by Richard Brautigan
SANDBOX MINUS JOHN
DILLINGER EQUALS WHAT?
Often I return to the cover of Trout Fishing in America. I
took the Baby and went down there this morning. They were
watering the cover with big revolving sprinklers. I saw some
bread lying on the grass. It had been put there to feed the
The old Italians are always doing things like that. The
bread had been turned to paste by the water and was squashed
flat against the grass. Those dopey pigeons were waiting until
the water and grass had chewed up the bread for them, so
they wouldn't have to do it themselves.
I let the Baby play in the sandbox and I sat down on a bench
and looked around. There was a beatnik sitting at the other
end -of the bench. He had his sleeping bag beside him and he
was eating apple turnovers. He had a huge sack of apple turn-
overs and he was gobbling them down like a turkey. It was
probably a more valid protest than picketing missile bases.
The Baby played in the sandbox. She had on a red dress
and the Catholic church was towering up behind her red dress.
There was a brick john between her dress and the church. It
was there by no accident. Ladies to the left and gents to the
A red dress, I thought. Wasn't the woman who set John
Dillinger up for the FBI wearing a red dress? They called
her "The Woman in Red. "
It seemed to me that was right. It was a red dress, but so
far, John Dillinger was nowhere in sight. my daughter
played alone in the sandbox.
Sandbox minus John Dillinger equals what?
The beatnik went and got a drink of water from the fountain
that was crucified on the wall of the brick john, more toward
the gents than the ladies. He had to wash all those apple turn-
overs down his throat.
There were three sprinklers going in the park. There was
one in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue and one to the
side of him and one just behind him. They were all turning in
circles. I saw Benjamin Franklin standing there patiently
through the water.
The sprinkler to the side of Benjamin Franklin hit the left-
hand tree. It sprayed hard against the trunk and knocked some
leaves down from the tree, and then it hit the center tree,
sprayed hard against the trunk and more leaves fell. Then it
sprayed against Benjamin Franklin, the water shot out to the
sides of the stone and a mist drifted down off the water. Ben-
jamin Franklin got his feet wet.
The sun was shining down hard on me. The sun was bright
and hot. After a while the sun made me think of my own dis-
comfort. The only shade fell on the beatnik.
The shade came down off the Lillie Hitchcock Colt statue
of some metal fireman saving a metal broad from a mental
fire. The beatnik now lay on the bench and the shade was two
feet longer than he was.
A friend of mine has written a poem about that statue. God-
damn, I wish he would write another poem about that statue,
SO it would give me some shade two feet longer than my body.
I was right about "The Woman in Red, " because ten min-
utes later they blasted John Dillinger down in the sandbox.
The sound of the machine-gun fire startled the pigeons and
they hurried on into the church.
My daughter was seen leaving in a huge black car shortly
after that. She couldn't talk yet, but that didn't make any dif-
ference. The red dress did it all.
John Dillinger's Body lay half in and half out of the sand-
box, more toward the ladies than the gents. He was leaking
blood like those capsules we used to use with oleomargarine,
in those good old days when oleo was white like lard.
The huge black car pulled out and went up the street, bat-
light shining off the top. It stopped in front of the ice-cream
parlor at Filbert and Stockton.
An agent got out and went in and bought two hundred
double-decker ice-cream cones. He needed a wheelbarrow
to get them back to the car.
THE LAST TIME I SAW
TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA
The last time we met was in July on the Big Wood River, ten
miles away from Ketchum. It was just after Hemingway had
killed himself there, but I didn't know about his death at the
time. I didn't know about it until I got back to San Francisco
weeks after the thing had happened and picked up a copy of
Life magazine. There was a photograph of Hemingway on the
"I wonder what Hemingway's up to, " I said to myself. I
looked inside the magazine and turned the pages to his death.
Trout Fishing in America forgot to tell me about it. I'm cer-
tain he knew. It must have slipped his mind.
The woman who travels with me had menstrual cramps.
She wanted to rest for a while, so I took the Baby and my spin-
ning rod and went down to the Big Wood River. That's where
I met Trout Fishing in America.
I was casting a Super-Duper out into the river and letting
it swing down with the current and then ride on the water up
close to the shore. It fluttered there slowly and Trout Fish-
ing in America watched the Baby while we talked.
