Autumn Phillips: Part 2 in death of great writer


We were gathered around the table like children conspiring on the playground. We had before us a deadline and a list of things to accomplish: Come up with name for our team. Design a flag for said team. Decide on costumes.

And lastly, but most importantly, make sure our cannon worked.

Wayne Kakela had called this meeting of the worthy. Each of us served a purpose. Wayne would provide the cannon. I was the writer. Clay Hanger was the ballistics expert, and Christine Metz was our witness.

All tomfoolery needs a witness.

When you drive onto the Kakela property, you enter a different world. There are wooden fish hanging from the trees. Strange metal sculptures. Rusting farm equipment. Flags flying.

It is a sort of Neverland, and the Kakela is the Peter Pan who leads you through it.

Wayne heard about the contest from a news broadcast Sunday night. When I arrived at work Monday, there was a message asking if I wanted to join in the adventure. He had the cannon. I had the words. We both had a love for Hunter S. Thompson. The deadline for the HST Blast Off Cannon Contest is March 13. We had a lot of work to do.

Entrants must send 100 words describing their cannon and explaining why their cannon should be used to fire the ashes of the late, great gonzo journalist in the air over his home in Woody Creek.

Special consideration will be given to cannons with historical value and cannons from Kentucky.

When it comes to words, 100 is a get-right-to-the-point number, and the majority of those words must be used to describe the dimensions and the firing power of the cannon in question.

How do you slip sentiment between the numbers?

That was a challenge for later. First, we agreed to call ourselves the Steamboat Artillery Irregulars. Our flag could be designed and made if we were accepted on this fool's errand.

Wayne slipped a flask into the pocket of his jacket and called us to follow him to the barn where he keeps black powder and fuses.

As he led us, he reminded me of a childhood friend who would take us into dark storm drains or the unlocked basements of churches, narrating the adventure as we walked and transforming everything around us with his words.

It was snowing as we walked, loaded with supplies, toward the cannon.

Cannons, I immediately realized, are such a boy thing. Me and my girlfriends, we do not have cannons.

Until Tuesday, I had never felt the compulsion to fire rocks or golf balls, or any other object for that matter, from a cannon in my back yard.

But when I tried it, I realized there are things that women miss out on by not being boys. Reading in the bathroom is one thing. Firing cannons is another.

Both of the men were giggling as they poured out a small portion of gunpowder. They loaded the barrel and handed a match to Christine.

She was to light the fuse and yell, "Fire in the hole," then dive into a nearby snowbank in her nice black dress pants.

I was standing by with a camera -- like the half-observer, half-participant I always am -- ready to capture the cannon in action.

Our shrapnel made some impressive holes in our target, and we raised the flask to our loud accomplishment. Here's to the Steamboat Artillery Irregulars and to the man whose ashes we are questing to inter in the sky. We toasted to the writer whom none of us knew -- more of a symbol than a man; more of an adventure than a funeral.


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