MY FORAY INTO GONZO JOURNALISM: Fear & Loathing in the Iowa Caucuses

MY FORAY INTO GONZO JOURNALISM: Fear & Loathing in the Iowa Caucuses

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And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of Blasphemy.

— Revelation 13:1

DES MOINES – It was nighttime when I opened my eyes on the greasy linoleum of the Motel 6 kitchenette, where all I could hear were the caws of lost seagulls circling the famed Charles Grassley Memorial Military Waste Dump next door and the infuriating whirr of a blender, no doubt admixing some unholy intoxicant. All around me sat the trappings of a pretty good afternoon: ten doses of canine dramamine, a pint of Dayquil, two grams of cat ear medicine, five blister packs of K2 pseudoephedrine, a well-used syringe loaded with Zyrtec, and enough Metamucil to sedate a water buffalo, all shipped here c/o Dr. Raoul Dig, esteemed Doctor of Political Journalism, by way of the saintly moneymen at CAFE.

I scramble to my feet and am handed the blender’s purple concoction, which I eagerly down. Ah, PediaCare, Sambuca, and benzodiazepine. My old friend.

“We had better get going. Check-out was seven hours ago, and the concierge said he would return with three large men wielding hockey sticks.”

“Do the hockey sticks have rusty nails stuck to them?”

He peeks through the blinds. “It would appear so.”

I lick the purple stuff from my lips and mentally steel myself for the evening ahead of me.

Things are about to get weird.


We are speeding down I-235 in a rented Nissan Cube for which the deposit has not been paid, I and my attorney, the honorable Rev. Michael Barbaro, Esq.

Thanks to a stress-induced flare-up of my accursed juvenile glaucoma I am unable to deduce more than a few patches of light past the windshield, so in the interest of safety I stamp on the accelerator to make this dangerous experience go by quicker.

To pass the time my attorney and I shoot the shit about politics. I vaguely seem to recall being involved in that racket.

“What do you suppose the punishment is for running an illegal email server these days? 50 years hard labor in Leavenworth, pressing Dennis Hastert’s Dockers?”

“It is my professional opinion that Secretary Clinton will get off scot-free.”

I clench my teeth. “A fall guy! That’s what these bastards always get. One cold night a couple of moonshine-drunk Arkansas boys will pull Sidney Blumenthal off the street, hitch him to the back of a truck, drag him through the backstreets of D.C., then deposit his mangled body in front of Lady Justice. Ah, the old Vince Foster treatment. Right out of the Travelgate playbook. They’ll call Sandy Berger out of retirement for that one. Why, I—”

“Doctor, look out!”

One of the splotches in my windshield turns out to be a support column for the 8th Street overpass. I yank the wheel and we fishtail into a cow a couple yards off the highway.

“Cazart! Bessie came out of nowhere!”

I lean out the window. “Mrs. O’Leary, come get your Goddamned bovine!”

I turn to my colleague. “Is everyone alright? The Sambuca? The Sudafed? We haven’t lost a drop of liquigel Claritin, have we?”

“Everyone is accounted for, Doctor.”

“There’s a subway station a few blocks from here. We can take it to the convention center.”

Barbaro quavers. “As your attorney I advise you not to enter the subway, as the conditions there are dangerous and unacceptable.”

“Confound you and your incorrigible pusillanimity! Very well. We’ll hoof it from here. Pack the drugs, you bastard!”


It’s around nine when we step into the Des Moines Holiday Inn Express. I crack a canine dramamine with my teeth to steady my nerves.

The lobby of the Iowa Ethanol Convention is steaming with the corpulent flesh-masses of the strung-out hoghumans indigenous to this clime.

“Play it cool,” I tell my associate. “These people are ethanol producers. Fascists! One false move and we’ll be facing down the business end of a corn-powered flammenwerfer!”

“As your attorney I advise you to keep your voice down.”

“Me! Keep my voice down! I’ve hardly said a word! Wait… I see your game. You’re a stinking FEC agent! I knew it! I’ve suspected it since you showed your true colors at the Trump rally in Council Bluffs. Show me your wire, you treacherous scum!”

As I struggle to rip my attorney’s shirt open, one of the rotund swine approaches us.

“Hyuck! Is that fella okie dokie?”

