Friday, January 16, 2009

Signing off...

This is the 197th and final post on this blog. I could have stretched it to 200, but it seems fitting to fall just short of a milestone.

It also seems fitting to end with a selection from Richard Brautigan's seminal book "Trout Fishing in America." We've featured lots of Brautigan stuff, but nothing from this blog's namesake work. This will be followed by one of my own short poems and a picture of one of my recent pots.

And that will be that.

The Kool-Aid Wino
Richard Brautigan

When I was a child I had a friend who became a Kool-Aid wino as the result of a rupture. He was a member of a very large and poor German family. All the older children in the family had to work the fields during the summer, picking beans for two-and one-half cents a pound to keep the family going. Everyone worked except my friend who couldn’t because he was ruptured. There was no money for an operation. There wasn’t even enough money to buy him a truss. So he stayed home and became a Kool-Aid wino.

One morning in August I went over to his house. He was still in bed. He looked up at me from underneath a tattered revolution of old blankets. He had never slept under a sheet in his life.

‘Did you bring the nickel you promised?’ he asked.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s here in my pocket.’


He hopped out of bed and was already dressed. He had told me once that he never took off his clothes when he went to bed.

‘Why bother?’ he had said. ‘You’re only going to get up, anyway. Be prepared for it. You’re not fooling anyone by taking your clothes off when you go to bed.’

He went into the kitchen, stepping around the littlest children, whose wet diapers were in various stages of anarchy. He made his breakfast: a slice of homemade bread covered with Karo syrup and peanut butter.

‘Let’s go,’ he said.

We left the house with him still eating the sandwich. The store was three blocks away, on the other side of a field covered with heavy yellow grass. There were many pheasants in the field. Fat with summer they barely flew away when we came up to them.

‘Hello,’ said the grocer. He was bald with a red birthmark on his head. The birthmark looked just like an old car parked on his head. He automatically reached for a package of grape Kool-Aid and put it on the counter.

‘Five cents.’

‘He’s got it,’ my friend said.

I reached into my pocket and gave the nickel to the grocer. He nodded and the old red car wobbled back and forth on the road as if the driver were having an epileptic seizure.

We left.

My friend led the way across the field. One of the pheasants didn’t even bother to fly. He ran across the field in front of us like a feathered pig.

When we got back to my friend’s house the ceremony began. To him the making of Kool-Aid was a romance and a ceremony. It had to be performed in an exact manner and with dignity.

First he got a gallon jar and went around to the side of the house where the water spigot thrust itself out of the ground like the finger of a saint, surrounded by a mud puddle.

He opened the Kool-Aid and dumped it into the jar. Putting the jar under the spigot, he turned the water on. The water spit, splashed and guzzled out of the spigot.

He was careful to see that the jar did not overflow and the precious Kool-Aid spill out on to the ground. When the jar was full he turned the water off with a sudden but delicate motion like a famous brain surgeon removing a disordered portion of the imagination. Then he screwed the lid tightly on to the top of the jar and gave it a good shake.

The first part of the ceremony was over.

Like the inspired priest of an exotic cult, he had performed the first part of the ceremony well.
His mother came around the side of the house and said in a voice filled with sand and string,

‘When are you going to do the dishes?...Huh?

‘Soon,’ he said.

‘Well, you better,’ she said.

When she left, it was as if she had never been there at all. The second part of the ceremony began with him carrying the jar very carefully to an abandoned chicken house in the back. ‘The dishes can wait,’ he said to me. Bertrand Russell could not have stated it better.

He opened the chicken house door and we went in. The place was littered with half-rotten comic books. They were like fruit under a tree. In the corner was an old mattress and beside the mattress were four quart jars. He took the gallon jar over to them, and filled them carefully not spilling a drop. He screwed their caps on tightly and was now ready for a day’s drinking.

You’re supposed to make only two quarts of Kool-Aid from a package, but he always made a gallon, so his Kool-Aid was a mere shadow of its desired potency. And you’re supposed to add sugar to every package of Kool-Aid, but he never put any sugar in his Kool-Aid because there wasn't any sugar to put in it.

He created his own Kool-Aid reality and was able to illuminate himself by it.


This version is from the 2nd UK edition, published by Vintage in 1997. The first UK edition was published in 1970 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. Original copyright Richard Brautigan 1967.

Curiously, one of the reviews quoted on the jacket cover is from The Financial Times. The Financial Times called Brautigan "A master of American black absurdism." What?


Step back
-- Jim Haas

I watch you go again.
It never gets easy even though it has become familiar
A commonplace

Can I tell you this?
"Don't be silly," you'd say.

But every day seems an opportunity lost
Every parting another small step away


This vase was made some time ago and sold at the Northfield Arts Guild shop. It's not my best work, but is representative.

See you around town or around the ol' blogosphere!


Penelope said...

May the wind be at your back!

Jim H. said...

Hey, Penelope, that sound slike something Bertrand Russell might say!

Thanks, and I will continue to be a frequent visitor and sometime pest on Penelopedia.

Greg said...

Well, Jim, farewell but NOT goodbye. You know where to find me....

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hey, Jim:

A sweet, sweet swansong ...

"underneath a tattered revolution of old blankets" - thanks for the good times and keep those quart jars evenly filled ...


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Since I have no email for you, thought I'd drop you this note since it probably won't hit the Lillie blog:

Torpedo magazine is doing a Brautigan tribute issue.


Danl said...

I'm drinking grape kool-aid right now.

Penelope said...

Ooh, maybe your next blog could be devoted to the oh-so-sensible Bertrand Russell, my favorite philosopher from my college Philosophy East and West class... so clear and logical! My words came from a traditional Irish blessing, but I'll be happy to have anything I say attributed to B.R.

Bleeet said...


Oh... just kidding...


(Really was kidding that time.)

John T. said...

Thanks for your posts & comments.
I've enjoyed them.

Ed Baker said...

the edition of Trout Fishing in America that I have is the Delta/Dell
1967 edition Sixth Printing...

we used to sell Kool-Aid packets in the store.. seems t me a packet cost a nickcle or even maybe early-on 2 cents... of course I got all I wanted for free...

best way we used it?
tear ope packet usually a corner
wet index finger in mouth mouth

dip finger into the powder

suck finger....

we did this with girl-frien/boy-friend

as a prelude to 'hanky and panky"

another way to take Kool-aid was

just pour into open moth on to tongue and

dig the shiver!

heck Kool-aid sugar highs lead to mayjuwanna and heroin!