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Richard Brautigan - Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America

THE HUNCHBACK TROUT





The creek was made narrow by little green trees that grew

too close together. The creek was like 12, 845 telephone

booths in a row with high Victorian ceilings and all the doors

taken off and all the backs of the booths knocked out.

  Sometimes when I went fishing in there, I felt just like a

telephone repairman, even though I did not look like one. I

was only a kid covered with fishing tackle, but in some

strange way by going in there and catching a few trout, I

kept the telephones in service. I was an asset to society.

  It was pleasant work, but at times it made me uneasy.

It could grow dark in there instantly when there were some

clouds in the sky and they worked their way onto the sun.

Then you almost needed candles to fish by, and foxfire in

your reflexes.

  Once I was in there when it started raining. It was dark

and hot and steamy. I was of course on overtime. I had that

going in my favor. I caught seven trout in fifteen minutes.

  The trout in those telephone booths were good fellows.

There were a lot of young cutthroat trout six to nine inches

long, perfect pan size for local calls. Sometimes there

were a few fellows, eleven inches or so--for the long dis-

tance calls.

  I've always liked cutthroat trout. They put up a good fight,

running against the bottom and then broad jumping. Under

their throats they fly the orange banner of Jack the Ripper.

  Also in the creek were a few stubborn rainbow trout, sel-

dom heard from, but there all the same, like certified pub-

lic accountants. I'd catch one every once in a while. They

were fat and chunky, almost as wide as they were long. I've

heard those trout called "squire" trout.

  It used to take me about an hour to hitchhike to that creek.

There was a river nearby. The river wasn't much. The creek

was where I punched in. Leaving my card above the clock

I'd punch out again when it was time to go home.

  I remember the afternoon I caught the hunchback trout.

  A farmer gave me a ride in a truck. He picked me up at

a traffic signal beside a bean field and he never said a word

to me.

  His stopping and picking me up and driving me down the

road was as automatic a thing to him as closing the barn

door, nothing need be said about it, but still I was in motion

traveling thirty-five miles an hour down the road, watching

houses and groves of trees go by, watching chickens and

mailboxes enter and pass through my vision.

  Then I did not see any houses for a while. "This is where

I get out, " I said.

  The farmer nodded his head. The truck stopped.

  "Thanks a lot, " I said.

  The farmer did not ruin his audition for the Metropolitan

Opera by making a sound. He just nodded his head again.

The truck started up. He was the original silent old farmer.

  A little while later I was punching in at the creek. I put

my card above the clock and went into that long tunnel of

telephone booths.

  I waded about seventy-three telephone booths in. I caught

two trout in a little hole that was like a wagon wheel. It was

one of my favorite holes, and always good for a trout or two.

  I always like to think of that hole as a kind of pencil

sharpener. I put my reflexes in and they came back out with

a good point on them. Over a period of a couple of years, I

must have caught fifty trout in that hole, though it was only

as big as a wagon wheel.

  I was fishing with salmon eggs and using a size 14 single

egg hook on a pound and a quarter test tippet. The two trout

lay in my creel covered entirely by green ferns ferns made

gentle and fragile by the damp walls of telephone booths.

  The next good place was forty-five telephone booths in.

The place was at the end of a run of gravel, brown and slip-

pery with algae. The run of gravel dropped off and disap-

peared at a little shelf where there were some white rocks.

  One of the rocks was kind of strange. It was a flat white

rock. Off by itself from the other rocks, it reminded me

of a white cat I had seen in my childhood.

  The cat had fallen or been thrown off a high wooden side-

walk that went along the side of a hill in Tacoma, Washing-

ton. The cat was lying in a parking lot below.

  The fall had not appreciably helped the thickness of the

cat, and then a few people had parked their cars on the cat.

Of course, that was a long time ago and the cars looked dif-

ferent from the way they look now.

  You hardly see those cars any more. They are the old

cars. They have to get off the highway because they can't

keep up.

