Lonesome Travelerby Jack Kerouac
“Kerouac’s work represents the most extensive experiment in language and literary form undertaken by an American writer of his generation.” –Ann Douglas “ ‘ ’ ”
In his first frankly autobiographical work, Jack Kerouac tells the exhilarating story of the years when he was writing the books that captivated and infuriated the public, restless years wandering during which he worked as a railway brakeman in California, a steward on a tramp steamer, and a fire lookout on the crest of Desolation Peak in the Cascade Mountains. Resembling his novels in its exuberant style and “jazzy impressionistic prose” (The New Yorker), Lonesome Traveler gives us “Kerouac’s nerve ends vs. the universe, with flashes of poetry, truth, and daffiness’ (The New York Times Book Review).
“The first clear development of the American Romantic prose since Hemingway, Kerouac’s writing is full of mad sex, comedy, widescreen travel writing, and long lyrical evocations of American childhood and adolescent memories.” –The Times (London)
“Kerouac’s work represents the most extensive experiment in language and literary form undertaken by an American writer of his generation.” –Ann Douglas
“Each book by Kerouac is unique, a telepathic discord. Such rich, natural writing is nonpareil in the later twentieth century.” –Allen Ginsberg
An outsider in America, Jack Kerouac was a true original.” –Ann Charters
1. PIERS OF THE HOMELESS NIGHT
HERE DOWN ON DARK EARTH
before we all go to Heaven
VISIONS OF AMERICA
All that hitchhikin
All that railroadin
All that comin back
Via Mexican & Canadian borders ”
Less begin with the sight of me with collar huddled up close to neck and tied around with a handkerchief to keep it tight and snug, as I go trudging across the bleak, dark warehouse lots of the ever lovin San Pedro waterfront, the oil refineries smelling in the damp foggish night of Christmas 1951 just like burning rubber and the brought-up mysteries of Sea Hag Pacific, where just off to my left as I trudge you can see the oily skeel of old bay waters marching up to hug the scummy posts and out on over the flatiron waters are the lights ululating in the moving tide and also lights of ships and bum boats themselves moving and closing in and leaving this last lip of American land.
– Out on that dark ocean, that wild dark sea, where the worm invisibly rides to come, like a hag flying and laid out as if casually on sad sofa but her hair flying and she’s on her way to find the crimson joy of lovers and eat it up, Death by name, the doom and death ship the S.S. Roamer, painted black with orange booms, was coming now like a ghost and without a sound except for its vastly shuddering engine, to be warped & wailed in at the Pedro pier, fresh from a run from New York through the Panamy canal, and aboard’s my ole buddy Deni Bleu let’s call him who had me travel 3,000 miles overland on buses with the promise he will get me on and I sail the rest of the trip around the world.– And since I’m well and on the bum again & aint got nothing else to do, but roam, longfaced, the real America, with my unreal heart, here I am eager and ready to be a big busted nose scullion or dishwasher on the old scoff scow s’long as I can buy my next fancy shirt in a Hong Kong haberdashery or wave a polo mallet in some old Singapore bar or play the horses in Australian, it’s all the same to me as long as it can be exciting and goes around the world.
