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Tom Wolfe Overview

born: 1931
born in: Richmond, VA
lives in:
Few journalists have endeavored to crawl inside their subjects like Tom Wolfe. By applying the techniques, forms, and comic flare of fiction to the practice of reportage, he essentially created a new genre of writing. He gets inside people's heads, documenting... [more]

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Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test The things he would somehow suddenly remember about the old home town--over here, for example, is the old white clapboard house they used to live in, and behind it, back a ways, is the radio tower of station KORE with a red light blinking on top--and at night he used to get down on his knees to say his prayers and there would be the sky and the light blinking--and he always kind of thought he was praying to that red light. And the old highway used to take a bend right about here, and it seemed like there was always somebody driving through about three or four in the morning, half asleep, and they would see the lights over there in town where it was getting built up and they'd think the road headed straight for the lights and they'd run off the bend and Kesey and his dad would go out to see if they could help the guy draggle himself out of the muck--chasing street lights!--praying to the red beacon light of KORE!--and a little run-in at Gregg's Drive-In, as it used to be called, it is now Speck's, at Franklin Boulevard at the bridge over the river. That was the big high-school drive-in, with the huge streamlined sculpted pastel display sign with streaming streamlined super-slick A-22 italic script, floodlights, clamp-on trays, car-hop girls in floppy blue slacks, hamburgers in some kind of tissuey wax paper steaming with onions pressed down and fried on the grill and mustard and catsup to squirt all over it from out plastic squirt cylinders. Saturday nights when everybody is out cruising--some guy was in his car in the lot at Gregg's going the wrong way, so nobody could move. The more everybody blew the horns, the more determined the guy got. Like this was the test. He rolls up the windows and locks the doors so they can't get at him and keeps boring in. This guy vs. Kesey. So Kesey goes inside and gets a potato they make the french fries with and comes out and jams it over the guy's exhaust pipe, which causes the motor to conk out and you ain't going any which way now, bub. The guy brings charges against Kesey for ruining his engine and Kesey ends up in juvenile court before a judge and tries to tell him how it is at Gregg's Drive-In on a Saturday night: The Life--that feeling--The Life--the late 1940s early 1950s American Teenage Drive-In Life was precisely what it was all about--but how could you tell anyone about it? But of course!--the feeling-out here at night, free, with the motor running and the adrenaline flowing, cruising in the neon glories of the new American night--it was very Heaven to be the first wave of the most extraordinary kids in the history of the world--only 15, 16, 17 years old, dressed in the haute couture of pink Oxford shirts, sharp pants, snaky half-inch belts, fast shoes--with all this Straight-8 and V-8 power underneath and all this neon glamour overhead, which somehow tied in with the technological superheroics of the jet, TV, atomic subs, ultrasonics--Postwar American suburbs--glorious world! and the hell with the intellectual bad-mouthers of America's tailfin civilization . . . Excerpt from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. ©1968, renewed 1996 by Tom Wolfe.


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