My bedside reading for the last, I don’t know, seven years or so has been Dr. Thompson’s The Proud Highway, the first volume of his collected letters covering the years 1955-1967. This is a weighty tome, almost 700 pages in hardback, and offers a great deal of insight into the man. In his personal life he was something of a pig, racist and sexist and rude, but also unfailingly loyal to his friends. In his professional life he was an anything but a slacker; during the years covered by this book he cranked out unpublished novels and reams of correspondence while making ends meet as a journalist, often through difficult and dangerous travels in South America.
Which makes the following—an excerpt from a 1958 letter that seems all too timely 51(!) years later—that much more interesting.
I hadn’t realized I had so many gloomy, cynical acquaintances. Everybody wants to give me religion, sympathy, hope, forbearance, all sorts of idiotic priestly qualities so that I may better weather the storm of unemployment.
To hell with unemployment: I think it’s a fine thing. I like sleeping all day and having nothing to do but read, write, and sleep whenever I feel tired. I like waking up in the morning and going immediately back to bed if the weather is foul. In short, I think it’s a fine situation for a man to be in: provided, of course, that he has enough money to eat and pay the rent.
I don’t…and therefore I must work: but what the hell? Is it anything to cry and pray for forgiveness about? Is it some sort of heinous shame, some great soul-sucking agony for which universal pity is the only cure? Hell no it’s not. I get goddamn tired of getting letters telling me to “buck up,” to “keep my chin up,” to “keep trying,” to “pray and be virtuous,” and to read Horatio Alger books. I like being unemployed. I’m lazy. There are plenty of jobs, but I just plain damn don’t want to work. It’s that simple: you work in Fort Walton because you’re a good sportswriter…you loaf in New York because you’re not a good sportswriter. Everything is relative…and I have an ode:
“Ah, lives there a man with soul so dead, who never himself hath said, as he hunched and rolled in his comfortable bed:
“To hell with the rent…I’ll drink instead!”
Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives…and to the “good life,” whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.
Let us strip to the ankles and revel in everything sensual: let us laugh at the world as it looks at itself through mushroom-cloudy glasses…and I suppose we might as well pay the rent too: for eviction is second only to hunger as the dirtiest word in the dictionary.
So there you have it: a slacker’s credo for pleasure. I shall type forty carbons and send them out to all who would send me their sympathy.