Monday, October 21, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of "King OF The Beats" Jack Kerouac-As Hometown Lowell Celebrates- In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957) -On His Birthday Year, Take Two

Ti Jean wondered sitting on Pawtucketville silts listening to the rushing rock-strewn Merrimack coming by, wondered like maybe those old-time Dutch sailors sighting that green fresh breast of land that would become  Long Island as they entered the sound, another waterway a metaphor for Jack life, and found a new world unspoiled for that fifteen minutes before they laid anchor and claim on the cheap. That wonder drove Jack boy, all fourteen- year old Jack boy so not worried by red dress Paula Cole coming hither Friday night dates or that damn Maggie down by the almost Chelmsford dream side of the river, damn already the river is in play with her Irish braids and that god damn Bible between her knees to wonder if James was it MacNeil Abbott or Abbott MacNeil Whistler sat beside this same river thinking about his own Mere, his mother and how he could do justice to that forlorn Puritan face which razzled him with blacks, browns and greys, as if to mock the very idea of mother. Hell, James, he would never be called Jimmy like the other boys once he “did” his mother in those woe begotten colors decided he would use the old dame, and she was an old dame to star in his various studies of colors and only philistines would dare to call the work some mother lode draught.  

This is where the story gets interesting, although we know that Jack was not bothered just then by come hither girls in red dresses or Bible-kneed Irish girls since he had, playing hooky, crept into his holy of holy spots in the cubicle at the school library gone beyond the wonder of those muddy splat riverbanks where he first wondered the wonder akin to those Dutch sailors seeking his own fresh green breast of land, the land of the mind. Wondering how to stop wondering Jack picked up a biography of James Whistler complete with mother on the front except she was painting title called some study in black and white, something like that by one Lancelot Grey who Jack would later find out was the central figure in what he would wind up calling the pre-war art cabal that was attempting to “dress up,” read, protect American art and artists from the onslaught of European critics who basically call that art “folk art” meaning show the bastards the door and maybe get them shown in Peoria or better Grand Island but stay away from European shores.

Grey’s take on Whistler, taking the American born but life-long ex-patriate in was that he never left the American shores and stuff like that. What interested Jack though was not that art cabal stuff (art cabal a term he would not know until later when landing in New York he came face to face with the denizens of that cabal through various Student Art League girlfriends and others met in Village garrets when garrets were there and not in Soho). But that was after the war (World War II in case a younger reader has happened on this piece) when New York told cheapjack art Europe to fuck off, to step back and various abstraction movements were all the rage. Just then Grey delved into Whistler’s various non-mother pieces (than mother painting an iconic come on since back then only the art cabal knew other paintings and the publisher insisted that that painting be on the front).

The most interesting one, and one that seemed to contradict what the art cabal was doing to protect American artists, was a painting called The White Girl (now in the National Gallery but then in private hands). Jack was fascinated by the young woman portrayed who he learned from Grey had been one of Whistler’s mistresses. The title intrigued and confused him since somebody else called it that study in white gag that had handcuffed poor Mrs. Whistler when it suited her James. Jack would wonder, would have deep chaste Roman Catholic dreams (some say that would by his writings really always be his dreams, his Jesus-sweated dreams) and wonder what it was like to have been James’ girlfriend, and wondered too whether James wondered that he would paint his mistresses to help pay the rent. Jack would later laugh about how many girls he would con into paying the rent, walking the streets if necessary or going in some café back room to play the flute for the night’s booze and dope money and so he had kindred feelings for Brother James somewhat akin to the bandit prince Gregory Corso. But at fourteen in some library cubicle in Lowell mill-town hard by the Merrimack all he could think of was how long he would have to wonder about lots of things, too many things when the world was moving way to quickly but he would always say with pride that James was from Lowell and leave it at that. Even when he found out that James’ white girl was like his Mexican junkie- whore Tristessa. By then though that fresh green breast wonder had hardened into funk, dunk and drunk.

Jack popcorn for eyeballs sitting in the last row of the orchestra section of the old Majestic Theater off of Bridge Street across from the offices of the Lowell Sun waiting as the screen heated up after some very ordinary news of the week reels and an off-color cartoon which he never did get even after watching several times over the next few Saturday matinee double-feature week. The films changed every Friday but Mr. Le Blanc cheapened up his operation by re-running those silly cartons built for ten-years olds with no brains but silly to a strapping boy of sixteen who actually took girls to the shows. (Le Blanc also sold stale popcorn with so much salt laid in it would make your eyelids curl and watered down the tonic, old-fashioned New England word for soda, so much it might as well have been water and even made boys like Jack with strong kidneys ran to restrooms frequently.) Of course, that was a totally different proposition, that messing with girls stuff that he had pretty much figured out by sixteen with  plenty of street advise some of it recklessly dangerous and no, zero, parent advise but that was when you asked a girl if she wanted to sit in the orchestra section or go up to the heavy-breathing pitch dark moaning balcony. If the former that would be a last date (one time he left the girl in the front lobby to fend her herself on the way home while he went off to Renoir’s Ice Cream Shop with Even Stephen and Dizzy Izzy). This day, this Thursday afternoon first show skipping afternoon classes was different when Jack was all business trying to figure some stuff out that was going to appear on the satin silk screen.  

Then it, no, she started. All fresh as a new born daisy fending off some sidewalk Lothario, if only in Jack’s imagination, really only some lug like a million lugs he knew in Lowell High School and who if he hadn’t been on a mission this afternoon could have stood in front of the high school at close of day and counted the number of lugs from the class of 1939 carousing out the door some he could name by name. So, no this lug was going nowhere, was getting nothing except the desert breezes from this girl. Jack swore the girl with the Bette Davis eyes after beating the clown off with a car jack sat in her dust-filled private reading spot reading some French poet from the fourteenth century. Jack pressed his popcorn eyeballs to see book jacket cover and his heart beat a mile a minute once he saw that she, Gabby let’s give her a name, was reading his hero prince bandit poet Francois Villon, like him a Breton when that meant something before the wave of diasporas which led angelized angel-headed Kerouacs to the shores of the Saint Lawrence River and downwardly mobile fates stripped the clan of their respective dignities.     

Yes, Villon the prince of thieves who Jack had discovered in that broken- down school library where he hid out when he could not deal with bullshit chemistry classes or some such subject around the time that he read that book by Lancelot Grey about that pimp daddy, holy goof (first use of the term “holy goof” came from reading Grey) James Whistler the artist who kept himself from the Thames and watery graves by selling his paintings or more usually “selling” his mistresses to make the rent money when times were tough. He still loved Whistler (although he could only mock a guy who had to practically handcuff his mother to the chair to get her to stand still for what he called a study in black and white, something like that) if only because he was Lowell, was a native son and that counted a lot for Jack then even if James was not a Breton. (Funny later he would go through seven kinds of hell with his own mother before telling her to kiss off.) But Villon was a legitimate bandit-prince who hung with the lumpen outside the guarded moats ready to pounce one minute on the next jackroll victim (some historians have speculated that Villon and his scumbags invented the jackroll, taking a bag of nails or coins if they had any wrapping them in a small cloth and under cover of darkness bopping some old lady or drunken sot for their dough). A lost art that Jack would use more than once in Times Square when some pansy hipster tried to do tricks on him and he bopped him for hot dog money at Howard Johnson’s stuff like that, yes, a lost but helpful art for those who lived outside the law, for those whose only road was the road.

