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Part 7 of Trout Fishing in America



Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of the

lake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled with

thousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shore

and busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.
The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction.
They should have been made into a National Monument.
Swimming close to shore, like children they believed in their own im- mortality .
A third-year student in engineering at the University of Montana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he went about it all wrong.
So did the children who came on the Fourth of July weekend.
The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch the minnows with their hands.
They also used milk cartons and plastic bags.
They presented the lake with hours of human effort.
Their total catch was one minnow.
It jumped out of a can full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp- ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on the Coleman stove.
The mother apologized.
She was supposed to be watching the fish --THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE-- holding the dead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a young Jewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.
The third-year student in engineering at the University of Montana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design of holes in the can, the design running around and around in circles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth.
Then he attached some string to the can and put a huge salmon egg and a piece of Swiss cheese in the can.
After two hours of intimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula, Montana.
The woman who travels with me discovered the best way to catch the minnows.
She used a large pan that had in its bottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding.
She put the pan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun- dreds of minnows gathered around.
Then, mesmerized by the vanilla pudding, they swam like a children's crusade into the pan.
She caught twenty fish with one dip.
She put the pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played with the fish for an hour.
We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaning on them a little.
We didn't want her to kill any of them be- cause she was too young.
Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidly to the difference between animals and fish, and was soon making a silver sound.
She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at it for a while.
We took the fish out of her hand and put it back into the pan.
After a while she was putting the fish back by herself.
Then she grew tired of this.
She tipped the pan over and a dozen fish flopped out onto the shore.
The children's game and the banker's game, she picked up those silver things, one at a time, and put them back in the pan.
There was still a little water in it.
The fish liked this.
You could tell.
When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in the lake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous.
I doubt if they will ever want vanilla pudding again.
ROOM 208, HOTEL TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA Half a block from Broadway and Columbus is Hotel Trout Fishing in America, a cheap hotel.
It is very old and run by some Chinese.
They are young and ambitious Chinese and the lobby is filled with the smell of Lysol.
The Lysol sits like another guest on the stuffed furniture reading a copy of the Chronicle, the Sports Section.
It is the only furniture I have ever seen in my life that looks like baby food.
And the Lysol sits asleep next to an old Italian pensioner who listens to the heavy ticking of the clock and dreams of eternity's golden pasta, sweet basil and Jesus Christ.
The Chinese are always doing something to the hotel.
One week they paint a lower banister and the next week they put some new wallpaper on part of the third floor.
No matter how many times you pass that part of the third floor, you cannot remember the color of the wallpaper or what the design is.
All you know is that part of the wallpaper is new.
It is different from the old wallpaper.
But you can- not remember what that looks like either.
One day the Chinese take a bed out of a room and lean it up against the wall.
It stays there for a month.
You get used to seeing it and then you go by one day and it is gone.
You wonder where it went.
I remember the first time I went inside Hotel Trout Fish- ing in America.
It was with a friend to meet some people.
"I'11 tell you what's happening, " he said.
"She's an ex- hustler who works for the telephone company.
He went to medical school for a while during the Great Depression and then he went into show business.
After that, he was an errand boy for an abortion mill in Los Angeles.
He took a fall and did some time in San Quentin.
"I think you'll like them.
They're good people.
"He met her a couple of years ago in North Beach.
She was hustling for a spade pimp.
It's kind of weird.
Most women have the temperament to be a whore, but she's one of these rare women who just don't have it--the whore tem- perament.
She's Negro, too.
"She was a teenage girl living on a farm in Oklahoma.
The pimp drove by one afternoon and saw her playing in the front yard.
He stopped his car and got out and talked to her father for a while.
"I guess he gave her father some money.
He came up with something good because her father told her to go and get her things.
So she went with the pimp.
Simple as that.
"He took her to San Francisco and turned her out and she hated it.
He kept her in line by terrorizing her all the time.
He was a real sweetheart.
"She had some brains, so he got her a job with the tele- phone company during the day, and he had her hustling at night.
"When Art took her away from him, he got pretty mad.
A good thing and all that.
He used to break into Art's hotel room in the middle of the night and put a switchblade to Art's throat and rant and rave.
Art kept putting bigger and bigger locks on the door, but the pimp just kept breaking in--a huge fellow.
"So Art went out and got a .
32 pistol, and the next time the pimp broke in, Art pulled the gun out from underneath the covers and jammed it into the pimp's mouth and said, 'You'll be out of luck the next time you come through that door, Jack.
