Friday, December 13, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of Lowell-Bred Writer Jack Kerouac-“The King Of The Beat”-The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Indeed A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

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.             

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of Lowell-Bred Writer Jack Kerouac-“The King Of The Beat”-The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Indeed

A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

“Advertisements for Myself”-Introduction by Allan Jackson, a founding member of the American Left History publication back in 1974 when it was a hard copy journal and until 2017 site manager of the on-line edition      

[He’s back. Jack Kerouac, as describe in the headline, “the king of the beats” and maybe the last true beat standing. That is the basis of this introduction by me as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of his untimely death at 47. But before we go down and dirty with the legendary writer I stand before you, the regular reader, and those who have not been around for a while to know that I was relieved of my site manage duties in 2017 in what amounted to a coup by the younger writers who resented the direction I was taking the publication in and replaced me with Greg Green who I had brought on board from American Film Gazette to run the day to day operations while I oversaw the whole operation and planned my retirement. Over the past year or so a million rumors have, had mostly now, swirled around this publication and the industry in general about what had happened and I will get to that in a minute before dealing with Jack Kerouac’s role in the whole mess.

What you need to know first, if you don’t know already is that Greg Green took me back to do the introductions to an encore presentation of a long-term history of rock and roll series that I edited and essentially created after an unnamed older writer who had not been part of the project balled it all up, got catch flat-footed talking bullshit and other assorted nonsense since he knew nada, nada nunca and, about the subject having been apparently asleep when the late Peter Markin “took us to school” that history. Since then Greg and I have had an “armed truce,” meaning I could contribute as here to introductions of some encore and some origin material as long as I didn’t go crazy, his term, for what he called so-called nostalgia stuff from the 1950s and 1960s and meaning as well that Greg will not go crazy, my term, and will refrain from his ill-advised attempt to reach a younger audience by “dumbing down” the publication with odd-ball comic book character reviews of films, graphic novels and strange musical interludes. Fair is fair.

What I need to mention, alluded to above, is those rumors that ran amok while I was on the ropes, when I had lost that decisive vote of no confidence by one sullen vote. People here, and my enemies in the industry as well, seeing a wounded Allan Jackson went for the kill, went for the jugular that the seedy always thrive on and began a raggedy-ass trail on noise you would not believe. In the interest of elementary hygiene, and to frankly clear the air, a little, since there will always be those who have evil, and worse in their hearts when “the mighty have fallen.”  Kick when somebody is down their main interest in life.

I won’t go through the horrible rumors like I was panhandling down in Washington, D.C., I was homeless in Olde Saco, Maine (how could that be when old friend and writer here Josh Breslin lives there and would have provided alms to me so at least get an approximation of the facts before spinning the wild woolly tale), I had become a male prostitute in New York City (presumably after forces here and in that city hostile to me put in the fatal “hard to work with” tag on me ruining any chances on the East Coast of getting work, getting enough dough to keep the wolves from my door, my three ex-wives and that bevy of kids, nice kids, who nevertheless were sucking me dry with alimony and college tuitions), writing press releases under the name Leonard Bloom for a Madison Avenue ad agency. On a lesser scale of disbelief I had taken a job as a ticket-taker in a multi-plex in Nashua, New Hampshire, had been a line dishwasher at the Ritz in Philadelphia when they needed day labor for parties and convention banquets, had been kicking kids out of their newspaper routes and taking that task on myself, and to finish off although I have not given a complete rundown rummaging through trash barrels looking for bottles with deposits. Christ.

