By 1983, Hunter S. Thompson’s new writing had all but disappeared. His last book of original material – Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 – had appeared over ten years earlier and the original stories that occasionally appeared were well below the level of his best work.
So “Bad Craziness in Palm Beach” comes as a complete surprise, a full-throated blast of Gonzo magic that rivals Thompson’s best work. “Bad Craziness” is Thompson’s account of the salacious Pulitzer divorce case in Palm Beach, Florida. The story is tailor-made for The Good Doctor: a 52-year-old newspaper heir (Pete Pulitzer) marries a much-younger woman (Roxanne Dixon Pulitzer) from the wrong side of the tracks. The couple has three children, but also plunges into cocaine addiction, affairs, and all sorts of tabloid-worthy behavior.
Thompson used the story to do what he did best: place himself in the narrative and use his imagination to improve on the story. He opens with a few riffs on Palm Beach’s wealthy citizens: “There is a lot of wreckage in the fast lane these days. Not even the rich feel safe from it, and people are looking for reasons” (page 191). But – for the most part – the beginning of the story largely sticks to the facts. Of course, Thompson can’t help himself and he doesn’t always stay in the middle of the road; for instance, he writes that Pete Pulitzer “…bore a certain resemblance to Alexander Haig on an ether binge” (page 196). In spite of the lack of Gonzo touches, the opening – propelled by the case’s salacious details – is strong.
The latter part of the article veers into Gonzo territory. Thompson describes the life that he is living in Palm Beach and his writing is excellent, full of vivid detail:
“Toward the end of the trail, it rained almost constantly. Logistics got difficult and my suite overlooking the beach at the Ocean Motel was lashed by wild squalls every night. It was like sleeping in a boathouse at the end of some pier in Nova Scotia. Big waves on the beach, strange winds banging the doors around like hurricane shutters, plastic garbage cans blowing across the parking lot at thirty miles, darkness in chaos, sharks in the water, no room service tonight” (page 202).
The piece builds to a close in which Thompson reveals that he is “living the Palm Beach life now” (page 205). Living that life consists of cruising around the island with in a red Chrysler convertible with two young lesbians and (of course) lots of drugs and alcohol. Thompson closes by “revealing” that Palm Beachers’ alleged affinity for bestiality shows how they regard the rest of us – animals are better than we are because animals can’t complain to the cops.
Any Thompson fan should read “Bad Craziness in Palm Beach.”