' This broke the pimp up.
He never went back.
The pimp certainly lost a good thing.
"He ran up a couple thousand dollars worth of bills in her name, charge accounts and the like.
They're still paying them off.
"The pistol's right there beside the bed, just in case the pimp has an attack of amnesia and wants to have his shoes shined in a funeral parlor.
"When we go up there, he'll drink the wine.
She won't.
She'Il'have a little bottle of brandy.
She won't offer us any of it.
She drinks about four of them a day.
Never buys a fifth.
She always keeps going out and getting another half-pint.
"That's the way she handles it.
She doesn't talk very much, and she doesn't make any bad scenes.
A good-looking woman, r My friend knocked on the door and we could hear some- body get up off the bed and come to the door.
"Who's there?" said a man on the other side.
"Me," my friend said, in a voice deep and recognizable as any name.
"I'11 open the door.
" A simple declarative sentence.
He undid about a hundred locks, bolts and chains and anchors and steel spikes and canes filled with acid, and then the door opened like the classroom of a great university and everything was in its proper place: the gun beside the bed and a small bottle of brandy beside an attractive Negro woman, There were many flowers and plants growing in the room, some of them were on the dresser, surrounded by old photo- graphs.
All of the photographs were of white people, includ- ing Art when he was young and handsome and looked just like the 1930s.
There were pictures of animals cut out of magazines and tacked to the wall, with crayola frames drawn around them and crayola picture wires drawn holding them to the wall.
They were pictures of kittens and puppies.
They looked just fine .
There was a bowl of goldfish next to the bed, next to the gun.
How religious and intimate the goldfish and the gun looked together.
They had a cat named 208.
They covered the bathroom floor with newspaper and the cat crapped on the newspaper.
My friend said that 208 thought he was the only cat left in the world, not having seen another cat since he was a tiny kitten.
They never let him out of the room.
He was a red cat and very aggressive.
When you played with that cat, he really bit you.
Stroke 208's fur and he'd try to disembowel your hand as if it were a belly stuffed full of extra soft intestines.
We sat there and drank and talked about books.
Art had owned a lot of books in Los Angeles, but they were all gone now.
He told us that he used to spend his spare time in sec- ondhand bookstores buying old and unusual books when he was in show business, traveling from city to city across America.
Some of them were very rare autographed books, he told us, but he had bought them for very little and was forced to sell them for very little.
They'd be worth a lot of money now, " he said.
The Negro woman sat there very quietly studying her brandy.
A couple of times she said yes, in a sort of nice way.
She used the word yes to its best advantage, when sur- rounded by no meaning and left alone from other words.
They did their own cooking in the room and had a single hot plate sitting on the floor, next to half a dozen plants, in- cluding a peach tree growing in a coffee can.
Their closet was stuffed with food.
Along with shirts, suits and dresses, were canned goods, eggs and cooking oil.
My friend told me that she was a very fine cook.
That she could really cook up a good meal, fancy dishes, too, on that single hot plate, next to the peach tree.
They had a good world going for them.
He had such a soft voice and manner that he worked as a private nurse for rich mental patients.
He made good money when he worked, but sometimes he was sick himself.
He was kind of run down.
She was still working for the telephone company, but she wasn't doing that night work any more.
They were still paying off the bills that pimp had run up.
I mean, years had passed and they were still paying them off: a Cadillac and a hi-fi set and expensive clothes and all those things that Negro pimps do love to have.
Z went back there half a dozen times after that first meet- ing.
An interesting thing happened.
I pretended that the cat, 208, was named after their room number, though I knew that their number was in the three hundreds.
The room was on the third floor.
It was that simple.
I always went to their room following the geography of Hotel Trout Fishing in America, rather than its numerical layout.
I never knew what the exact number of their room was.
I knew secretly it was in the three hundreds and that was all.
Anyway, it was easier for me to establish order in my mind by pretending that the cat was named after their room number.
It seemed like a good idea and the logical reason for a cat to have the name 208.
It, of course, was not true.
It was a fib.
The cat's name was 208 and the room number was in the three hundreds.
Where did the name 208 come from? What did it mean? I thought about it for a while, hiding it from the rest of my mind.
But I didn't ruin my birthday by secretly thinking about it too hard.
A year later I found out the true significance of 208's name, purely by accident.
My telephone rang one Saturday morning when the sun was shining on the hills.
It was a close friend of mine and he said, "I'm in the slammer.
Come and get me out.
They're burning black candles around the drunk tank.