Needless to say, how does one actually answer such idiocies, and why. A couple of others stick out about me and some surfer girl out in Carlsbad in California who I was pimping while getting my sack time with her and  this one hurt because it hurt a dear friend and former “hippie girl” lover of mine, Madame La Rue, back in the day that I was running a whorehouse with her in Luna Bay for rich Asian businessmen with a taste for kinky stuff. I did stop off there and Madame does run a high-end brothel in Luna Bay but I had nothing to do with it. The reason Madame was hurt was because I had lent her the money to buy the place when it was a rundown hotel and built it up from there with periodic additional funds from me so she could not understand why my act of kindness would create such degenerate noise from my enemies who were clueless about the relationship between us.
I will, must deal with two big lies which also center of my reluctant journey west (caused remember by that smear campaign which ruined by job opportunities in the East, particularly New York City. The first which is really unbelievable on its face is that I hightailed it directly to Utah, to Salt Lake City, when I busted out in NYC looking for one Mitt Romney, “Mr. Flip-Flop,” former Governor of Massachusetts, Presidential candidate against Barack Obama then planning on running for U.S. Senator from Utah (now successful ready to take office in January) to “get well.” The premise for this big lie was supposedly that since I have skewered the guy while he was governor and running for president with stuff like the Mormon fetish for white underwear and the old time polygamy of his great-grand-father who had five wives (and who showed great executive skill I think in keeping the peace in that extended family situation. The unbelievable part is that those Mormon folk, who have long memories and have pitchforks at the ready to rumble with the damned, would let a sinner like me, a non-Mormon for one thing anywhere the Romney press operation. Christ, I must be some part latter day saint since I barely got out of that damn state alive if the real truth were known after I applied for a job with the Salt Lake Sentinel not knowing the rag was totally linked to the Mormons. Pitchforks, indeed.    

The biggest lie though is the one that had me as the M.C. in complete “drag” as Elsa Maxwell at the “notorious” KitKat Club in San Francisco which has been run for about the past thirty years or so by Miss Judy Garland, at one time and maybe still is in some quarters the “drag queen” Queen of that city. This will show you how ignorant, or blinded by hate, some people are. Miss Judy Garland is none other that one of our old corner boys from the Acre section of North Adamsville, Timmy Riley. Timmy who like the rest of us on the corner used to “fag bait” and beat up anybody, any guy who seemed effeminate, at what cost to Timmy’s real feelings we will never really know although he was always the leader in the gay-bashing orgy. Finally between his own feeling and Stonewall in New York in 1969 which did a great deal to make gays, with or with the drag queen orientation, a little less timid Timmy fled the Acre (and his hateful family and friends) to go to friendlier Frisco. He was in deep personal financial trouble before I was able to arrange some loans from myself and some of his other old corner boys (a few still hate Timmy for what he has become, his true self) to buy the El Lobo Club, his first drag queen club, and when that went under, the now thriving tourist trap KitKat Club. So yes, yes, indeed, I stayed with my old friend at his place and that was that. Nothing more than I had done many times before while I ran the publication.                   

But enough of this tiresome business because I want to introduce this series dedicated to the memory of Jack Kerouac who had a lot of influence on me for a long time, mostly after he died in 1969 
All roads about Jack Kerouac, about who was the king of the beats, about what were the “beats” lead back to the late Pete Markin who, one way or another, taught the working poor Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville corner boys what was up with that movement. Funny, because we young guys were a serious generation removed from that scene, really our fathers’ contemporaries and you know how far removed fathers were from kids in those days especially among the working poor trying to avoid going  “under water” and not just about mortgages but food on tables and clothing on backs, were children of rock and roll, not jazz, the beat musical medium, and later the core of the “Generation of ‘68” which took off, at least partially, with the “hippie” scene, where the dying embers of the beat scene left off. Those dying embers exactly the way to put it since most of our knowledge or interest came from the stereotypes-beards before beards were cool and before grandfather times -for guys, okay, berets, black and beaten down looks. Ditto on black for the gals, including black nylons which no Acre girl would have dreamed of wearing, not in the early 1960s anyway. Our “model” beatnik really came, as we were also children of television, from sitcom stories like Dobie Gillis with stick character Maynard G. Krebs standing in for all be-bop-dom.        

