A scripted dialogue for Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion
JD: Jasmine, growing at the garage of the house of my girlhood. The flowers were heavy, hanging from limp bushes. We had to guide them with white trellises. I used to climb up the back trellis to sit on the roof and watch the street through the orange tree, smoking cigarettes. Not many cars went by. When I was old enough, I went for drives instead. But jasmine doesn’t grow along the highway. Once, I passed a Pinto with a steaming engine, and a sign, “Will be back.” A little further down the road, a young woman and a little boy. The sweat was visible under her arms, and he carried with him a wooden stool. I stared at the way he held the stool as I passed them. I’ve lost the scent of that bush by the garage. But I can recall it like no other taste or smell, and could tell you about jasmine.
HST: Sitting in his hotel in Cozomel. The jasmine came in through the walls, the whole building was built with it. He’d lay on this rickety cot, sharing a cigarette with a bed bug the size of a Boston terrier, needing to get the fuck going. But the lazy cloud of light hung over his room in a sticky fog with the oppressive jasmine.
J: That’s you, the “him.”
H: It could be.
J: It could be “he,” “I,” “you,” “we,” “they,” it’s always you.
H: Like you.
J: The story comes out of the voice, and the clearest voice is mine. I make a bad decision and lose the voice, lose the story.
H: Bad decision?
J: While you’re writing. The good ideas you have that ooze through the afternoon at your desk to become major problems.
H: You should get a program on your computer for a fist to jump out of the screen and punch you when you are about to make such a mistake.
J: Actually, I try to write my first drafts on real paper, with some kind of ink, right in front of me, to touch and sift through. Even on a typewriter if I have to.
H: I didn’t take you for an old fart.
J: Poets used to write their lines with their tongues. Then, smudgier ones with drippy fingers. The saddest invention is the invention of the pen, because now the words don’t come from our bodies, they come from some other place. Who knows where they come from?
H: Yes! he shouts. I am so glad you said that. Fuck! The word is no longer us, we are no longer the word! We’ve become part of this whole writing process, part of a mechanism of writing, as if we’re pulling the words out of the air, or from a script, from a source of predetermined meaning, and not out of our guts and throats—like we’re a press, a machine, churning out what someone else authored. I want to write “Snakes!” on this floor, in red, with my ass.
J: My god.
H: Don’t you? he shouted.
J: Ha. I mean, I’ve heard these things.
H: What things have you heard?
J: The way you walk into rooms, a low voice. Boastful, like you have the walls of the universe in your belly. Your voice fills these rooms. Then you destroy these rooms. You extend your acidic tentacles out into these rooms and gather every lamp, every dark corner, every splinter of a chair, to your gaping blue mouth, and you gobble them up. So then you have these rooms in your belly, too. Underneath your crusty, flappy brown jacket. And then, what you spin out of the contents of your belly! Long, voluminous, luminous threads, wound from strands of poison that could pierce a man’s nostrils, or his thigh, and fill him with words that could crush his lungs. Words that could crush a coffee cup sitting next to them on a table. And at first, the man is terrified—he can’t breathe. But then he finds he is breathing new breath. And you, your hulking figure leans back in your chair and has a good, long laugh.
H: Jesus, Joanie! Oh, the whale fat of my soul! I want you to do more talking.
J: What I want is for you to gather that purple afghan up to your chin, look out that window and think about whatever it is that you’ve never let us read. Then I could talk for hours about your face.
H: I’d rather swallow a fire that’s consuming a box of screws, screws crusted with lead paint sucked from your dead grandmother’s fingernail polish. You want everybody to be still. You eat still, silent rooms to taste their silence.
J: And you eat them just to chew them up. Like cud.
H: Chewing tobacco! I love spitting them out. I can’t stop spitting them out. I’ll spit them into the air and catch them with my waistband, a cartoon clown with oversized pants.
J: Here, take that tobacco of those rooms and roll me a cigarette with it, I’m dying to smoke.
H: That lamp. Do you see that lamp?
J: No. Where would it be if it were?
J: I see.
H: There’s a lighter by the base of that lamp, there. I would love to sit and have a smoke with you, Joanie. Joanie D and me, having a C. Let’s sit on that roof you used to hide on as a girl, with the jasmine. My god it’s been so long since I’ve held that fibrous, bountiful stench in the hairs of my nose.
J: Nothing moves behind the orange tree. On a day like today, it’s so quiet. Everything is distant, you can hear the thoughts of strangers as they walk by, if they would walk by.
H: Yes! Yes dammit.
J: They’re so heavy, their thoughts. You can hear the suffering of the world.
