As Howard gets closer, now, I stare aghast at the squirrelly little enigma of a man. I wonder how and why in God’s name he’s chosen me. Who am I, anyway? Nobody except just maybe—I’m hoping—heir apparent to Hunter S. Thompson, a man forgotten by the newer generations of label conscious go-getters, who prefer bling-a-ling rappers to John Lennon. Some Millennials or Gen-Xers might not even know who Lennon and Thompson were, much less Y they were important (while his former fans just wanna go Zzzzz.) Me? I may be old school, but I don’t eschew (hate) anything except boredom, and my clutch punchy ’87 VW. So my other interviews (not for Rolling Stone) have been pretty desperate and diverse, from talent show winners to physicists, explorers, and ComicCon geeks. Which just may explain the why for Howard. Or maybe not.
—His age, if I had to guess, is mid forties to early fifties. Hard to confirm with the Cardinals baseball cap covering his light brown hair. (Another red herring?) His walk is an aloof gait, in no hurry for this first media exposure—which is minus any cameras, (a prerequisite stipulated by contract.) All I have is my trusty mini-recorder, which passed scrutiny by his security team here at his remote ranch house just north of Flagstaff. Of course I’d been blindfolded on the last leg, and took off the mask only to find that the high tech rust-colored metal roofed building was not unlike the one in the movie Ex Machina, at least in style and situation.
—“Hello,” I say, stretching out my hand at last, when he comes within range of my inquisitive gaze.
—Howard stares down at my hand as if it’s septic or something. Then he lifts his attention to my face, studying me. “Hello,” he replies with a tone as neutral as any adversarial diplomat. He gestures toward an ermine trimmed L-shaped sectional couch. I recline into the longer section, reminded of Trump’s quote: Think big, and live large. Howard, aka WFT, is forced to inhabit the short end of the L, which he does without apparent annoyance, I note.
—“This is quite a place,” I blurt, and then add, significantly, “from what little I’ve seen of it.”
—The statement’s irony is not lost on him, and I get the impression that nothing is ever lost on him. “I’m sorry about the unusual conditions,” he confesses. But I can see he’s not sorry. Neither am I, actually. In fact, I’m about as happy as a dung beetle on…but enough about me.
—“Yes,” I say, taking up the lead. “And before we get started, I do have a first question for you, Howard, which can be off the record if you like. And excuse my language, but how in hell have you managed to be so secretive? And why come forward now?”
—Howard smiles thinly. “That’s two questions, is it not?”
—I spread my hands in acquiescence, and wait. It’s always best to wait and access…to wait and not to show one’s hand or emotions. In my case, that would be what angle and tone I might take on this story, it now being confirmed that I am actually doing this interview. Something it is too late for Howard to deny.
—Naturally he waits, too. Only his wait feels like I’m down, and a referee is about to count me out. (Not only out of my first Rolling Stone piece, but also of any chance to revive my flagging career, maybe putting me in line at The Voice blind auditions, singing Money for Nothing.
—At last I feel obliged to break the impasse, with his unblinking eyes weighing heavily into mine. “Yes, okay, okay,” I admit. “So how about the first question?”
—Howard leans forward now, looking at the shiny stone floor as if examining his own reflection. “How have I managed this,” he repeats, testing the veracity or validity of my query against whatever bizarre history he’s known to have been hiding from everyone. After a full minute he leans back, and is soon staring at the ceiling, which is festooned with long rows of dim LED lights recessed into waving brass channels that flow deeper into the interior of his ranch/fortress.
—“I can reword the question, if you prefer,” I add. “Like, say, for example, how much of what the tabloids say about you is true, and how have you kept them and CNN from verifying any of it?”
—Hoping to move this tension filled moment along, I hand him the list of unverified facts my editor had given me. Howard looks it over, then (with zero tension on his part) reaches into his shirt pocket and produces a list of his own. I take the wrinkled paper, unfold it, and stare down without showing any of the anxiety I feel wrenching at my stomach. It reads: (Order book)
Howard’s bodyguard. IQ: 193.