One of my favourites in contemporary humorous writing is the Clash of the Tightest series published in Modern Drunkard Magazine over Sept. 2002 – Apr. 2003 (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, semifinals, final). The premise is that in some unexplained circumstance, famous drunks compete at the sport of drinking, each taking turns ordering rounds of anything they choose. All the contestants are deceased, as are the ringside commentators, Howard Cosell and Laurence Olivier (if that stroke of genius isn’t enough to convince you that this idea is gold I don’t know what will).
The original Clash of the Tightest was a knock-out tournament with 16 participants and (therefore) 15 bouts. That’s rather too much writing and researching for me to do, but I’ll see if I can’t manage an 8-way tribute tournament. I probably won’t do nice photoshops of the participants like the originals did – you’re welcome to contribute any offerings of your own. I won’t use anyone from the originals (the impressive cast is Humphrey Bogart, Charles Bukowski, Richard Burton, Lord Byron, Winston Churchill, William Faulkner, W.C. Fields, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jackie Gleason, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Dean Martin, Babe Ruth, Dylan Thomas and Orson Welles) but I’ll give myself a break by allowing living participants. Also, God knows when I get around to writing the next instalment. Without further ado,
Clash of the Tightest
Good evening sports fans, and welcome to the Gnome King’s Wine Cellar, the venue for this year’s edition of Clash of the Tightest. The rules are unchanged, but just to recap:
- A coin toss determines who orders the first round.
- The opponents will then take turns ordering rounds of whatever alcoholic beverage they wish.
- A drinker must finish his drink within ten seconds of his opponent finishing his or face disqualification.
- The contest will continue until a contender loses by Passing Out (a PO), by being unable or refusing to continue with the contest (a Technical Pass Out, or TPO) or vomiting into the referee’s bucket (a VO).
- Opponents may speak to each other, but cannot make physical contact. Contact will result in disqualification.
This edition pits eight storied drunks against each other. Some are physically dead, others living, but the metaphysical manifestations of all are of equivalent nature in the Gnome King’s Wine Cellar.
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter “Loathin'” Thompson
Christopher “Sharper than a broken whisky bottle” Hitchens
Tale of the Tab
Hunter is very much a mixed bag – he has a fearsome reputation, but as much of it is for guns, insanity and drugs as for hard drinking. Nevertheless, his drinking has been known to be workmanlike and fairly continuous, and if he doesn’t burn out fast, the other contestants will find it hard to go the distance.
The very picture of a functional alcoholic, Christopher is known for belting down enough whisky to put a lesser man to sleep prior to going on television to rhetorically crush his enemies with nary a slurred word or confused thought. There have been rumours that the Hitch’s whisky-in-hand persona is all a big front, but none can doubt that when it comes to the psychological side of the sport, Hitchens is close to unbeatable.
The Build Up
Howard Cosell:Thompson will have to watch his temper here. He never suffered fools gladly, but he enjoyed getting outsmarted even less. If Hitchens can get under Hunter’s skin, I think he can pull off an upset.
Christopher Hitchens wins the toss.
Laurence Olivier: But first he must dance with the devil – perhaps a not unfamiliar business to mr. Hitchens.
HC: And here come the contestants – Hitchens as expected in his pre-cancer, cleanshaven fortyish appearance – Thompson with the first surprise, he has a somewhat tired, leathery appearance from the nineties.
LO: I thought he detested old age. Then again, by that time he had largely been able to give up working for drinking.
Hitchens orders Johnnie Walker Black Label with Perrier
LO: Oh dear! Could it be that Christopher is feeling the effects of the pre-tournament party?
HC: Hunter certainly doesn’t seem to mind. He doesn’t look too perky himself.
LO They thirstily drain their glasses in silence.
Thompson orders tumblers of Chivas Regal
HC: Another waiting move.
LO: “Sorry I didn’t cut it with anything, man. I just like the taste,” Thompson announces in his rapid-fire mumble. “That fails to explain why you ordered Chivas,” retorts Hitchens, not very lightly.
HC: “Oh shit, I’m drinking with a nerd,” says Hunter. They’re both smiling now.
Hitchens orders tumblers of Johnnie Walker Black Label
LO: Hitchens is starting to look more animated already. “To Richard Nixon,” he toasts, “the gift that never stopped giving.”
HC: Thompson grimaces. “I don’t know, that stuff gets so old…” “I’m still going on God,” shrugs Hitchens. They clink glasses and knock back their drinks.
LO: It’s like they’re old comrades! Could it be that Hitchens is a fan?
Thompson orders cans of Heineken
HC: He wanted to order six-packs, but it wasn’t allowed.
LO: Hitchens seems to be having some trouble with his can, gingerly trying to lift the ring with his fingernail.
HC: Thompson cracked his open expertly, and is now sensing opportunity: he’s chugging it down in one!
LO: The crowd is getting agitated. Hitchens smiles in frustration, but it doesn’t look sincere. Now he’s pounding his elbow into the top. It gives! And Thompson is done!
