Monday, October 09, 2017

The Night Captain Crunch Cashed His Check-With Jeanbon Kerouac In Mind

The Night Captain Crunch Cashed His Check-With Jeanbon Kerouac In Mind 

By Bradley Fox

It was a dark, drizzly night the night in October, 2015 when Bart Webber and Sam Lowell heard from their old on the road friend from up in Maine Josh Breslin that Captain Crunch had cashed his check (for those not in the know that was an old-time 1950s and 1960s expression among hipsters, be-boppers, beats and along the edges of hippie-dom to say that somebody had passed on to the great beyond just like among the hobos, tramps and bums out in the great railroad “jungles” of the West the expression that some compadre had “caught the freight train West” meant the same thing). That night, or whenever the old gang still left heard about his demise, there must have been consideration gnashing of teeth among guys, gals too, in places like Sam and Bart’s Carver, Josh’s Olde Saco, North Adamsville, Riverdale, Steubenville, Ohio, Omaha, Saint Louie, and a thousand other places where those who knew the Captain in his prime and their primes wound up. Maybe wept a tear for their lost youth when everything was possible and knowing the Captain made you believe that hard fact even in the face of contrary evidence as the decade of the 1960s moved along. Yeah, that’s it, maybe wept a tear for their lost youth.   

See Captain Crunch, real name Jonathan Fuller, Yale Class of 1957, but always Captain Crunch to all who knew him in that time when everybody and the uncles and aunts were shedding their real names and reinventing, or trying to reinvent themselves, in many cases that was a close thing, had caught the fever caused by the stir of Jeanbon Kerouac’s classic 1950s road novel On The Road (although the events in that book had actually occurred in the late 1940s the vagaries of the publishing industry and Jack’s hubris combined to delay the news of the new dispensation much to his chagrin). That novel had come out the year the Captain had graduated from Yale and having been foot loose and fancy free coming from an old moneyed family and thus unlike many others who graduated that year not in need of a job to set himself up the world headed out to San Francisco to check out the scene there. Took the train out if anybody was wondering if he followed Jack’s hitchhike trail to breathe deeply of the American night.

The scene that was happening in that town, its doings, and its characters would eventually be widely called the “beat generation.” (The genesis of that term “beat” has a checkered history since both John Holmes who used it in an article in the later 1940s and Jack who personified “beat” claimed fatherhood to the idea but in any case Jack made the term more widely known and more interesting.) The Captain had landed in Frisco in late 1957 and headed straight to the City Lights bookstore over on Columbus run by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a couple of other associates to see what was what. One day a few months thereafter he had met Kerouac who had just come off one of his famous, or infamous, three day drunk-doped up-sexed up binges and looked like hell but who answered his questions about his take on the scene. Jack had told him all the media stuff was all bullshit, all bullshit now not when the events depicted in the novel occurred and that the so-called hipster beatnik clowns (his term according to the Captain) running around with beards, berets, and bennies were all fakers and punks although the girls, especially those all dressed in black including their lingerie and wearing black eyeliner, who were willing to go down for him, or on him, just because he was famous now was okay as long as they didn’t expect anything of him except to get laid. The Captain (who had not taken on that persona then that would come later when he drew his own acolytes around him like Bart and Sam) hung around that scene, the edges of that Frisco beat scene for a few years until it kind of petered out of its own inertia.             

The Captain had said later when a new generation familiar with On The Road and not much else began to ask questions about what happened then that he had learned a lot from the beat poets, artists and performers no question. Knew many of them who were already famous or who would become famous in the folklore of the town Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso, Snyder, and Cassady or have a local fame like Jake Arbus, Dixie Davis, and Guy Daniels. But as that that movement drifted into dust he had become more interested in expanding his self-consciousness, his karmic being, when he fit in the universe and so he slowly drifted south to La Honda where Ken Kesey was putting together a new dispensation around Jack’s on the road idea and the serious use of drugs to create a new consciousness (or as Kesey would say with some candor before he himself got famous just to get through the fucking horrible day).

The biggest thing that the Captain picked up though as the 1950s drifted forlornly into the 1960s since the drugs could only take him so far was the idea of the road, the road constantly travelled, in the end the idea of being “on the bus” that he grabbed straight off from Kesey and his Merry Pranksters about 1964, 65. Kesey’s bus, a converted real live yellow brick road school bus, the Further On was a combination floating commune for the aimless homeless young who could not deal with the nine to five world, a moving concert hall complete with state of the art sound system that could handle the explosive new music coming out of the Bay area (the uprisings of the Doors, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane and a million other acts which the impresario Bill Graham put on at the Fillmore West and other locales), a dope-infested caravan with every kind of dope from LSD to horse to grass to bennies and back, and a free-lance free sex sex parlor. That idea or series of ideas attracted the Captain and after a short stay on Kesey’s bus he broke out on his own like a lot of people were starting to do and put together his own bus. Whereas say in 1965 Kesey’s bus would have been subject to talk by hipsters and gawks by the tinny tourists by the time the Captain put his bus together named Jade Karma there were many roaming up and down the Coast highway looking, well looking for something. That was the time, after he picked a few acolytes, a few fellow-travelers if you like, grabbed a girlfriend, Mustang Sally (Susan Stein, Bryn Mawr Class of 1960, who gave him all the trouble of heart and mind he ever needed since she was truly a free spirit and free with her love, Jonathan Fuller one night, one laced LSD night, transformed himself into Captain Crunch.          

