Trout Fishing in America
a novel by Richard Brautigan
THE COVER FOR
TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA
The cover for Trout Fishing in America is a photograph taken
late in the afternoon, a photograph of the Benjamin Franklin
statue in San Francisco's Washington Square.
Born 1706--Died 1790, Benjamin Franklin stands on a
pedestal that looks like a house containing stone furniture.
He holds some papers in one hand and his hat in the other.
Then the statue speaks, saying in marble:
H. D. COGSWELL
BOYS AND GIRLS
WHO WILL SOON
TAKE OUR PLACES
AND PASS ON.
Around the base of the statue are four words facing the
directions of this world, to the east WELCOME, to the west
WELCOME, to the north WELCOME, to the south WELCOME.
Just behind the statue are three poplar trees, almost leafless
except for the top branches. The statue stands in front
of the middle tree. All around the grass is wet from the
rains of early February.
In the background is a tall cypress tree, almost dark like
a room. Adlai Stevenson spoke under the tree in 1956, before
a crowd of 40, 000 people.
There is a tall church across the street from the statue
with crosses, steeples, bells and a vast door that looks like
a huge mousehole, perhaps from a Tom and Jerry cartoon,
and written above the door is "Per L'Universo."
Around five o'clock in the afternoon of my cover for
Trout Fishing in America, people gather in the park across
the street from the church and they are hungry.
It's sandwich time for the poor.
But they cannot cross the street until the signal is given.
Then they all run across the street to the church and get
their sandwiches that are wrapped in newspaper. They go
back to the park and unwrap the newspaper and see what their
sandwiches are all about.
A friend of mine unwrapped his sandwich one afternoon
and looked inside to find just a leaf of spinach. That was all.
Was it Kafka who learned about America by reading the
autobiography of Benjamin Franklin..............
Kafka who said, "I like the Americans because they are healthy
KNOCK ON WOOD
As a child when did I first hear about trout fishing in America?
From whom? I guess it was a stepfather of mine.
Summer of 1942.
The old drunk told me about troutfishing. When he could talk,
he had a way of describing trout as if they were a precious
and intelligent metal.
Silver is not a good adjective to describe what I felt when
he told me about trout fishing.
I'd like to get it right.
Maybe trout steel. Steel made from trout. The clear
snow-filled river acting as foundry and heat.
A steel that comes from trout, used to make buildings,
trains and tunnels.
The Andrew Carnegie of Trout!
The Reply of Trout Fishing in America:
I remember with particular amusement, people with three-
cornered hats fishing in the dawn.
KNOCK ON WOOD (PART TWO)
One spring afternoon as a child in the strange town of Portland,
I walked down to a different street corner, and saw a row of old houses,
huddled together like seals on a rock. Then there was a long field that
came sloping down off a hill. The field was covered with green grass and
bushes. On top of the hill there was a grove of tall, dark trees. At a
distance I saw a waterfall come pouring down off the hill. It was long and
white and I could almost feel its cold spray.
There must be a creek there, I thought, and it probably has trout in it.
At last an opportunity to go trout fishing, to catch my first Trout,
to behold Pittsburgh.
It was growing dark. I didn't have time to go and look at the creek.
I walked home past the glass whiskers of the houses, reflecting the
downward rushing waterfalls of night.
The next day I would go trout fishing for the first time. I would get up
early and eat my breakfast and go.
I had heard that it was better to go trout fishing
early in the morning. The trout were better for it. They had something
extra in the morning. I went home to prepare for trout fishing in America.
I didn't have any fishing tackle, so I had to fall back on
corny fishing tackle. Like a joke.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
I bent a pin and tied it onto a piece of white string.
And slept. The next morning I got up
early and ate my breakfast. I took a slice of white bread to use for bait.
I planned on making dough balls from the soft center of the bread
and putting them on my vaudevillian hook. I left the place and walked
down to the different streetCorner. How beautiful the field looked and
the creek that came pouring down in a waterfall off the hill.
But as I got closer to the creek I could see that
something was wrong. The creek did not act right.
There was a strangeness to it. There was a thing about its motion
that was wrong. Finally I got close enough to see what the trouble was.
The waterfall was just a flight of white wooden stairs leading up
to a house in the trees.
I stood there for a long time, looking up and looking down,
following the stairs with my eyes, having trouble believing.
Then I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood
I ended up by being my own trout and eating the slice of bread myself.
The Reply of Trout Fishing in America:
There was nothing I could do. I couldn't change a flight of stairs
into a creek. The boy walked back to where he came from.
The same thing once happened to me. I remember
mistaking an old woman for a trout stream in Vermont,
and I had to beg her pardon.
"Excuse me, " I said. "I thought you were a trout stream. "
"I'm not, " she said.
Seventeen years later I sat down on a rock. It was under a
tree next to an old abandoned shack that had a sheriff's
notice nailed like a funeral wreath to the front door.
4/17 OF A HAIKU
Many rivers had flowed past those seventeen years, and
thousands of trout, and now beside the highway and the sheriff's
notice flowed yet another river, the Klamath, and I was
trying to get thirty-five miles downstream to Steelhead,
the place where I was staying.
