Back in college days, I became a big Warren Zevon fan. I dug into his albums because I liked the twisted lyrics and sad, crazy, needy, nutso characters he created. Zevon later became friends with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite writers. They used to shoot and blow away shit in Hunter’s backyard in Owl Creek, Colorado.
I particularly liked Thompson because from the 70s on he tore into the increasingly deadly brand of conservatism he saw emerging from the Reagan years and on into the George. H.W. Bush era. Somewhere around this house of mine there is a Thompson book called Generation of Swine that tears apart the falsehood of Reaganism and the sinister evil behind the whole Bush family cabal.
Reading any Hunter S. Thompson essay is a satisfying venture. Short of Henry Miller’s description of sex scenes in books like Tropic of Cancer and Sexus, or the poems of Charles Bukowski, there are few writers as capable of literary catharsis as Hunter S. Thompson. I even loved when he ripped on the whole marathon running craze in his book The Curse of Lono. Because why not? I was a dedicated competitive runner when Thompson wrote that book but I always thought that running marathons was unnecessary to prove yourself.
Even the preeminent marathoner Bill Rodgers described the efforts of slow marathon runners as “graceless striving.” That was a cruel take on the marathon trend at the time, but it was true. When I accompanied Rodgers during a race appearance, a girthy guy shoved his head in the Volkswagen where Bill and I sat together and asked, “Bill, do you have any advice for a four-hour marathoner?”
Rodgers raised his famous eyebrows and replied, “You can run for four hours?”
The mythos of marathon running in its early days spoke often about the dangers of “hitting the wall.” One doesn’t really hear the term much these days. That’s because most marathoners treat the race as a running smorgasbord, gorging themselves on enough sugary fuel and water to propel a small truck if all those calories were converted to ethanol. Runners these days go chugging along for mile after mile, slugging gels and pouring energy drinks down their gullet, then throw their arms in the air after 26.2 miles and slap a sticker on their bumper matching their achievement(s.)
That’s all fine and good. The sport has changed from when I competed. We often raced 20+ times a year, with perhaps a half-marathon or two mixed in for interest. But multiple marathons? Or just two races a year? Bogus.
Now, I’m not one to complain that the shoes we wear these days are now “juiced” compared to the footwear from thirty-plus years ago. And I greatly admire the elite marathoners of today, and have grown to appreciate the marathon lust for what it’s worth. I’m slower now, and respect that trundling along at 9:00 pace does take work and dedication.
But we were guinea pigs in many ways back then. For the most part, the elites and sub-elites in our sport ran their guts out at shorter distances, frequently pushing the pace until, as Warren Zevon sang in Lawyers, Guns and Money…the shit has hit the fan. Most of the time we could see or feel it coming. That “shit has hit the fan feeling” is also known as “the bear jumped on your back.”
It takes courage to run right into that zone where reality shifts and you sense that things are going to slow down in real-time. Life becomes a mini-nightmare in those moments. Legs become uncooperative. In fact, nothing seems to work the way you think it should. But many times, as a distance runner, you find a way to persevere nonetheless. It’s called having guts.
Then there are those people that are too stubborn or stupid to see it coming. Their training doesn’t prepare them properly and they either blunder or will their way into situations beyond their scope of ability. Perhaps you’ve seen this face before.
The look on the face of George W. Bush that day he was reading a children’s book in a schoolroom and the Secret Service came in to tell him that a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center was a definite “shit has hit the fan” moment for the then-President of the United States. His face went into a mask, you might say. The blood clearly drained from his brain, for a second, or at least the realization that his life just changed somehow altered the blood chemistry up there. Lord knows he understood something bad just happened, and he might be at fault.
Plenty of people say that George W. Bush could never have prevented the 9/11 attack. Well, that’s an opinion, for sure. He and Cheney were handed clear warnings about such attacks by the outgoing administration of Clinton/Gore. Then a key security advisor Richard Clarke reminded the Terror Twins that they might be advised to look out for bad guys trying to crash planes into buildings.
The Brookings Institution in 2004 outlined the facts this way:
“This, by any measure, was Richard Clarke’s week. The former counterterrorism czar roiled Washington and the nation with his accusation that U.S. President George W. Bush had failed to understand the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States before Sept. 11, and bungled the U.S. response afterward. It was a stinging indictment of the Bush presidency, delivered with stiletto precision. And the impassioned response from White House showed that it hurt.