For weeks I have been traveling on the road, west from New York, and waiting up in Frisco at a friend’s house meanwhile earning an extra 50 bucks working the Christmas rush as a baggagehandler with the old sop out railroad, have just now come the 500 miles down from Frisco as an honored secret guest in the caboose of the Zipper first class freight train thanx to my connections on the railroad up there and now I think I’m going to be a big seaman, I’ll get on the Roamer right here in Pedro, so I think fondly, anyway if it wasnt for this shipping I’d sure like it maybe to be a railroad man, learn to be a brakeman, and get paid to ride that old zooming Zipper.– But I’d been sick, a sudden choking awful cold of the virus X type California style, and could hardly see out the dusty window of the caboose as it flashed past the snowy breaking surf at Surf and Tangair and Gaviota on the division that runs that moony rail between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.–I’d tried my best to appreciate a good ride but could only lay flat on the caboose seat with my face buried in my bundled jacket and every conductor from San Jose to Los Angeles had had to wake me up to ask about my qualifications, I was a brakeman’s brother and a brakeman in Texas Division myself, so whenever I looked up thinking “Ole Jack you are now actually riding in a caboose and going along the surf on the spectrallest railroad you’d ever in your wildest little dreams wanta ride, like a kid’s dream, why is it you cant lift your head and look out there and appreciate the feathery shore of California the last land being feathered by fine powdery skeel of doorstop sills of doorstep water weaving in from every Orient and bay boom shroud from here to Catteras Flapperas Voldivious and Gratteras, boy,” but I’d raise my head, and nothing there was to see, except my bloodshot soul, and vague hints of an unreal moon shinin on an unreal sea, and the flashby quick of the pebbles of the road bed, the rail in the starlight.–Arriving in L.A. in the morning and I stagger with full huge cuddlebag on shoulder from the L.A. yards clear into downtown Main Street L.A. where I laid up in a hotel room 24 hours drinking bourbon lemon juice and anacin and seeing as I lay on my back a vision of America that had no end–which was only beginning–thinking, tho, “I’ll get on the Roamer at Pedro and be gone for Japan before you can say boo.” –Looking out the window when I felt a little better and digging the hot sunny streets of L.A. Christmas, going down finally to the skid row poolhalls and shoe shine joints and gouging around, waiting for the time when the Roamer would warp in at the Pedro pier, where I was to meet Deni right at the gangplank with the gun he’d sent ahead.
More reasons than one for the meeting in Pedro–he’d sent a gun ahead inside of a book which he’d carefully cut and hollowed out and made into a tight neat package covered with brown paper and tied with string, addressed to a girl in Hollywood, Helen something, with address which he gave me, “Now Kerouac when you get to Hollywood you go immediately to Helen’s and ask her for that package I sent her, then you carefully open it in your hotel room and there’s the gun and it’s loaded so be careful dont shoot your finger off, then you put it in your pocket, do you hear me Kerouac, has it gotten into your heskefuffle frantic imagination–but now you’ve got a little errand to do for me, for your boy Denny Blue, remember we went to school together, we thought up ways to survive together to scrounge for pennies we were even cops together we even married the same woman,” (cough) “I mean,–we both wanted the same woman, Kerouac, it’s up to you now now to help defend me against the evil of Matthew Peters, you bring that gun with you” poking me and emphatically pronouncing each word and poking me with each word “and bring it on you and dont get caught and dont miss the boat whatever you do.” –A plan so absurd, so typical of this maniac, I came of course without the gun, without even looking up Helen, but just in my beatup jacket hurrying, almost late, I could see her masts close in against the pier, night, spotlights everywhere, down that dismal long plaza of refineries and oil storage tanks, on my poor scuffledown shoes that had begun a real journey now–starting in New York to follow the fool ship but it was about to be made plain to me in the first 24 hours I’d never get on no ship–didnt know it then, but was doomed to stay in America, always, road rail or waterscrew, it’ll always be America (Orient-bound ships chugging up the Mississippi, as will be shown later.)–No gun, huddled against the awful winter damp of Pedro and Long Beach, in the night, passing the Puss n” Boots factory on a corner with little lawn out front and American flagpoles and a big tuna fish ad inside the same building they make fish for humans and for cats–passing the Matson piers, the Lurline not in.– Eyes peeled for Matthew Peters the villain who was behind the need for the gun.