HC: It’s going to go down to the line! Hitchens starts guzzling it down, struggling with the foam and carbonation. He looks very uncomfortable.
LO: Is there some coming out of his nose? He finishes on the nine count, but Thompson’s corner is screaming foul.
HC: To no effect. Thompson’s grinning, he’s starting to have fun.
LO: And Hitchens has fire in his eyes.
Hitchens orders large Brutal Hammers
LO: Red wine and vodka, I believe.
HC: Hitchens is opposed to mixing drinks, but there isn’t much he can do to avoid it here in any case, and Thompson wasn’t a big wine man. I like this move.
LO: Thompson doesn’t appear too comfortable with the warm, full-bodied, high-octane drink. He’s more used to chilled, easy-drinking whisky and beer.
HC: “I’ll order the beer in a glass if you go back to the good stuff”, he promises. “I’ll do no such thing. I refuse to be stuck here swilling fifth-rate watered-down brewing adjuncts a moment longer that I have to,” Hitchens fires back.
LO: “Hey, I was taking it easy on you. If you want to ride wild, it’s you who’s going to regret it.” “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
HC: It’s on!
Thompson orders snow cones with pixie dust
LO: Shaved ice drenched in Chivas, with cocaine along the rim. That raised some eyebrows.
HC: It’s up to Hitchens to protest, but he calmly lays into the concoction.
LO: The hard-to-drink Brutal Hammer must have rattled Thompson. He starts with the cocaine, snorting all the way around the rim, and it seems to perk him up. He then begins spooning up the whisky slurry like it’s yoghurt.
HC: Hitchens ventures a sniff of the cocaine. The referee informs him that he’s under no compulsion to finish it. Thompson offers to help, but is rebuffed.
Hitchens orders large Brutal Hammers
LO: No rest for the wicked. Thompson grimaces, but immediately begins guzzling down the beastly potion.
HC: It doesn’t go down easy: he sputters and starts coughing. Looks like some went down the wrong way.
LO: The cocaine made him hyperactive, if you ask me. Hitchens has lit up a cigarette and is calmly finishing his drink.
HC: Thompson gapes at the cigarette and immediately begins fiddling with his cigarette holder. Did he forget about the possibility of smoking? Hitchens is done now, and Thompson is trying to drink and light a cigarette at the same time.
LO: He manages just in time and looks pleased with himself. Hitchens lets out a long sigh.
Thompson orders Jack Daniels and coffee
HC: He’s looking to rev up even more. “Hey, what sports do you have out there in England? Soccer, right?”
LO: “I’m actually an American citizen as well now. But yes, I believe that’s what the proletariat occupies itself with. Called football, by the way.”
HC: “You wanted to be an American? You must be fucked in the mind. Welcome to the club,” replies Thompson friendlily.
LO: Hitchens isn’t having any of it. “Thanks, but I’m a proud citizen, and I’m proud to be sane as well. It helps if you want to be a writer. Of course, your career was based on something else.”
HC: “Well fuck you, you fat British asshole,” Thompson summarily returns. Hitchens is unfazed.
Rounds Nine through Thirteen
Hitchens orders large Brutal Hammers, Thompson orders Margaritas
LO: A rather aggressive mood has set in. They trade insults; of each other and U.S. Presidents, mostly.
HC: Categories that go together pretty naturally for them, I think. Both are interested in power and importance.
LO: Thompson is defending Reagan now, and Hitchens George Bush, who Thompson is insisting on referring to as “pigfucker”. You wouldn’t believe it but to hear it!
HC: Anything to keep it interesting, I think.
Thompson orders Chartreuse
LO: Hitchens’ head is getting very red and bloated now, while Thompson has a crazy intensity in his eyes. “You look like you’re ready to drop, fat man,” I think he says – it comes out almost unintelligibly.
HC: “The taunts of a failed addict who took the easy way out of life. I fail to be moved,” replies Hitchens, alert as ever.
LO: Hunter appears to be slightly hurt by that.
Hitchens orders tumblers of Gordon’s gin
Hitchens wins by disqualification.
HC: “You know what you’re remembered for?”, queries Hitchens. “Drugs and stupidity. You were a freak. They made a movie about it, for the kids. Nobody cares about what you wrote because you were a lazy bum who didn’t do the work and didn’t do the thinking.”
LO: Thompson begins to reply, but I can’t make sense of it. The body is going strong but the mind can’t grip. He’s shaking his head like a punch-drunk boxer.
HC: “The greedy, boring people won,” Hitchens continues. “I wonder, how does it feel to be completely irrelevant?”
LO: Thompson starts up again, but gives up in frustration. He bellows out “You fascist fuck!” and – launches out of his chair and physically attacks Hitchens!
HC Hitchens shies away and tucks his head into his arms to protect himself, but Thompson gets a good punch in before he’s pulled off by the officiators. This can’t be good for the sport.
Post Fight Interview
Thompson: We shouldn’t allow those stuck-up British fucks into the country. This is why we had a revolution in the first place.
Hitchens: I was under the distinct impression there would be a speaker’s fee.