H: If I could hear the thoughts of the world, I’d shoot them into the sky for us all to lay eyes upon. Then we’d be in on it. You might say, free.
J: But I wonder how we could be free with all those messages pressing down on us. New strata of sadness in the atmosphere.
H: For us to investigate, for us to know!
J: Ha! To lock us down in a vice.
H: To embrace us, to be fucked. To fuck so hard until you can’t tell who is being fucked. The words—the words you want to touch—and yet you shrink away from them!
J: Not my words, the words that hold too much, I want to touch my words on the page.
H: Fuck the words. You’re worried about being separated from the page, that beige emptiness. That’s what you love.
J: Get your fucking boots off my roof.
H: I’ll smear my boot shit on your roof until you tell me some words that don’t come from your own body. You have to take them in through yourself from the outside and then belch them up, or you’re just spitting up untruths.
J: I’m sorry, but there’s no method to the way I spew my thoughts.
H: There is, there’s the method of never giving yourself to anyone but yourself. You have no great loyalties!
J: And where are your loyalties? In your faxes and telegrams, your packets of reds and joints wrapped in pouches of tin foil? Drugs wrapped with gold ribbon.
H: His voice becomes breathy and he says, I put on every skin of this earth. I put on the dirt, I put on the moldy sand and all the fish shit that sits at the bottom of the ocean, I put on the boring blue carpets of office parks and vacant linoleum church halls, I put on bingo balls and bongo bags, I put on every ugly and mundane and brilliant shining jacket of this world. But you. Even when you walk through someone else’s house, you wear your own skin. You’re ripening in it, and you taste yourself. I’m rotted, and you are so mellow.
J: Mell-lell. Mellooooo.
H: Mellon mellow, mellow mellon.
J: Yellin. Yellow mellow. Well-oh.
H: That fucking song played on a jukebox in Vladivostok as I sipped my final 10c glass of vodka.
J: That song played on the record player the last time I made love to my first great love.
H: What a fucking stupid ass song.
J: There you go. Did you put something in the tobacco.
H: Just a little mary jane, for flavor. He exhales.
J: Why do you keep narrating your speech, like that, like a sportscaster?
H: It's the addiction. To ESPN. Haha!
J: Are you just so used to fictionalizing yourself?
H: You mean that all of my writing is thinly veiled autobiography. Sometimes, I don't even veil it. Again, like you.
J: But each time you do it, you're putting a distance between you, number one, and your self, number two.
H: How do you mean, he grumbles.
J: You talk as if your voice has no body, just a fist. Or like your body is always thinking.
H: Jesus, Joanie, are you kidding me? Jesus fuck. My voice has no body? Of course my voice has no fucking body. He pauses. But a writer never has a body, anyway, to start with. A reader has no… concern for a writer's body--
J: I'm not interested in a reader, here. I'm not talking about writing. I'm asking you about your fucking body, man, and your voice.
H: My voice! My low voice that occupies space only to fill it with words.
J: Your voice that is a projected void! An extension of your gut, a voice that hungers!
H: Bullshit. At the end of the day all I am is a pile of words. And that's all you're interested in. You don't want my body, you want me to have one so I can write about it, and you can absorb more of my words, lay your flat palm on more pages.
J: Your words? Your fucking words? You don't understand. I don't want anything to do with your words. I've never cared about your words. What about your chest cavity, your jaw. I own your body, I love it so much.
H: You crazy bitch, you can't own something you have no responsibility for.
J: And you do? You offered your body up to the earth and the sky and I fucking grabbed it.
H: My body.
J: I know your body, I know what you drink. We come from the same time and place, don't you see? We both gravitate toward the sun. Tepid, fetid humidity, baking rotted orchid nectar into our skin.
H: No, no-- you might want the sun to photosynthesize your inborn misery into writer juices, but I follow the sun to find the sand, lifted by the wind. I've only ever wanted to be flayed by the wind.
J: For whatever reason we rise, we emerge.
H: Sometimes, an open empty well will unsettle you.
J: You're not even shaking.
H: I'm gonna roll another one. Dig?
J: Sure. You know, I can almost hear the blues coming on over the PA.
H: I told you, you are so mellow.
J: Mellow can be swell you know?
H: It isn’t the blues, by the way. This is the last jazz song they ever played before God invented the blues.
J: Christ, your face is a pallet of shadows in this twilight.
H: Look at your arms. If we stitched cheesecloth to your fingertips and your elbows, I think you could glide.
J: If I could glide, I would glide over you.
H: Ha! Ha. We’ll see, Joanie D. We’ll see.
Originally published in Everday Genius.