XXVIII The Captain Gives A
During his teaching residency in the spring of ‘82, Richard had
volunteered to give a reading as part of his job. I was a little nervous
about it because few of the faculty seemed to care much about Richard’s
poetry and much of the Bozeman community in general seemed about as
interested in poetry as they would be in a cinder block. I was somehow
hoping that students or some local organization would publicize the event,
so, shortly before the reading, when he asked who was doing the publicity
and I said I didn’t know, he blew a gasket.
“Some agent you’d make,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I’m a horrible agent. I don’t even know what an
“Obviously. Well, it’s not too late. Let’s go get the posters and
put them up. I can’t believe I’m going to have to do this myself.”
“Yes, the posters.”
“What the fuck kind of place is this?”
“It’s a state university in Montana.”
So somehow we made up some posters and dashed, or I should say hobbled
and lurched, madly around campus and Bozeman in general, putting them up
in store windows and on poles, trees and bulletin boards. It was a pretty
primitive pre-computer poster as I remember, what with its hand-scrawled
letters, ditto paper, etc. I was pretty worried that just a few huddled
liberals and coerced students would show up and groan knowingly or sulk
after each poem as happened at other infrequent readings.
When we drove, hobbled and lurched out to the new shopping mall on the
west end of town, I had a sense of impending doom and futility.
Especially when we entered the B. Dalton’s to put up a poster and the
clerk hadn’t heard of his work.
“Do you have any of Richard Brautigan’s work?” said Richard.
“What does he write?” said the clerk.
“He writes novels and books of poetry.” Richard’s mouth was assuming
an odd shape under his moustache.
“What kind of novels?” said the clerk.
“Famous ones, you know, like great literature,” said Richard without
moving his mouth very much because his teeth were gritted.
“Our literary works are over there, and our poetry section is over
there,” said the clerk, pointing first to a large part of the wall near us
then to a tiny clump of books in the back of the store.
“Thank you,” gritted Richard.
Soon we had scoured both sections and found one book, The Hawkline
Monster, in the whole store, so the Captain returned to the clerk while I
“I would like to give you a little lesson in capitalism,” said
“You would find that in our business section,” said the clerk.
“I am Richard Brautigan,” said Richard. “I write novels and books of
poetry. People like them. When stores stock them, people buy them. You
only have one of my books because people bought the rest of them. But you
do not stock more of them. That is how book stores make money. People
come to them to buy books, and in return, they give the book stores
money. DON’T YOU FUCKERS WANT TO MAKE SOME FUCKING MONEY!!!!!”
The clerk couldn’t think of anything to say back, so Richard just
stared at him for a few seconds until I suggested that maybe we should
find some other places to put the posters. The captain calmly agreed and
we left the store.
A few days later we were standing outside of Gaines Hall, a chemistry
building, and Richard was rubbing snow on his face, getting ready to go in
and give his reading in the building’s main lecture hall. We had arrived
at the last minute so I had no idea what awaited us, though Richard seemed
When we entered the place, it was packed wall to wall, all three
hundred seats, with people standing in the aisles. I was amazed. A hush
fell over the crowd and the Captain lumbered to the podium. I stood in an
entrance and glanced around the room. Even the conservative and religious
Dean of Letters and Sciences who had tried to block my tenure was there.
Richard started the reading with his poem “Fuck Me Like Fried Potato.”
Suffice it to say, my dean’s face looked a little like Richard’s face at
Gorgo's Brautigan Stories Index