This is where Bart and Sam (and later others from Carver, Josh from Olde Saco, the late Pete Markin from North Adamsville and many others) enter the story. They like half their freaking generation were restless, bored with what was ahead for them in the nine to five world, worried about draft status and the social situation and decided mostly from what they read in Kerouac, mostly On The Road and Big Sur  and what they heard was happening on the West Coast to hitchhike out. Sam and Bart had gone out together after Frankie Riley also from Carver and a friend of theirs had gone out and had met up with the Captain and the bus in Golden Gate Park one summer day in 1967. So they had gone out, hitched themselves to the bandwagon and travelled with the Captain up and down the coast.

During that Frisco time they had met Josh up on Russian Hill when he came by after hitchhiking from Maine and asked for a joint. Somebody gave him one and that was that. Later Pete Markin came and for a while Bart (known as the Lonesome Cowboy), Sam (Mister Moonbeam), Pete (known as the Scribe), and Josh known as the Prince Of Love) showed up and for a while formed a core of guys who kept things somewhat stable as a ton of other people from all over who would get “on or off the bus” at various points. Of course they all imbibed in the “drugs, sex, rock and roll,” consciousness and some the political stuff although that tended to be discouraged on the bus-the idea being that the nine to five world was there and politics should be left at that door and the denizens of the bus were here so they were on two different universes.       

Bart had not stayed on the bus long, just the summer since he realized after few months of travelling and all the other things that went with it was not for him (he had a girl, Betsy Binstock back in Carver who he eventually married), that while he was not a nine to five guy (then) still he was not built for the road. Some others would follow that same path and eventually all but a remnant would be left to carry on as the 1960s drifted into the ebb tide of the 1970sand the road back to “normalcy.” Sam had stayed longer, a couple of years, had a slew of girlfriends, the longest one an ex-surfer girl Butterfly Swirl that every guy took a shot at, and lovers, did his fair share of dope, learned about lots of things, mind things, dug the music but eventually he saw something coming that looked like a drag, looked like the end of the brave new world experiment they were trying to work out. He would go back East, go to law school and prosper. Josh had stayed even longer about four years since along the way he had realized that he had a writing talent that he could exploit while on the road, got several of his pieces published by the explosion of small and alternative presses created out of the need for their “people of the light” to know something other than the mainstream media pabulum put out daily. Eventually he too saw the writing on the wall and that as the 1970s started drying up everything worthwhile from the 1960s the audience he was trying to reach was disappearing, was going back to whatever they had fled. He would continue to write for small journals and other publications and survive pretty well.

In a lot of ways though the case of Pete Markin kind of wrapped up the ebb tide of the 1960s with a big bow, kind of put a bummer edge on everything since he had stayed on the road the longest, had the most invested in seeing the great generational experiment succeed. He had been bitten hard, had had the Captain’s confidence, had stayed with him for lots of reasons some personal some to have a place to stay against the storms of his life but in the end he too got off the bus. Got off the bus but that is where his childhood growing up wanting habits that had been held in check fell apart. He had been writing but the market for his stuff dried up quicker than Josh’s and he had no backup. No back-up except to get involved in the international drug trade, got involved with the evolving cartels raising their ugly heads down south of the border. Had been blown away by some nasty gunman down in Sonora after some misdirected drug deal went awry. Had as far as anybody got the story right tried to rip the cartel off, go independent. Got a couple of slugs and a potter’s grave in Sonora for his efforts. Josh said he did not know about the others stories, about what happened later to many of those on the bus for a longer or shorter periods of time, how they turned out but probably not much different that the stories he knew, the stories of the ups and downs, the promises and failures of his generation.         

As for the Captain, well until the news came that he had cashed his check he had kind of fallen under the radar, had gotten lost in the mist of time for the Sam, Bart, and Josh. When they had a memorial service for the Captain down at Pfeiffer Beach at Big Sur where he had more or less stayed the last several years of his life and later when some whizzbang kid did a documentary about the Captain it turned out that he had stayed on the road the longest, never really got “off the bus.”   Could be seen driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway with his increasingly bizarre-looking and funky bus with a couple of graying acolytes and his old-time girlfriend Mustang Sally periodically looking, looking for something. Some of the young who were clueless about what the bus experience meant would come by when they were parked at some campsite and ask batteries of questions about what had happened and sat in awe as the Captain patiently gave them some answers. Yeah, wasn’t that a time though, wasn’t that a time. Captain Crunch, RIP.       

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