So it is easy to see where except to ostracize, meaning harass, maybe beat up if that was our wont that day, we would have passed by the “beat” scene, passed by Jack Kerouac too without the good offices, not a term we would have used then, if not for nerdish, goof, wild and woolly in the idea world Markin (always called Scribe for obvious reasons but we will keep with Markin here). He was the guy who always looked for some secret meaning to the universe, that certain breezes, winds, metaphorical breezes and winds, were going to turn things around, were going to make the world a place where Markin could thrive. Markin was the one who first read Kerouac’s breakthrough travelogue of a different sort novel On The Road.
Now Markin was the kind of guy, and sometimes we let him go on and sometimes stopped him in his tracks, who when he was on to something would bear down on us to pay attention. Christ some weekend nights he would read passages from the book like it was the Bible (which it turned out to be in a way later) when all we basically cared about is which girls were going to show up at our hang-out spot, the well-known Tonio’s Pizza Parlor and play the jukebox and we would go from there. Most of us, including me, kind of yawned at the whole thing even when Markin made a big deal that Kerouac was a working-class guy like us from up in Lowell cut right along the Merrimac River. The whole thing seemed way too exotic and moreover there was too much homosexual stuff implied which in our strict Irish-Italian Catholic neighborhood did not go down well at all -made us dismiss the whole thing and want to if I recall correctly “beat up” that Allan Ginsberg character. Even Dean Moriarty, the Neal Cassidy character, didn’t move us since although we were as larcenous and “clip” crazy as any character in that book we kind of took Dean as a tough car crazy guide like Sonny Jones from our neighborhood who was nothing but a hood in Red Riley’s bad ass motorcycle gang which hung out at Harry’s Variety Store. We avoided him and more so Red like the plague. Both wound up dead, very dead, in separate attempted armed robberies in broad daylight if you can believe that.    

Our first run through of our experiences with Kerouac and through him the beat movement was therefore kind of marginal-even as Markin touted for a while that whole scene he agreed with us that jazz-be-bop jazz always associated with the beat-ness was not our music, was grating to our rock and roll-refined and defined ears. Here is where Markin was always on to something though, always had some idea percolating in his head. There was a point where he, we as well I think, got tired of rock and roll, a time when it had run out of steam for a while and along with his crazy home life which really was bad drove him to go to Harvard Square and check out what he had heard was a lot of stuff going on. Harvard Square was, is still to the extent that any have survived like Club Passim, the home of the coffeehouse. A place that kind of went with the times first as the extension of the beat generation hang-out where poetry and jazz would be read and played. But in Markin’s time, our time there was the beginnings of a switch because when he went to the old long gone Café Nana he heard folk music and not jazz, although some poetry was still being read. I remember Markin telling me how he figured the change when I think it was the late Dave Von Ronk performed at some club and mentioned that when he started out in the mid-1950s in the heat of beat time folk singers were hired at the coffeehouses in Greenwich Village to “clear the house” for the next set of poetry performers but that now folk-singing eclipsed poetry in the clubs. Markin loved it, loved the whole scene of which he was an early devotee. Me, well, strangely considering where I wound up and what I did as a career, I always, still do, hated the music. Thought it was too whinny and boring. Enough said though.                   

Let’s fast forward to see where Kerouac really affected us in a way that when Markin was spouting forth early on we could not appreciate. As Markin sensed in his own otherworldly way a new breeze was coming down the cultural highway, a breeze push forward by the beats I will confess, by the folk music scene, by the search for roots which the previous generation, our parents’ generation, spent their adulthoods attempting to banish and become part of the great American vanilla melt, and by a struggling desire to question everything that had come before, had been part of what we had had no say in creating, weren’t even asked about. Heady stuff and Markin before he made a very bad decision to quit college in his sophomore years and “find himself,” my expression not his, spent many of his waking hours figuring out how to make his world a place where he could thrive.

That is when one night, this is when we were well out of high school, some of us corner boys had gone our separate ways and those who remained in contact with the brethren spent less time hanging out at Tonio’s, Markin once again pulled out On The Road, pulled out Jack’s exotic travelogue. The difference is we were all ears then and some of us after that night brought our own copies or went to the Thomas Murphy Public Library and took out the book. This was the spring of the historic year 1967 when the first buds of the Summer of Love which wracked San Francisco and the Bay Area to its core and once Markin started working on us, started to make us see his vision of what he would later called, culling from Tennyson if I am not mistaken a “newer world.” Pulling us all in his train, even as with Bart Webber and if I recall Si Lannon a little, he had to pull out all the stops to have them, us, join him in the Summer of Love experience. Maybe the whole thing with Jack Kerouac was a pipe dream I remember reading about him in the Literary Gazette when he was down in Florida living with his ancient mother and he was seriously critical of the “hippies,” kind of banged on his own beat roots explaining that he was talking about something almost Catholic beatitude spiritual and not personal freedom, of the road or anything else. A lot of guys and not just writing junkies looking for some way to alleviate their inner pains have repudiated their pasts but all I know is that when Jack was king of the hill, when he spoke to us those were the days all roads to Kerouac were led by Markin. Got it. Allan Jackson    

