph: he has a presentiment that the reign of the Titans announces the return of the gods, and that nihilism is a necessary part of the passage towards the regeneration of the world. To finish with nihilism, we must live it to its end—“passing the line” which corresponds to the “meridian zero”—because, as Heidegger says, the technological framework11 (Ge-stell) is still a mode of being, not merely of its oblivion. This is why, if Jünger sees the Worker as a danger, he also says that this danger can be our salvation, because it is by it and through it, that it will be possible to exhaust the danger.

* * *

It is easy to see what differentiates the two couples formed, on the one hand, by the Front Soldier and the Worker, and on the other, by the Rebel and the Anarch. But one would be wrong to conclude from this that the “second Jünger,” of On the Marble Cliffs, is the antithesis of the first. Rather, this “second Jünger” actually represents a development, which was given a free course, of an inclination present from the beginning but obscured by the work of the writer-soldier and the nationalist polemicist. In Jünger’s first books, as well as in Battle as Inner Experience 12 and Storm,13 one actually sees, between the lines of the narrative, an undeniable tendency toward the vita contemplativa. From the beginning, Jünger expresses a yearning for meditative reflection that descriptions of combat or calls to action cannot mask. This yearning  is particularly evident in the first version of The  Adventurous Heart,14 where one can read not only a concern for a certain literary poetry, but also a reflection—that one could describe as both mineral and crystalline—on the immutability of things and on that which, in the very heart of the present, raises us up to cosmic signs and a recognition of the infinite, thus nurturing the “stereoscopic vision” in which two flat images merge into a single image to reveal the dimension of depth.

There is thus no contradiction between the four Figures, but only a progressive deepening, a kind of increasingly fine sketch that led Jünger, initially an actor of his time, then a judge and critic of his time, to place himself finally above his time in order to testify to what came before his century and what will come after him.

In The Worker, one already reads: “The more we dedicate ourselves to change, the more we must be intimately persuaded that behind it hides a calm being.” Throughout his life, Jünger never ceased approaching this “calm being.” While passing from manifest action to apparent non-action—while going, one might say, from beings to Being— he achieved an existential progression that finally allowed him to occupy the place of the Anarch, the unmoving center, the “central point of the turning wheel” from which all movement proceeds.

APPENDIX: ON FIGURE AND TYPE15

In 1963, in his book entitled Type—Name—Figure,16 Jünger writes: “Figure and Type are higher forms of vision. The conception of Figures confers a metaphysical power, the apprehension of Types an intellectual power.” We will reconsider this distinction between Figure and Type. But let us note immediately that Jünger connects the ability to distinguish them with a higher form of vision, i.e., with a vision that goes beyond immediate appearances to seek and identify archetypes.

Moreover, he implies that this higher form of vision merges with its object, i.e., with the Figure and the Type. Furthermore, he specifies: “The Type does not appear in nature, or the Figure in the universe. Both must be deciphered in the phenomena, like a force in its effects or a text in its characters.” Finally, he affirms that there exists a “typifying power of the universe,” which “seeks to pierce through the undifferentiated,” and which “acts directly on vision,” causing an “ineffable knowledge: intuition,” then conferring a name:

“The things do not bear a name, names are conferred upon them.”

This concern with transcending immediate appearances should not be misinterpreted. Jünger does not offer us a new version of the Platonic myth of the cave. He does not suggest seeking the traces of another world in this world. On the contrary, in The Worker, he already denounced “the dualism of the world and its systems.” Likewise, in his Paris Diaries,17 he wrote: “The visible contains all the signs that lead to the invisible. And the existence of the latter must be demonstrable in the visible model.” Thus for Jünger, there is transcendence only in immanence. And when he intends to seek the “things that are behind things,” to use the expression he employs in his “Letter to the Man in the Moon,” it is while being convinced, like Novalis, that “the real is just as magical as the magical is real.”18 One would also err gravely by comparing the Type to a “concept” and the Figure to an “idea.” “A Type,” Jünger writes, “is always stronger than an idea, even more so than a concept.” Indeed, the Type is apprehended by vision, i.e., as image, whereas the concept can be grasped only by thought. Thus to apprehend the Figure or the Type is not to leave the sensible world for some other world that constitutes its first cause, but to seek in the sensible world the invisible dimension that constitutes the “typifying power”: “We recognize individuals: the Type acts as the matrix of our vision. . . . That really shows that it is not so much the Type that we perceive but, in it and behind it, the power of the typifying source.”