And there she was the girl with the Bette Davis eyes all dewy even as a desert dust storm was brewing just outside the Gates of Eden reading Villon in French (her mother was French a catch for her woe begotten father during World War I service in France with the American Expeditionary Force who came back to Eden saw the dust and stone wood and left on the next train with some Singer sewing machine salesman with four quarters and a quart of wine). That Garden of Eden business a gag, a gag of sorts since the diner that he father owned, no, really her grandfather who was getting too old to run the place but too ornery to let his deadbeat son who couldn’t keep a French whore, Gramp’s words, in the middle of the desert from running away with the next time that came by with long pants on was just outside the main entrance to the Petrified Forest (couldn’t later a guy like Allan Ginsberg or even novice poet Dean Moriarty have a field day with that idea as the 1930s was tearing America, tearing the world apart, making the world turn in on itself). The gag was that Gramps an old Kentucky coalminer until he was thirteen and figured out that he would rather not die in Appalachia with the muskrats had headed out of the hills and hollows as fast as he could. Head out to California where he had heard had streets paved of gold and young girls ready to give whatever they had to give. But see Gramps and his forbears were sitting folk, were tied to the tired land so long that they would sit down anywhere where that didn’t have to pretend to seek prosperity. So Gramps stopped at the Petrified Forest once he ran into some Nevada Jane heading east after busting out heading west who worked at the diner and who played the flute for him until she too ran off with some calico salesman. Gramps just stayed put and married the first woman who smiled at him (Gabby’s grandma) and that ended the road west in that generation.         
So poor rattled and pestered Gabby was torn between sweet perfume dreams of Left Bank Paris cafes and that endless rock-hard dust. Then out of the blue some pretty hobo came walking up the road to the diner all dusty and road worn, a hobo whose name turned out to be Leslie Howard (that would be important later to Gabby if meaningless to Jack when she inherited his life insurance policy but that was later long after Jack had gathered in the wanderlust that set that first Breton to Canadian shores and that fucking raging Saint Lawrence River of no returns) Listen up, Jack did, this Leslie Howard was no stumble bum like half the hoboes, tramps, bums, and there are social distinctions among the brethren who were running around the country stopping at railroad jungle camps or sleeping under unkempt bridges and arroyos but a real live itinerant intellectual who had when he had seen the first turnings of the world inward in those times got the hell out of  Europe as fast as he could (he would be found later when Gabby looked for next of kin to see if anybody would contest the life insurance policy to have been Jewish not a good thing to be in Europe in those times to be a “rootless cosmopolitan”) This Howard, let’s call him that since it is as good as any other and who knows what he real name was if he was on the run bedazzled Gabby from minute one leaving that lug gas jockey out to dry with the trees. Knew his Villon cold, knew that he too was a bandit prince who hung outside the moats with the lumpen.

Right then Jack’s already strong flight of fantasy knew that he was kindred, here was guy who loved to read but could not settle down with at crazy-mixed up world pounding tattoos in his fevered brain. If anybody had been near Jack in that darkened orchestra section fit only for one-date girls and sullen adults they would have heard him gasp every time this Howard said anything of import to Gabby. Jack’s fevered mind started sketching things out, read like crazy, write like crazy and keep on the move, always on the move. What Jack would call later in one of his lesser but more philosophical books the quest, the grail hunt, the breaking from the holy goofs that keep you penned in and unfree, that holy goof a well-worn word in Jack talk. For now though just the germ of a plan.

They say that Bretons are not only are hearty but also headstrong and Jack sensed in Gabby just such characteristics even though she was nothing but some dirt farmer Okie, Arkie descendent. He would forever search for his Gabby but never find her, and frankly that search was just one among a number of searches later. This guy Leslie, what made him tick, why Jack was drawn to him like lemmings from the sea was more problematic. The Villon, hobo road warrior philosopher king part was straight up. He would have a million sleepless night visions of being out on some tramp road in say Winnemucca or Yuma facing no dough and no food or water and glad-tiding himself into soft spot, some soft bed if that was the way the thing played out. Pearl-diving, you know washing dishes for his meal in some such Garden of Eden diner somewhere if necessary just to stay on the road one more day. That part held romance, held him in thrall.

What Jack couldn’t figure out especially since the girl with the Bette Davis eyes was totally smitten by him and his wayward ways against the lugs, demented grandpas, jelly-fish fathers and abandoned down some Seine River mother not unlike the Merrimack always close to his dreams especially that rocky crest around the old Lowell Textile Institute why this modern day troubadour had so little regard for himself that he would let a bum like the notorious Duke Mantee, yes, that Duke who was the scourge of the West just then put two random slugs into his body. He tries, and would continue to try later to understand the idea of the retreat of the intellectuals, that the time of the caveman was making a reappearance after so much spent trying to come up from the mud and slime. Backwards. Damn, that bothered Jack, would bother him until his own dying breath when he turned on the intellectuals with a vengeance. The now dank dark movie hall left him utterly perplexed about what would happen to him when he had to face his own road west.

Outside the movie theater, actually he had been in the lobby when he spied her and then hailed her, Jack stopped that come hither Paula Cole and asked her if she would like to go to the movies that next Friday night when the films changed. When she answered yes Jack now a veteran of the ploy asked Paula -orchestra or balcony? Answer: “don’t be silly I would not have accepted if we weren’t going to the balcony.” With that he would put the fate of Howard in the back of his mind. First things first.


Jack brought the Tokay, the cheap wine of the day that got him through the day and the only other wine beside kosher Mogen David mad monk (although just then demurely so) Allan Ginsberg, hereafter Monk, would drink to set himself up to read some sliver of a poem. This night expecting a bunch of people to of all things a North Beach (San Fran) converted garage gallery something the Monk would put an end to guys like T.S. Eliot, bum of the month Nazi-symp Ezra Pound and about fifty other guys and twenty other gals including his high school prose father. Would burn their old-fashioned words now of no account on a pile of burnt offerings, a pile of faggots (he would not learn until later that word’s common origins use to destroy brethren fellow homosexuals). Would get the world well, for a minute, in search of some fatherless compadre, in search of the father Jack claimed he had never known, and not he alone in the welter of great depressions and slogging through war. Maybe in the end they were searching for Father Death who knows. Jack passed the wine, passed all understanding before that search was consummated.    