" I went down to the Hall of Justice to bail my friend out, and discovered that 208 is the room number of the bail office, It was very simple.
I paid ten dollars for my friend's life and found the original meaning of 208, how it runs like melt- ing snow all the way down the mountainside to a small cat living and playing in Hotel Trout Fishing in America, believ- ing itself to be the last cat in the world, not having seen another cat in such a long time, totally unafraid, newspaper spread out all over the bathroom floor, and something good cooking on the hot plate.
THE SURGEON I watched my day begin on Little Redfish Lake as clearly as the first light of dawn or the first ray of the sunrise, though the dawn and the sunrise had long since passed and it was now late in the morning.
The surgeon took a knife from the sheath at his belt and cut the throat of the chub with a very gentle motion, showing poetically how sharp the knife was, and then he heaved the fish back out into the lake.
The chub made an awkward dead splash and obeyed allthe traffic laws of this world SCHOOL ZONE SPEED 25 MILES and sank to the cold bottom of the lake.
It lay there white belly up like a school bus covered with snow.
A trout swam over and took a look, just putting in time, and swam away.
The surgeon and I were talking about the AMA.
I don't know how in the hell we got on the thing, but we were on it.
Then he wiped the knife off and put it back in the sheath.
I actually don't know how we got on the AMA.
The surgeon said that he had spent twenty-five years be- coming a doctor.
His studies had been interrupted by the Depression and two wars.
He told me that he would give up the practice of medicine if it became socialized in America.
"I've never turned away a patient in my life, and I've never known another doctor who has.
Last year I wrote off six thousand dollars worth of bad debts, " he said.
I was going to say that a sick person should never under any conditions be abad debt, but I decided to forget it.
Noth- ing was going to be proved or changed on the shores of Little Redfish Lake, and as that chub had discovered, it was not a good place to have cosmetic surgery done.
"I worked three years ago for a union in Southern Utah that had a health plan, " the surgeon said.
"I would not care to practice medicine under such conditions.
The patients think they own you and your time.
They think you're their own personal garbage can.
"I'd be home eating dinner and the telephone would ring, 'Help ! Doctor ! I'm dying! It's my stomach ! I've got horrible pains !' I would get up from my dinner and rush over there.
"The guy would meet me at the door with a can of beer in his hand.
'Hi, dec, come on in.
I'11 get you a beer.
I'm watching TV.
The pain is all gone.
Great, huh? I feel like a million.
Sit down.
I'11 get you a beer, dec.
The Ed Sullivan Show's on.
' "No thank you, " the surgeon said.
"I wouldn't care to practice medicine under such conditions.
No thank you.
No thanks .
"I like to hunt and I like to fish, " he said.
"That's why I moved to Twin Falls.
I'd heard so much about Idaho hunting and fishing.
I've been very disappointed.
I've given up my practice, sold my home in Twin, and now I'm looking for a new place to settle down.
"I've written to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexi- co, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington for their hunting and fishing regulations, and I'm studying them all, " he said.
"I've got enough money to travel around for six months, looking for a place to settle down where the hunting and fish- ing is good.
I'11 get twelve hundred dollars back in income tax returns by not working any more this year.
That's two hundred a month for not working.
I don't understand this country, " he said.
The surgeon's wife and children were in a trailer nearby.
The trailer had come in the night before, pulled by a brand- new Rambler station wagon.
He had two children, a boy two- and-a-half years old and the other, an infant born premature- ly, but now almost up to normal weight.
The surgeon told me that they'd come over from camping on Big Lost River where he had caught a fourteen-inch brook trout.
He was young looking, though he did not have much hair on his head.
I talked to the surgeon for a little while longer and said good-bye.
We were leaving in the afternoon for Lake Josephus located at the edge of the Idaho Wilderness, and he was leav- ing for America, often only a place in the mind.
A NOTE ON THE CAMPING CRAZE THAT IS CURRENTLY SWEEPING AMERICA As much as anything else, the Coleman lantern is the sym- bol of the camping craze that is currently sweeping America, with its unholy white light burning in the forests of America.
Last summer, a Mr.
Norris was drinking at a bar in San Francisco.
It was Sunday night and he'd had six or seven.
Turning to the guy on the next stool, he said, "What are you up to?" "Just having a few, " the guy said.
"That's what I'm doing, " Mr.
Norris said.
"I like it.
" "I know what you mean, " the guy said.
"I had to lay off for a couple years.
I'm just starting up again.
" "What was wrong?" Mr.
Norris said.
