Brautigan and Scotti in the Piggly-Wiggly Food Court
By Lou Blodgett
You’re taking your life in your hands, slowing, signaling, and turning sharply off highway 47 into the parking lot of the Piggly-Wiggly. Pull in, and navigate the car over gravel swails. The face of it is three feet of brick, steel frame, and glass as thick as anything. Glass that has withstood threats throughout the decade and still held, backed by signs proclaiming the sale of the week. All the facing will someday be waste. The brick- unwanted. The galvanized frame which holds the glass- extraneous upon demolition, as will be the beautiful glass. The rest is cinderblock. And, in this workaday world, be it raising children or cattle, making large, greasy widgets, or working at the dollar store closer to downtown, the store fits.
Through the checkout stations, past gold-flecked Formica and tile, toward the back (where all those in white know you’re going), is the food court. The scent of hamburger, (which is nearly overwhelming, an invitation or reminder) hangs in the air, along with a faint whiff of ammonia and metaphor. This is where the Beat Writer Richard Brautigan sat at a small four-seat table, nursing a medium-sized Styrofoam cup of coffee.
His boots were the best the army surplus store had to offer, and he wore a floppy leather hat and brown greatcoat. Beneath that, crossed legs showed Levis. He wore a thick flannel shirt with various blues in the widest check to be found in Montana. Since he is a writer, his gaze, at the various shoppers and idlers in the store, could only be perceived as vaguely judgmental. Then, it brightened, a bit, like it had throughout the afternoon, and he cried, as he had to others that day-
There he stood, and the store seemed to brighten with his presence. Vito Scotti, in the flesh. The workhorse of small television roles. The Piggly-Wiggly food court was no longer just that, it was the set of a food court in a Piggly-Wiggly. Perhaps, even, though this can’t be confirmed, his entrance came with a light cue. Either way, he and his surroundings were bathed in bright amber. He was dressed ’60’s male obligatory. He spread his arms.
Brautigan motioned, and Scotti gladly took a seat. Brautigan pursed his lips sardonically and asked:
“Have we met before?”
Scotti shook his head for memory. Like no one in has ever shook his head before in the course of human history. He accepted a medium coffee from a pompadoured extra in khaki and gingham who departed and was never seen again.
“Beats me!” Then, he pointed. “San Francisco!”
Brautigan nodded. “And parts just north and east.”
Scotti continued. “My birthplace. Not much work there, though.”
“For actors, yeah,” Mister Scotti’s eyes couldn’t be wider, and he pointed at Brautigan. “At some function…”
Brautigan leaned forward. “This is a function.”
“You said a mouthful!”
Both toasted the other with the sludge of the day, as the food court showed peripheral activity, and the rest of the world came to around them.
As people passed, what Scotti had to say blended. He ‘couldn’t fathom’ why they would build a reservoir nearby, and was ‘partially shocked’ that one movie had such a large budget. A child went by willingly with his mother, since he was being taken to the counter for a treat. A counter worker was in the distance, which seemed far, tidying up a mess that was left. (When in food courts, one is idling. Part of that idling includes cleaning up after oneself. But, some people…) Scotti ‘couldn’t get past’ this new one percent sales tax increase and internet piracy. He declared that there is ‘no justice in the world’, and, with the look on his face, one couldn’t deny the fact. Nor did Brautigan, he wholeheartedly agreed as someone in a pair of high-topped, sturdy rubber utility boots passed. (Even the smallest child smirks when the department stores advertise ‘utility boots’ on television. They’re ‘shit-kickers’. It’s a balance of truth-in-advertising and decorum which only the FCC can maintain.) Brautigan continued to agree, but didn’t go into detail of what sort justice would be if there were justice in the world. The counter worker hovered. Came closer, gathering wrappers, plastic plates and cups. Scotti could only expound- raising his hands for a chance.
“I mean, are they kidding?”
Scotti ignored Brautigan’s request for details.
“I can’t get my head around that fact. The thing is…”
The counter worker was suddenly behind them. She wore a crisp, white linen blouse and required black slacks and flats. Although roughly thirty, she had had jowl lines since birth, which drew attention up to eyes of a turquoise not seen in any magazine. Her skin was too fair, and her jet black wavy bob contrasted. That’s what happens when you’re raising a daughter and taking a class in statistics. She held a placemat scrap and pen in one, hopeful, blue-veined hand. Brautigan looked up at her.
“I heard you’re a writer,” she told him.
Vito Scotti’s head began to swing back and forth between Brautigan and this beautiful, irregular autograph hound.
Scotti fixed each back and forth with his gaze as they made staccato conversation. But, here came the shit-kicker boots, passing the other way.
“Best not write about me.”
“Why would I.” Brautigan answered the boots, then to the woman- “They call it fiction.”
The woman hesitated, closed her mouth, then opened it again.
“My daughter’s interested in writing. Could I get an autograph for her?”
Scotti jerked his head down at the scrap of paper in the woman’s hand, then back up. He tilted his head, indicating: himself. But, you’re the only one in the food court who saw that. Brautigan said:
The woman handed Brautigan the paper and pen.
“Her name’s Sherry.”
Brautigan began writing, and Scotti, in an unguarded moment, thus, more photogenic, put an arm on the table and watched him. The woman added that “Sherry” is a “family name”. Brautigan spoke as he signed:
“To Sherry. From one writer to another.”
Scotti looked up at the woman, happy with Brautigan’s work as Brautigan signed his name. The writer paused before he handed the mother the autograph.
“And, to you. Throughout life’s journey, I’ve learned some things the hard way.”
The woman nodded, and waited for his advice.
“Stay hydrated, and consume a variety of fiber-rich foods.”
The woman accepted the autograph, then paused and looked at Vito. She then gave her head a small shake, breathed a ‘thank you’ to Brautigan, and faded back. Vito Scotti watched her leave, as if she were visible throughout, which she wasn’t, and said,
“I get that all the time. If I get spotted, it’s…” He pretended to sign a small pad. “Best Wishes to the one who swears they’ve seen me before.”
“We run with different crowds.”
“Do you always give advice on the roughage?”
“It’s expected,” Brautigan answered.
“Really! I can’t get past how two fields, in the arts, can be so different! I would need permission from my agent.”