The German word for Figure is Gestalt, which one generally translates as “form.”19 The nuance is not unimportant, because it confirms that the Figure is anchored in the world of forms, i.e., in the sensible world, instead of being a Platonic idea, which would find in this world only its mediocre and deformed reflection. Goethe, in his time, was dismayed to learn that Schiller thought that his Ur-Plant (Urpflanze) (archetype) was an idea. The Figure is often misunderstood in the very same way, as Jünger himself emphasized. The Figure is on the side of vision as it is on the side of Being, which is consubstantial with the world. It is not on the side of verum, but of certum.

Let us now see what distinguishes the Figure and the Type. Compared to the Figure, which is more inclusive but also fuzzier, the Type is more limited. Its contours are relatively neat, which makes it a kind of intermediary between the phenomenon and the Figure: “It is,” says Jünger, “the model image of the phenomenon and the guarantor image of the Figure.” The Figure has a greater extension than the Type. It exceeds the Type, as the matrix that gives the form exceeds the form.

In addition, if the Type qualifies a group, the Figure tends rather to qualify a reign or an epoch. Different Types can coexist alongside each other in the same time and place, but there is room for only one Figure.

From this point of view, the relationship between the Figure and the Type is comparable to that of the One and the many. (This is why Jünger writes: “Monotheism can know, strictly speaking, only one Figure. That is why it demotes the gods to the rank of Types.”) That amounts to saying that the Figure is not only a more extensive Type, but that there is also a difference in nature between the Figure and the Type. The Figure can also give rise to Types, assigning them a mission and a meaning. Jünger gives the example of the ocean as an expanse distinct from all the specific seas: “The Ocean is formative of Types; it does not have a Type, it is a Figure.”

Can man set up a Figure like he does a Type? Jünger says that there is no single answer to this question, but nevertheless he tends to the negative. “The Figure,” he writes, “can be sustained, but not set up.” This means that the Figure can be neither conjured by words nor confined by thought. Whereas man can easily name Types, it is much more difficult to do anything with a Figure: “The risk is more singificant, because one approaches the undifferentiated to a greater extent than in naming Types.” The Type depends on man, who adapts it by naming it, whereas the Figure cannot be made our own. “The naming of Types,” Jünger stresses, “depends on man taking possession. On the other hand, when a Figure is named, we are right to suppose that it first takes possession of man.” Man has no access to the “homeland of Figures”: “What is conceived as a Figure is already configured.”

Insofar as it is of the metaphysical order, a Figure appears suddenly. It gives man a sign, leaving him free to ignore or recognize it. But man cannot grasp it by intuition alone. To know or to recognize a Figure implies a more profound contact, comparable to the grasp of kinship. Jünger does not hesitate here to speak about “divination.” A Figure is unveiled, released from oblivion, in the Heideggerian sense—released from the deepest levels of the undifferentiated, says Jünger—by the presence of Being. But at the same time, as it reveals itself, as it rises to appearance and effective power, it “loses its essence”— like a god who chooses to incarnate himself in human form.

Only this “devaluation” of its ontological status makes it possible for man to know what connects him to a Figure that he cannot grasp by thought or by name. Thus the Figure is the “highest representation that man can make of the ineffable and its power.”

In light of the preceeding, can one say that the four Jüngerian Figures are really Figures and not Types? In all rigor, only the Worker fully answers the definition of a Figure insofar as he describes an epoch.

The Soldier, the Rebel, and the Anarch would instead be Types. Jünger writes that, for man, the ability to set up Types proceeds from a “magic power.” He also notes that nowadays this human aptitude is declining and suggests that we are seeing the rise of the undifferentiated, i.e., a “deterioration of Types,” the most visible sign that the old world is giving way to a new one, whose Types have not yet appeared and thus still cannot be named. “To manage to conceive new Types,” he writes, “the spirit must melt the old ones. . . . It is only in the glimmer of the dawn that the undifferentiated can receive new names.” This is why, in the end, he wants to be confident: “It is foreseeable that man will recover his aptitude to set up Types and will thus return to his supreme competence.”

1  Ernst Jünger, Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt  [The Worker: Dominion and Figure ]

(Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1932).