I see the melting jowls and sadistic gleam in both eyes and immediately recognize former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

“Listen to me, you atavistic oaf!” I grab his greasy lapel. “What do you know about the Whitewater Housing Development? How many bodies are buried beneath the tennis court? What is the pH level of the community swimming pool? Does a father need full custody to utilize the children’s recreation center? Answer me, you Stasi vermin!”

My colleague interposes his small body between us.

“Sir, I am this man’s attorney, I am on full retainer, and you are on the verge of a massive lawsuit, with punitive damages, trial by ordeal, voir dire, and the whole habeas corpus. Here’s my card.”

“Y’all mean activist judgers? Well gawrsh I dun’ know much about legal beagle!” Huckabee whimpers and waddles off.

I take out a packet of Spice and jam it up my nostrils. My attorney leads me to the credentials desk.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Raoul Dig with National Journal. I’m here to pick up my badge.”

“Sir, I’m not seeing you on our list–”

“Flash and filigree! Listen here, missy — I’m a respected doctor of Beltway science.” I turn sideways to ensure this hysteric can see the “Anderson in ’80” bumper sticker affixed to my Dungarees. “I’ve been breaking stories since you were in OshKosh B’gosh. Massive stories! Who do you think proved Zoë Baird’s kids had a bone deficiency? Me! Who do you think waterboarded Karl Rove into admitting that Valerie Plame has an illegitimate black daughter? Me! Raoul Dig! And you will let such a doctor of investigative journalism into this convention of half-wits and savages! Or do I need to call my associate, Mr. Manmountain Dense?”

I figured this masculine display of shock and awe would be sufficient to secure entry, but instead this clerical drone starts with a piercing wail that brings our spat to the attention of the entire auditorium. Row after row of inbred, spherical Iowans turns in our general direction. Even the simpering curly-haired goblin way back on stage ceases whatever unacceptable treasonous nonsense he’s spouting to gawk at us.

I’m frightened now, swamped with the sweat of fear and antihistamine abuse. I crush a feline suppository between my teeth and back away slowly. But the savages follow me step for step, slowly surrounding me like I’m a sacrifice to their blasphemous volcanic god.

I get a good look at the bastards, each one of them old and decrepit yet carrying themselves with the brio of a teenager who just saw the knockout game on a rap video and is jonesing to try it for himself. I see them bare their teeth like feral pigs who caught got the drop on some poor bastard who wandered into the wrong part of the woods. The Zyrtec is blurring my vision, distorting all of these animals into violent streaks of black on newspaper print canvas like a Molly Crabapple sketch. From their sickly pale paunches shoot out slimy pseudopods that I roll on the floor to dodge.

As I rock back and forth on the bloody hoof-soaked parquet tiles I realize their thinning hair and middle management mustaches are their very Iowan version of the Swastika armband. They’d be Kataeb in Beirut, or Gestapo in Berlin, but because they’re in Des Moines they’ve been cursed to exist as these porcine thugs.

Inky blackness covers my eyes. Am I dead? Or am I just in Des Moines? I rub my eyes, thinking this action might bring back reality, like hitting a TV that’s on the fritz.

I blink and see a round, sweaty man with black hair and acne standing behind a podium. I hear the comforting voice of Mr. Don Pardo. I don’t have the wherewithal or time to question if this real or not before the apparition’s sopping wet face starts moving.

“Who are you, you shiny-faced son-of-a-bitch?” I scream. “Are you with Huckabee? Are you one of his illegitimate kids, from a dalliance in the Korean peninsula circa 1949, perhaps?”

“That’s not how this works. You’re basically threatening me, and I don’t owe you any emotional labor, but since you have Alex’s mustache, I’ll play the game. You say what you want to know as a statement, and I ask the questions as an answer.”

“Fine.” I refill my porcelain pipe with Glade potpourri and light it. “Here’s your first answer: these are the people who are after me.”

“Who are the trolls and Bernie Bros sending death threats?”

“Second: this is what I do about those simpering, piss-soaked masses.”

“What is extraordinary rendition for online harassment and mansplaining?”

“Last: this is what I get out of it this whole diseased, cancerous affair.”

“What is the Polk Award you’re owed?”

Cazart! This sweaty apparition knows me better than anyone, better than myself, better than radio star and good friend Michael Smerconish! Oh, I reach for a nice thick object to bludgeon this phantasmagoric smartypants with, but before I can find something he fades into a color wheel mandala, and someone puts the jukebox on.

