There I was Sunday night, all ready to write my column on Academy Awards trivia. Basic Q&A format, some quick research, spoon in some funny, no problem. And then I heard about the passing of Hunter S. Thompson, and I became ashamed.
Thompson's deranged prose changed the face of journalism. Where other reporters crouched at the marble altar of aloof objectivity, Thompson helped pioneer "gonzo" journalism that demanded the reporter force himself into the story's bloody body cavity and cover it from the inside even as it died a horrible, spastic death from his thrashing. Reckless? Unethical? Sure. But his writing had a fever-dream intensity that plain old "accurate" reporting simply can't match.
His books astounded and inspired me with their sheer audacity. How could I sit there Googling for Oscar FAQs when he would have been out there savagely ripping the truth from the shrieking, Botoxed lips of Hollywood itself? Did I really want to settle for less?
By six o'clock Monday morning I was staggering out of Los Angeles International Airport where the truth was waiting at the curb, ready to mug me and leave me naked and helpless among the ferocious timber wolves of the Topanga hills.
"I don't know anything! I don't even like movies! I only watch public-supported television!"
It was obvious he was hiding something but I didn't have enough time to starve him properly. It would have to be torture. I used my fourteenth 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew to wash down another fistful of Flintstone Chewables, for courage. I could feel one of my eyes spinning, counterclockwise this time, but I couldn't let it distract me.
The Academy Awards ceremony was to be held at the Kodak Theater at Hollywood and Highland, an imposing edifice that has hosted such gala events as the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, the American Idol finals, and concerts by Celine Dion and Barry Manilow. Even in the parking garage below I could feel it sucking at my very soul.
There were no velvet ropes outside yet but hopefuls were already lining up in neat rows, just in case some celebrities might decide to swing by six days early. For a wild moment I considered trying to pass myself off as James Lipton but I feared kidnapping.
Instead I lured a valet with promises of free bowling passes and then duct-taped him to a column. I was prepared to spend days breaking his spirit, with ice water and jumper cables if necessary, but we both knew I was doing him a favor. His mind was nearly crushed already from the weight of oppressive actor egos and unyielding auteur demands. Who knows what sort of loathsome detritus he'd seen while parking celebrity SUVs? He'd have been dead by Thursday if I hadn't come along, dead and dumped in the Bahia de los Angeles where crab-covered personal trainers bump gently against the rocks by the truckload.
"Answer my questions and I'll let you go," I lied. I guzzled the rest of my Dew quickly before the quarter pound of Pop Rocks I'd poured in there could stop fizzing.
"I don't understand…"
The words on my question list were blurry but that might have been the vitamins. Apparently the Wilmas were stronger than the Barneys, an odd gender reversal I didn't have time to explore. "Who has the most acting nominations? Answer me, you fiend!"
"I don't know! You're crazy! Help! Police!"
I hit him with the Mountain Dew bottle. It was empty so it bounced, but the intent got across. "Tell me! I command you!" I raised the plastic bottle again for a killing strike.
Suddenly he looked at me with the stricken eyes of the damned. Sweat broke out on my forehead. I had connected to the intelligence controlling him, and now I had to ride the tiger before I was dragged to death behind him. "Most nominations," I urged through clenched teeth.
"Meryl Streep," he spat. "13. But Katharine Hepburn holds the distinction of most wins with four Leading Actress Oscars."
"And the first ceremony?" I demanded, relentless. It was working! This column would blow the cover off the Oscars and then all my editor's talk of expense account abuse and litigation would melt away like spring snow. "When was it? You must answer! The social contract demands it!"
"May 16, 1929, with Academy president Douglas Fairbanks, Sr handing out all the awards." The valet cackled slyly. "Things were different then."
I heard a rustle behind me and I spun to see the members of the Academy, all 5,700 of them, standing around me in gold and scarlet robes. I had miscalculated, badly. I should have remembered that there are no humans left in Los Angeles who are not in the entertainment business. Roaming bands of feral actors swarm through the city, fighting to the death to read for a bit part in a Jack Nicholson picture lest they be banished to dinner theater, never to be heard from again. And I had just poked the Beast underneath its own temple of self-worship.
"He almost got away!" I screamed, and pointed back at the snarling valet. "He was going to spill the beans about where the name 'Oscar' came from!"
As one they turned on the hapless flunky and I bolted, throwing myself down the hall to escape their slavering teeth and A-list claws. I heard explosions behind me but I dared not pause. Instead I leapt into my rental car and sped off towards the airport, leaving my notes, my pharmaceuticals, and my gonzohood behind.
I heard later from my sources that I had been inadvertently aided by Jim Carrey's daring kamikaze raid on the building, a bold attempt to take by force the statuette he feared they'd never relinquish peacefully. There was a story there, but it wasn't for me. Hunter S. Thompson was a twisted genius who made gonzo journalism look easy.
Me, I'll stick with Google.