It went back, maniacally, to further earlier events in this gnashing huge movie of earth only a piece of which here’s offered by me, long tho it is, how wild can the world be until finally you realize “O well it’s just repetitious anyway.” –But Deni had deliberately wrecked this Matthew Peters’ car. It seems they had lived together and with a bunch of girls in Hollywood. They were seamen. You saw snapshots of them sitting around sunny pools in bathingsuits and with blondes and in big hugging poses. Deni tall, fattish, dark, smiling white teeth hypocrite’s smile, Matthew Peters an extremely handsome blond with a self-assured grim expression or (morbid) expression of sin and silence, the hero–of the group, of the time–so that you hear it always spoken behind the hand, the confidential stories told to you by every drunk and non-drunk in every bar and non-bar from here to the other side of all the Tathagata worlds in the 10 Quarters of the universe, it’s like the ghosts of all the mosquitos that had ever lived, the density of the story of the world all of it would be enough to drown the Pacific as many times as you could remove a grain of sand from its sandy bed. The big story was, the big complaint, that I heard chanted, from Deni, an old complainer and chanter and one of the most vituperative of complainers, “While I was scrounging around in the garbage cans and barrels of Hollywood mind you, going behind those very fancy apartment houses and at night, late, very quietly sneaking around, getting bottles for 5 cent deposits and putting them in my little bag, for extra money, when we couldnt get longshore work and nor get a ship for love nor money, Matthew, with his airy ways, was having big parties and spending every cent he could get from my grimy hands and not once, N O TTT Once, did I hear one W O R D of appreciation–you can imagine how I felt when finally he took my best girl and took off with her for a night–I sneaked to his garage where he had his car parked, I very quietly backed it out without starting the motor, I let it roll down the street, and then man I was on my way to Frisco, drinking beer from cans–I could tell you a story–” and so he goes on with his story, told in his own inimitable way, how he wrecked the car in Cucamonga California, a head-on crash into some tree, how he almost got killed, how the cops were, and lawyers, and papers, and troubles, and how he finally got to Frisco, and got another ship, and how Matthew Peters who knew he was on the Roamer, would be waiting at the pierhead this very same clammy cold night in Pedro with a gun, a knife, henchmen, friends, anything and everything.–Deni was going to step off the ship looking in all directions, ready to throw himself flat o’ the ground, and I was to be waiting there at the foot of the gangplank and hand him the gun real quick–all in the foggy foggy night –
“Alright tell me a story.”
“Well you’re the one who started all this.”
“Gently, gently” says Deni in his own peculiar way saying “JHENT” very loud with mouth moawed like a radio announcer to pronounce every sound and then the “LY” is just said English-wise, it was a trick we’d both picked up at a certain madcap prep school where everybody went around talking like very high smotche smahz, “.now shmuz, SHmazaa zzz, inexplicable the foolish tricks of schoolboys long ago, lost,–which Deni now in the absurd San Pedro night was still quipping up to fogs, as if it didnt make any difference.–”GENT ly” says Deni taking a firm grip on my arm and holding me tight and looking at me seriously, he’s about six-three and he’s looking down at little five-nine me and his eyes are dark, glittering, you can see he’s mad, you can see his conception of life is something no one else has ever had and ever will have tho just as seriously he can go around believing and claiming his theory about me for instance, “Kerouac is a victim, a VIC timm of his own i ma JHI NA Tion.” –Or his favorite joke about me, which is supposed to be so funny and is the saddest story he ever told or anyone ever told, “Kerouac wouldnt accept a leg of fried chicken one night and when I asked him why he said “I’m thinking about the poor starving people of Europe”” Hyaa WA W W W” and he goes off on his fantastic laugh which is a great shrieking lofter into a sky designed specially for him and which I always see over him when I think of him, the black night, the around the world night, the night he stood on the pier in Honolulu with contraband Japanese kimonos on, four of them, and the customs guards made him undress down to em and there he stands at night on the platform in Japanese kimonos, big huge Deni Bleu, downcast & very very unhappy–”I could tell you a story that’s so long I couldnt finish telling it to you if we took a trip around the world,–Kerouac, you but you dont you wont you never listen–Kerouac what WHAT are you going to tell the poor people starving in Europe about the Puss n” Boots plant there with the tuna fish in back, H MHmmh Ya aYYaawww Yawww, they make the same food for cats and people, Yyorr yhOOOOOOOOOO!” –And when he laughed like that you know he was having a hell of a good time and lonely in it, because I never saw it to fail, the fellas on the ship and all ships he ever sailed on couldnt see what was so funny what with all, also, his practical joking, which I’ll show.– “I wrecked Matthew Peters’ car you understand–now let me say of course I didnt do it deliberately, Matthew Peters would like to think so, a lot of evil skulls like to believe so, Paul Lyman likes to believe so so he can also believe I stole his wife which I assure you Kerouac I ding e do, it was my buddy Harry McKinley who stole Paul Lyman’s wife–I drove Matthew’s car to Frisco, I was going to leave it there on the street and ship out, he would have got the thing back but unfortunately, Kerouac, life isnt always outcome could coming the way we like and tie but the name of the town I can never and I shall never be able to–there, up, er, Kerouac, you’re not listening,” gripping my arm “Gently now, are you listening to what I’m SAYING to you!”
