Tuesday, March 2, 2010


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 in 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. "
"Good. "
He hopped out of bed and he 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 driverwere 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 we 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 onto 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 onto 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 a cup of 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.

Trout Fishing in America is a novella published in 1967 and written by Beat novelist and poet Richard Brautigan. It's an abstract book without any clear central storyline but one filled with exaggerations, surrealistic fantasies, substance-induced reveries, and personal mythologies. The book isn't really about anything, rather it's a series of anecdotes broken into chapters, with the same characters often reappearing from story to story. The phrase "Trout Fishing in America" is used in multiple ways: the title of the book, a character, a hotel, a sixth-grade prank, the act of fishing itself, a modifier, a state of mind, and so forth. Brautigan uses the theme of trout fishing as a point of departure for thinly veiled and often comical critiques of mainstream American society and culture.

I was first introduced to Richard Brautigan's work in college after I came across an old Rolling Stone interview with him. I've carried the ripped pages of that article around with me all these years. At university I had a friend named Trout who briefly dated my roommate. From the beginning I was fascinated with his name. I figured his parents must have been hippies, or a fan of Brautigan's, but just the same he lived up to that name. Trout was odd, slightly eccentric, but incredibly charismatic. I never forgot him or his name, and later used it for a Walter Mitty-esqe character I developed for a kid's show. And just to prove he wasn't the odd man out, in 1994 a teenager legally changed his name to "Trout Fishing in America", and about the same time NPR reported on a young couple who had given their son the same name.

Kool-Aid was invented by Edwin Perkins and his wife Kitty in Hastings, Nebraska. As an amateur chemist, Perkins conducted experiments in his mother's kitchen to develop and invent several products including a remedy to kick the tobacco habit called Nix-O-Tine. Another one of his products was a concentrated drink mix called Fruit Smack, that like Jell-O came in six different flavors. To reduce shipping costs, Perkins figured out a way to remove the liquid from Fruit Smack so the remaining powder could be repackaged in small envelopes. This powder was first renamed Kool-Ade, and then Kool-Aid. Perkins eventually sold Kool-Aid to General Foods in 1953.

Kool-Aid Pie
1 14-oz can of condensed sweetened milk
1 package of your favorite flavor of Kool-Aid
1 small container of Cool Whip
1 prepared graham cracker pie crust
  1. In a mixing bowl, pour in the condensed milk. Using a rubber spatula to get all the contents of the can. Empty the packet of Kool-Aid into the condensed milk. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Next add the Cool Whip and again mix thoroughly. It is very important to add this ingredient last as the thick batter will began to set.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pie crust. Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

1 comment:

  1. A teacher introduced me to Brautigan in high school, specifically "In Watermelon Sugar". Then in college I bought and read a two-volume collection of all(?) of his books, which I still own. I need to go back and read it again. It probably reads differently at 40 years old rather than 20.