Collect Telegram from a Mad Dog
by Hunter S. Thompson
Not being a poet, and drunk as well,
leaning into the diner and dawn
and hearing a juke box mockery of some better
I wanted rhetoric
but could only howl the rotten truth
should have his nuts ripped off with a plastic fork.
Then howled around like a man with the
not knowing what I wanted there
Probably the waitress, bend her double
like a safety pin,
Deposit the mad seed before they
tie off my tubes
. . .
Suddenly a man with wild eyes rushed
out from the wooden toilet
Foam on his face and waving a razor
like a flag, shouting
. . .
We'll take our vengeance now!
. . .
We rang for Luboff
on the pay phone, but there was
. . .
Get a Lawyer, I said. These swine have gone
Now is the time to
lay a writ on them,
Cease and Desist
. . .
The legal man agreed
We had a case and indeed a duty to
Right these Wrongs, as it were
The Price would be four thousand in front and
ten for the nut.
I wrote him a check on the Sawtooth
but he hooted at it
While rubbing a special oil on
To keep the chancres from itching
On this Sabbath.
. . .
Later, from jail
I sent a brace of telegrams
to the right people,
explaining my position.
October 13, 1965
b e i n g a p o e t
It's those funny line breaks. The jagged right-hand border, the enjambed, unnatural pause in the mind and on the tongue. This is why we call it "poetry." Because the sentiment, the strength, the tone, the violence of the language here, it's all trademark HST. And though "not being a poet" (as he ironically begins this poem), he sure as hell writes like one.
In general, I mean. Most of his screeds, most of his high white notes, could easily run down the page in broken lines piled in high, precarious stanzas. And he could be called a poet, because poetry at its heart is metaphor and sound—and Thompson's imagery and tooth-rattling word-music underpin everything he writes. His capitalization of Big Ideas is a technique borrowed from the poets. And even within the experimental hybrid that is literary journalism, he takes the term "poetic license" an order of magnitude beyond.
Here, in this poem, it's fury, frustration and loathing that carry Thompson through a bleak roadside-diner dawn. He's the mad dog, a creature of violent appetites and strong instincts, and he understands that if he does not soon follow through on them, he never will. He fears a symbolic castration, fears the world will "tie off his tubes" (a theme he explores in his recent novel, The Rum Diary), and yet he wishes the same fate upon choral director Norman Luboff. Perhaps he feels if a man isn't using them, he doesn't deserve to keep them.
Thompson writes about outcasts, about those unfit for this world. He writes of Hell's Angels; of leaveovers from the sixties struggling to make sense of a society that's moved on; of untamable men with "wild eyes," a thirst for frontier justice, and a healthy distrust of normalcy. He writes here of savages.
And the language is dead on. Thompson's vocabulary has always been precise and incredibly kinetic. From the plastic fork to the itching chancres and then to the final "brace of telegrams," there's a certain angry boredom and frenzied anticipation here that pounds and pounds and pounds. This mad pulse is the center of this poem, the center of some of the best of his work, and the driving force that pulls new generations of readers back into Thompson's high Gonzo peak.
n o t e s
Thompson wrote this poem and others while researching the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang for his upcoming book,
Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. It appeared in Berkeley's Spider Magazine, and was later included
in Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt.
"It's a true story," says Thompson: "I was sitting at the counter
[of a Point Richmond diner] with a waitress having some coffee when
suddenly a stranger came out of the bathroom with shaving cream on his face
ranting like a madman."
Thompson, of course, spent the rest of the day with the "madman."
Terry Gilliam's film version of Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes
reference to this poem. To paraphrase, Thompson (Johnny Depp) says to
Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro, whose character is based on Oscar Zeta Acosta)
that he could always write a telegram—
"Explaining your position," Del Toro cuts in. "Yeah, I think some asshole
wrote a poem about that. . ."
Thompson, Hunter S. "Collect Telegram from a Mad Dog." The Great Shark Hunt. New York: Fawcett Popular Library, 1980. 113-15
"Collect Telegram from a Mad Dog" is © Hunter S. Thompson. Permission to publish this poem on E2 has been requested, though no response has yet been received. This writeup is CST Approved.