F. N. Wright, US



Talking to Richard Brautigan 

I ran into Richard Brautigan several times in San Francisco during the mid 60’s and early 70’s. It was usually in the North Beach area but not always. Often it was at a bookstore I don’t remember the name of. Oh, I saw him at City Lights on occasion but not as often as at the other bookstore which I can’t remember the name of. Though I do know it wasn’t Discovery because this bookstore wasn’t in North Beach.

He was easy enough to spot because of his height. That and the floppy hat he often wore. I would say hello to him and he would usually mumble something unintelligible. It wasn’t a rude response. More like he wished I hadn’t noticed him.

So out of respect I rarely said more than “Hello” or “How are you?”

I was a writer/painter but hadn’t had published much while Brautigan was beginning to be recognized as a major force on the local literary scene and would soon become well known and respected outside local circles.

I was not much younger than him and truly admired his talent but I never told him that.

I eventually ended up in the L.A. area spending most of my time in Hermosa Beach. It was while living there I finally had a novel published after years of moderate success on the small press scene and selling several paintings out of a local shop “The Squashed Blossom”.

Having that first novel published should have been a high point in my life but it left me with a very empty feeling. I had no one to share the moment with. My girl friend who I had dedicated the book to left me just days before it was released and I didn’t have any real close friends in Hermosa Beach to celebrate with.

In fact I didn’t have many if any close friends anywhere. Ever since returning from Vietnam I had moved around a lot so people couldn’t get close to me—probably one of the reasons my last girl friend left me like all the others before. I shunned closeness.

Still I longed for love and friends. I just didn’t want them to see the blood on my hands.

So there I sat on the living room floor with a copy of my very first published book before me. I was drinking shots of tequila and chasing them with Schlitz beer. I did not like the emptiness or the loneliness. Then, for some reason, I remembered that Brautigan’s phone number had been published somewhere on the cover of a LP called “Listening to Richard Brautigan”.

I looked through my large collection of albums but couldn’t find my copy of the record. Then I remembered something I had read in Herb Caen’s column during my days in San Francisco.

Caen had written he found it strange that someone as shy and semi-reclusive as Brautigan was would have his number listed in the telephone book. Then he printed it.

I telephoned information for the 415 area code and there was a number listed for Richard Brautigan. After getting it I sat on the floor drinking and trying to think of an excuse to phone him. Then I remembered I had recently read his novel Dreaming of Babylon that had been published a few months before my novel. I would use that to break the ice!

“Mr. Brautigan?” I asked when a man answered the phone.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Richard Brautigan?”

“I believe so,” he said. He had a very pleasant voice. “And may I ask who this is?”

“My name is Fred. Forgive me for calling but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. Your last book is great!”

“Oh,” he said, “I am afraid I am not a writer. I am a businessman.”

You have to remember I was well fortified with alcohol and perhaps a joint or two. “Right!” I laughed, “and what do you do? Sell pantyhose?”

He chuckled, No,” he said, “I sell bras.”

“I’ll bet business is booming in this time when women are burning their bras.”

“About as much as it would be if I was trying to sell pantyhose.”

He was chuckling softly and I wondered if perhaps he might well be under the influence too.

“So, do you really expect me to believe there are TWO Richard Brautigan’s living in San Francisco?”

“As strange as it may seem,” he chuckled, “but it does appear to be there are two of us in the city.”

“Say what you want,” I laughed, “but I think you are lying to me and I think your last novel was great.”

“What novel?” he asked.

"Dreaming of Babylon, asshole!” I laughed, taking a swig from the tequila bottle.

Dreaming of Babylon Asshole, is an interesting title, he laughed. “And what is it you liked about this book?’

“If you aren’t the author why would you want to know?”

“Who knows?” he responded. “I could possibly run into this other Richard Brautigan one day. I mean, strange things do happen.”

“We both know this is doubtful,” I laughed, “and if you did how would you know it was him?”

“Someone might introduce us for all we know.”


“I could tell him about this strange phone call I received and tell him what you had to say about his book— Dreaming of Babylon, you say?”

“I have liked just about everything he has written,” I said.

“Really?” he replied.

He didn’t seem in any hurry to end our conversation and neither was I. It was mostly me answering questions about this other Richard Brautigan. The writer. “I know you are fucking with me,” I finally said as he joined me in laughter. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be asking me all these questions.” The alcohol had taken control very early in the conversation and I said, “Of course, we both know how writers like to have their egos stroked.”

“Yes,” he said, “I have heard it can often be a lonely occupation.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, looking at MY book on the floor in front of me, “I’ve heard the same thing.”

The conversation ended with him asking me to telephone again. That he had enjoyed our conversation.

Regretfully, I never did.


Copyright (c) 2007 Sketchbook and  All rights reserved.





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