2  The French is “arraisonne.”  Here the verb arraisonner  has the sense of “to enthrall,”

with the dual sense of “to capture” and “to captivate.” Later in this essay,

Benoist uses “arraisonnement”  as equivalent to Heidegger’s “Gestell”  or “Ge-stell,”

which is usually translated into English as “enframing.” According to Heidegger,

the Gestell  is the view of the world as a stockpile (Bestand ) of resources for human

manipulation. Heidegger calls the Gestell  the “essence” of technology, because it is

the worldview that makes modern technological civilization possible. See Martin

Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” trans. William Lovitt, in Martin

Heidegger, Basic Writings , ed. David Farrell Krell, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper,

1993)—TOQ.

3  Ernst Jünger, Der Waldgang  [The Forest Path ] (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann,

1951)—TOQ.

4  Ernst Jünger, Die totale Mobilmachung  (Berlin: Verlag der Zeitkritik, 1931); English

translation: “Total Mobilization,” trans. Joel Golb and Richard Wolin, in Richard

Wolin, ed., The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader  (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1991)—TOQ.

5  Ernst Jünger, Auf den Marmorklippen  (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt,

1939); English translation: On the Marble Cliffs: A Novel , trans. Stuart Hood (London:

John Lehman, 1947).

6  Friedrich Georg Jünger, Die Perfektion der Technik  [The Perfection of Technology ]

(Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1946); English translation: The Failure of Technology:

Perfection Without Purpose,  trans. F. D. Wieck (Hinsdale, Ill.: Henry Regnery,

1949).

7 “l’arraisonnement technicien” —TOQ.

8  Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil  (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1977); English translation:

Eumeswil , trans. Joachim Neugroschel (New York: Marsilio, 1993).

9  Ernst Jünger, Heliopolis: Rückblick auf eine Stadt  [Heliopolis: Review of a City ]

(Tübingen: Heliopolis, 1949)—TOQ.

10  “‘Жber die Linie’: Penser l’Рtre dans l’ombre du nihilisme” [“‘Over the Line’:

Thinking of Being in the Shadow of Nihilism”], in Les Carnets Ernst Jünger  1 (1996),

49.

11 “l’arraisonnement” —TOQ.

12  Ernst Jünger, Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis  [Battle as Inner Experience ] (Berlin:

Mittler, 1922)—TOQ.

13  Ernst Jünger, Sturm  [Storm ] (written 1923) (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1978)—TOQ.

14  Ernst Jünger, Das Abenteuerliche Herz: Aufzeichnungen bei Tag und Nacht  [The

Adventurous Heart: Sketches by Day and Night ] (Berlin: Frundsberg, 1929).

15  The following Appendix is section one of the original lecture, followed by the

last paragraph of section three—TOQ.

16  Ernst Jünger, Typus—Name—Gestalt  (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1963).

17  In Ernst Jünger, Strahlungen  [Emanations ] (Tübingen: Heliopolis, 1949). In English:

The Paris Diaries: 1941 –1942 , trans. M. Hulse (London: Farrar, Straus &  Giroux,

1992)—TOQ.

18  Ernst Jünger, “Sizilischer Brief an den Mann im Mond” [“Sicilian Letter to the

Man in the Moon”], in BlКtter und Steine  [Leaves and Stones ] (Hamburg: Hanseatische

Verlagsanstalt, 1934).

19  The first volume of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West  (1916) already bore

the subtitle: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit  [Form and Reality ]. “Gestalt ,” writes Gilbert Merlio,

“is the Form of forms, what ‘informs’ reality in the manner of the Aristotelian

entelechy ; it is the morphological unity that one perceives beneath the diversity of

historical reality, the formative idea (or Urpflanze !) that gives it coherence and direction”

(“Les images du guerrier chez Ernst Jünger” [“The Images of the Warrior in

Ernst Jünger”], in DaniПle Beltran-Vidal, ed., Images d’Ernst Jünger  [Images of Ernst  Jünger], [Berne: Peter Lang, 1996], 35).

http://toqonline.com/archives/v8n3/TOQv8n3Benoist.pdf

Do Humans Deserve to Survive?

 “The world still sings. But the warnings are wise. We have lost much, and we’re risking much more. Some risks, we see coming. But there are also certainties hurtling our way that we fail to notice. The dinosaurs failed to anticipate the meteoroid that extinguished them. But dinosaurs didn’t create their own calamity. Many others don’t deserve the calamity that we’re creating.” – Carl Safina, The View From Lazy Point[1]

Fatigue.