“Of course I’m listening.”
“Then why are you going myu, m, hu, what’s up there, the birds up there, you heard the bird up there, mmmmy” turning away with a little shnuffle lonely laugh, this is when I see the true Deni, now, when he turns away, it isnt a big joke, there was no way to make it a big joke, he was talking to me and then he tried to make a joke out of my seeming not-listening and it wasnt funny because I was listening, in fact I was seriously listening as always to all his complaints and songs and but he turned away and had tried and in a forlorn little look into his own, as if, past, you see the double chin or dimplechin of some big baby nature folding up and with rue, with a heartbreaking, French giving-up, humility, meekness even, he ran the gamut from absolutely malicious plotting and scheming and practical joking, to big angel Ananda baby mourning in the night, I saw him I know.– “Cucamonga, Practamonga, Calamongonata, I shall shall never remember the name of that town, but I ran the car head-on into a tree, Jack, and that was that and I was set upon by every scroungy cop lawyer judge doctor indian chief insurance salesman conman type in the–I tell you I was lucky to get away alive I had to wire home for all kinds of money, as you know my mother in Vermont has all my savings and when I’m in a real pinch I always wire home, it’s my money.”
“Yes Deni.” But to cap everything there was Matthew Peters’ buddy Paul Lyman, who had a wife, who ran away with Harry McKinley or in some way that I could never understand, they took a lot of money and got on an Orient bound passenger vessel and were now living with an alcoholic major in a villa in Singapore and having a big time in white duck trousers and tennis shoes but Lyman the husband, also a seaman and in fact a shipmate of Matthew Peters’ and (tho Den didn’t know at this time, aboard the Lurline both of them) (keep that) bang, he was convinced Deni was behind that too, and so the both of them had sworn to kill Deni or get Deni and according to Deni they were going to be on the pier when the ship came in that night, with guns and friends, and I was to be there, ready, when Deni comes off the gangplank swiftly and all dressed up to go to Hollywood to see his stars and girls and all the big things he’d written me I’m to step up quickly and hand him the gun, loaded and cocked, and Deni, looking around carefully to see no shadows leap up, ready to throw himself flat on the ground, takes the gun from me and together we cut into the darkness of the waterfront and rush to town–for further events, developments –
So now the Roamer was coming in, it was being straightened out along the concrete pier, I stood and spoke quietly to one of the after deckhands struggling with ropes, “Where’s the carpenter?”
“Who Blue? the–I’ll see him in a minute.” A few other requests and out comes Deni just as the ship is being winched and secured and the ordinary’s putting out the rat guards and the captain’s blowed his little whistle and that incomprehensible slow huge slowmotion eternity move of ships is done, you hear the churns the backwater churns, the pissing of scuppers–the big ghostly trip is done, the ship is in–the same human faces are on the deck–and here comes Deni in his dungarees and unbelievably in the foggy night he sees his boy standing right there on the quai, just as planned, with hands-a-pockets, almost could reach out and touch him.