It was all very simple. No one would stop and pick me up
even though I was carrying fishing tackle. People usually
stop and pick up a fisherman. I had to wait three hours for a
The sun was like a huge fifty-cent piece that someone had
poured kerosene on and then had lit with a match and said,
"Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper, " and put the
coin in my hand, but never came back.
I had walked for miles and miles until I came to the rock
under the tree and sat down. Every time a car would come
by, about once every ten minutes, I would get up and stick
out my thumb as if it were a bunch of bananas and then sit
back down on the rock again.
The old shack had a tin roof colored reddish by years of
wear, like a hat worn under the guillotine. A corner of the
roof was loose and a hot wind blew down the river and the
loose corner clanged in the wind.
A car went by. An old couple. The car almost swerved off
the road and into the river. I guess they didn't see many
hitchhikers up there. The car went around the corner
with both of them looking back at me.
I had nothing else to do, so I caught salmon flies in my
landing net. I made up my own game. It went like this: I
couldn't chase after them. I had to let them fly to me. It
was something to do with my mind. I caught six.
A little ways up from the shack was an outhouse with its
door flung violently open. The inside of the outhouse was
exposed like a human face and the outhouse seemed to say,
"The old guy who built me crapped in here 9,745 times and
he's dead now and I don't want anyone else to touch me. He
was a good guy. He built me with loving care. Leave me
alone. I'm a monument now to a good ass gone under. There's
no mystery here. That's why the door's open. If you have to
crap, go in the bushes like the deer. "
"Fuck you, " I said to the outhouse. "All I want is a ride
down the river. "
THE KOOL-AID WINO
When I was a child I had a friend who became a Kool-Aid
wino as the result of a rupture. He was a member of a very
large and poor German family. All the older children in the
family had to work in the fields during the summer, picking
beans for two-and-one-half cents a pound to keep the family
going. Everyone worked except my friend who couldn't
because he was ruptured. There was no money for an operation.
There wasn't even enough money to buy him a truss.
So he stayed home and became a Kool-Aid wino.
One morning in August I went over to his house. He was
still in bed. He looked up at me from underneath a tattered
revolution of old blankets. He had never slept under a sheet
in his life.
"Did you bring the nickel you promised?" he asked.
"Yeah, " I said. "It's here in my pocket. "
He hopped out of bed and he was already dressed. He had
told me once that he never took off his clothes when he went
"Why bother?" he had said. "You're only going to get up,
anyway. Be prepared for it. You're not fooling anyone by
taking your clothes off when you go to bed."
He went into the kitchen, stepping around the littlest
children, whose wet diapers were in various stages of anarchy.
He made his breakfast: a slice of homemade bread covered
with Karo syrup and peanut butter.
"Let's go," he said.
We left the house with him still eating the sandwich. The
store was three blocks away, on the other side of a field
covered with heavy yellow grass. There were many pheasants
in the field. Fat with summer they barely flew away when we
came up to them.
"Hello, " said the grocer. He was bald with a red birthmark
on his head. The birthmark looked just like an old car
parked on his head. He automatically reached for a package
of grape Kool-Aid
and put it on the counter.
"He's got it, " my friend said.
I reached into my pocket and gave the nickel to the grocer. He
nodded and the old red car wobbled back and forth on the road
as if the driverwere having an epileptic seizure.
My friend led the way across the field. One of the pheasants didn't
even bother to fly. He ran across the field in front of us like a feathered
pig. When we got back to my friend's house the ceremony began. To him
the making of Kool-Aid was a romance and a ceremony. It had to be
performed in an exact manner and with dignity.
First he got a gallon jar and we went around to the side of the
house where the water spigot thrust itself out of the ground like the finger
of a saint, surrounded by a mud puddle.
He opened the Kool-Aid and dumped it into the jar. Putting the
jar under the spigot, he turned the water on. The water spit, splashed and
guzzled out of the spigot.
He was careful to see that the jar did not overflow and the precious
Kool-Aid spill out onto the ground. When the jar was full he turned the
water off with a sudden but delicate motion like a famous brain surgeon
removing a disordered portion of the imagination. Then he screwed the
lid tightly onto the top of the jar and gave it a good shake.
The first part of the ceremony was over.
Like the inspired priest of an exotic cult, he had performed the first part
of the ceremony well.
His mother came around the side of the house and said in a voice filled
with sand and string, "When are you going to do the dishes? . . . Huh?"
"Soon, " he said.
"Well, you better, " she said.
When she left. it was as if she had never been there at all. The second part
of the ceremony began with him carrying the jar Very carefully to an
abandoned chicken house in the back. "The dishes can wait, " he said
to me. Bertrand Russell could not have stated it better.
He opened the chicken house door and we went in. The place was littered
with half-rotten comic books. They were like fruit under a tree. In the
corner was an old mattress and beside the mattress were four quart jars.
He took the gallon jar over to them, and filled them carefully not spilling
a drop. He screwed their caps on tightly and was now ready for a day's
You're supposed to make only two quarts of Kool-Aid from a package,
but he always made a gallon, so his Kool-Aid was a mere shadow of
its desired potency. And you're supposed to add a cup of sugar to every
package of Kool-Aid, but he never put any sugar in his Kool-Aid
because there wasn't any sugar to put in it.
He created his own Kool-Aid reality and was able to illuminate
himself by it.