         Decades of fighting the wholesale destruction of the wild, witnessing the displacement of wild communities, seeing the war on wild beings continue, failing to stop fragile ecological niches from being crossed and decimated by access roads and channels, and this is how it feels: exhausting.

         I’m sure the earth is all too familiar.

         We see the studies and reports. They never improve. Previous assessments (already bleak) for the impact of climate instability on wildlife put 7% of mammals and 4% of birds in the “heavily impacted” range. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) just updated that analysis to move nearly half of all mammals and a quarter of all threatened bird species into that category.[2] That doesn’t include the quarter of all the world’s mammals that currently are threatened with extinction from habitat loss and poaching.[3] That doesn’t include the 90% of the Great Barrier Reef suffering from coral bleaching.[4]

         This list literally does not end.

         “One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken.”[5] That is the summation of the threat that a group of ecologists, biologists, and economists (of all people) came to after a meeting this month at the Vatican (of all places). There are models: attempts to quantify what can only be considered a catastrophic turn of events in the timeline of the Earth. There are campaigns: attempts to tap into some deeply buried empathy on the part of the civilized by reminding us that statistics mean rhinos, elephants, gibbons, black-footed ferrets, and polar bears.

         They aren’t dying: civilization is killing them. We are killing them.

         As industrialization crossed a new threshold, into a world where carbon dioxide has moved above 400 parts-per-million, seemingly “permanently”, we are killing ourselves as well.[6] The UK based NGO, Global Challenges Foundation, found that with current scenarios, “the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.”[7] Not to be outdone, professional doomsayer Guy McPherson believes there won’t be a human left on earth by mid-2026.[8]

         Like everyone else worn out by having to find a morsel of empathy, even just enough to try to leverage sympathy amongst other civilized humans to even want to care about imminent catastrophe, even likely to directly impact our own lives: there’s a breaking point. We’re left wondering if we deserve to survive the extinction event that we’ve started and continue amplifying? Didn’t we do this to ourselves? Wouldn’t the earth be better off without us?

         At times, you get so deep in it that for a moment you actually feel just a fraction of this loss. In those moments, you can almost celebrate the notion of human extinction. Or at least hope that an asteroid hits the planet, setting off a chain of reactions faster and greater than anything civilization and its unfortunate human creators would shoulder. Realistically, that’s an escape, arguably one we truly don’t deserve.

         But this is the problem with that question: it’s really fucking stupid.

         It’s a pointless question that turns a real crisis situation into an existential dilemma. This is the kind of philosophical quandary that got us into this mess in the first place. The ability to disengage from reality and deflect the consequences of our actions happens because we aren’t grounded. We aren’t feeling this loss. We aren’t seeing it.

         To a great degree, we can’t. Our brains evolved for life in nomadic hunter-gatherer camps. We evolved to know relatively local populations in great and intimate detail. Our impact, prior to being scaled irreparably through technology, was largely negligible on a global scale. Our ability and reach outgrew our evolutionary capacity to understand and control it. This is the tragedy of history.

         But it is the underlying basis for our reality and the wild communities of this earth are dying as a result.

         We are dying. But this is a biological consequence, not a moralistic one. The probability of human extinction isn’t payback. The earth isn’t vengeful. A destabilized climate creates dozens of potential scenarios where the earth simply becomes uninhabitable for humans.

         That is a possibility.

         In terms of certainty, we have a little more clarity, as biologist Carl Safina points out:

“The current concentration [of carbon dioxide] is higher than it’s been for several million years; it’s rising one hundred times faster than at any time in the past 650,000 years. The planet has survived much higher greenhouse gas concentrations; civilization hasn’t.”[9]

         To treat this as an existential threat, a crisis of faith, is seeking absolution. It’s looking for an easy way out.

         That is luxury we surely don’t deserve. And for two reasons: the first being that humans didn’t create this mess, not as a whole at least. Civilization is a historical epoch. Settled societies, built around granaries and agriculture, begin to spot the earth barely more than 12,000 years ago. The cities that served as the foundation for the globalized civilization that we’ve inherited are roughly half as old. Civilizations start locally and spread by force.

         It is clear that civilization is a human issue, but against the backdrop of millions of years where humans lived in egalitarian bands, our shared lineage of primal anarchy, it is also clear that most of us are captives of this beast, not the engineers. Nearly all humans alive don’t get to really reap the benefits of an extinction-causing glut of material and economic or spiritual bounty. As many examples as we have of humans actively destroying this earth, there are infinite counter-examples of how humans have lived with and within its wild communities. If we want to say humans deserve extinction, we doom the struggling nomadic foragers and semi-sedentary gardeners for the same mess they are actively resisting. If we’re talking about what is deserved and what isn’t, I’d definitely say we don’t have the right to give up on their behalf.

