Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where to find P.J. O'Rourke's best stuff

When I became a man, I put away the things of a child. St. Paul: I Corinthians 13:11

Me too. And one of the childish things I put away -- in a hermetically sealed container under the front porch -- was a complete collection of National Lampoon, right from Number 1 until it went bi-monthly and stopped being funny.

At that time (latter part of the 1970s) the editor of NatLamp was P.J. O'Rourke, possibly the funniest reactionary and humorist of the entire 20th century. (He stopped being funny about the 1st of January 2001, but I've said that before.)

A conservative with a sense of humour is rare but not unique. Walt always admired William F. Buckley Jr. and chuckled at his wry comments, albeit understanding them with the help of Funk and Wagnall. Ron Paul often seems to me to have his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek, although there's always the possibility that he's 100% serious 100% of the time. It's hard to tell.

But the quality O'Rourke stirs into the mix -- a quality seemingly lacking in Buckley and Paul -- is a healthy dose of depravity. In that, P.J. more closely resembles the late great (but not conservative) Hunter S. Thompson, Doctor of Gonzo Journalism.

The resemblance is best seen in what Walt considers O'Rourke's piece: "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink". Reading it -- even for the umpteenth time -- puts me in mind of my misspent youth. [Last year? Ed.]

So do HST's descriptions, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, of driving across the desert in the shark, but Thompson's narrative discloses a certain unhealthy depravity, compared with P.J.'s behaviour, which seems to me pretty much normal for a young man of our generation. A judge might disagree with me -- at least one judge has taken serious issue with my views on what's "normal" -- but whether you agree or not, you can't help but LOL at O'Rourke's recipe for a cocktail of hedonistic, reckless fun. A small sample:

Even more important than being drunk, however, is having the right car. You have to get a car that handles really well. This is extremely important, and there's a lot of debate on this subject -- about what kind of car handles best. Some say a front-engined car; some say a rear-engined car. I say a rented car.

Yeah, sure. I can hear all the progressive thinkers say that's totally irresponsible, no social conscience, yada yada yada. But my experience -- and I have had some -- is that you have to go through that verging-on-the-insane phase before you can truly understand the meaning of sanity or even normality. Show me someone who's "normal", and I'll ask him (or her) if he (or she) has always been that way. Chances are the answer will be "Oh no. Back in the day I used to..." Etc.

Hold that thought. What I really wanted to tell you was where -- outside of my complete set of National Lampoons -- to find a selection of P.J. O'Rourke's better articles and essays. Walt recommends Republican Party Reptile (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987), which contains half a dozen from NatLamp plus a number of pieces which previously appeared in Rolling Stone, House and Garden [Really?! Ed.] and Car and Driver.

One of the C&D items is "High-Speed Performance Characteristics of Pickup Trucks", which all those who have never deviated from "normal" can skip, because you won't understand it. No. Read it so you'll understand those of us who have on occasion broken the confines of conformity.

Footnote: Walt's collection of National Lampoons is for sale. Condition is fine to very fine. If you pay enough I'll throw in the Harvard Lampoon parodies of Time and Life, and the famous High School Yearbook. Exchange of cash and a treasury of humour to be made under the UN flag at the border. E-mail your offer to the usual address.

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