At work this morning, a customer asked me if we had a copy of Richard Brautigan’s story collection, Revenge of the Lawn (1971, Simon & Schuster). It’s a book that can be hard to find, but luckily we had a copy. It just hadn’t made it out to the shelf yet. While we waited for another employee to bring it out (I was stuck at the cash registers for the opening hour), I told the customer that I was a big fan of Brautigan and she told me that she was the woman on the cover.
She said, “I have to get the book and show my nieces and nephews that their aunt Sherry was on a book cover once.”
I’ve always thought the Brautigan covers were pretty great in their simplicity. Especially the cute hippie girl motif. Here’s another cover, this time for my 2nd favorite Brautigan, The Abortion.
My favorite Brautigan book is this overlooked gem:
Anyway…so this lady tells me the she was not only the cover girl with the cake but she was also his “lover.” This was probably the closest I would ever get to the legendary author, so I instantly turned into super fanboy. I guess I felt kind of like a Star Wars fan meeting the guy who played Boba Fett or something. My lit-geek adrenaline was kicking in hard. I always loved Brautigan’s 60s-style perverse humor, minimalist poetry, and open-ended sentiment. He was one of my first loves as a book reader.
My co-worker, Christopher, walked up with the book just then and also started geeking out. He began asking her questions about the cake and she said she made it herself. Of course, all I wanted to know was “What was he really like?”
“When we first got together, I looked in his closet and saw all these ties, and he never wore anything but blue jeans and casual shirts, so I asked him, What are all these ties for? And he said, For tying up my girlfriends.”
I had to step aside a few times to ring up customers buying books, but I listened to Christopher talking with her and heard some other bits and pieces of her story. She had been a school teacher somewhere in California and a lot of the parents of her students were famous people. “Richard would come and hang out at my school just so he could try to meet Francis Ford Coppola,” she said.
She talked about staying in Montana with him where their friends included Thomas McGuane, Jimmy Buffet, and “the Fondas.”
I could tell that she was full of stories and I eagerly said, “I’d like to interview you. Have you ever been interviewed?” And she kind of brushed me off and said, “I’ve been interviewed a bunch of times.”
I asked her if she lived in Portland and I think she misheard me, because she started talking about his death. “I helped him find that house in California where he shot himself,” she said. Then I think I asked her something dumb, like: Was he depressed about something? And she said something strange that I hadn’t heard before. She thinks he may have had AIDS and was also in pain with scoliosis. She said he had a lot of women, many of these Japanese. I sort of wondered if she was implying that Japanese women were higher risks for disease. (Just now–I googled around about Brautigan’s death and found this very interesting article in, of all places, People Magazine.)
I asked her if maybe his waning popularity in the 80s was a factor in his emotional state (he shot himself in September, 1984) and she simply said, “He didn’t care about that stuff.”*
After she left the store, I couldn’t stop talking about this strange and wonderful encounter. I realized that although I had read a bunch of his books, I didn’t really know much about his life. A quick Internet search revealed this woman to be Sherry Vetter. I never found out if she lived in Portland or if she was just passing through. I sort of wish I had gotten a quick photo taken with her, or as Christopher said later, “We should have went down to Whole Foods and bought her a cake to pose with.”
Richard Brautigan would be 76 if he were still alive. I bet he would have put out a few more awesome books. It’s a shame he didn’t.
*I didn’t disagree with her on this point, but I do think it may have been a bummer for him to go from selling 2 million copies of Trout Fishing In America to lackluster sales and bad reviews of his later work.