Some guy, some guy who claims that his mother had worked at City Lights Bookstore in those days and had had an affair with the poet Phillip Larkin and had brought the dago red and him to the reading. Claimed to know Jack, or maybe it was the Monk in the old days, in the days when they raged with so many words they couldn’t keep enough Woolworth 5 &10 notebooks in flannel shirts or golf scorecard pencils ready wrote this, second hand about being present at the creation, second hand. At this far remove it is hard to tell fact from fiction, tell who is bullshitting and who has the goods especially since virtually all the background characters are gone, some long gone. Make of that what you will.   

I have seen the best poet of the generation before mine, no, let me start over, I have seen a universal max daddy poet speaking some truths to put old Homer and freaking staid T.S. Eliot in the shade. Starting off by   declaring that he had seen that the best minds of his generation, guys like brother in soul Kerouac, be-bop Charlie Parker, Phil Larkin when he was sober, Johnny Spain when off the needle and doing cold turkey and of course the daddy them all one Carl Solomon turn to mush. Turned out in the barren wilderness, not the friendly desert-scrapes heading west on lonely Greyhound buses or Tourist Bureau hang-ups wilderness out pass Butte or Boise but what a novelist named Nelson Algren who called the shots and gave many a troubled youth the keys to the fixer man and wellness  called the neon wilderness, called that place where the bright lights of the city blinded a proper man (or woman) some junkie Frankie Machine haven with a wife he hated and a girlfriend who couldn’t stick with him when he was on the junk. That neon beast from which no one returned except for quick stays in safe haven mental asylums (called ironically funny farms but even the Monk, whose own mother had her share of sorrows in such places could find no humor in such designations).

Get this, no, let me start again against the cold nose of my sister filled heart. Saw, he the Monk okay in case I lose my train of thought passing through Salt Lake City and thoughts of Joseph Smith’s grand hustle taking a bunch of farmers from burned over lands to the searing sun of the western depot. Saw the same Negro streets Jack, and one time Jack and he when he, Jack was looking for some rough trade sailors just off the China Seas pierce earring trail saw around Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Street blank, 125th Street blank, Dearborn Street blank, MacArthur Boulevard blank, Central Avenue blank, Cielo Street in Tijuana blank, Plaza del Mayo, Montezuma revenge Mexico blank, and wasted in the sweated fetid humid Thunderbird-lushed night dreaming of pink Cadillacs and stony-faced fixer men getting wise by the hour on Carl’s ancient fears. (And, this is funny or so the winos and every hobo, vagrant, escapee, drifter and grafter yelling out in unison thought so “what is the word-Thunderbird-what is the price forty twice.” Ready to jackroll some senior citizen lady for the price, for fucking eighty cents which any self-respecting junkie could cadge in two minutes even in Cielo Street, Tijuana and that is a hard peso to drill,-ready to commit mayhem at Park Street subway stations for their “boy,” to be tamped by girl but I will be discrete since the Feds might raid the place sometime looking for the ghost of Trigger Burke who eluded them for a very long time. (Trigger who captured Jack’s imagination and the Monk’s but here is the weird part Carl’s too who started strutting like him too after the prince of bandit-poets Corso showed him how to do that slinky swagger on the last visit before the blade at Sandhill).

Thought that those angel-headed hipsters hearing choruses of angels strumming their noiseless wings, those cold as ice in a man’s veins hep cats hanging around Times, Lafayette, Dupont, Harvard squares (you can fill in your own squares, square the Monk laughed and Jack hee-hawed) crying in pools of blood coming out of the wolves-stained sewers around the black corner would never stop bleating for their liquor. Would not stop until they got popular and headed for the sallow lights of Harvard Square where they, those angel-headed hipsters in  case you (and Carl) forgot  hustled young college students, young impressionable college students green as grass whose parents had had their best minds, those hallowed students’ mines, okay, wasted in the turbid streets of south Long Island (not the West Egg of Gatsby’s dream out of Fitzgerald’s fresh green breast of land to stir even sullen rough trade Dutch sailors looking for whips and cuts, conquering everything in sight like any other poor-boy arriviste with too much money and not enough imagination and not East Egg of the fervid elites but any-town, Levitt-town of those who would escape to Boston or Wisconsin to face the angel of death, that angel frightening even Monk when Carl was not around to anchor his brain. Up front and say no go, pass, under luminous moons which light up sparks and say to that candid world which could have given a fuck hard times please come again no more.

Here is the beauty of the green as grass hustle working fast to get enough to fix that jones. Dangle some college guy, maybe with a girl, shy, with dreams of hard-core liquor or a well-twisted joints to loosen her up and her fragile come hither virginity (reminding Jack of that Paula Coe who played the flute for him more than one time in that Majestic Theater balcony some hardcore Friday night and the Monk, searching for some blue-eyed  Adonis, settling for some pimpled has been teenager seeking his own father dreams). Lay out the story-kid your booze and something for me. Done. Later, a big bottle wrapped tight in a paper bag. Trick, a very thin brew of whiskey split and cash for him to get himself well. Oh the hipster cons which would have made even the Monk laugh.        

The Monk saw hipsters cadging wine drinks from sullen co-eds staying out too late in the Harvard Square night who turned out to be slumming from some plebian colleges across the river maybe good Irish girls from frail Catholic parishes with rosaries in their fair-skinned hands and a novena book between their knees who nevertheless has Protestant lusts, strong Protestant lusts busting down the shrines to Immaculate Conception Virgin Marys pretty painted by guys like Tintoretto and marching to the church door just behind Martin Luther and his bag of lusts and Salvation Army clothing in their pallid hearts but unrequited. Here’s how-they those sullen salty Irish girls, not all redheads but close  would arrive at the Café Lana with ten bucks and their virginity and leave with both leaving some guy with dreams of salty sucking blowjobs walking out the backdoor and doing the whack job behind the dumpster –a waste of precious fluids and according to Norman Mailer who would have known from his perch down in Provincetown when the mix of homosexuals and straight, except those lusty lonely Portuguese fisherman Marsden Hartley loved to paint (and to love)  the waste of world-historic fucks which would product the best minds of the next generation all dribbled away.

You already know about what you need to know about Protestant girls with their upfront Protestant lusts although they would not be caught dead, or alive, in Sally splendor although they certainly could play the penny whistle and damn those world historic fucks. Maybe tasty Jewish girls from the shtetl not in East or West Egg who flocked to the other side of the river and gave Irish guys who previously had dribbled their spunk behind dumpsters after losing out to ten bucks and virginity in tack tickey-tack Catholic girls who refused to give that head that would have brought some of the best minds some freaking relief (better not say fucking relief because that would be oxymoronic). Maybe some off-center sullen fair-skinned and blonded Quaker, Mennonite, Primitive Baptist or Brethren of the Common Life kind of Protestant girls, like I said off-center, who spouted something about one god and no trinities, no god and no trinities and just feel good stuff.