The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Indeed

A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

A while back, maybe a year or so ago, early in 2014, Josh Breslin, the old-time writer for some of the alternative presses and houses that started up in the throes of the 1960s counter-cultural explosion did a book review of John Steinbeck’s skid row classic, Cannery Row. Back in the 1960s there had been a plethora of both which had surfaced and flowered in order to give out a different view of the world, different cultural takes, and different activist politics than the ones that were presented by mainstream media and Josh’s book and record reviews had a certain following in those alternative oases around the country. 

Yes, I can see the scratching of heads about the rationale for this recent effort as readers are unable for the life of them to figure out why anybody would review such a book now, even such a classic book, which was published in 1945. As if the book had not been thoroughly reviewed unto death at the time, a timely time in any case, unlike his belated project, but Josh, as usual and I have known him long enough to be able to say the words, had a certain method to his madness.
See, Josh, although theoretically and quite reasonably retired, still writes occasionally for the dwindling remnant of alternatives presses and publishing houses which produce many of the radical and progressive magazines, newspapers, and books, which lay around today on some hipster’s coffee table, unread, as a show that, well, the owner is hip. Or had been back in the day when names like the Village Voice, City Lights, Rolling Stone, New Directions, and Free Press meant sometime to anybody with any pretenses to hip-dom. Fair enough though, since Josh still has things to write that are worth reading, especially by the younger set who seem to studiously avoid to their regret, as we did in our time a subject we continually return to over a drink or two on a cold night, learning any lessons provided by, well, older folk. Besides you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, or Josh anyway, and a guy who writes is like some old general who refuses to fade away and so he still writes for some of those outlets. But in addition to his writerly habits this Cannery Row review that he did was not done by happenstance but had followed shortly thereafter as a result of Josh having a vision, a vision of Tom Joad, or shades of the ghost of Tom Joad, out on the California highway, out on the Pacific Coast Highway, no lie.

Needless to say nobody, certainly no reader who does not know or remember Josh when he was in the full flower of his youth, has to believe that an old man, now in his turn an old time writer himself, actually saw Tom Joad, actually saw a fictional character on that coast highway road (or even Henry Fonda trance who played Joad in the original film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath). Nor does one have to believe in some legend of Tom Joad even though folksinger Woody Guthrie wrote songs about the man back in the dust bowl back-breaking 1930s. Nor for modern sensibilities even though rocker Bruce Springsteen wrote about Joad’s ghost in the 1990s. Hear me out though, or rather hear Josh out as he presents his case like he presented it to me one night a couple of weeks ago in the bar at the Sunnyville Grille in Cambridge where he lives mostly lives now, Cambridge that is not the bar, although he still maintains the old family house where he grew up in Olde Saco, Maine.

Let me set the context first to enlighten those who do not the Josh history which led to this “vision.” Josh, having lived out in California back in the 1970s and 1980s off and on, in some good times and bad, now likes to go back out there every once in a while. Usually when he has time to spent a week or two, more importantly, when he has some extra dough in his pockets to fly out since the old hitchhiking days when he thought nothing of holding out his thumb, a small green rucksack on one shoulder and bedroll, complete with canvass ground cover to guard against wet blanket sleepless night, on the other and head across the country holds no appeal these days. Besides the roads are now dangerous with all kinds of off-hand weirdos that provide the 24/7/365 news outlets with plenty of copy; American psychos who have always been with us but who seem now to be more visible and vicious, malcontents of every description and pleading, grifters always on the hustle, and beady-eyed cops, looking to fill their monthly quotas, ready to pounce on you if you breathe wrong. He had lived mostly in Oakland (then as now infinitely cheaper than Frisco) while doing some political work, some political writing, usually involving as well raising dough for things like the Black Panther Defense Fund, although do not ask Josh even today the manner in which he raised the dough just in case the statute of limitations has not run out. Just say that the Panthers were under murderous assault then by every itchy law enforcement agency from some Podunk deputy sheriff to J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men, needed money for legal defense constantly as the governmental agencies honed in on them, and nobody was too particular, nobody could afford to be too particular, about how the money was raised when the deal went down.