I remember that he gave her some colored rocks to play
with. She liked him and climbed up onto his lap and she start-
ed putting the rocks in his shirt pocket.
We talked about Great Falls, Montana. I told Trout Fish-
ing in America about a winter I spent as a child in GreatFalls.
"It was during the war and I saw a Deanna Durbin movie seven
times, "I said.
The Baby put a blue rock in Trout Fishing in America's
shirt pocket and he said, "I've been to Great Falls many
times. I remember Indians and fur traders. I remember
Lewis and Clark, but I don't remember ever seeing a Deanna
Durbin movie in Great Falls."
"I know what you mean, " I said. "The other People in
Great Falls did not share my enthusiasm for Deanna Durbin,
The theater was always empty. There was a darkness to that
theater different from any theater I've been in since. Maybe
it was the snow outside and Deanna Durbin inside. I don't
know what it was."
"What was the name of the movie?" Trout Fishing in Am-
"I don't know, " I said. "She sang a lot. Maybe she was a
chorus girl who wanted to go to college or she was a rich
girl or they needed money for something or she did something
Whatever it was about, she sang! and sang! but I can't re-
member a God-damn word of it.
"One afternoon after I had seen the Deanna Durbin movie
again, I went down to the Missouri River. Part of the Mis-
souri was frozen over. There was a railroad bridge there.
I was very relieved to see that the Missouri River had not
changed and begun to look like Deanna Durbin.
"I'd had a Childhood fancy that I would walk down to the
Missouri River and it would look just like a Deanna Durbin
movie--a chorus girl who wanted to go to college or she was
a rich girl or they needed money for something or she did
"To this day I don't know why I saw that movie seven
times. It was just as deadly as The Cabinet of Doctor Cali-
gari. I wonder if the Missouri River is still there?" I said.
"It is, " Trout Fishing in America said smiling. "But it
doesn't look like Deanna Durbin. "
The Baby by this time had put a dozen or so of the colored
rocks in Trout Fishing in America's shirt pocket. He looked
at me and smiled and waited for me to go on about Great
Falls, but just then I had a fair strike on my Super-Duper. I
jerked the rod back and missed the fish.
Trout Fishing in America said, "I know that fish who just
struck. You'll never catch him. "
"Oh, " I said.
"Forgive me, " Trout Fishing in America said. "Go on
ahead and try for him. He'll hit a couple of times more, but
you won't catch him. He's not a particularly smart fish. Just
lucky. Sometimes that's all you need. "
"Yeah, " I said. "You're right there. "
I cast out again and continued talking about Great Falls.
Then in correct order I recited the twelve least important
things ever said about Great Falls, Montana. For the twelfth
and least important thing of all, I said, "Yeah, the telephone
would ring in the morning. I'd get out of bed. I didn't have to
answer the telephone. That had all been taken care of, years
"It would still be dark outside and the yellow wallpaper in
the hotel room would be running back off the light bulb. I'd
put my clothes on and go down to the restaurant where my
stepfather cooked all night.
"I'd have breakfast, hot cakes, eggs and whatnot. Then
he'd make my lunch for me and it would always be the same
thing: a piece of pie and a stone-cold pork sandwich. After-
wards I'd walk to school. I mean the three of us, the Holy
Trinity: me, a piece of pie, and a stone-cold pork sandwich.
This went on for months.
"Fortunately it stopped one day without my having to do
anything serious like grow up. We packed our stuff and left
town on a bus. That was Great Falls, Montana. You say the
Missouri River is still there?"
"Yes, but it doesn't look like Deanna Durbin, " Trout Fish-
ing in America said. "I remember the day Lewis discovered
the falls. They left their camp at sunrise and a few hours
later they came upon a beautiful plain and on the plain were
more buffalo than they had ever seen before in one place.
"They kept on going until they heard the faraway sound of
a waterfall and saw a distant column of spray rising and dis-
appearing. They followed the sound as it got louder and loud-
er. After a while the sound was tremendous and they were at
the great falls of the Missouri River. It was about noon when
they got there.
"A nice thing happened that afternoon, they went fishing
below the falls and caught half a dozen trout, good ones, too,
from sixteen to twenty-three inches long.
"That was June 13, 1805.
"No, I don't think Lewis would have understood it if the
Missouri River had suddenly begun to look like a Deanna Dur-
bin movie, like a chorus girl who wanted to go to college, "
Trout Fishing in America said.
