Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 1 | Spring 1985

He was very proud and he never said anything about his money situation. Price told me that on rent day Richard would check down at City Lights to see if any of the copies of his second and third books of poetry—Lay the Marble Tea and The Octopus Frontier—had sold. (In his writing room I had seen the boxes with copies of the small pamphlets and had wondered what he did with them.) Then he would make the rounds of North Beach and see if he could put the touch on anyone for some rent money, if he was flat broke and no books had been sold. I never saw any of this. I loaned him a few dollars from time to time and provided him wijh transportation. I had a 1951 Chevy truck and after I quit my job at Pan American, Richard and I would roam around San Francisco, meeting his literary friends, Lew Welch, Don Carpenter and Michael McClure, among others. We talked literature. He had been influenced by the poet Jack Spicer, although he only spoke of Spicer as a man and never of his work. He recommended the Greek Anthology to me. His library was a writer’s library, only literary works; the rare anthologies or textbooks were the ones that were given to him or he had work in. Not surprisingly, he liked precise writers, economical in their means. One of the poets whom he recommended was Kenneth Fearing. He was forgotten by this time and Richard thought his work interesting. Looking back on it, I suppose here might be an example of a writer looking at another writer, who had books published but was forgotten, a minor writer. At the time Richard had no publisher, he had no agent, and his only published novel was forgotten. There had to be some fear that this was the way he could go himself, if he didn’t have some luck. It is hard to remember what exactly we did and what exactly was going on that fall in 1966, because that period was so full— every day was an immense adventure for me. Ido remember the day I left San Francisco. I was going to Monterey to live on unemployment and start, as it turned out, my first novel, Gush. The night before, one of my old friends from the Northwest had arrived in town. She had a bag full of diet pills. I took her to two parties, one on Haight Street and one around the corner. I had taken several pills, drunk a lot of beer and smoked two packs of Lucky Strikes while I was showing her the town. The next day I had an alcohol, amphetamine and nicotine hangover. I felt like death warmed over. I was in the middle of my apartment, looking at the boxes of stuff, when the doorbell rang. It was Richard. “Need some help moving?” he said. Then he took a closer look at me. He took off his Levi jacket, propped open the front door and began to pack the boxes down to my truck while I turned in circles in the front room looking for that mysterious box that contained something I needed: a new body and mind. That day remains memorable for two reasons. The first was that I stopped smoking cigarettes that day. My tongue was raw from all the Lucky Strikes I had smoked while ricochetting from party to party. Each time I reached for the pack of cigarettes, my tongue ached. I could not force myself to do it, no matter how badly I wanted the nicotine. I had no choice. I would never smoke again. The second memorable thing concerns Richard. As he carried my stuff down to my truck, he talked to me. He has always had a deft hand with hangover patients. “You look like walking-death,” he said. “When I'm done with this, we’ll take you out back and shoot you. Maybe we could just burn you at the stake. We could take you up to Golden Gate Park and give the simple tourists up there a human torch to look at. They’ll be having a picnic on the grass and the kids will gather around you and say things like, ‘hey daddy, come over here and look at the human torch I’” The whole time he was going up and down the stairs. “I’d say that you’ll burn for at least a day,” he said, “with all that leftover alcohol inside you.” His abuse of my delicate condition is not what is memorable about this day, although I remember it quite well. The second reason why this day is memorable is because, that autumn day in 1966 was the last day I ever saw Richard do any physical work. I know this sounds impossible. But it is true. He has never done any work since that day that I have seen. I have an excellent memory, as this essay proves—even when I am hung over and tormented, my memory still functions. So when I say that he has not lifted a finger since 1966, I have experience and a good memory as my witnesses. By the next time I saw Richard, he was on his way to becoming a famous writer and he had lots of people who were happy to get his groceries, clean his apartment, take out the trash and peel his grapes for him. Among my acquaintances he has the record: 16 years and running. I remain awed and moved by such a record. FREE PORNOGRAPHY, MEDIA CRUSH AND A BUCKET OF CLAMS l l f l onterey in 1966 was perfect for I V I me. I did not miss the excitement of the Haight Ashbury then. I collected my unemployment and found a wonderful house in Pacific Grove, overlooking the bay. I began to discover a way to write prose that satisfied me. I got the idea for writing my novel and did sporadic work on it, trying to find a way to get what I wanted. Meanwhile, the Haight Ashbury had attracted the news media. Scandalous articles appeared in the newspapers and the national media picked it up. Rock concerts were condemned by the press. The government worried that the youth were going to damage themselves before they could be given the chance to fight for their country in Vietnam. There was no representative of this way of life in writing. The prevailing literature in San Francisco was that of leftover beats. The writing was outdated and negative and largely self-destructive. Popular writers, such as Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, were regarded as forefathers and teachers by my generation. But they were old hat, too. Someone new was needed to write about what was going on. To my recollection Brautigan’s work wasn't considered fitting. Because he had published some work in Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Journal and had a novel from Grove Press, he was also old news to the literary people in San Francisco. Again, a local writer. But literary agents and editors were anxious to find someone who would write about these hippies. Once a literary editor told me that what was needed was “the Catch- 22 of the hippies.” In other words, a Gone with the Wind, a big mover, a Big Fat Novel. Brautigan’s work didn’t fit the bill. Eventually, a small press, Donald Allen's Four Seasons, put out Trout Fishing in America. I believe that Allen had to buy the novel back from Grove Press, who still had the rights and refused to publish it. (It is interesting to note that during Brautigan’s rise to literary prominence, Grove Press held on to the rights to Confederate General. They never reissued it until his novels were selling in the thousands. And even then they republished it in small editions which sold out instantly. I remember Richard complaining bitterly about this.) So as the agents and editors looked for that writer to represent what was essentially a nonverbal phenomenon, Trout Fishing sold out in its first edition. The second edition hit a snag with the printer. I remember Richard very upset with this— the printer wouldn’t reprint it as it had dirty words in it—because the time, he knew, was ripe for him. Then a third edition came out along with his collection of poetry, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster. These too sold out instantly. At the time, Ihad only read Confederate General and a few chapters of In Watermelon Sugar in manuscript, and I was pleased to see how good his first novel was. The mobile structure of the novel with its recurring themes as a melodic background for the diverging episodes spurred me on with my own work in prose. The mock narrative (“Seventeen years later I sat down on a rock”) and its spare prose with the metaphors that opened little doors to alternate worlds was exactly right to my sense of prose at this time. It should be noted, though, that until this edition of Trout Fishing appeared, it was Richard’s poetry that was being published, in mimeo editions that were being given away free in the streets. This was how his audience was created, alontj with his readings. He seldom read his prose at readings and it was poetry that amused and instructed his fans. These broadsides and books were distributed by hand. The diggers did the work, and the Communications Company published them. This was instant literature, without contracts or conferences or editorial quibbling. During this time I was commuting back and forth from Monterey with some other writers, whenever anything exciting was Apple & Apple Blends, r Lemonade, Smoothie j^BAILABLE IN PORTLAND AT THESE QUALITY FOOD STORES Natures Corbett & Freemont Common Ground Restaurant Food Front Cooperative Montgomery Market Peeples Coop Antique Tuxedos Glamorous Gowns Rhinestones Deco Lingerie Luxurious Furs Frivolous 4 0 ’s Hats Elegant ]940’s & 50’s Tailored Suits &Coats /WALON s N8?NS DISCOVER PORTLAND'S BEST BREAKFAST! Everything from Light Breakfasts to our famous "BREAKFASTS FOR THE VERY HUNGRY"! 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