All three varieties and yes there were more off-centers but who even knew of Quakers, Mennonites, lusty Amish girls run away from home, Tantric card-wheelers, and fresh- faced red light district sluts who at least played the game straight-played the cash nexus for pure pleasure and maybe to even up some scores. All-Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, yeah, Quakers (fakirs, fakers and Shakers included), the sluts, Mennonites and yes those lusty red-faced Amish runaways all coming together after midnight far from the negro streets, the Monk’s beat and no anachronism like saying black or Afro-American back to those Mister James Crow days, but not far from the all night hustlers and dime store hipsters with their ten-cent cigar store rings and cheap Irish whiskeys bought on the installment plan who converged around the Hayes-Bickford just a seven league jump from the old end of the line dead of night Redline subway stop in order to keep the angel of death at arms’ length. The angel of death a tough bitch to break, and tougher to cross when they deal went down. There to listen until dawn to homosexuality- affixed hungry for the keyhole blast or the running sperm fakir poets, the Monk number one of all the number ones  and slamming singsters (to keep up with the gangster, mobster, hipster theme, okay) fresh out of cheapjack coffeehouses where three chords and two-line rhymes repeated in call and response got you all the action you wanted although maybe a little light on the breadbasket sent around to show that you were appreciated. Yeah, now that I think about the matter more closely hard times please come again no more.                    

Saw the angel of death make her appearance one night at the Café Lana and then backstopped the Club Nana to fetch one young thing who warbled like heaven’s own angel. Some Norman Mailer white hipster (read the Partisan Review essay if you don’t get this about all kinds of cultural mishmash and sexual too just ask the Monk when he was in his hungers and not worried about singing some Walt Whitman song about the rotgut of his generation) turned her on to a little sister and then some boy and she no longer warbled. No longer warbled like that angel angle heaven- shamed chorus but did sweet candy cane tricks for high-end businessmen with homely wives or fruitless ones who had given up that sort of “thing” after the third junior had been born and who were ready to make her their mistress if she would just stop singing kumbaya after every fuck like she was still a freaking warbler. A freaking virgin or something instead of “used” goods or maybe good for schoolboys whose older brothers took them to her for their first fling at going around the world, welcome to the brotherhood or maybe some old fart who just wanted to relive his dreams before the booze, the three wives and parcel of kids did him in and then the hustler sent her back to the Club Nana to “score” from the club owner who was connected with Nick the dream doper man, what did Nelson Algren and Frankie Machine call him in dead of night, yes, the fixer man, Christ who would get him- and her well –on those mean angel-abandoned death watch streets. Who knew that one night at the Hayes (everybody called it just that after they had been there one night), one after midnight night where they had that first cup of weak-kneed coffee replenished to keep a place in the scoreboarded night where hari-kara poets dreamed toke dreams, and brought paper-bag wrapped Tokay wines just like Monk’s Jack and some Mister dreamed of fresh-faced singer girls looking for kicks. So please, please, hard times come again no more.              

I have seen frosted lemon trees jammed against the ferrous night, the night of silly foolish childhood dreams and misunderstanding about the world, the world that that poet spoke of in a teenage dream of indefinite duration about who was to have and who was to have not once those minds were de-melted and made hip  to the tragedies of life, the close call with the mental house that awaits us all. Yeah Monk was right even about Carl Solomon and all his sorrows before the knife.

What the hell did sullen Carl Solomon start before he went under the knife with his pleading for his father, a father that he had never known since he had been left back in Poland to peddle his fruits and vegetables to his brethren and his mother and the four kids headed to the Americas on some tub of a boat and never looked back. Rumors abounded that he survived because he had a gentile mistress grabbed after his wife and kids left. That at least is the story Carl told, told endlessly which would not be so bad but the Monk picked it up in his own moment of despair.

Monk searched his valium brain for his own prose-filled father but that was not nearly good enough, kept him awake at night because he had strange dreams that his father was not some fake high school teacher writing awful poems in broken down post-war America. Was afraid that his real father was William Appleton Williams who denied him three times, didn’t want to believe that his broken words would mesh so well. Had better dreams that his real father was sexy Walt Whitman (this remember in dialogue with Carl Solomon before the knife so it is not clear whether Carl remembered) whose vagabond dreams matched his and his homosexual desire beating out some Johnny Reb who could give Walt the ride he desired. Here is the trick though the Monk had sweet dreams whenever he read Leaves of Grass (usually on grass) and he passed that on to Jack in some secret moment in Denver when some screwball Adonis was looking for his father.

Now Jack, funny before Carl grabbed Monk with the father who we never knew religion, always thought he knew his father, knew the con artist, poker cheater, movie theater ticket taker great bear of a French-Canadian who came down the Jackson, Maine road with five cents Canadian in his pocket and dreams of printing up ads. But that was not the father that he knew but some skinny stiff wino pissant who he sought out in greater Denver cattle yards. Always deferred to everlasting Mere, Mere out of some fresh Breton conceit never getting some whiplash from old father time who died before his time of heartache and heartbeats. So Jack conned himself into some holy goof, his words exactly, metaphysical search going up the Bear Mountain, Jackson, Wyoming Jackson not that trail of tears from down in Maine Jackson where the red brick and mortar spinning wheels beckoned and he spent and spilled his young manhood trying to get the fuck out from under even if he couldn’t drive, made him nervous, to save his life. Funny again that fame never stopped the bleeding inside looking behind some bushes for some father death, some father time pissing against that Tokay dream he figured out back in about 1946 but could never get past. The Monk did him no service on that long trail drive from Monument Creek to Sunnyvale and then drop off and outs at Big Sur where he got sober for a week.   

Damn that stuff is contagious, will drive you crazy, when twice removed Lance, me, went looking for the father he never knew too. Looked for him behind closed doors to his heart. That distant slightly dim figure who brought home not enough pay checks. Who never talked about but never got over the Pacific war like a lot of guys who found themselves on tubs picking up stray comrades from washed-up beaches, picking up too guys who got too close to chore, got wasted in some windless fire and fell down into the green-gray-blue surf that gets us all in the end. The old man, father, never talked much, much about anything that Lance, me would understand and so Jack-like Ma, Mere, Mom, Mere whatever you want to call her ran rough-shot over childish dreams and insecurities. Here’s the worst of it though, Jack-like, he never got to say good-bye to that father he never knew and crushed his days with regret, total regret that he didn’t have the sense of a holy goof, Jack talk, to have called a truce, even an armed truce to the madness that wracked his silly excuse for a family, and now all his has is slate grey stone to place the remnants down in some unknown holy place where he can never dwell, yes, Lawrence, me, got caught in the Monk’s version of Carl’s plainsong, no, got stuck in the damn mire.          

Silly to think that the father time search would only apply to men, young men, holy goofs like Lawrence, me, when the max daddy sin of all was the way Jack, in Jack speak, abandoned his Jan, his spitting image Jan, denied like Christ was denied three times by the count. Jan who would search like some strange Kenneth Rexroth figure for the father we all knew, or thought we knew once he pointed us toward the light, once we got the beat, the second-hand beat that washed us clean in places like Big Sur and Todo el Mundo where Jan still searches in some desperate wild water surf for some broken down guy who wasted away with drink, and she with drink too. Jesus, funny he was searching for his father too out in Middle Eastern wildernesses, will it never end.     

