Self Defense

Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America:

I hope someday we’ll have enough money to get those pictures developed. Sometimes I get curious about them, wondering if they will turn out all right. They are in suspension now like seeds in a package. I’ll be older when they are developed and easier to please. Look there’s a baby! Look there’s Mushroom Springs! Look there’s me!

I read this book yesterday, which is sort of set in San Francisco which is near where I live. I don’t live in San Francisco; I live in the East Bay, in Oakland. Earlier I worked in San Francisco and spent more time there but I don’t anymore, I work in Oakland and spend my time here and not only is it a good place but it’s probably the right place. Oakland’s just trying to get its shit together which is what I know. When things are right I could move to San Francisco or leave or the idea of right things is stupid.

So yesterday I read this book in a bar in Oakland. The best part of the book is when there’s a used trout stream for sale by the foot, stacked in piles by length. And he goes upstairs to where the divided stacks of trout streams are and sees the trout swimming and sticks his hand in the cold water, which is the kind of brain poets have.

The worst part of the book is probably the last three chapters: the third to last because the character has to wait in Oakland to get paid so he can go to San Francisco, and I hate this waiting version of Oakland, it’s sad and this city deserves more and I’d like to get over it; the second to last chapter because he says

Expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise.

and in the final chapter he does, the last word is mayonnaise. What I think when I read this is, “fine, end the book with the word mayonnaise but I don’t want to know about wanting to do it, that’s not something I need to know.” God knows I get attached to endings real bad which is part of the reason why I can’t get past writing anything but the very short, but it drives me up the wall to hear it here at the end of this book. I think partly because, maybe someone disagrees, it’s just aesthetically irritating, there’s no need to gigantisize the quirk, man aren’t I crazy ending this book with “mayonnaise.”

I’ve been reading this self-help book for a lot of reasons I may go into another time, probably not, and the whole thing is just the same as every other self-help book, a repetition of the importance of “letting go” over and over in the horrible way self-help books have of using a lot of quotations and backing up claims with pseudo-science and explaining words (“disease = dis-ease”). Honestly I can’t even figure out why I keep reading this book except that I’m hoping it’s a better reminder of letting go, maybe to turn things around here at the end of this year where I have not been very good at getting over shit. (egos, people, the future)

So a “human need” then? To end a book with a certain word? (At the risk of being elementary:) besides just the purely quirk here the human need is just to claim and solidify and know the ending, which is impossible unless you are writing, or shooting yourself. This ending is irritating because what a horrible thing in this ridiculous year to think there might be some control over what would happen next or where it goes.

It’s fine though, inescapable anyway. This book would have always been knitted to knowing endings as I only read it because I have been working my way through this list instead of doing the other summer tribute, and In Watermelon Sugar came in the same book as Trout Fishing in America so I read both, and because Brautigan committed suicide probably around this time too in 1984.

Jesus, this year. I’m done, should be, worrying if things will turn out all right. This is the city I live in.

General Custer Versus the Titanic

For the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who were killed at the Little Bighorn River and the passengers who were lost on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

God bless their souls.

Yes! It’s true all my visions
have come home to roost at last.
They are all true now and stand
around me like a bouquet of
lost ships and doomed generals.
I gently put them away in a
beautiful and disappearing vase.


  1. Posted September 11, 2009 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I tried to read that book and the other when I was in college because of their titles mostly especially the one about sugar but I could not get myself past the silliness and quirkiness of them to actually read much, even though I myself was generally a much more silly and quirky person then than now (a more happy one, too). I never knew Brautigan killed himself, though, and to me knowing that he killed himself is kind of a defense against the silliness of the mayonnaise, it makes me feel slightly better about mayonnaise being the stupid and arbitrary ending of a book although I didn’t actually read the book so I could understand how someone like you who actually has might disagree and be pretty pissed off at mayonnaise as an ending, that seems reasonable. To me, knowing that he killed himself slightly redeems the idea of him ending his book with the word mayonnaise, if that doesn’t sound crazy (I know it sounds crazy), not that being sad is an excuse to make bad art, which I don’t think it is, but if someone is so sad that he’s going to kill himself and sooner rather than later, I like that he was maybe trying to use his writing as a strategy to stop this from happening, that maybe he was wielding quirk as a weapon against dark things in his head. A while ago I wrote a fairly long thing for my place about how wrong this infinite summer shit was, how that was a book that was by design supposed to be hard and make you feel lonely and sad and that if you were doing scheduled reading and following a stupid “reader’s guide” and engaging in blogroll circle jerks and that you would not get the effect from the book that you were supposed to get from it, that the author wanted you to get, that is the whole reason you are fucking reading it in the first place. But then I deleted this thing I wrote because I thought, like, maybe it isn’t a good thing to feel as lonely and sad as that book can make you feel or at least made me feel and maybe these people with their stupid online hipster book club have found an answer to the loneliness problem that even somebody as smart as David Foster Wallace couldn’t find before it was too late. Maybe, but I don’t know. To put it another way, sometimes I think it would be good if everybody who has ever written for McSweeney’ killed themselves but then I think, fuck, that would be an awful lot of dead people.

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