Usually in those days accompanying that political work was some complicated adventure in Josh’s topsy-turvy relationship with women. In Oakland, at least when I visited him in those days he almost always had some woman friend living with him (or a wife, having been married three times, one of them during the California days but that marriage trance doesn’t have anything to do, or little to do, with this story so we will move on) because he said he had to have a stable place to reside. Those days, those early 1970s days when will all knew, or most all of us knew the ebb tide of the 1960s was swooping down on us were still good times, good times to write about then, and now, especially about the mad monk happenings in California.

But there was another side to the Josh living in California story which will help better explain his how he came to his Tom Joad vision. That side was about living  out in the air in the mid-1970s, out for a while with the “brothers under bridge” along the railroad tracks, down in the arroyos, and wherever else he could find kindred , to steal a phrase from a later Bruce Springsteen song about Vietnam veterans who for their own reasons could not make it in the “real” world after ‘Nam. 
The times that due to his own hubris, to his own “from hunger” genetic code, to his own outlandish “wanting” habits he found himself when he ran out of money, women, or luck. Previously those hardtack times in places like Big Sur beach south of Monterey, Todo el Mundo just south of Big Sur, Point Magoo above Malibu, and down near the caves in La Jolla meant living “free,” free meaning camping out for weeks at a time, some old army tent (World War II surplus, not the ‘Nam stuff which was not fashionable then, for ex-soldiers or renegade writers), an old Coleman stove (and sometimes just sterno cups) for cooking and a few toilet articles. Then when his world crashed in the mid-1970s, when his school boy days wanting habits got the best of him, a later side after the hubbub had died down from the 1960s jail break-out which had ebbed before its rightful time and which he could not accept gracefully then he found himself in the hobo “jungle.” Under the same impetus in the early 1980s when his addictions, mainly but not exclusively drugs, had gotten the better of him he had wound up living out in Jack K.’s cabin rent free in that same Todo el Mundo where they earlier had all thought they had found the paradise they had been California looking for when they had headed West, trying to dry out, trying to unsuccessfully go “cold turkey.”  Hell he could not recount the infinite number of times in those days that he cadged floor space in too many locales to mention, mostly in Frisco though, laying down low in flophouses all over the coast, and finally, when the bottom totally fell out, when he had cynically and dishonestly called in every favor he could and had run out of friends to con (including me when he was really desperate), a few tours in skid row, Cannery Row skid row, in Monterey. He had also written about those experiences recently in a short piece in the East Bay Eye under the title In Search Of Todo el Mundo.                

So as luck would have it Josh had been out in Monterey this recent time that we are talking about in order to retrace some ancient steps about what had happened to him in those dreaded 1980s before he got sober in the 1990s after another unsuccessful love affair had run its course (a little more germane to the story than the three divorced wives but it should not hog the space since it had become somewhat faded and somewhat weird on reflection by the time of this adventure although earlier it caused many sword thrusts to his heart). He had not been in Monterey since the late 1980s, since just before he finally got his dope addictions mercifully under control with the help of Melissa, Melissa of the straight talk and straight arrow life which held him together for a while before she moved on when another guy, a less “dramatic” guy as she called him upon breaking up with Josh swept her away, adios mi corazon. And Monterey had automatically brought Big Sur and Todo el Mundo into mind as places to go to and reflect on those ancient times and how they had formed him, and formed his life. Hell, it’s his story let him tell you what he was up to instead of me trying to remember every tidbit that Sunnyville night when I was filled with too many high-shelf scotches. Let him tell about his vision:        