Contagious that is what Sam Lowell said about the freaking search for that lost father world made up of pure sand and not much else. Some goof, the holy part excluded was looking for his father, his famous private detective father, a guy named Lew Archer, who back around Jack time in California ran the rack on few good cases and then rested for forty years something like that. Tried to claim that his father’s life death was due to his father’s overused whip, his sorrows that he could not go the distance with his wife, this goof’s grandmother, his code of honor that once he took a job he was in, totally in, for good or evil, and       
maybe that he drank too much Tokay, Jack-like when he wound up behind some freaking wino pissant dumpster saved but some sister of mercy who could not save him in the end. Get this though that junkie weirdo so-called grandson, some modern-day Carl Solomon without the sorrows before he went under the knife could not be searching for Lew, Lew Archer since Lew never had a son, had no children. Sorry goof,    

Out on the Jersey looking east first to see the great ocean that drove his forbears to search for fresh green breasts of land then west to seek dungeon filled fathers never known in Denver, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City Salvation Army hotels or whatever they call those blessed places of rest the whole deal was to figure out a way to look for some American cowboy past, looking for the Monk’s Adonis if he couldn’t make it with sexy Walt Whitman with the furl of whiskers. There sat Dean Moriarty, no, fuck that, one Neal Cassidy who would ride the freight trains west looking for that father the others really did think they had found. Neal’s old man was in some wino jailcell speaking in tongues to a candid world. Maybe Carl was right, Monk too we should all cry to the high heavens looking for the fathers we never knew.             

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)

By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just for kicks, for stuff, important stuff that had happened down in the base of society where nobody in authority was looking or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all-night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation. (Yes,  I know that the actual term “beat” was first used by Kerouac writer friend John Clemmon Holmes in an article in some arcane journal but the “feel” had to have come from a less academic source so I will crown the bandit prince Corso as genesis)
Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my oldest brother Alex who was washed clean in the Summer of Love, 1967 but must have known the edges of Jack’s time since he was in high school when real beat exploded on the scene in Jack-filled 1957, they called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, that high white note he heard achieved one skinny night by famed sax man Sonny Johns, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all Jack’s kid stuff high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the poet princely mean streets of New York, Chi town, Mecca beckoning North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps (and the fleas were real no time for metaphor down in the bowels where the cowboy junkies drowse in endless sleeps, raggedy winos toothless suck dry the dregs and hipster con men prey on whoever floats down), half stirred left on corner diners’ coffees and groundling cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well and so very appropriate to mention since there were a million threads, fibers, connections between “beat” and “hippie” despite dour grandpa Jack’s attempts to trash those connection when the acolytes and bandit hangers-on  came calling looking for the “word.” So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind (not found on the AAA, Traveler’s Aid, Youth Hostel brochure circuit if you please although Jack and the crowd, my brother and his crowd later would use such services when up against it in let’s say a place like Winnemucca in the Nevadas or Neola in the heartlands).
Literary stuff for sure but the kind of stuff that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter of which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life as a high-road lawyer (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back which has caused more riffs and bad words than I want to yell about here).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother’s Alex name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh (he a separate story from up in Olde Saco, Maine and so only an honorary corner boy after hitching up with the Scribe out on a Russian Hill dope-filled park), Bart, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967, their birthright event, just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker, what did Jack call his generation’s such, oh yeah, holy goofs,   who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before 1967 (and which nobody in the crowd paid any attention to, or dismissed out of hand, what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s travel adventure book which had caused a big splash in 1957(after an incredible publishing travail since the story line actually related to events in the late 1940s and which would cause Jack no end of trauma when the kids showed up at his door looking to hitch a ride on the motherlode star, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway, like I say I think the best part, have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain, desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out on the road two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely and semi-tragic end down some dusty Jack-strewn road in Mexico cocaine deal blues. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that for fear of being tarred with those brushes. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly “from hunger” working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants any way they could as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little bit “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law back then when the coppers were just waiting for corner boy capers to explode nay Friday or Saturday night, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan. That was for smooth as silk Frankie now also like Alex a high-road lawyer to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Bob Dylan above all else.) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)

Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like Jack wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll in about three weeks. So it was through the Scribe via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           

Jack’s Merrimack River, Jack’s ancient stream damn steamed river. Rough, white-capped torrents flowing without a break, coming from some unknown springs, creeks, riverlets, brooks and whatnot, storm-tossed in winter, rock-stepping rough, pock-marked with broken trees causing gushes and gaps in the steady stream, boulders pocked too up by the painted sprayed cliffs near the University, cliff names (Jimmy loves Janie, sigma phi forever, Mary sucks , complete with telephone number, the Acre rules), etched in paint (day-glo now some odd formula then) going back to Jack time, (then, Jack time, just friendly old Lowell Textile, strictly for the textile trade wonks and wanna-be, not Jack-worthy), undertow dragging against foolhardy feet for the unsteady and first understandings that the world IS a dangerous place but also, without embarrassment, that the river is the river of life. And no fears, no god fears, no mother church catholic fears, no consequence from those pagan sentiments. Bridged, river bridged, bridged at strategic points bridged, brawny steel and trestle bridged to take on all traffics rumbling across the torrent below river, granite foundations stones placed, how placed a mystery, a construction mystery that some bright Lowell Tech guy (old days now U/Mass, ah, Lowell) could figure out in a minute just like how he got that rock-bound Jimmie loves Janie rock sprayed, in such a way as to defend against rising rivers, hurricanes, wars, and other earthen disasters.

Bridged, not metaphor bridged, Jack would no heard of it, would smirk that devil’s smirk and dismiss you and your damn metaphor out of hand, would speak of golden colored bridges spanning , and name the colors, and the shades when they reflected against the day, fierce seas, name the seas, name the ships on the seas, name the parts of ships, name the horrors and beauties of the turbulent seas, would speak of traffic, of commerce of delivering goods, near and far, of bridge sounds, rumbles, honks, gnaws even, so no to some Hemingway mind-wrought big two-hearted Idaho idyllic river but real bridged, Jack London old time bridged, Call Of The Wild nights of the long knives bridged between poor, working poor, working textile poor Lowell on one side and the desperately, or repeatedly poor like clan Kerouac, chronically unemployed, semi-chronically drunk and disorderly, poor, Acre poor.