“There you are Kerouac, I never thought you’d be here.”
“You told me to, didnt you–”
“Wait, another half hour to finish up and clean up and dress, I’ll be right with you–anybody around?”
“I dont know.” I looked around. I had been looking around for a half hour, at parked cars, dark corners, holes of sheds, door holes, niches, crypts of Egypt, waterfront rat holes, crapule doorholes, and beercan clouts, midmast booms and fishing eagles–bah, nowhere, the heroes were nowhere to be seen.
TWO OF THE SADDEST DOGS you ever saw (haw haw haw) walking off that pier, in the dark, past a few customs guards who gave Deni a customary little look and wouldnt have found the gun in his pocket anyway but he’d taken all those pains to mail it in that hollowedout tome and now as we peered around together he whispered “Well have you got it?”
“Yea yea in my pocket.”
“Hang on to it, give to me outside on the street.”
“I guess they’re not here, but you never can tell.”
“I looked everywhere.”
“We’ll get outa here and make tracks–I’ve got it all planned Kerouac what we’re gonna do tonight tomorrow and the whole weekend; I’ve been talking to all the cooks, we’ve got it all planned, a letter for you down to Jim Jackson at the hall and you’re going to sleep in the cadets’ stateroom on board, think of it Kerouac a whole stateroom to yourself, and Mr. Smith has agreed to come with us and celebrate, hm a mahya.” –Mr. Smith was the fat pale potbellied wizard of the bottom skeels of the engine room, a wiper or oiler or general watertender, he was the funniest old guy you’d ever wish to see and already Deni was laughing and feeling good and forgetting the imaginary enemies–out on the pier street it was evident we were in the clear. Deni was wearing an expensive Hong Kong blue serge suit, with soldiers in his shoulder pads and a fine drape, a beautiful suit, in which, now, beside mine in my road rags, he stomped along like a French farmer throwing his biggest brogans over the rows de bledeine, like a Boston hoodlum scuffling along the Common on Saturday night to see the guys at the poolhall but in his own way, with cherubic Deni smile that was heightened tonight by the fog making his face jovial round and red, tho not old, but what with the sun shine of the trip thru the canal he looked like a Dickens character stepping to his post chaise and dusty roads, only what a dismal scene spread before us as we walked.– Always with Deni it’s walking, long long walks, he wouldnt spend a dollar on a cab because he likes to walk but also there were those days when he went out with my first wife and used to shove her right through the subway turnstile before she could realize what happened, from the back naturally–a charming little trick–to save a nickel–a pastime at which old Den’s unbeatable, as could be shown–We came to the Pacific Red Car tracks after a fast hike of about 20 minutes along those dreary refineries and waterskeel slaphouse stop holes, under impossible skies laden I suppose with stars but you could just see their dirty blur in the Southern California Christmas–”Kerouac we are now at the Pacific Red Car tracks, do you have any faint idea as to what that thing is can you tell that you think you can, but Kerouac you have always struck me as being the funniest man I have ever known””
“No, Deni YOU are the funniest man I ever known–”
‘dont interrupt, dont drool, dont–” the way he answered and always talked and he’s leading the way across the Red Car tracks, to a hotel, in downtown long Pedro where someone was supposed to meet us with blondes and so he bought enroute a couple of small hand cases of beer for us to portable around with, and when we got to the hotel, which had potted palms and potted barfronts and cars parked, and everything dead and windless with that dead California sad windless smoke-smog, and the Pachucos going by in a hot road and Deni says “You see that bunch of Mexicans in that car with their blue jeans, they got one of our seamen here last Christmas, about a year ago today, he was doing nothing but minding his own business, but they jumped right out that car and beat the living hell out of him–they take his money–no money, it’s just to be mean, they’re Pachucos, they just like to beat up on people for the hell of it–”
“When I was in Mexico it didnt seem to me the Mexicans there were like that–”
“The Mexicans in the U.S. is another matter Kerouac, if you’d a been around the world like I have you could see as I do a few of the rough facts of life that apparently with you and the poor people starving in Europe you’ll never NEVER under STAAANNND “” gripping my arm again, swinging as he walks, like in our prep school days when we used to go up the sunny morning hill, to Horace Mann, at 246th in Manhattan, on the rock cliffs over by the Van Cortlandt park, the little road, going up thru English halftimber cottages and apartment houses, to the ivied school on top, the whole bunch swinging uphill to school but nobody ever went as fast as Deni as he never paused to take a breath, the climb was very sharp, most had to wind and work and whine and moan along but Deni swung it with his big glad laugh–In those days he’d sell daggers to the rich little fourth formers, in back of the toilets–He was up to more tricks tonight–”Kerouac I’m going to introduce you to two cucamongas in Hollywood tonight if we can get there on time, tomorrow for sure ” two cucamongas living in a house, in an apartment house, the whole thing built clear around a swimmingpool, do you understand what I said, Kerouac? ” a swimmingpool, that you go swimming in–”
“I know, I know, I seen it in that picture of you and Matthew Peters and all the blondes, great” What we do, work on em?”
