“How many of you are stoned right now?” Michael Imperioli asked, taking the microphone at Symphony Space on Wednesday. A lone clap hung in the air as he donned a pair of reading glasses and began reciting from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “Suddenly I felt guilty again …”
The Selected Shorts event, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s ill-fated trip to Sin City, brought out the program’s usual crowd–40-something couples on dates and elderly arts patrons, high on nothing so much as the giddy thrill of paying witness to a moment of live-to-tape public radio.
Asked about his own drug experiences, host Isiah Sheffer told The Observer, “Well, let me put it this way: I did what everybody in my crowd did. A little bit of smoking this, a little bit of pills of that, but it’s nothing worth writing about.”
Sports Illustrated group editor Terry McDonell had kicked off the evening by smearing lipstick across his mouth, explaining that Thompson did the same whenever he felt his own financial motivations were trumping loftier concerns. “So that’s for the hundred bucks,” Mr. McDonell said of his honorarium.
Another presenter, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi, recalled how as a young writer he’d conducted a personal study of the gonzo aesthetic by rewriting a Swingline Stapler brochure in Thompson’s voice.
“The fucker’s not much for cardboard boxes but it’s pure hell on legal documents!” he said, pulling his lower lip to the side as one does when imitating Thompson. “It’s a jack-hammering stapling machine that you can shove right down the goddamn throat of the industry standard.”
During the intermission, agent Paul Bresnick told us how, as an editor at Doubleday, he’d once pitched a still-unpublished Thompson novel to a group of his colleagues, including Jackie Onassis.
“And at the end of my presentation,” he recalled, “she slipped a piece of paper over to me which said, ‘I would give up lunch to be Hunter Thompson’s editor.'” —Dan Duray