Blessed Saint Jeanbon, Ti Jean, among the brethren, cross his big god-head heart, un-anointed, hell unadorned Adonis patron saint of the Acre poor, the Acre poor, scrabbly working poor (and throw in some lumpen criminal vagabonds, scavengers, con men, lifeless corner boys , and just plain thugs to boot, they thrive in the easy pickings Acre, and a thousand other Acre places too) known to kindred poor Josh Breslin (mother, nee LeBlanc, the LeBlancs from up Quebec City way, and north Saint Lawrence north toward the Gaspe ) in the French –Canadian Atlantic Avenue Acre over in Olde Saco, Maine and well-known as well to Irish stews Peter Paul Markin down in Acre projects in Adamsville, Massachusetts way. Yes, Saint Jeanbon, patron saint muse of the Acre poor, wherever they are located. The back-biting, bitching, somewhere over the rainbow poor, the Botts diner after midnight heavy-lidded after manly bouts with fugitive whiskey bottles poor, the pick up the fags (okay, okay here cigarette butts) from the Merrimack Street ground, and cadging (while the bartender is not looking) half- finished manly whiskies (or, hell, by midnight whatever is left on napkin-soaked tables and counters), poor. And one thousand, maybe one million other unspoken, always unspoken, pathologies, tics, and whatnots, never allowed to air in the sometimes fetid (although near no oceans or marshes but from mixed and matched industrial chemicals), damn stinking Lowell industrial summer night. And cold, pale blue cold winter too, except maybe not fetid. Pick a cold word, okay.

Jack rough river, working- class Jack rough all brawny and bustle, flowing to great unseen Atlantic shores (where real fetid smells, nature smells from churned seas and drowned marshes, periodically stink the air) and from there to great American homeland England before the fall and real homeland, France, ageless France bountiful and smart long before the bloody Anglos were made hip to using spoons for porridge, before Arcadian Plains of Abraham falls and hard English burnt offering exiles. And damn cursed native tongues (patois they called it) banned just like with the gaelic Irish, the Breton wild men, and the celtic brogue Scots, what madness in Empire, that seaward sun never sets empire thumbing it beefsteak nose at culture brought from courtly France and well-bred manners. And strangers in a strange land (Longfellow homage poem exiles anyway) when Canad soils gave out, or no work prospects loomed, or the lore of two dollars a day (in real money, Anglo-derived money, damn) sent half of Quebec streaming down to the paper and textile mill towns, river towns, Olde Saco, Manchester, Nashua, and sainted, sunned, stunned, acid- stained canal strewn river flowed Lowell.

Merrimack (Jack play word Mary Mack, Markin play word Mary Mack all dressed in black), home town river of youth, callous youth, question, going into young manhood. Hanging around corner boy Leclerc’s Variety, mom and pop variety store cadging quarters from working men streaming out of the second-shift mills, occasionally stealing odd lots of penny candy (funny habit, always describing sweet tooth things, immense marbled cakes, chocolate frosted, hugh bread puddings heated and served with whipped creams, shimmering jellos of six different flavors, also whipped creamed, hearty apple pies ladened with syrupy ice cream melts and on down to mouth- watering movie time milk duds, for chrissakes, making word hungry eyes food hungry, cheap sugar food hungry), you know Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Snickers (or, snickers), Milky Way, to avoid the heavy tariff at the Bijou Theater come Saturday afternoon double bill, double trouble, matinee specials. And Ma, Mere called so in the old-fashioned back home Montreal way from whence she came trotting for those dame yankee dollars, having to sneak quarters to Mr. LeBlanc to cover those sweet tooth penny candied larcenies . And you thought you were so clever, Jack old boy, old dog. But that was the life, the corner boy life small stealing, small cadging, jack-rolling some drunken kid for his quarters (doled out by his Mere for his penny candy Bijou extravaganzas). Boys, always about boys, and adventures and thinking, and forever writing, writing just in case.

Later dream stories, at those same corners or maybe further the river toward Pawtucketville across from Father Kerouac’s social club (and drinking bout hang-out) but always eternally corner dream stories now long gone to malls and fast food courts and no loitering, no trespassing, no skate-boarding, no breathing human unkind trances. To speak about jail break-outs, about small town prison escapes, the young always seeing even New York City as too small for their outrageous appetites, and good luck, letting Lowell sun eat the dust of your tracks fill the night air, about big time jobs and celebrity (once the word was discovered). And then the talk turned serious as the wisp of a beard showed (more than five o’clock shadows for Jack, dark, French-etched two times a day shaved Jack) turned to manly shavings and childish voice turned to deep bass, serious talk about girls, about what they were made of, and more importantly what made them tick. A lifetime of wonders and sorrows to spill the river-laden night. A clue though, a clue worth a king’s ransom would have been worth all that lucre if they could just figure out what the hell they wanted. The girls, okay. They, the corner boys, all sized, shaped, smarts, greek, French, ethnic corner boys (who else would inhabit the Acre in those days, the bloody Irish lived in Irishtown, just like they did in Olde Saco and Adamsville, down in Irishtown south Lowell way, down Maggie Cassidy way but more on that later) found out soon enough after a few bouts of love dust at the old Starlight Ballroom, now famous, town famous, since Benny Goodman and his band had set its 1939 foot in the front door and blasted everything to be-bop, beepy-be-bop don’t stop, mad man music including soon to be front singing Jack-enflamed red dress Paula. Yah, that was where she got her start (okay, okay start with Jack on moonless nights singing, singing the then known American songbook, Tin Pan Alley songbook but that didn’t count. The moonless singing that is. The afternoon red dress and high heels come hither, yah, that counted, Maggie counted too but later.)

Jack’s river of sorrow, of Mere hurts and Maggie Cassidy hurts too. (I told you I would have more on her, of lace curtain vanities and father train conductor dreams of some little white cottage, a dog, and three point four kids, nah, not Jack-sized ). Forgotten now Paula (forgotten even forgotten of red dress seductions which made him toss and turn many a night, many a night before Maggie devoured sleep). Forgotten Mere (and her old-fashioned Montreal French stories that he would use later to bulk out his own stories when his brain ran dry) , forgotten although always hovering as a stark and real cut knives presence (and mixed in as with all mothers , mothers since Eve, generous helpings of love gifts bought with shoe leather- stained hands from working at that damn old mother-twisting shoe mill) really until the Maggie fever had subsided, subsided several years, later but that is a story for another time, a time after New York City lights, Village mysteries, sea adventures and searches for the blue-pink great American West night, and of Neal Cassady cowboy west romps, and next million word adventures.

What mattered now though was that our boy, our Jack O’Kerouac, or Jack McKerouac, or Jack, hell, let’s leave it at Jack Celtic got himself all balled up over an Irish colleen, from over in Irishtown, well away from the Acre and well away from handy corner boys to hold his hand when old Maggie turned up the heat. Yes, Maggie, blessed virgin Maggie, of the pale blue eyes, of the pale blue heart, and of the lace curtain appetites. Of white picket fences, and houses, white too, to go with them, a spotted dog and a few stray whining kids to keep the cold nights warm. No sale, no Jack of the river sale, not our boy in the end but it was a close call and maybe if she had turned down those white silken stockings just once he would have wound up white fence- picketed through his heart in some cozy bungalow close by Dracut Forest.

Yes, Jack would know manly hurts after that one but not before clowning himself before her with feats of modern athletic daring against black ravens , against arch-rival Lawrence gridiron, Lawrence also of the river and of history, of strikes and struggle of a different kind, of bread and roses. Of clowning corner boy clowning, deciding stay or go, stay or go, of drunken dance floor episodes (no, not when Benny Goodman, Hail Be-bop Benny, held forth and made the Starlight Ballroom quake, but other times, other Maggie pouting times, or Maggie tired times, or Maggie “friend” times, the list was endless, and he endlessly patiently impatient as each phase of the Maggie moon turned into ashes. And into Jack death pyre.