My God, I know this song! Turn it up, barkeep! It’s the blasted Ballad of Kunduz!

Bombs they come

From long and high


That had to fry

Men who mean

Just what they say

Fearless men

Who talk for pay

Blue checkmarks

Upon their name

These are men

They don’t run and blame

100 men

Write the news

But only 3

Will excuse Kunduz…


Air! Air! Goddamn you, I need air! I can’t breathe in here! Get away from me, I’m a Doctor of Beltway Science for the love of all that is Good and Holy on this rotting planet!

The miasma of gasoline fumes and Pall Mall smoke smothers my Dayquil-coated respiratory system as I grope towards the blotches of streetlamps’ glow. I cough and gasp, breaking my way through this cheap pine pleistocene coffin. In my few lucid moments I rehearse the excuses I’ll give my cruel paymasters at CAFE when they discover I didn’t get them the scoop about the dark heart of the American dream I pitched them on. Oh, they’ll pay their kill fee all right, they’ll pay it in cinderblock tuxedo shoes cobbled by a Mr. Matt “Whitey” Binder.

Through the filth and stench comes another apparition. The Ghost of Christmas Past? No! Sean Smith? No! Bob Dylan? Damnation, he’s not dead!

No, this appears to be an older black man walking my way. Well, more like stumbling my way, because he’s clearly blind. He’s wearing pearly white surgical scrubs and glowing golden rubber gloves. Yet the two white orbs in his head are lies; that light went out a long time ago. But his hands… his hands are magic.

I relax, take my hand off my wallet, and confront him. “Are the ghosts of the men who died in Benghazi ever going to have an answer from whatever pathetic pencil-pushing 9-to-5er decided we needed to arm Nusra so Hillary could stop checking her private server once office hours are done?”

“The Book of Arthur 3:22 — he who does not walk among the lions does not reserve the inequity for what falls upon his brothers,” responds the ghost.

My heart flutters through the shell of high-grade over-the-counter narcotics ossifying it. This cat is a prophet! Cazart! I’m talking to the prophet Eli! Those Army doctors must be regretting the day they prematurely discharged me for having rare Eurasian gynecomastia.

Ah, but it’s only fair. Only a man with unseeing eyes could see what’s going on. Is it so? Let’s see…

“How is a wet-mouthed cretin like Martin O’Malley going to explain the System to the craven buffoons hacking away at the American dream? Why can’t any of those scum-sucking eels give me a straight answer about why Joe in Council Bluffs has to get abused by Taco Bell executives when he’s driving his Uber after work just so he can afford for doctors to shoot poison into his daughter’s arm?”

“Do not set aside the foreskins after the harvest. They are the reminder of our covenant. That’s King Arthur’s Letter To Christ 4:31,” he chuckles.

Goddamnit, he’s taunting me! Playing me for the fool, as they say. Yes, all those many foreskins piled up high like a mountain outside of the Capitol Building that get flung into the sewers by street cleaners so Rep. Mike Bingus (R-OK) doesn’t get his wingtips bloodied before he introduces another bill to repeal the bipartisan Erskine-Bowles resolution. Those tiny shreds of flesh are their only “skin” in this rotten game, so to speak, and even they get tossed onto the bone heap.

“What about the crooks in Flint?” I demand.

“The rise of the Argalites beset the fall of the Jesobytes in the Valley of Elom, until Christ the King returned upon the wings of eagles, forever. The Book Of Promises 12:26.”

This is it. The promise of redemption, the rise from the ashes. This entire rotten thing and all the bastards in it have to be reduced to carbon-coated salted-earth charred remnants of blood before anything can grow out of them.

When I ask for the blind prophet Eli’s given name I feel the sweat rise up again, seeping from my collar, collecting in the backs of my knees. I hear both kneecaps thud, hollow, onto the pavement but it’s lights out before my head can make the final percussion.

When I wake up, I’m in a living mausoleum of cardboard and egg cartons, deep in a dumpster outside the Holiday Inn Express. If some huff-addled Huckaboy wanted to throw a Zippo in and turn this into a Viking funeral, well, it’s a free country. For now. That said, I got my story. The filth rises to the top, and tomorrow is another day for madness.

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.