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The Ghosts Who Travel with Me
A Literary Pilgrimage Through Brautigan's America
By Allison Green
Ooligan PressCopyright © 2015 Allison Green
All rights reserved.
The Girl from Idaho
A Long, Slow Drive
"Why Idaho?" The barista set cups on saucers and next to them tiny silver spoons.
I said, "Why not Idaho?"
My partner Arline and I planned to drive from Seattle to Boise in one day, a journey that MapQuest said would take eight hours and twenty-three minutes. We had dropped our black lab off with my parents and stopped at a coffeehouse on our way out of town.
The barista told us, in a confessional rush, that she was fifth-generation Idaho. Her father had been in the legislature so she'd lived half the year in Hope and half the year in Boise. Did we know where Coeur d'Alene was? I did. And north of that Sandpoint? If we went east from there we'd get to Hope. A little town.
We weren't going to Coeur d'Alene, I said, or anywhere in northern Idaho. We were going to Boise and then up into the Sawtooth Mountains. I didn't say we were on a literary pilgrimage.
She made perfect cream tulips on the surface of our coffee. "Don't worry about the Aryan Nations," she said, sliding the cups across the counter. "It's better now. Believe me, I was a little dyke. I stole the next-door neighbor's wife. And they didn't do anything. Oh, they drove down our driveway one night, took a long, slow drive by our house. But that's all."
Arline and I took our dyke selves back to the car. I brushed scone crumbs off my shirt.
Arline said, "She doesn't live in Idaho anymore. She lives here."
"It's just for a week," I said. "One week in Idaho." I got on Interstate 90 and headed east.
Napping through Woodstock
I first heard the term "Generation Jones" when Barack Obama was running for president. Coined by sociologist Jonathan Pontell, it refers to those of us born between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. He says that because we were born into idealism but grew up in the cynical 1970s, we're jonesing for something more but not sure what it is. My earliest hippie memory is in Seattle's Volunteer Park; a young woman paints a butterfly on my arm while my parents watch from a picnic blanket. I look up at the woman's beatific smile, her silky hair, and then I look down, craning to see the pink and purple butterfly near my smallpox vaccination scar. The young woman takes my hand and leads me to the dancing circle. I'm the only child among the flower children.
Being born in 1963 meant I was lumped in with the baby boomers but too young to stay at the party; my parents made me go home for a nap. I wasn't old enough to hop a bus to Woodstock or find my way to Haight-Ashbury when it was still sweet. Instead, I danced in the living room to the 5th Dimension's "Age of Aquarius" and watched Laugh-In on Monday nights. When I grew up, I knew, a bus would take me someplace magical.
A nostalgia for times missed seeped through my adolescence. Protesting the return of draft registration in the late 1970s was not as dramatic as protesting the war. At fourteen I was playing my guitar and singing Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" on the street in the University District when a man with long hair gave me a look that said: sorry, you missed it. I never played "Circle Game" on the street again.
My mother, who was born in 1940, watched the college freshmen doing the Twist; she and the other seniors looked on in bewilderment. She has never once expressed regret for being "too old" for flower power. One of my favorite pictures of her is at a protest where she is pregnant with me and holding a sign that says "ban the bomb"; she was marching for peace when the flower children were walking to school with their Lone Ranger lunch boxes.
So there, I say to you older baby boomers; so there: my mother and I straddle your pig-in-a-python generation; we've got you surrounded. Except that everything you had, I wanted; everything you did, I wanted to do, for years and years and years.
A Nostalgic Morning
Easter morning, six months before we leave for Idaho. Arline and I are drinking coffee and reading The New York Times while Pogo snores beneath the dining room table. I'm not wearing tie-dye or Birkenstocks; my obsession with sixties culture is long gone. The oldest boomers are seventeen years older than me, and even if sixty is the new fifty, that still makes me seventeen years younger. Finally, I've got something on them.
I read in the travel section1 about someone's pilgrimage to Mexico to find the spirit of Ken Kesey. A sidebar lists several other psychedelic authors whose trips one might retrace: William Burroughs in Morocco, Jack Kerouac in San Francisco, Richard Brautigan in Idaho. Brautigan's trip became the novel Trout Fishing in America. People still remember that old book?
Because it's spring break and I don't have any English comp papers to grade, I have the luxury of going upstairs to our attic and looking for the book on our shelves. There it is, a slim pink paperback, the spine faded lighter than the cover. I haven't opened that cover in years, but now I turn to the title page, where the letters of Trout Fishing in America form an arc: a spray of water or a fishing pole and line. I sit on the top step of the staircase and page through the book. The text looks as if it's been typed on a typewriter: the title, mentioned in the first chapter, is underlined, not italicized, and the chapter titles are in all caps. The book looks handmade, as if Brautigan typed his musings in one draft, Xeroxed and stapled them, and handed them out on a San Francisco street corner.
The first chapter, all of two pages, describes the cover photograph: San Francisco's Washington Square, with its Benjamin Franklin statue and a historically significant cypress tree.