“Wait, a minute, before I explain the rest of the story to you, hand me the gun.”
“I havent got the gun you fool, I was only saying that so you’d get off the ship ” I was ready to help you if anything happened.”
“YOU HAVENT GOT IT?” It dawned on him he had boasted to the whole crew ‘my boy’s out there on the pier with the gun, what did I tell ya” and he had earler, when the ship left New York, posted a big absurd typically Deni ridiculous poster printed in red ink on a piece of letter paper, “WARNING, THERE ARE FELLOWS ON THE WEST COAST BY THE NAMES OF MATTHEW PETERS AND PAUL LYMAN WOULD LIKE NOTHING BETTER THAN TO CLOBBER THE CARPENTER OF THE ROAMER DENI E. BLEU IF ONLY THEY COULD BUT ANY SHIPMATES OF BLEU WHO WANT TO HELP BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THOSE TWO EVIL SCROUNGERS WHEN THE SHIP PUTS IN AT PEDRO AND THERE WILL BE APPRECIATION SIGNED CARPT. FREE DRINKS IN THE CARPT. TONIGHT” –and then by word in the messroom he’d loudly boasted his boy.
“I knew you’d tell everybody I had the gun, so I said I did. Didnt you feel better walking off the ship?”
“Where is it?”
“I didnt even go.”
“Then it’s still there. We’ll have to pick it up tonight.” He was lost in thought–it was okay.
Deni had big plans for what was going to happen at the hotel, which was the El Carrido Per to Motpaotta Calfiornia potator hotel as I say with potted palmettos and seamen inside and also hotrod champion sons of aircraft computators of Long Beach, the whole general and really dismal California culture a palpable hangout for it, where you saw the dim interiors where you saw the Hawaiian shirted and be-wristwatched, tanned strong young men tilting long thin beers to their mouths and leering and mincing with broads in fancy necklaces and with little white ivory things at their tanned ears and a whole blank blue in their eyes that you saw, also a bestial cruelty hidden and the smell of the beer and smoke and smart smell of the cool inside plush cocktail lounge all that Americanness that in my youth had me get wild to be in it and leave my home and go off be big hero in the American romance-me-jazz night.–That had made Deni lose his head too, at one time he had been a sad infuriated French boy brought over on a ship to attend American private schools at which time hate smoldered in his bones and in his dark eyes and he wanted to kill the world–but a little of the Sage and Wisdom education from the Masters of the High West and he wanted to do his hating and killing in cocktail lounges learned from Franchot Tone movies and God knows where and what else.–We come up to this thing down the drear boulevard, phantasm street with its very bright street lamps and very bright but somber palms jutting out of the sidewalk all pineapple-ribbed and rising into the indefinable California night sky and no wind.– Inside there was no one to meet Deni as usual mistaken and completely ignored by everyone (good for him but he dont know it) so we have a couple beers, ostensibly waiting, Deni outlines me more facts & personal sophistries, there aint no one coming, no friends, no enemies either, Deni is a perfect Taoist, nothing happens to him, the trouble runs off his shoulders like water, as if he had pig grease on em, he dont know how luck he is, and here he’s got his boy at his side old Ti Jean who’ll go anywhere follow anyone for adventure.– Suddenly in the middle of our third or so beer he whoops and realizes we missed the hourly Red Car train and that is going to hold us up another hour in dismal Pedro, we want to get to the glitters of Los Angeles if possible or Hollywood before all the bars closed, in my mind’s eye I see all the wonderful things Deni has planned for us there and see, incomprehensible, unrememberable what the images were I was now inventing ere we got going and arrived at the actual scene, not the screen but the dismal four-dimensional scene itself.