Pathetically, I tried to explain the procedure. The boos and catcalls increased. I had an inspiration. "Shut up!" I suggested.
That did it; they were really pissed now. Only one person could save this situation, and he ambled onto the stage, grinning and waving a crude broom. The crowd roared, Thompson's eyes gleamed at the scene before him: the panel lined up at the table like dunce-capped defendants in a Chinese People's Court, before them a surging mass of overwhelmingly white male young drunks howling for their blood. Without hesitation, he pledged allegiance to the mob. His sidelong glances of bemused contempt at the beleaguered wretches sharing the stage with him said it all. There would be no mercy.
But we are, after all, professionals. I asked the first question. "Congratulations," I began, "on your recent Literary Lions Award. . ."
"Asskisser!" someone noted.
"...I'd like to read you something you wrote 17 years ago in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and see whether you still agree with it: Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life. . ."
Thompson rolled his eyes. "Sure," he said sullenly.
"Then why do you still do it?"
The audience, meanwhile, had again begun suggesting that I get the fuck off the stage, and Thompson seemed to share the sentiment. Still, the mikes were not in place. Maybe I could turn their wrath from myself and my colleagues to more worthy objects like Charlie Manson or Ed Meese? "In your San Francisco Examiner column, you often choose a swine of the week. Who would you say is the swine of the decade?"
"You!" a wit from the pits shouted.
Thompson gave me a 'You poor dumb bastard' look. "That's the people talking," he shrugged.
Thanks, Doc. I tried a few more questions, as did my colleagues on the panel, with the same results. At last Thompson snapped, "Are all these questions coming from fucking journalists? Who's in charge of this?
"I am," I said, "ostensibly."
"Well, you aren't any longer." Wild applause. The ride was over for me at last. No more participatory journalism for me; I would just take notes. The microphone was in place; not that it was ever needed, as people bellowed from their seats without need of amplification.
"What's your favorite drug?"
"What have you got?"
"What do you think of sex on acid?"
"I don't know, you got some acid?"
Spirits were high, but some of the questions led to longer, serious reflections. Someone brought up the Berlin Wall, which put Thompson in a more prophetic mood. "The wall has opened up," he said. "Everybody in the world is moving forward except for us. We're no longer the leading edge in the world. Gorbachev is riding the tiger of the Soviet system while we elect Bush. The leading edge is on the Brandenburg Gate, or in Moscow. There's no appetite for it here anymore. It's like, I got mine, Jack."
"What can we do to avoid being a generation of swine?"