Today is the day for the last Brautigan Salad leaving. The final two plants are a Shasta Daisy and a Sweet Alyssum. The weather has turned and autumn has a palpable tang of winter, so I can’t delay the leaving any longer. I’m filled with mixed emotion - my personal involvement with the Brautigan Salad is almost over, but I feel a sense of pride in helping to spread the growing poems of Richard Brautigan across London.
I’ve arranged to meet up with Fuchsia, co-organiser of The Brautigan Book Club, to accompany me on the last two flower drops. Luckily she has brought an umbrella.
Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942
C.Card is a penniless amateur detective, clueless even when they are piled high in front of him. His problems are magnified by his constant desire to escape to parallel dream worlds in Babylon with the beautiful dream goddess Nana-dirat.
A small amount of sleuthing has led us to a cafe on Edgware Road called The Queen of Babylon. It is here that part of the Brautigan Salad will begin its alternative dream life. It is raining hard by now, heavy cold autumn rain. Luckily, just outside the cafe is a telephone booth.
Telephone Door To Richard Brautigan
The album Listening To Richard Brautigan starts with a telephone ringing. It only rings once before Richard Brautigan answers. He excitedly explains to the unknown caller that his apartment is covered with recording equipment to make the album. “There are wires all over the place, all we need is like a body to cut up and bring back to life, like a Frankenstein monster. It is incredible!”
Half way through the album the phone rings again. This time it seems like Brautigan doesn’t want to answer it, only after the seventh ring he speaks.
“Whenever the telephone rings after 11 O’clock I automatically assume that it is not going to be good news”.
The Brautigan Salad phone box will never ring and will never receive any news, either bad or good, as someone has ripped out the receiver. We place the Shasta Daisy on the floor of the phone box out of the rain. It is now a telephone door that leads directly to Richard Brautigan.
We sit outside The Queen Of Babylon, sheltered from the rain, drinking the first hot chocolate of autumn. No one even glances at the Shasta Daisy, as Fuchsia says “The rain has washed out everyone’s whimsy”.
A Moustache Mystery Fit For C.Card
It is still raining heavily, so we decide to sit it out for an hour in the hope that it stops. Just near Edgware Road station is a pub called The Windsor Castle. It is packed with various collections, novelties, curios. It also the meeting place for The Handlebar Club - founded in 1947 - an international club for men with handlebar moustaches. The ceiling above the table reserved for their monthly meetings is covered with photographs of members, international visitors and celebrities with displays of facial hair that meet the membership requirement of “a hirsute appendage of the upper lip, with graspable extremities - beards are not allowed”.
On the wall opposite the entrance is an original pencil drawing of members used for the club’s 1963 Christmas Card. Mysteriously one of the moustachioed heads is missing, all that is left is a ghostly outline visible against the yellowing paper.
Why is he headless? Was he banished from the club for the gravest of misdemeanors - growing a beard? Or did he become disillusioned with the whole fraternity and simply shaved? Either one of those outcomes could have legitimately resulted in his symbolic erasure.
Richard Brautigan would have made a fine figurehead for The Handlebar Club given a little encouragement from fellow members. Perhaps he should be awarded posthumous honorary membership to replace the missing head. I’m not sure what the rule is about hats though.
The Last Stop On The Tokyo-Diner Hotel-Montana Express
Richard Brautigan’s Tokyo-Montana Express has 131 stops. This is the last stop for the Brautigan Salad on its own Tokyo-Diner-Hotel-Montana Express. The last five stations have been -
127: A Letter Of Complaint To A Dangerous Umbrella
128: The Princess Diana Pub Bench
129: Find & Losing Two Stations With The Same Name.
130: End Of The Line Polite Emergency Toilet Break
…The last stop is on one of the back streets of Kings Cross, where some of the city’s seediest hotels still remain. But in comparison to some of its neighbours Hotel Montana looks welcoming, the glow of its own streetlamps marking the finishing posts, the end of the line for the Brautigan Salad leaving.
I say a final goodbye to the final Sweet Alyssum and place it in the corner of the entrance way, just under the Hotel Montana sign. As I walk away I turn and glimpse two Japanese holiday makers struggling with their suitcases down the steps of the hotel, in what I hope is the start of their own reverse Hotel Montana-Tokyo Express.
Now all the flowers from the Brautigan Salad have been left to be found by strangers all I can do is continue to hope that one, just one finder will be moved enough to contact me from the details on the back of poem-label. Or failing that, that they just keep their part of the Brautigan Salad fed, watered and warm throughout the winter and share the story of how they found it to anyone that asks, maybe reading Brautigan’s poem aloud as they do. Or even, if their greenfingers fail them, that they’ve pinned the poem to the fridge door, and once while making a cup of tea they’ll glance at it and wonder. And wonder is enough for me.