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.
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
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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!
Brautigan?” I asked when a man answered the phone.
he said. He had a very pleasant voice. “And may I ask who this
is Fred. Forgive me for calling but I wanted to let you know how
much I enjoy your writing. Your last book is great!”
said, “I am afraid I am not a writer. I am a businessman.”
to remember I was well fortified with alcohol and perhaps a
joint or two. “Right!” I laughed, “and what do you do? Sell
he said, “I sell bras.”
business is booming in this time when women are burning their
much as it would be if I was trying to sell pantyhose.”
chuckling softly and I wondered if perhaps he might well be
under the influence too.
you really expect me to believe there are TWO Richard
Brautigan’s living in San Francisco?”
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
“but I think you are lying to me and I think your last novel was
novel?” he asked.
asshole!” I laughed, taking a swig from the tequila bottle.
“Dreaming of Babylon
is an interesting title,”
is it you liked about this book?’
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.”
know this is doubtful,” I laughed,
“and if you did how would you know it was him?”
might introduce us for all we know.”
tell him about this strange phone call I received and tell him
what you had to say about his book— Dreaming of
liked just about everything he has written,” I said.
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
said, “I have heard it can often be a lonely occupation.”
sighed, looking at MY book on the floor in front of me, “I’ve
heard the same thing.”
conversation ended with him asking me to telephone again. That
he had enjoyed our conversation.
Regretfully, I never did.