         The second reason is that whatever conclusion we reach doesn’t matter. At all.

         The problem with such a grandiose question as the fate of an entire species is that it’s unable to recognize the delusion of control we believe we have. Granted, we have militarized our ambitions. There are plots to eliminate mosquitoes now that echo the campaigns that wiped bison, wolves, and passenger pigeons out of the United States as surely as many native populations. If we doom ourselves, it will be incidentally: nuclear power, catastrophic shifts in a survivable climate, or a wholesale dependence upon a climate suitable for agriculture (a luxury we surely will lose).

         Unless there’s a particularly sinister plot to create a gas that will target and finalize humanity, our discussions on the merits of human survival are pointless. Either extinction will take us or it won’t. Whichever way that unfolds, it will be our fault, but it won’t be our choice (outside of the individual level).

         The arrogance of this kind of question is blind hubris: the same thing that got us in our predicament. And it’s the same arrogance that will keep us blind to seeing outside of it.

This is what we know: the earth is changing.

         The stability that made settlements and agriculture possible is fading, quickly. We know that politicians and priests, in every single instance of civilizations collapsing prior, could never reconcile their vision with reality. Borders increasingly become death traps. Nationalism and xenophobia increasingly become distractions. This is exactly what we face now. Our situation absolutely has precedents. What has changed is the scale.

         That is what must be accounted for. Attempts to correct the course are futile. And worse, they’re pathetic. More optimistic figures for human extinction tend to range in hundreds of years instead of decades. Are we really this resolved to defend our children’s executioner, in the event that we ourselves are spared? If we recognize that we can’t look to political, corporate and religious figures to see the wailing within the walls, then it is vital to recognize that their entire political system can’t save us. Civilization won’t save us. Agriculture won’t save us.

         We are heading into unchartered territory. But there is a precedent here as well. We have survived ice ages. We have survived massive shifts in climate. Deserved or not, humans are pretty damn adaptable. Our ancestors survived the last ice age the same way coyotes did: embracing a fission-fissure society, based around mobility, shifted from being largely hunter-scavengers to hunter-gatherers. Mobility, adaptability, resilience; the things that made us egalitarian are the things that saw us through unthinkable periods of flux. I tend to think this isn’t a coincidence.

         All of those aspects are still within us. They still shape the way we see, think, feel and interact with the world. History, the time since civilization, is a glaring contradiction to that reality, but, in the end, that matters little. There will be no cosmic justice.

         History, all of the supposed achievements of civilization, abandoned skyscrapers and power plants that will stand as tombstones to an era of unnatural and unthinkable cruelty, will become its own dustbin. There is some reassurance in that, but there is no comfort. There are predictions for how our path unfolds, but there is no crystal ball. There is no one pulling strings.

         There are certainties, possibilities and probabilities. A certainty is that things will get worse. A probability is that life will be better off because of it. Most likely, that won’t be immediately clear. Our survival, like the survival of half of all existing mammals and a quarter of existing birds, is a possibility.

         It may not be a choice, but fighting for that possibility is.

         It’s understandable to want to give in. It’s comforting to think that we might be powerful enough to wish punishment on ourselves. That penance is on our terms. But it’s an exercise in futility. A luxury we can no longer afford. If we want to resist the worst-case scenario, then we’re better off starting with the right questions. Instead of pontificating the merit of human existence, we should recognize that our own survival is intertwined with the fate of all other life. Our struggle is inseparable from theirs.

         Our lives are inseparable from theirs.

         The question should be: when will we start acting like it?

For more of this discussion, check out Black and Green Review. 

[1] Carl Safina, The View From Lazy Point. New York: Picador, 2011. Pgs 2-3.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/13/act-before-entire-species-lost-global-warming-say-scientists

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/one-quarter-of-worlds-mammals-face-extinction/

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/20/asia/great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/25/half-all-species-extinct-end-century-vatican-conference

[6] http://www.climatecentral.org/news/world-passes-400-ppm-threshold-permanently-20738

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/a-human-extinction-isnt-that-unlikely/480444/

[8] https://guymcpherson.com/2017/02/faster-than-expected/

[9] Safina, 2011. Pg 71.