I’m sitting on a hard wooden chair, drinking cold coffee, and struggling to write an impassioned yet professional cover letter.
The thing is, the specter of Hunter S. Thompson keeps blowing cigarette smoke in my face.
“So that’s how you’re starting, is it?” says Hunter, looking over my shoulder at my opening paragraph.
“Well, I guess that’s what they want you to say.”
He darts away to examine something happening outside my window.
“Get f–cked, Hunter.” I grumble, and continue to tweak the same godforsaken sentence that a bunch of other chumps are simultaneously tweaking.
“It really IS with great enthusiasm that I apply for this summer reporting position…” I say, defensively.
But Hunter is gone, and all I have left is the letter than he wrote to the Vancouver Sun, back in 1958.
The month was October. A “tart-tongued” columnist named Jack Scott had just been promoted to editorial director of the Vancouver Sun. On the other side of the continent, a pre-fame and pre-Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson read a story in Time magazine about Scott’s penchant for journalistic stunts. Broke and living in a Greenwich Village basement apartment, Thompson thought to himself, “Here’s a man I might like to work for.” What follows is the greatest cover letter ever written.
There’s no indication that Scott ever wrote back to Thompson. Then again, he might not have had the time: he was demoted a few months later.
I re-read it, and laugh, wishing that I had even half his chutzpah. In case you’ve never seen this classic, here is the greatest cover letter ever written:
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.
If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.
If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
If not, good luck anyway.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson
My favourite part:
“… [I’ve] developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.”
And, in the end, don’t forget what Mr. Hunter S. Thompson used to advocate:
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(Post inspired by Fab Carletti)