  That flat white rock off by itself from the other rocks

reminded me of that dead cat come to lie there in the creek,

among 12, 845 telephone booths.

  I threw out a salmon egg and let it drift down over that

rock and WHAM! a good hit! and I had the fish on and it ran

hard downstream, cutting at an angle and staying deep and

really coming on hard, solid and uncompromising, and then

the fish jumped and for a second I thought it was a frog. I'd

never seen a fish like that before.

  God-damn ! What the hell!

 The fish ran deep again and I could feel its life energy

screaming back up the line to my hand. The line felt like

sound. It was like an ambulance siren coming straight at

me, red light flashing, and then going away again and then

taking to the air and becoming an air-raid siren.

  The fish jumped a few more times and it still looked like

a frog, but it didn't have any legs. Then the fish grew tired

and sloppy, and I swung and splashed it up the surface of

the creek and into my net.

  The fish was a twelve-inch rainbow trout with a huge hump

on its back. A hunchback trout. The first I'd ever seen. The

hump was probably due to an injury that occurred when the

trout was young. Maybe a horse stepped on it or a tree fell

over in a storm or its mother spawned where they were

building a bridge.

  There was a fine thing about that trout. I only wish I could

have made a death mask of him. Not of his body though, but

of his energy. I don't know if anyone would have understood

his body. I put it in my creel.

  Later in the afternoon when the telephone booths began to

grow dark at the edges, I punched out of the creek and went

home. I had that hunchback trout for dinner. Wrapped in

cornmeal and fried in butter, its hump tasted sweet as the

kisses of Esmeralda.








  

THE TEDDY ROOSEVELT





CHINGADER'





The Challis National Forest was created July 1, 1908, by

Executive Order of President Theodore Roosevelt

Twenty Million years ago scientists tell us, three-toed

horses, camels, and possible rhinoceroses were plentiful

in this section of the country.



  This is part of my history in the Challis National Forest.

We came over through Lowman after spending a little time

with my woman's Mormon relatives at McCall where we

learned about Spirit Prison and couldn't find Duck Lake.

  I carried the baby up the mountain. The sign said 1 1/2

miles. There was a green sports car parked on the road.

We walked up the trail until we met a man with a green

sports car hat on and a girl in a light summer dress.

 She had her dress rolled above her knees and when she

saw us coming, she rolled her dress down. The man had a

bottle of wine in his back pocket. The wine was in a long

green bottle. It looked funny sticking out of his back pocket.

   How far is it to Spirit Prison?" I asked.

  "You're about half way, " he said.

  The girl smiled. She had blonde hair and they went on

down. Bounce, bounce bounce, like a pair of birthday balls,

down through the trees and boulders.

  I put the baby down in a patch of snow lying in the hollow

behind a big stump. She played in the snow and then started

eating it. I remembered something from a book by Justice

of the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas. DON'T EAT

SNOW. IT'S BAD FOR YOU AND WILL GIVE YOU A STOM-

ACH ACHE.

  "Stop eating that snow!" I said to the baby.

  I put her on my shoulders and continued up the path toward

Spirit Prison. That's where everybody who isn't a Mormon

goes when they die. All Catholics, Buddhists, Moslems,

Jews, Baptists, Methodists and International Jewel Thieves.

Everybody who isn't a Mormon goes to the Spirit Slammer.

  The sign said 1 1/2 miles. The path was easy to follow,

then it just stopped. We lost it near a creek. I looked all

around. I looked on both sides of the creek, but the path had

just vanished.

  Could be the fact that we were still alive had something

to do with it. Hard to tell.

  We turned around and started back down the mountain. The

baby cried when she saw the snow again, holding out her

hands for the snow. We didn't have time to stop. It was get-

ting late.

 We got in our car and drove back to McCall. That evening

we talked about Communism. The Mormon girl read aloud to

us from a book called The Naked Communist written by an

ex-police chief of Salt Lake City.