"I had a hole in my liver, " the guy said.
"In your liver?" "Yeah, the doctor said it was big enough to wave a flag in.
It's better now.
I can have a couple once in a while.
I'm not supposed to, but it won't kill me.
" "Well, I'm thirty-two years old, " Mr.
Norris said.
"I've had three wives and I can't remember the names of my child- ren.
" The guy on the next stool, like a bird on the next island, took a sip from his Scotch and soda.
The guy liked the sound of the alcohol in his drink.
He put the glass back on the bar.
"That's no problem, " he said to Mr.
"The best thing I know for remembering the names of children from previous marriages, is to go out camping, try a little trout fishing.
Trout fishing is one of the best things in the world for remembering children's names.
" "Is that right?" Mr.
Norris said.
"Yeah, " the guy said.
"That sounds like an idea, " Mr.
Norris said.
"I've got to do something.
Sometimes I think one of them is named Carl, but that's impossible.
My third-ex hated the name Carl.
" "You try some camping and that trout fishing, " the guy on the next stool said.
"And you'll remember the names of Your unborn children.
" "Carl! Carl! Your mother wants you!" Mr.
Norris yelled as a kind of joke, then he realized that it wasn't very funny.
He was getting there.
He'd have a couple more and then his head would always fall forward and hit the bar like a gunshot.
He'd always miss his glass, so he wouldn't cut his face.
His head would always jump up and look startled around the bar, people staring at it.
He'd get up then, and take it home.
The next morning Mr.
Norris went down to a sporting goods store and charged his equipment.
He charged a 9 x 9 foot dry finish tent with an aluminum center pole.
Then he charged an Arctic sleeping bag filled with eiderdown and an air mattress and an air pillow to go with the sleeping bag.
He also charged an air alarm clock to go along with the idea of night and waking in the morning.
He charged a two-burner Coleman stove and a Coleman lantern and a folding aluminum table and a big set of inter- locking aluminum cookware and a portable ice box.
The last things he charged were his fishing tackle and a bottle of insect repellent.
He left the next day for the mountains.
Hours later, when he arrived in the mountains, the first sixteen campgrounds he stopped at were filled with people.
He was a little surprised.
He had no idea the mountains would be so crowded.
At the seventeenth campground, a man had just died of a heart attack and the ambulance attendants were taking down his tent.
They lowered the center pole and then pulled up the corner stakes.
They folded the tent neatly and put it in the back of the ambulance, right beside the man's body.
They drove off down the road, leaving behind them in the air, a cloud of brilliant white dust.
The dust looked like the light from a Coleman lantern.
Norris pitched his tent right there and set up all his equipment and soon had it all going at once.
After he finished eating a dehydrated beef Stroganoff dinner, he turned off all his equipment with the master air switch and went to sleep, for it was now dark.
It was about midnight when they brought the body and placed it beside the tent, less than a foot away from where Mr.
Norris was sleeping in his Arctic sleeping bag.
He was awakened when they brought the body.
They weren't exactly the quietest body bringers in the world.
Norris could see the bulge of the body against the side of the tent.
The only thing that separated him from the dead body was a thin layer of 6 oz.
water resistant and mildew resistant DRY FINISH green AMERIFLEX poplin.
Norris un-zipped his sleeping bag and went outside with a gigantic hound-like flashlight.
He saw the body bring- ers walking down the path toward the creek.
"Hey, you guys !" Mr.
Norris shouted.
"Come back here.
You forgot something.
" "What do you mean?" one of them said.
They both looked very sheepish, caught in the teeth of the flashlight.
"You know what I mean," Mr.
Norris said.
"Right now!" The body bringers shrugged their shoulders, looked at each other and then reluctantly went back, dragging their feet like children all the way.
They picked up the body.
It was heavy and one of them had trouble getting hold of the feet.
That one said, kind of hopelessly to Mr.
Norris, "You won't change your mind?" "Goodnight and good-bye, " Mr.
Norris said.
They went off down the path toward the creek, carrying the body between them.
Norris turned his flashlight off and he could hear them, stumbling over the rocks along the bank of the creek.
He could hear them swearing at each other.
He heard one of them say, "Hold your end up.
'' Then he couldn't hear anything.
About ten minutes later he saw all sorts of lights go on at another campsite down along the creek.
He heard a distant voice shouting, "The answer is no ! You already woke up the kids.
They have to have their rest.
We're going on a four- mile hike tomorrow up to Fish Konk Lake.
Try someplace else.

Poem by Richard Brautigan
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