I turn back to the cover. There's the Benjamin Franklin statue, all right, and what might be the cypress tree. But there are also two people on the cover: Brautigan in a peacoat and a woman in a cape and granny glasses whose style would have struck me as the height of sophistication when I first read the book. Who is she? Her name isn't with the photographer's on the copyright page. It isn't on the back cover. And she's never mentioned in Brautigan's own description of the cover. Of course not. The woman is the muse. Not worth a mention. If there was one thing that ruined hippie culture for me, it was realizing how sexist it was. All those communes, and the women were still stuck with the dishes.
I sit on the top stair in our attic, under the skylight, rubbing my thumb over the creases in what was once a glossy cover. I look up at the slot in the bookshelf where the book lives. As a teenager I bought every Brautigan book available. At some point I got rid of all of them but this one. Why did I keep it? I bought my Brautigan books at Shorey's, a used bookstore that took up several floors of an old building in downtown Seattle. On rainy days the windows would be open, bringing in the smell of the waterfront and the sound of cars on slick streets. The radiators blasted, too hot, as I poked through the shelves and piles of books on the floor, on chairs, on windowsills. Often no one was there but me. The vastness of the collection would have been overwhelming, but I had my list of Brautigan books to find. The books were never more than a dollar or two, and that's how I spent most of my allowance.
When, years later, I had to get rid of most of my books to move east, I must have decided that Trout Fishing in America would be the one to represent all that I had read and loved as a teenager. But who had that girl been? And did she notice that the woman on the cover had no name?
I could slide the book back onto the shelf and leave it there. But something makes me put it on my nightstand to read again. And then I go to my desk and Google Brautigan and find something called the Brautigan archives. I learn the woman's name: Michaela Clark LeGrand.
This is what happened to late baby boomer girls: they fell in love with writers like Brautigan. Some of you are swooning: Brautigan! I loved Trout Fishing in America/In Watermelon Sugar/that poem about the turd on the garbage can lid. You can see, through a haze of nostalgic pot smoke, the paperback on the ledge of your dorm window, the one passed from friend to friend. You remember your lover reading it aloud — before sex to get your attention, afterwards to keep the glow glowing.
Some of you are turning up your noses at the writer who never hit Ginsberg quality (or Kerouac or Tom Wolfe or whatever icon you were drooling over in 1967, when Trout Fishing in America was published; I was only four that year and not long past a different kind of drooling). Some of you weren't reading white males at all at the time, dead or alive. Some of you, my late boomer confrères and those born even later, don't have a clue who I'm talking about.
Excerpted from The Ghosts Who Travel with Me by Allison Green. Copyright © 2015 Allison Green. Excerpted by permission of Ooligan Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsThe Girl from Idaho, 11,
A Long, Slow Drive, 13,
Napping through Woodstock, 15,
A Nostalgic Morning, 16,
A Dying Wish, 20,
Trout Frying in America, 25,
The Art of Cooking, 27,
The Lion, the Witch, and the Watermelon, 29,
Three Weeks and Four Days, 33,
Inside Out, 37,
Before Aryan Nations, 43,
The Idaho of Our Imaginations, 44,
Messages from the Ouija Board, 48,
Generation Jones, 51,
On the Road in 1963, 53,
Abraham, Martin and John, 56,
My Parents' Record Collection, 58,
On the Lam in Newport, Washington, 61,
Fighting in and over Vietnam, 63,
Free to Be, 65,
Learning to Lose, 69,
Hamburger Frying in America, 71,
Picnicking on the Edges of History, 73,
After Stonewall, Before Ellen, 74,
Meanwhile in Panama, 77,
The Idaho-Panama Connection, 79,
Out of Eden, 80,
Richard Brautigan Slept Here, 83,
The Scenic Route, 85,
Neurosing in Nylon, 87,
What Hippies and Lesbians Have in Common, 89,
Brautigan's Wilderness, 91,
A Route, 93,
The Woman Who Travels with Him, 96,
The Baby Who Travels with Him, 97,
The Object of His Affection Speaks, 99,
What Was Known Then, 101,
Brautigan + Misogyny = Blah, Blah, Blah, 103,
What Is Known Now, 105,
Jonesing for a Muse, 106,
And Still the Girls will Read the Boys and the Boys Won't Read the Girls, 107,
Trucha Frying in Panama, 109,
Back in the Day, 121,
Tucked In, 123,
Road Trips in my Blood, 125,
The Celebrities of Cambridge Cemetery, 127,
The Mysterious Beyond, 129,
Influence and Anxiety, 131,
My Inner Trout, 133,
What the Scholars Tell Us, 135,
A Girl from Idaho, 137,
Worswick Hot Springs, 148,
The Road Out, 153,
Modern Photography, 155,
Richard Brautigan on Facebook, 157,
Rituals Involving Trout Frying in America, 158,
Salmon Frying in America, 160,
The Last 177.65 Miles, 161,
Cutthroat Trout Earn Their Name, 162,