It is not all that surprising to discover that one free-lance writer knows another, however disparate their geographical locations or life-styles; just as dog breeders or mountain climbers or wine tasters seek each other out, so do writers. But to find two of them, friends of some years' standing, appearing in one magazine the same week is more unusual. Novelist (Alp and Gray Matters) William (Gatz) Hjortsberg first found his way into these pages with a look at avalanche control, Things That Go Boom in the Night (SI, March 20); his story on midwinter trout fishing is on page 94. J.D. Reed is a poet who has just finished his first novel—and sees no reason why its title, The Same Old Story, should put readers off. A Guggenheim Fellow at 29, he now lives and teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and makes his SI debut with a quite autobiographical story about Catalog Freaks that begins on page 48.
Hjortsberg recalls that he and Reed met years ago "at a rather intense literary gathering in Bolinas, Calif. Reed has a hang-up about cars. He once owned six, and his first book of poems was called Expressways. It included a verse about drag racing."
Hjortsberg and Reed are also friends of frequent SI contributor Tom McGuane. In fact, when we finally tracked Hjortsberg down by phone he was at McGuane's house in Key West, where he was both a fishing guest and a patient—recuperating from an encounter with a bull at a rodeo school which he had visited on assignment for SI. "Fortunately," Hjortsberg said of the incident, "my bull was not pure Brahma. A Brahma will try to kill you if he gets you down. My crossbred bull was content to do a tap dance about my legs and chest, a real José Greco performance." Hjortsberg was relieved of the telephone by McGuane. "Gatz is a futuristic type," Tom declared, "but J.D. Reed is a Falstaff type. A friend once called Reed 'the largest tropical fish in captivity.' He's 6'5" and weighs upward of 300 pounds, the type of dieter who eats a piece of chocolate cream pie and puts some low-calorie cream over it, expecting that the low-calorie stuff will somehow reverse the process."
"My current diet," explained J. D. Reed, when reached at his home in Amherst and encouraged to speak for himself, "consists of grapefruit, cheese and ale. It supersedes a previous diet of one pat of butter, two shots of gin and a stale Lucky Strike." This is not the only part gin plays in Reed's ongoing fight for fitness. "My idea of exercise," he says, "is to soak a towel in gin, hang it on the rack and lean against it. I do find my weight burdensome when trying to fight my way into a trout stream."
December 11, 1972
In spite of his weight, Reed is considered by his friends a "good angler." McGuane was voted the best all-round athlete of the three. "Hjortsberg is a good fisherman, too," said McGuane, "but he hates to get his line tangled in trees or bushes behind him when he casts, so he's liable to walk out into the middle of the stream and cast toward the bank."
Being accustomed to free-lance writers, we were only slightly dizzy as we put down the phone.