Interlude: Jack’s low sun going down behind the river and before that the tree strewn, living tree strewn river upstream, upstream where it all began and where Jack began. Pawtucketville, the Acre, South Lowell, the trolley tracks end, and the endless winter snow walks, the endless summer river ebb walks, the fret Maggie walks, the no dime for carfare (quaint word) walk, the walk to save for penny candy walk, the million word walk, the first school dance walk, the no money for prom car (or car or license, okay) walk, the night before the big game walk, walked in Dracut Forest to avoid mad crashing fans who want to know glory, if only Jack reflected glory, yes, walk, walk too, get out of the house when Meme cursed his dark night.

But really prelude to million mile walks from New Jersey shores, looking out from broken down, oil-stained, oil smelled eastern piers and dreaming hookah Tangiers dreams, from Time Square dope blasts with every faux hipster who could afford a string tie, soft shoes, midnight sunglasses and a be-bop line of patter, pitter patter, really, from rockymountainhills walks in beloved Cassady country poolrooms and juke joints, from ghost dance walks in saline deserts channeling ancient Breton hurts and shamanic wanderlust, from dark bracero Mex walks waiting on broken down senorita love in some stinking Imperial Valley bean field, from Presidio fast by the golden gate bridge, fast by North Beach walks, from Big Sur hunger walks, from life walks, from death walks. Walks, shoe leather- eating walks, okay.
Jack of Lowell hometown, Jack of some Micmac-traded ancient Canad French-Canadian fur trader beyond time and back to Breton woods and great field of serf fellaheen peasants plowing, cowing, milking, harvesting, corvee-ing some milord’s land seen in some far distance, since with river running. Ownership burned out in the Yankee mill night, the time-owned night, the day too. Mainly now of triple and double-deckers squalid flats constantly changing renter-ship, constantly babies squabble in six languages, but above all patois, beautiful lilt keltic fringe hard Atlantic seas and torrents of rain Breton coast patois. And so they established an outpost here, among the mix of mill town hands, making mill things, dreaming non-mill things, and for the men working, working hard and long and then off to some card-playing (as disguise for heavy drinking) Franco-American Club, no women, no children, no kikes, no micks, no English (absolutely no English for there is a swollen bone to pick over that on one), no oppressors unnamed and unloved allowed. A man’s life as befits a man whose people came down from places deep in Quebec woods and along the mighty Saint Lawrence.

Those are ancient myths of gentile beggar fellaheen birth among the Canad and pedigree not to be touted in non-pedigree Americas, and certainly not in non-pedigree Lowells (except by certain mill owners who spoke only to god, or to Cabots maybe). And so they mix of fellaheen patois, of roasted fires, of sweet gentle wines to that good night, of sober work, of somber life explained the fate of that American mix, Lowell style. And explained too the greek, french, irish, break-out of ungrateful sons (and daughters but not as well seen). Sons with words to say, with American songs to sing, not Whitman song, that was another time, another place and another America but songs against mill stream night, songs against the death of personal dreams , of wayward sons, well-meaning wayward sons but wayward.

Ah, Lowell setting sun Lowell and its time of great decline, great decline on Jack’s birth river. The stink of tannic acid, the blue dye, the red dye, hell, the yellow dye river dying for lack of work, for worked out mills, for moved to cheap jack cheaper labor southern ports of call. And so the Lowell setting sun turned in on itself, turned to be-bop music and Botts midnight diners with guys, guys who used to work the midnight shift, and restless, now lingering over mad cups of joe to ward off the worthless sense of non-self. Fixed in place and the younger ones seeing that said no mas, not me, and spoke of flights of fancy, and of real flights, flights from Merrimack river roads to trash-strewn asphalt highways west.

Lowell, water Lowell, canal Lowell, fresh-faced farm girl Lowell hands weaving the wicked weave of the loam and then to other pursuits none the worse for wear at least that was the call, the advertised call that brought them from Acton, Concord, and Littleton farms or maybe before those places had names, town names, just Farmer Brown’s rosy-cheeked daughter from over there where that dusty road intersected the corner of Brother Brown’s land. Later gentle waters, gentle confluence waters from high hill brooks and bramble, from flow Concord, Lowell sing, not some sing-song Shepard’s sing, not some cattle- lowing sing, not some elysian fields sing but the sing of great bobbed machines whistling late into the night, hell what night, whistling into daybreak and fearful noises for those poor tenement, double and triple tenement, dwellers who form the perimeter of the mill mile, sweet cloth and money-making mill mile.

And Jack born, born and raised, to term an old phrase a mere stone’s throw away along that same river bend as it curves up the cliffs near Pawtucketville, the old time Mere and Pere French quarter where Jack would get his fill of double and triple-deckers. And rosy tales of those ancient Breton fields and thieving thriving French fur- traders amid the scream of broken whiskey bottles, a few broken by him, murderous wives bent on murder for having; too many children, too many children close together, too many short paychecks and too many long grocer’s bills, too many drunken husband nights without him or with him all sex hungry and stinking of anglo whiskies or greek anise, or just murderous to be murderous in fear of the lost Hollywood dream and no chance to pull a Mildred Pierce or even a lite Lana Turner twist against some old drunken greek short order chef seaside road diner hell fate.

Jail-break midnight teenagers looking for quick quarters for the jukebox to play Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman or some latest be-bop daddy, standing around in front of the Bijou Theater or the Starlight Ballroom to see if there are any dreams being manufactured inside, and looking for a way to make sense of a world that they didn’t create. That Jack, that Jack teen age boy, teen age corner boy like all the others didn’t create, that played and that ate at him, ate at him from crawl time to crawling down the gutter time. But if you are going to bust out you had better have something more than halfback hero’s good looks, if you are going to go toe to toe with the gods (and we know he was aching, bleeding really, to go toe to toe with them, for a while anyway). So he started, started early, a million word journey use stubbled pencils, and squirrelly inks until, until he got the hang of writing non-stop with a roll of newsprint and a squirrelly old typewriter. Praise Brother Remington

And funny growth too, the sturdy, durable fleet youth, all black hair and oo-la-la French good looks, verified, verified first by wistful small-breasted French girls with long thin legs, also from the old Canad descended and maybe a few rascally fur-traders in the background too. Later wild red-headed Irish girls trying, a little, to break from heathen brown-haired sexless, sex-hate Irish boys murmuring novenas, stations of the cross, and smelling of altar wines and priest pokes would toss and turn dreaming of oo-la-la Frenchmen read about in some school girl school book, or heard on unsavory streets from the older girls, the girls who no longer have the sign of the cross when they passed Saint Joseph’s, or Saint Brigitte’s, or Saint Germaine’s or Immaculate Conception, or Sacred Heart, Saint, saint, saint, Saint Mary’s, okay, or any of the three billion (but I exaggerate) other Lowell holy, holy places where a man can turn from saint Jack to shaman Jack in a wink of an eye.