  My woman asked the girl if she believed the book were

written under the influence of Divine Power, if she consid-

ered the book to be a religious text of some sort.

  The girl said, "No."

  I bought a pair of tennis shoes and three pairs of socks at

a store in McCall. The socks had a written guarantee. I tried

to save the guarantee, but I put it in my pocket and lost it.

The guarantee said that if anything happened to the socks

within three months time, I would get new socks. It seemed

like a good idea.

  I was supposed to launder the old socks and send them in

with the guarantee. Right off the bat, new socks would be on

their way, traveling across America with my name on the

package. Then all I would have to do, would be to open the

package, take those new socks out and put them on. They

would look good on my feet.

  I wish I hadn't lost that guarantee. That was a shame. I've

had to face the fact that new socks are not going to be a family

heirloom. Losing the guarantee took care of that. All future

generations are on their own.

  We left McCall the next day, the day after I lost the sock

guarantee, following the muddy water of the North Fork of

the Payette down and the clear water of the South Fork up.

  We stopped at Lowman and had a strawberry milkshake

and then drove back into the mountains along Clear Creek and

over the summit to Bear Creek

  There were signs nailed to the trees all along Bear

Creek, the signs said, "IF YOU FISH IN THIS CREEK,

WE'LL HIT YOU IN THE HEAD." I didn't want to be hit in

the head, so I kept my fishing tackle right there in the car.

  We saw a flock of sheep. There's a sound that the baby

makes when she sees furry animals. She also makes that

sound when she sees her mother and me naked. She made

that sound and we drove out of the sheep like an airplane

flies out of the clouds.

  We entered Challis National Forest about five miles

away from that sound. Driving now along Valley Creek, we

saw the Sawtooth Mountains for the first time. It was cloud-

ing over and we thought it was going to rain.

  "Looks like it's raining in Stanley, " I said, though I had

never been in Stanley before. It is easy to say things about

Stanley when you have never been there. We saw the road to

Bull Trout Lake. The road looked good. When we reached

Stanley, the streets were white and dry like a collision at a

high rate of speed between a cemetery and a truck loaded

with sacks of flour.

 We stopped at a store in Stanley. I bought a candy bar and

asked how the trout fishing was in Cuba. The woman at the

store said, "You're better off dead, you Commie bastard. "

I got a receipt for the candy bar to be used for income tax

purposes.

  The old ten-cent deduction.

  I didn't learn anything about fishing in that store. The

people were awfully nervous, especially a young man who

was folding overalls. He had about a hundred pairs left to

fold and he was really nervous.

  We went over to a restaurant and I had a hamburger and

my woman had a cheeseburger and the baby ran in circles

like a bat at the World's Fair.

  There was a girl there in her early teens or maybe she

was only ten years old. She wore lipstick and had a loud

voice and seemed to be aware of boys. She got a lot of fun

out of sweeping the front porch of the restaurant.

  She came in and played around with the baby. She was

very good with the baby. Her voice dropped down and got

soft with the baby. She told us that her father'd had a heart

attack and was still in bed. "He can't get up and around, "

she said.

  We had some more coffee and I thought about the Mormons.

That very morning we had said good-bye to them, after having

drunk coffee in their house.

  The smell of coffee had been like a spider web in the

house. It had not been an easy smell. It had not lent itself to

religious contemplation, thoughts of temple work to be done

in Salt Lake, dead relatives to be discovered among ancient

papers in Illinois and Germany. Then more temple work to

be done in Salt Lake.

  The Mormon woman told us that when she had been mar-

ried in the temple at Salt Lake, a mosquito had bitten her on

the wrist just before the ceremony and her wrist had swollen

up and become huge and just awful. It could've been seen

through the lace by a blindman. She had been so embarrassed.

  She told us that those Salt Lake mosquitoes always made

her swell up when they bit her. Last year, she had told us,

she'd been in Salt Lake, doing some temple work for a dead

relative when a mosquito had bitten her and her whole body

had swollen up. "I felt so embarrassed, " she had told us.