– Bang, Deni wants to take a cab and chase the Red Car also with our beer cans in hand cartons we go jogging down the street to a cab stand and hire one to chase the Red Car, which the guy does without comment, knowing the egocentricities of seamen as a O how dismal cabdriver in a O how dismal pierhead jumpin town.– Off we go–it’s my suspicion he isnt really driving as fast as he ought to actually catch the Red Car, which hiballs right down that line, towards Compton and environs of L.A., at 60 per.–My suspicion is he doesnt want to get a ticket and at the same time seem to go fast enough to satisfy the whims of the seamen in the back–it’s my suspicion he’s just gonna gyp old Den out of a 5 dollar bill.– Nothing Den likes better than throw away his 5 dollar bills, too–He thrives on it, he lives for it, he all take voyages around the world working belowdecks among electrical equipment but worse than that take the abuse off officers and men (at four o’clock in the Morning he’s asleep in his bunk, “Hey Carptenter, are you the carpenter or are you the chief bottlestopper or shithouse watcher, that goddam forward boom light is out again, I dont know who is using slingshots around here, and but I want that goddam light fixed we’ll pulling into Penang in 2 hours and goddam it if it’s still dark at that time and I, and we dong got no light it’s your ass not mine, see the chief about it”) so Deni has to get up, and I can just see him do it, rub the innocent sleep from his eyes and wake to the cold howling world and wish he had a sword so he could cut the man’s head off but at the same time he doesnt want to spend the rest of his life in a prison either, or get his own head partially cut off and spend the rest of his life paralyzed with a shoe brace in his neck and people bring him crap pans, so he crawls outa bed and does the bidding of every beast that has every yell to throw at him for every reason in the thousand and one electrical apparati on the goddamn stinking steel jail which as far as I’m concerned, and floating on water too, is what they call a ship.– What is 5 dollars to a martyr?–’step on the gas, we gotta catch that car.”
“I’m going fast enough you’ll get it.” He passes right through Cucamonga. “At exactly 11:38 in 1947 or 1948, one, now I cant remember which one exactly, but I remember I done this for another seaman couple years ago and he passed right through–” and he goes on talking easing up so’s not to pass through the insulting part of just barely beating a red light and I lay back in the seat and say:
“You coulda made that red light, we’ll never make it now.”
“Listen Jack you wanta make it dontcha and not get fined by some traffic cop.”
“Where?” I say looking out the window and all over the horizon at those marshes of night for signs of a cop on a motorcycle or a cruiser–all you see is marshes and great black distances of night and far off, on hills, the little communities with Christmas lights in their windows blearing red, blearing green, blearing blue, suddenly sending pangs thru me and I think, “Ah America, so big, so sad, so black, you’re like the leafs of a dry summer that go crinkly ere August found its end, you’re hopeless, everyone you look on you, there’s nothing but the dry drear hopelessness, the knowledge of impending death, the suffering of present life, lights of Christmas wont save you or anybody, any more you could put Christmas lights on a dead bush in August, at night, and make it look like something, what is this Christmas you profess, in this void? ” in this nebulous cloud?”
