The recluse, Jim Harrison, and I sat next to each other in first class. I could hear the pitter pat of mice feet in his mind running in their squeaky wheels, cobwebs waving in the breeze. He talked a bit about Jack Nicholson and that genre of people (Hunter Thompson, Dennis Hopper, Jimmy Buffett, and a few others.) Or so I imagine it that way.
Harrison is a planetary and somewhat round man, dense enough to have his own gravitational pull and full set of orbiting moons. From the corner of my eye, I can still make out that unruly salt and pepper hair, blown back in disarray like Tea Tree branches on Rottnest Island off Perth, to be specific. Add to that a thicket of mustache, with different shaped teeth, like chicklets jutting down, like tombstones in bear grass. He needed some grooming and some detangling. His eyes reminded me of stout cement nails, beset in a tan round face. In them were little hematite beads, lens caps on film projectors rolling polyester film from the early 60’s. His one eye roamed, while his right tried to console a childhood injury that left him sightless in the other.
His clothing was reminiscent of that which you’d find wearily hanging in a dark storage closet. His light brown T-shirt was a bit too small showing a hemisphere of abdomen. Over that he sported a rust colored and distressed suede jacket, with gnawed fringes on the sleeves as I recall; or so I seem to imagine. I’ll bet that in his pockets were a couple of old well pressed diner receipts, a turnpike ticket, and crinkled cellophane candy wrappers from, like, 1970.
He spoke with a bit of disgust about the Hollywood scene; having just returned geographically and mentally from a movie director’s office in LA. Said that there was no money in being an author, but screenwriting, well there’s a living… Aspiring screenwriters are coming out of the knotty woodwork, with lolling tongues and pointy pencils (that’s not exactly what he said, but so I like to imagine it). Writers are assigned to movie adaptations of novels before the books are ever finished. I didn’t get the feeling he’d be putting out another book – but I hope to see some poetry.
What would I say to Jack Nicholson, who I ran into walking along the bay in San Diego years later? About this chance meeting with his friend Jim Harrison? “Hey Jack, I went out for barbeque with your friend Jim Harrison when he came through Tucson…he told me what a fucking nut you are.” When I ran by Jack that sunny day, I just said “hi Jack,” which seemed to startle him…he lifted his head in bewilderment and tried to spot me from under his shades.
Jim Harrison and I drank booze and made up a story for the flight attendant…you see, he was an underwear model and I was his agent…this went on for the entire flight. He disappeared while disembarking – ending up somewhere in Patagonia for a retreat. That day, I went home and Googled Jim Harrison.