“I want FOOD! Rum is not enough alone. I shall entitle my story ‘Rum is Not Enough.’ Or ‘ Not by Rum Alone.’ My stamps, envelopes, stationery and typewriter ribbon are stolen. I have a scooter and Sermonin has gone crazy. He can’t remember anything. I have no tobacco either. Only Salems. At 35 cents a pack. AND NO FUCKING FOOD.”
Hunter S. Thompson in a letter from Puerto Rico, March 20, 1960 from The Proud Highway
While enduring this bleak reality, a twenty-two year old Hunter Thompson began writing The Rum Diary. Thirty-eight years later, he finished the novel in the summer of 1998, as you can witness here in Episode Three of The Rum Diary Back-Story.
Hunter’s 1960 letter pleading for help continues:
“I can’t even get to people. I don’t know where they are. I am 13 miles from San Juan in a negro community and not a goat-sucking soul speaks English. I must have FOOD. The swine seems to think that I am above eating. Jesus ate – why can’t I? Oh God give me the strength to dump in their eyes.”
Hunter had hope for more than starvation in Puerto Rico. In 1959, he saw an ad in Editor & Publisher for a sports editor position at the San Juan Star – an English language daily somewhat like that depicted in The Rum Diary. But, his cheeky letter applying for the job was rejected by the editor – William Kennedy, who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Ironweed. Hunter’s reply to Kennedy was classic Gonzo:
“your letter was cute my friend, and your interpretation of my letter was beautifully typical of the cretin-intellect responsible for the dry-rot of the American press. But don’t think that an invitation from you will keep me from getting down that way, and when I do remind me to first kick your teeth out and then jam a bronze plaque far into your small intestine.” HST letter to William Kennedy, August 30, 1959
After being rejected by the San Juan Star, Hunter applied for a job at the Puerto Rico Bowling News and was rejected. Determined to get to Puerto Rico, he applied to a new English language weekly bowling publication – El Sportivo – and was accepted. Only a few months after he arrived in Puerto Rico, El Sportivo folded, leaving Hunter with no pay and no food.
Hunter had an amazing ability to insult people into deep, long-lasting friendships, and that odd talent somehow affected Kennedy since they became lifetime friends following their series of acidic letters in 1959.
This unusual talent to berate people into friendship comes into play in later episodes of The Rum Diary Back-Story as Hunter battles to have his novel turned into a movie.
To be continued.