IN THE CALIFORNIA BUSH
I've come Home from Trout Fishing in America, the highway
bent its long smooth anchor about my neck and then stopped.
Now I live in this place. It took my whole life to get here, to
get to this strange cabin above Mill Valley.
We're staying with Pard and his girlfriend. They have
rented a cabin for three months, June 15th to September 15th,
for a hundred dollars. We are a funny bunch, all living here
Pard was born of Okie parents in British Nigeria and came
to America when he was two years old and was raised as a
ranch kid in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
He was a machinegunner in the Second World War, against
the Germans. He fought in France and Germany. Sergeant
Pard. Then he came back from the war and went to some
hick college in Idaho.
After he graduated from college, he went to Paris and be-
came an Existentialist, He had a photograph taken of Exis-
tentialism and himself sitting at a sidewalk cafe. Pard was
Wearing a beard and he looked as if he had a huge soul, with
barely enough room in his Body to contain it.
When Pard came back to America from Paris, he worked
as a tugboat man on San Francisco Bay and as a railroad
man in the roundhouse at Filer, Idaho.
Of course, during this time he got married and had a kid.
The wife and kid are gone now, blown away like apples by the
fickle wind of the Twentieth Century. I guess the fickle wind
of alltime. The Family that fell in the autumn.
After he split up with his wife, he went to Arizona and was
a reporter and editor of newspapers. He honky-tonked in
Naco, a Mexican border town, drank illescal Mescal Triunfo, played
cards and shot the roof of his house full of bullet holes.
Pard tells a story about waking one morning in Naco, all
hungover, with the whips and jingles. A friend of his was sit-
ting at the table with a bottle of whisky beside him.
Pard reached over and picked up a gun off a chair and
took aim at the whisky bottle and fired. His friend was then
sitting there, covered with flecks of glass, blood and whisky.
"What the fuck you do that for?" he said.
Now in his late thirties Pard works at a print shop for
$1. 35 an hour. It is an avant-garde print shop. They print
poetry and experimental prose. They pay him $1. 35 an hour
for operating a linotype machine. A $1. 35 linotype operator
is hard to find, outside of Hong Kong or Albania.
Sometimes when he goes down there, they don't even have
enough lead for him. They buy their lead like soap, a bar or
two at a time.
Pard's girlfriend is a Jew. Twenty-four years old, getting
over a bad case of hepatitis, she kids Pard about a nude pho-
tograph of her that has the possibility of appearing in Playboy
"There's nothing to worry about, " she says. "If they use
that photograph, it only means that 12, 000, 000 men will look
at my boobs. "
This is all very funny to her. Her parents have money. As
she sits in the other room in the California bush, she's on
her father's payroll in New York.
What we eat is funny and what we drink is even more hilar-
ious: turkeys, Gallo port, hot dogs, watermelons, Popeyes,
salmon croquettes, frappes, Christian Brothers port, orange
rye bread, canteloupes, Popeyes, salads, cheese--booze,
grub and Popeyes.
We read Books like The Thief's Journal, Set This House
on Fire The Naked Lunch, Krafft-Ebing. We read Krafft-
Ebing aloud all the time as if he were Kraft dinner.
"The mayor of a small town in Eastern Portugal was seen
one morning pushing a wheelbarrow full of sex organs into
the city hall. He was of tainted family. He had a woman's
shoe in his back pocket. It had been there all night. " Things
like this make us laugh.
The woman who owns this cabin will come back in the aut-
umn. She's spending the summer in Europe. When she comes
back, she will spend only one day a week out here: Saturday.
She will never spend the Night because she's afraid to. There
is something here that makes her afraid.
Pard and his girlfriend Sleep in the cabin and the baby
sleeps in the basement, and we Sleep outside under the
apple tree, waking at dawn to stare out across San Francisco
Bay and then we go back to Sleep again and wake once more,
this time for a very strange thing to happen, and then we go
back to Sleep again after it has happened, and wake at sunrise
to stare out across the bay.
Afterwards we go back to Sleep again and the sun rises
steadily hour after hour, staying in the branches of a eucalyp-
tus tree just a ways down the hill, keeping us cool and asleep
and in the shade. At last the sun pours over the top of the
tree and then we have to get up, the hot sun upon us.
