Monday, April 14, 2008

In Watermelon Sugar

Yesterday I was walking in SoHo, taking photos of street art (above), when I came across a few tattered old books scattered on a windowsill. Obviously they were giveaways.

Most of them were nothing I wanted. But one was by ‘60s avant-garde novelist Richard Brautigan: “In Watermelon Sugar.” I knew Brautigan because I picked up a copy of his book “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966” at a stoop sale in San Francisco in 1991. I read it and remember liking it, bizarre and unusual as it was. So I grabbed “In Watermelon Sugar,” a Dell paperback from 1968.

I got a special bonus: Inside the back cover, an old train ticket from Greenwich, Conn., to Grand Central Station. No date, but it was a ConRail ticket, and MTA took over the Metro North trains from ConRail in it’s at least that old. The fare was $2.35 (as opposed to $13 for a ticket bought on board the train today).

I opened “In Watermelon Sugar” to a random page. It was a chapter titled “The Watermelon Sun”:

I woke up before Pauline and put on my overalls. A crack of gray sun shone through the window and lay quietly on the floor. I went over and put my foot in it, and then my foot was gray.

I looked out the window and across the fields and piney woods and the town to the Forgotten Works. Everything was touched with gray: Cattle grazing in the fields and the roofs of the shacks and the big Piles in the Forgotten Works all looked like dust. The very air itself was gray.

We have an interesting thing with the sun here. It shines a different color every day. No one knows why this is, not even Charley. We grow the watermelons in different colors the best we can.

This is how we do it: Seeds gathered from a gray watermelon picked on a gray day and then planted on a gray day will make more gray watermelons.

It is really very simple. The colors of the days and the watermelons go like this --

Monday: red watermelons.
Tuesday: golden watermelons.
Wednesday: gray watermelons.
Thursday: black, soundless watermelons.
Friday: white watermelons.
Saturday: blue watermelons.
Sunday: brown watermelons.

Today would be a day of gray watermelons. I like best tomorrow: the black, soundless watermelon days. When you cut them they make no noise, and taste very sweet.

They are very good for making things that have no sound. I remember there was a man who used to make clocks from the black, soundless watermelons and his clocks were silent.

The man made six or seven of these clocks and then he died.

There is one of the clocks hanging over his grave. It is hanging from the branches of an apple tree and sways in the winds that go up and down the river. It of course does not keep time anymore.

Pauline woke up while I was putting my shoes on.

“Hello,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “You’re up. I wonder what time it is.”

“It’s about six.”

“I have to cook breakfast this morning at iDEATH,” she said. “Come over here and give me a kiss and then tell me what you would like for breakfast.”


Anonymous said...

I LOVE Richard Brautigan and especially In Watermelon Sugar. My old friend Chevy (who died last summer) introduced me to his books in 1972, probably right around the time that person bought their train ticket.

Thank you so much for quoting the book. It brought back a million memories. What a great book! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dennis likes the story! Dennis thinks the word iDEATH is very interesting, like iTUNES. Dennis likes the photo it looks sugary.

Anonymous said...

I like the passage although it is odd. I also like the snapshot of you in the picture.

Anonymous said...

I have long loved the books and poems of brautigan... thanks for tweaking many memories - those brautigan days was a time when mellowness and turbulence were always walking arm-in-arm.

excellent reminder given that it seems that I've landed on an unvoiced theme for the month!

love the self portrait!

Anonymous said...

That book was written the year I was born...

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the photograph and it looks like it has been sprayed with powder blue watermelon sugar.