And that is when she came by, she Maggie she, but call her all girl-kind, no, womankind, with her pale white skin, her pale blue eyes, her dark hair and her well-turned ankles, and disturbed his sleep. And he never got over that, that way that she could keep him on a string while every other girl was ready to throw herself to the ground for him (in order that he could have the stamina to beat Lawrence on Thanksgiving Day, in order for him to write some little ditty for her, in order for him to dance with her at the school dance, in order, one girl claimed she had to “do it” in order to improve her voice so she could sing with some faux- Benny Goodman [all the rage then in the late 1930s be-bop night] quintet, in order, hell, at the end it was just in order to, what did they call it in Lowell High School Monday morning girls’ lav before school girl talkfest about what did, or didn’t happen on Friday or Saturday night, oh yah, to say they had been jacked by him).

Later, later when the reasons changed but the girls (no, women then) still thought jacked thoughts he feigned lack of interest, feigned writer’s cramp, feigned zen Buddhist abstinence, feigned, not so feigned maybe, drunk or drugged impotence. But no man, no real man, or fairy (term of art forgiven, please) or even lowly Time Square whores, hookers, drifters and fags (term of art, not forgiven) knew that he had had his insides torn out by old Maggie, Maggie the cat with no downy billows ending long before Tennessee Williams ever put pen to paper. So say a prayer for Jack, Jeanbon Jack, if you are the praying kind and curse hellish dark-haired Irish colleens.

Spinning wheels, million football goals scored, million girls jacked, million drinks drunk with clownish corner boys from age six on, million yards of pure textile loomed enough to satisfy even the haughtiest Lowell Textile School professor, million words written, million smokestack fumes emitted into the cold Lowell air night. Finished, town finished, Maggie finished, corner boy finished, home finished. Break out time, break out to great northern seas to write like some mad monk plastered on cheap jack vineyard wines, homemade, pressed fast and sipped fast (and on the sly). Neon sign break-out, New Jack City beckoned.

Interlude: Four in the morning cold coffee slurps, percolator (quaint word) on the stove brewing up another break- speed batch to endure hours more of non-stop, non-connected, non-punctuated writing. Writing of Trailways bus stop waits, waits for continental visions (if one does not the mind the company, the inevitable, to be kind ,too large company in the next seat), in search of that great blue-pink American West night (and later the international blue-pink night) in dirty washrooms filled with seven hundred manly stinks, and six perfumes to kill the smell, the urinate smell, street-wise rest room for weary travelers, hobos, bums, and tramps, take your pick, maybe some hung over soldier trying to decide on AWOL or frantic rush back to base and evaporated dreams, nightmares really. Of seasick sailors running overboard at the first wave heave, or first explosion in the dread Murmansk run North Atlantic icy waters night one sailor, seasick, no, sick of the sea, writing, writing in disregard of heaves, and lifeboat-worthy explosions.

Of Village flophouse lofts filled with chattering (to vanish fear) expatriate exiles, native born from Iowa, Minnesota, Denver, maybe, in ones and twos, trying to hold out against the impending red scare cold war night, the death night to destroy the promise of golden age utopias. Of Scollay Square whores ready to take your pain away, no questions asked, filled with stories, small dream from small town stories about easy lost virginity and local scandal, with jack-roller ready pimp/boyfriends just in case things got rough, or some easy dough was to be had.

Of some mad notion that writing two million words would take that pain away as easily as that whore promise, and finding some jack-roller instead when the brain ran dry, the pen ink ran dry, the newsprint roll ran out and there were no Meme or Gerald memory blasts to fall back on. Of some ache, some unfound ache to find that Adonis double (Janus, maybe, blond they say, maybe) zen master, gear master, chariot master that everybody in that Village loft, that San Francisco North Beach bungalow, that Malibu henhouse, that Tijuana whorehouse, that Tangiers opium den, hell, even that Trailways stink bathroom was waiting on.

New York City, Time Square of course, Columbia of course(before the heist of all property when it was merely an Ivy outpost in a brazen, bare knuckles city), the Village of course (those who need to know what village just move on), of movies and movie theaters, and, uh, art films for the discreet, of men in raincoats stinking or urine or Thunderbird wines, of drifters, grifters, grafters, midnight sifters, hustling, always hustling like some rats on speed, of mad men and monks, and semi-monks disguised as poets, of street poet gangsters all shiny words and a gun at your head to say yes you liked the last verse, of Gregory Corso, of muggers and minstrels, of six dollar whores for a quickie, of twelve dollar whores who will take you around the world, of neon signs, night and day, of neon cars and car beams night and day, of trash spread every which way, of the flotsam and jetsam of human existence cloistered against 42nd Street hurts, of Howard Johnson’s frankfurts eaten by the half dozen to curve hungers, not food hungers but hungers that dare not speak their name, of Joe and Nemo’s two AM fatty griddle hamburgers, of fags and fairies, and, shade distant dreams, of quasi-Trotskyite girl lovers taking a rest from their bourgeois travels who loved truth, truth and dark-haired revolutionary French guys from textile mill lowells, all proletarian Lowell and can write too, write one million words on order, and of stalinite-worthy betrayals with some new found friend’s wife, or husband, of Siberia exile of the mind, and of second million word writes all while riding the clattering subway to and fro, and not to speak of Soho or the Village. And of junkies, of every description, morphine, speed, cocaine, and of hustlers pushing their soft wares, call your poison, step right up, of William Burroughs, of deadly terror at the prospects for the next fix, of human mules face down in some dusty Sonora town failing to make that connection to get them well, and of off-hand forgotten murders. Jesus, suffering humanity.

And of men met in New York, really Times Square jungles (post- Maggie girls, women, frills, frails, dames, bitches, etc., etc., of no serious consequence except as pillows, weeps, dreams, and such). Of word magicians, maybe not two million but enough, of great earth-devouring fags (no offense here), chain-smoking New Jersey sodomites, reading Walt Whitman by day and wine drunk and man horny at night (or maybe day too) but mainly reading and infernal writing always writing like that was all that life could be except enough experiences to write about. Of Allen om Ginsberg. Of breaking out of silly Eliot great modern bean- counting words in need of glossaries of comprehension, of jazz-inspired be-bop high white words to take the whole red scare, cold war stalinite night away, and to calm the nuclear blast headed our way, butt up (no sexual reference intended and no spite) and chronicle each and every experience with that broken down typewriter, and that roll of low-grade paper ripped out of the be-bop 1950s night. And of Adonis all-american golden boy, Neal, meets all-american dark-haired boy in some Denver saloon, or pool hall yelling, shoot pools , make some dough and off in some 1946 Studebaker in straight forty-eight hour gears-grinding search of the great blue-pink American West night, or maybe just Maggie, that eluded fugitive fragrance that he could never name of Maggie, who knows. Yes, the father that we knew, the father that we did not know. Jack, Jack of the Merrimack.

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