We go into the house and begin that two-hour yak-yak acti-
vity we call breakfast. We sit around and bring ourselves
slowly back to consciousness, treating ourselves like fine
pieces of china, and after we finish the last cup of the last
cup of the last cup of coffee, it's time to think about lunch or
go to the Goodwill in Fairfax.
So here we are, living in the California bush above Mill
Valley. We could look right down on the main street of Mill
Valley if it were not for the eucalyptus tree. We have to park
the car a hundred yards away and come here along a tunnel-
If all the Germans Pard killed during the war with his
machine-gun were to come and stand in their uniforms around
this place, it would make us pretty nervous.
There's the warm sweet smell of blackberry bushes along
the path and in the late afternoon, quail gather around a dead
unrequited tree that has fallen bridelike across the path. Some-
times I go down there and jump the quail. I just go down there
to get them up off their butts. They're such beautiful birds.
They set their wings and sail on down the hill.
O he was the one who was born to be king! That one, turn-
ing down through the Scotch broom and going over an upside-
down car abandoned in the yellow grass. That one, his gray
One morning last week, part way through the dawn, I awoke
under the apple tree, to hear a dog barking and the rapid
sound of hoofs coming toward me. The millennium? An in-
vasion of Russians all wearing deer feet?
I opened my eyes and saw a deer running straight at me.
It was a buck with large horns. There was a police dog chas-
ing after it.
Arfwowfuck ! Noisepoundpoundpoundpoundpoundpound I
POUND ! POUND !
The deer didn't swerve away. He just kept running straight
at me, long after he had seen me, a second or two had passed.
POUND I POUND !
I could have reached out and touched him when he went by.
He ran around the house, circling the john, with the dog
hot after him. They vanished over the hillside, leaving
streamers of toilet paper behind them, flowing out and en-
tangled through the bushes and vines.
Then along came the doe. She started up the same way,
but not moving as fast. Maybe she had strawberries in her
"Whoa!" I shouted. "Enough is enough! I'm not selling
The doe stopped in her tracks, twenty-five feet away and
turned and went down around the eucalyptus tree.
Well, that's how it's gone now for days and days. I wake
up just before they come. I wake up for them in the same
manner as I do for the dawn and the sunrise. Suddenly know-
ing they're on their way.
THE LAST MENTION OF TROUT
FISHING IN AMERICA SHORTY
Saturday was the first day of autumn and there was a festival
being held at the church of Saint Francis. It was a hot day
and the Ferris wheel was turning in the air like a thermo-
meter bent in a circle and given the grace of music.
But all this goes back to another time, to when my daught-
er was conceived. We'd just moved into a new apartment and
the lights hadn't been turned on yet. We were surrounded by
unpacked boxes of stuff and there was a candle burning like
milk on a saucer. So we got one in and we're sure it was the
A friend was sleeping in another room. In retrospect I
Hope we didn't wake him up, though he has been awakened and
gone to Sleep hundreds of times since then.
During the pregnancy I stared innocently at that growing
human center and had no idea the child therein contained
would ever meet Trout Fishing in America Shorty.
Saturday afternoon we went down to Washington Square.
We put the Baby down on the grass and she took off running
toward Trout Fishing in America Shorty who was sitting un-
der the trees by the Benjamin Franklin statue.
He was on the ground leaning up against the right-hand
tree. There were some garlic sausages and some bread sit-
ting in his wheelchair as if it were a display counter in a
strange grocery store.
The Baby ran down there and tried to make off with one of
Trout Fishing in America Shorty was instantly alerted,
then he saw it was a Baby and relaxed. He tried to coax her
to come over and sit on his legless lap. She hid behind his
wheelchair, staring past the metal at him, one of her hands
holding onto a wheel.
"Come here, kid, " he said. "Come over and see old Trout
Fishing in America Shorty. "
Just then the Benjamin Franklin statue turned green like
a traffic light, and the Baby noticed the sandbox at the other
end of the park.
The sandbox suddenly looked better to her than Trout Fish-
ing in America Shorty. She didn't care about his sausages
any more either.
She decided to take advantage of the green light, and she
crossed over to the sandbox.
Trout Fishing in America Shorty stared after her as if
the space between them were a river growing larger and
Last updated May 02, 2015