"Walking around like a balloon. "

  We finished our coffee and left. Not a drop of rain had fal-

len in Stanley. It was about an hour before sundown.

 We drove up to Big Redfish Lake, about four miles from

Stanley and looked it over. Big Redfish Lake is the Forest

Lawn of camping in Idaho, laid out for maximum comfort.

There were a lot of people camped there, and some of them

looked as if they had been camped there for a long time.

 We decided that we were too young to camp at Big Redfish

Lake, and besides they charged fifty cents a day, three dol-

lars a week like a skidrow hotel, and there were just too

many people there. There were too many trailers and camp-

ers parked in the halls. We couldn't get to the elevator be-

cause there was a family from New York parked there in a

ten-room trailer.

  Three children came by drinking rub-a-dub and pulling

an old granny by her legs. Her legs were straight out and

stiff and her butt was banging on the carpet. Those kids were

pretty drunk and the old granny wasn't too sober either, shout-

ing something like, "Let the Civil War come again, I'm ready

to fuck!"

  We went down to Little Redfish Lake. The campgrounds

there were just about abandoned. There were so many people

up at Big Redfish Lake and practically nobody camping at

Little Redfish Lake, and it was free, too.

 We wondered what was wrong with the camp. If perhaps

a camping plague, a sure destroyer that leaves all your

camping equipment, your car and your sex organs in tatters

like old sails, had swept the camp just a few days before,

and those few people who were staying at the camp now, were

staying there because they didn't have any sense.

  We joined them enthusiastically. The camp had a beautiful

view of the mountains. We found a place that really looked

good, right on the lake.

  Unit 4 had a stove. It was a square metal box mounted on

a cement block. There was a stove pipe on top of the box,

but there were no bullet holes in the pipe. I was amazed. Al-

most all the camp stoves we had seen in Idaho had been full

of bullet holes. I guess it's only reasonable that people,

when they get the chance, would want to shoot some old stove

sitting in the woods.

  Unit 4 had a big wooden table with benches attached to it

like a pair of those old Benjamin Franklin glasses, the ones

with those funny square lenses. I sat down on the left lens

facing the Sawtooth Mountains. Like astigmatism, I made

myself at home.










  

 FOOTNOTE CHAPTER TO "THE

  SHIPPING OF TROUT FISHING

  IN AMERICA SHORTY TO

  NELSON ALGREN"



Well, well, Trout Fishing in America Shorty's back in town,

but I don't think it's going to be the same as it was before.

Those good old days are over because Trout Fishing in Am-

erica Shorty is famous. The movies have discovered him.

  Last week "The New Wave" took him out of his wheel-

chair and laid him out in a cobblestone alley. Then they shot

some footage of him. He ranted and raved and they put it

down on film.

  Later on, probably, a different voice will be dubbed in.

It will be a noble and eloquent voice denouncing man's in-

humanity to man in no uncertain terms.

  "Trout Fishing in America Shorty, Mon Amour. "

  His soliloquy beginning with, "I was once a famous skip-

tracer known throughout America as 'Grasshopper Nijinsky.'

Nothing was too good for me. Beautiful blondes followed me

wherever I went." Etc. . . . They'll milk it for all it's

worth and make cream and butter from a pair of empty

pants legs and a low budget.

  But I may be all wrong. What was being shot may have

been just a scene from a new science-fiction movie "Trout

Fishing in America Shorty from Outer Space." One of those

cheap thrillers with the theme: Scientists, mad-or-otherwise,

should never play God, that ends with the castle on fire and

a lot of people walking home through the dark woods.

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Added: Feb 20 2003 | Viewed: 5238 times | Comments and analysis of Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan Comments (3)

Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America - Comments and Information

Poet: Richard Brautigan
Poem: Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America
Year: Published/Written in 1950

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