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This Isn't Another Fish Story : People: A Carpinteria teen-ager was so impressed with the book 'Trout Fishing in America' that he has legally taken the title as his moniker.

March 14, 1994|RICH TOSCHES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The parents of a 17-year-old boy in Santa Barbara County grapple today with the realization that their son has, by God, tossed away his given name and henceforth shall be known, legally, as Trout Fishing in America.

Say it once. Say it twice. Oh, go ahead, say it three times.

Trout Fishing in America.

Yo, Trout? Excuse me, Mr. America?

The name is the title of a rather odd book. The young man read it. Liked it. Liked it a lot. Took it as his legal name early this month.

And so--and we're just trying to help here--perhaps the parents of the former Peter Eastman Jr. can find a tiny slice of solace in this thought:

If this notion had swept over their son at some other moment in his tour de literature, the kid's driver's license might say Moby Dick.

He is not, of course, Moby Dick. He is Trout Fishing in America. And if you delight in having a chill dash up your spine, chomp on this idea: Trout Fishing in America wants to be a pilot. He is close to getting his private license, setting up this possible scenario:

A 747 thunders across the sky, some 45,000 feet above the Earth. The intercom crackles to life. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot, Capt. Trout Fishing in America. . . .

The rest of the announcement is drowned out, of course, as the passengers shriek madly and try to pry the plane's doors open.

Peter Eastman never suffered a head injury. Never went any appreciable length of time without oxygen reaching his brain. The kid who changed his name to Trout Fishing in America--you just can't say the name often enough, can you?--is, as a matter of fact, quite intelligent. Especially when you stand him alongside today's average teen-ager, who, according to several studies that we are unable to locate right now, believes that the Whitewater scandal involves a river-rafting outfitter in Utah who didn't provide the required number of life jackets.

The saga of . . . may we call you Trout? . . . began two years ago. His father, Peter Eastman Sr., a lawyer in Santa Barbara, gave his son a copy of Richard Brautigan's 1967 counterculture classic, "Trout Fishing in America," a hellbent and, at times, dare we say, rambling collection of short stories.

Then-Peter was intrigued by Brautigan's off-balance look at the world. Example: In one of the stories, Brautigan is introduced to a person, talks briefly with him and then turns to leave with this parting line: "Excuse me. I thought you were a trout stream."

Whew. That's deep. Get it? Trout stream? Deep? You betcha it's funny.

Anyway, Peter the Former was intrigued. He found other Brautigan works. "In Watermelon Sugar" was another favorite. But he came back to "Trout Fishing in America" a few months ago. Read it again.

"At that time, I started thinking about the name change," Trout said.

Initially, he only wanted to use the name at his upcoming graduation from Carpinteria High School. The administration squelched that idea though, using the ridiculous argument that only a person's legal name can appear on the diploma. Something about opening the gate to a wave of teen-aged tomfoolery that would likely include at least nine attempts at slipping the name I.P. Freely into the graduation ceremony.

So he got serious. He went for the legal name change. He says his parents gave their blessings. His father even signed the $182 check for legal fees, according to the court.

"They said, 'OK. It's your choice,' " he said. His parents were unavailable for comment.

*

Earlier, his mother, Addie Green, told the Associated Press that she didn't know what to call her son. " 'Trout Fishing in America' is a little long," she said.

And Trout admitted that his father swallowed hard at the news, too.

"He told me how sad he was," Trout said. "Peter Eastman was a very traditional name in his family. It is his name and his father's name."

Speaking of his grandfather, Trout called him with the news. In Australia. "I don't believe he really understood," Trout said.

Let's see. Eighty-year-old man in Australia. Teen-age grandson in United States. California, no less! No more Peter Eastman Jr. I'm now Trout Fishing in America?

What's not to understand?

The reaction from others was swift. Classmates greeted him with hallway shouts of "TROUT!"

"The novelty, I hope, will wear off," Trout said. "I think the day will soon come when people will call me Trout and not be so excited about it."

That will likely happen the day Barney Fife joins the FBI.

Certainly the commotion has not subsided yet. The phone has been ringing off the hook--there's a word that Trout can't be very fond of--as radio stations across the country, and one in Australia, beg for an interview. Trout has gone along with every request. Even the knucklehead from ABC News who called from Washington, D.C., at 4 o'clock the other morning.

"Some of it has been obnoxious," Trout said.

*

Another call came from another Trout. A man named Trout Pomelroy from Michigan called to congratulate the latest Trout. "He was very supportive," California's Trout said.

With all the attention, Trout hopes, will come a message. A message that Brautigan's books helped . . . well, can we say spawned ?

"What I hope comes of all this is that people can start to see that we don't need so many rigid social laws," Trout said. "I just don't see why a person can't be named Trout Fishing in America without it being such a big deal. It seems we are all trapped in just one frame of mind. We have closed our minds to new ideas, and that is not good.

"Peter Eastman was a proud name. It still is. But it was time for me to become my own person."

Trout heads for college--the urge to school?--in the fall. He has been accepted into UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz, but he has his mind set on a tiny private school in Vermont--Marlboro College.

Maybe the pilot thing will work out. But if not, in college he will major in . . . marine biology.

Just kidding.

Liberal arts.

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