I’m Not Worried About Your Dog, Warren, I’m Worried About You

I heard someone beating on the warehouse door like they were running from the cops. No one else budged, but glared at me, the new guy. I had just started working for Last Gasp, the underground publisher. It was 1992, and yet the most legitimate job of my short career.

I opened the door to see a daywalking vampire and a vice-principal pirate. They stank. Even to a 22-year-old crust-farming punk kid, they stank. It was a funk that only old guys can acquire in places only old guys go, where you have to be around cigars, elderly dogs, and a cologne that hadn’t been sold since the bicentennial.

“Where’s Ron?” said the pirate.

“He’s not here, yet.” I looked around. No one else seemed alarmed at this pair.

“Tell him we’re at the Jay N Bee Club.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Hnnkul,” he slurred. I had no idea what he said.

“What?”

“Hgghhgle.” he repeated.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll tell him.”

Ron Turner, the boss, showed up a little bit later. When Ron came in, he would usually have these walking conversations, where he would ask me a question, then walk away. I had to chase him down to answer. Last Gasp, at the old location on Bryant Street, was a bit of a maze of old High Times magazines and rotting boxes of unsold calendars, and Ron was one of those big guys who moved like a cat.

“These two guys showed up looking for you,” I said. “They said they were at the Jay N Bee Club.”

“Who were they?”

“I couldn’t understand them. They were drunk already. One guy had an eyepatch, and the other guy looked like he died last week and no one told him.”

“Hinckle and Wilson. They’re probably out of money. Any calls?”

Over the years, I got to know Hinckle and a crowd of professional weirdos while working at Last Gasp. Especially when convention time came around, every freak on the Book Expo floor visited our booth, if for nothing else to hear Ron read off the list of parties at the end of the day. It was a great place to be for a young oddball who didn’t know how to make sense of his life.

Hinckle was a guy who seemed to know everyone, and have friends and enemies on all sides and in every camp. He was the radical leftist who drank with cops. He talked about the landlords, politcians, and business people of SF with equal admiration and resentment, and called them all not by their first names, but by the nicknames they had in grade school or what people called them at the bar.

Warren Hinckle did to journalism what Evel Knievel did to bikes: he made them seem cool, and he wrecked the fuck out of a lot of them. He could make a boring rag revolutionary and then run it til the wheels fell off, then drag what was left through a swamp. Then he’d get another gig. Back when I idolized zine writers, this man was writing crazier shit for the local papers. He would get fired, or quit, or the publication shut down. But he always had the next gig in sight.

My vision of adulthood before moving to San Francisco was that you get old, you get married, you buy a house, you have as many kids as you can fit in the house, you send them to college, then they get married, have kids and bring them over to your house once or twice a year, and, if you get lucky, you live long enough to die from cancer. Somewhere in all that you worked for 40 years at the same company.

After San Francisco, I saw all these models of adulthood I had never considered. You could own a strip club, a publishing company, or a record label. You could be a public defender or sell penis-shaped candles off a blanket on Haight Street. You could learn to program artificial intelligence at Stanford or you could mop jizz at the Lusty Lady. Hell, you could tattoo cat whiskers on your face and get GA checks.

So when I met guys like Warren Hinckle, it made me think I would be okay, that I would find my own place in the world, that at least in the Bay if not anywhere else, I would be able to hold a job, and work with great people on projects I cared about. And if something happened to that job, I would figure out the next thing. So far, it’s been true.

Right after Hunter S. Thompson died, Hinckle started putting together a book about him for Last Gasp. I was one of the people assigned to the project. He sent in stuff handwritten, photocopied, faxed, and photocopies of handwritten items.

“Just scan it in,” he would tell me, fully unaware of how a scanner worked, and probably unable to point out the power button on the computer. He didn’t have time to learn that end of things. He was from the IBM Selectric-and-a bottle-of-whiskey generation.

Hinckle came in to the office with his basset hound leash in one hand and a cocktail in the other. In a glass, mind you, it was a cocktail that he had taken out of whatever bar he had been in, gotten into a cab, and come to the office.

“Don’t worry about him,” he slurred. “I emptied him out before we came in.”

“I’m not worried about your dog, Warren,” I told him. “I’m worried about you.”

I don’t know if it’s done or not yet. It was “90 percent done” in 2005. Ah, Warren, you’ll do anything to get out of a deadline. So long, weirdo. Thanks.