Mr. Clarke categorically denounced Mr. Bush’s handling of the terrorist threat. He blamed the President for “continuing to work on Cold War issues” even as the al-Qaeda danger mounted. He says that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice ignored his memo in January, 2001, “asking for, urgently—underlined urgently—a cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al-Qaeda attack.”
But Bush and Cheney were so giddy at having basically stolen the 2000 election thanks to his brother’s voter suppression efforts in Florida and the compliant resolve of the conservative members of the United States Supreme Court that they were rolling along like a pair of kids racing ahead of the pack giddy from the dopamine and endorphins of highly oxygenated politics until they ran the wrong way on the course and the truck of 9/11 ran their stupid asses over.
This is why millions of Americans and billions of people around the world sat staring at their TV sets the morning of September 11, 2001. Working in the newspaper business at the time, I knew that this was one of those times when time ceases to exist. Journalists do not sleep when the shit hits the fan. They refuse to close their eyes for any reason. One never knows when some bit of information or gem of truth might fall from the screen or come looping over the wires.
While I no longer worked in the editorial department––having migrated over to marketing the year before––I figured that anything was possible at that moment. I might be called back into action if extra staffing or editorial support was needed. That didn’t happen. Our staffing was prodigious at the time. We had the highest circulation-to-editorial ratio in the country. Our newspaper zeroed in on local angles and tracked down families or friends whose loved ones died in all that 9/11 carnage. One thing was always certain about the Daily Herald newspaper: with a very few exceptions (as with any organization) the editorial people were top-notch and dedicated. I keep in contact with many of them to this day because they are also honest, caring people with an objectively liberal sense of right and wrong, and I care about that.
The morning of 9/11, I watched on TV as the buildings tumbled straight to the ground. To my eyes, it looked as if they were denonated from the inside. A building next door went down that way as well. To this day I get a creepy feeling looking at that footage and thinking about the look on the face of George W. Bush that day. As a regular practice, I refuse to buy into conspiracy theories, but I also tend to trust what I see with my own eyes. The same sick feeling grabs me when looking at footage from the January 6th insurrection. If it wasn’t a pre-calculated event, then was it permitted, condoned, or somehow allowed from within to achieve some sinister agenda? That type of information, along with the Kennedy Assassination, is never fully revealed in the United States. We’re a country long dependent on obscuring its darkest secrets to make the claim of American Exceptionalism.
To say that I don’t trust Dick Cheney or George W. Bush is an understatement. I never trusted them long before 9/11 happened. Then their actions in the wake of that tragedy only proved the specious nature of their dogmatic determination to impose and execute their calculated neoconservative agenda on the world. Whether it was a grand plot or a grand excuse is hard to tell. The unbudgeted $7 trillion in American tax dollars that we spent in Iraq while cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans is the type of corrupt dichotomy and hypocrisy the likes of Hunter S. Thompson never trusted, but often revealed.
It’s no wonder the economy eventually collapsed under the weight of such deception and lies. The same thing happened under Trump when lying about the Covid pandemic. Economics are highly susceptible to the poisons of untruth.
It’s only gotten worse during the Trumpian age. Like that daft demagogue Ronald Reagan, Trump thinks his own shit doesn’t stink. And now, the ugly loop of Christo-fascism dawned during the Ronnie Days is closing tightly around the neck of actual democracy. Trump keeps tugging on it, hoping to choke the life out of any resistance he can see or sense. His ignorant henchmen and that toxic cabal of Bowling League Organizers like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and the rest have hold of it too.
They screech and cry that death to democracy means liberation for America. Meanwhile, Trump’s cult of Make America Great Again sycophants actually believes that less oxygen for democracy means more breathing room for them. We are in the age of Vindictive Vultures, the kind that both scavenge and kill for a living. They certainly can’t distinguish between people that “know their shit” and those that literally shit their pants, as Trump does, whose power Depends on others to ignore his lies, hold their noses and vow absolute fealty to a hero with a bad combover, fake tan and a Diet Coke demeanor that Warren and Hunter would both have blown away if were perched on a fence in a Colorado back yard.