“That’s perfectly alright” says Deni. ‘move right along, we’ll make it.” –He beats, the next light to make it look good but eases up for the next, and up the track and back, you can’t see any sign of the rear or the front of no Red Car, shoot–he comes to his place where coupla years ago he’d dropped that seaman, no Red Car, you can feel its absence, it’s come and gone, empty smell–You can tell by the electric stillness on the corner that something just was, & aint.
“Well I guess I missed it, goldang it,” says the cabdriver pushing his hat back to apologize and looking real hypocritical about it, so Deni gives him five dollars and we get out and Deni says:
“Kerouac this means we have an hour to wait here by the cold tracks, in the cold foggy night, for the next train to L.A.”
“That’s okay” I say “we got beer aint we, open one up” and Deni fishes down for the old copper churchkey and up comes two cans of beer spissing all over the sad night and we up end the tin, and go slurp–two cans each and we start throwing rocks at signs, dancing around to keep warm, squatting, telling jokes, remembering the past, Deni’s going “Hyra rrour Hoo’ and again I hear his great laugh ringing in the American night and I try to tell him ‘deni the reason I followed the ship all the way 3,200 miles from Staten Island to goddam Pedro is not only because I wanta get on and be seen going around the world and have myself a ball in Port Swettenham and pick up on gangee in Bombay and find the sleepers and the fluteplayers in filthy Karachi and start revolutions of my own in the Cairo Casbah and make it from Marseilles to the other side, but because of you, because, the things we used to do, where, I have a hell of a good time with you Den, there’s no two ways about” I never have any money that I admit, I already owe you sixty for the bus fare, but you must admit I try–I’m sorry that I dont have any money ever, but you know I tried with you, that time ” Well goddam, wa ahoo, shit, I want get drunk tonight.–” And Deni says “We dont have to hang around in the cold like this Jack, look there’s a bar, over there” (a roadhouse gleaming redly in the misty night) “it may be a Mexican Pachuco bar and we might get the hell beat out of us but let’s go in there and wait the half hour we got with a few beers ” and see if there’re any cucamongas’ so we head out to there, across an empty lot. Deni is meanwhile very busy tellin me what a mess I’ve made of my life but I’ve heard that from every body coast to coast and I dont care generally and I dont care tonight and this is my way of doing and saying things.
A COUPLA DAYS LATER the S.S. Roamer sails away without me because they wouldnt let me get on at the union hall, I had no seniority, all I had to do they said was hang around a couple of months and work on the waterfront or something and wait for a coastwise ship to Seattle and I thought ‘so if I’m gonna travel coasts I’m going to go down the coast I covet.” –So I see the Roamer slipping out of Pedro bay, at night again, the red port light and the green starboard light sneaking across the water with attendant ghostly following mast lights, vup! (the whistle of the little tug)–then the ever Gandharva-like, illusion-and-Maya-like dim lights of the portholes where some members of the crew are reading in bunks, others eating snacks in the crew mess, and others, like Deni, eagerly writing letters with a big red ink fountain pen assuring me that next time around the world I will get on the Roamer.– “But I dont care, I’ll go to Mexico’ says I and walk off to the Pacific Red Car waving at Deni’s ship vanishing out there ”
Among the madcap pranks we’d pulled after that first night I told you about, we carried a huge tumbleweed up the gangplank at 3 A M Christmas Eve and shoved it into the engine crew foc’sle (where they were all snoring) and left it there.– When they woke up in the morning they thought they were somewhere else, in the jungle or something, and all went back to bed. So when the Chief Engineer is yelling “Who the hell put that tree on board!” (it was ten feet by ten feet, a big ball of dry twigs), way off across and down the ship’s iron heart you hear Deni howling “Hoo hoo hoo! Who the hell put that tree on board! Oh that Chief Engineer is a very funny m-a-h-n!”
Copyright ” 1960 by Jack Kerouac. Copyright ” renewed 1988 by Grove Press. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.