“A blonde long-haired and long unkempt bearded young man was standing on the side of the highway in a light rain, the Pacific Coast Highway to be exact, in the dead heart of Big Sur out in ocean California with his thumb out heading north toward Monterey. I noticed as I drove by heading south that the young guy had a trusty old rucksack and bedroll stacked a bit away from his person (that bedroll looked to be in proper order from a quick look, sheet, blanket and most important of all learned from more than one wet night’s sleep, or rather half-sleep, a sturdy ground cover against those nights, the inevitable nights on the road when such support is necessary). That placing your gear away from the road is important too, shows career hitchhiker savvy since an average driver, usually a guy back in the day and probably more so now with all the news of weirdoes and psychos out there bothering average drivers foolish enough to pick them up, will more likely take a chance on stopping for a guy who looks like he is just stranded for the moment a few miles from home rather than a notorious fully-life’s possessions road bum, or worse.

All of this information, all of this sullen knowledge, learned long ago when I hitched my own hitchhike road. I must say that I was startled to see that young man of the roads standing there since rarely, even in California, do I see anybody hitching anymore, certainly not on highways but not even on back roads like the one in Big Sur. The last time I had picked up hitchhikers I had been driving up U.S. 5 around Carlsbad from San Diego when I spotted a young guy and young gal on the entrance ramp and immediately jumped three lanes and pulled over. They were heading toward L.A. while I was heading to Laguna for some art show and as we talked, or rather as I talked about the old days on the road I decided to drive them up to L.A. probably motivated by the many rides I had accumulated back in the day and I was merely passing the torch.

That rainy day though I was heading toward Todo el Mundo just south of Big Sur to meet someone or I would have stopped, turned around, and driven the young bearded guy back to Carmel anyway since he didn’t appear to be having any luck with the drivers passing back, it was raining and I was gathering strength to do another good turn in memory of my old hitchhike days. All of this introduction of course to set up what I really wanted to talk about when I thought about that guy later, thought about seeing a vision of old Tom Joad.

My first thought later when I began to think about the old days after reaching the hard to find and extreme back road even now Todo el Mundo and the guy was to meet to get a story from was that I probably had hitched a ride from around that very spot where the younger hitchhiker stood on the side of the road which if you are familiar with that section of the Pacific Coast Highway was not that far from Big Sur beach. You know Jack Kerouac’s beach, featured in every retro “beat” film about the place, featured on every Big Sur photo shoot, featured on every hot spot places of California where he wrote a famous zen-like poem in honor of the sound of the ocean at that particular place when he was trying to dry out and when he wrote a book about the experience. That had been in the days before a bunch of us, including Jack K. the old small press publisher and bookstore owner from Mendocino who would eventually own a cabin there and Larry, another small press publisher who had owned a big bookstore in Frisco,  who then had a cabin in Big Sur found the even more remote and severe Todo el Mundo. I had my own addiction drying out experiences there later in the 1980s but the time I am talking about is not the 1980s when Jack K. saved my bacon, or tried to, and got nothing but heartache and rebuff for his trouble but back in the bright days, back in the 1960s days when everybody who roamed the highways had some stories to tell, owed some debt to Kerouac and the “beats” and who lived to tell about it.

Back then there was no way, no way on this good green earth that my blonde-haired young hitcher would have been out on the road for long not   when the roads were full of “heads” travelling up and down the coast just to travel, just to see what the world was all about and would have snagged that brother in a minute, hell, maybe before he even stuck his thumb out. I know a couple of time that happened to me when I was standing on the side of the road and once when I was standing there and not looking for a ride but took one anyway since the scene looked righteous. Oh yeah, I forgot that time too when I had Butterfly Swirl with me and the way she looked, all sunflower dress, all real California girl and some guy must have gotten a whiff of her jasmine scent because he stopped just past us and put the old Volkswagen bus in reverse and told us to climb in (Butterfly Swirl, we all used little monikers like that then, had been slumming away from her usual haunts, the Carlsbad surfer scene, looking to find out about what everybody was talking about in the great jail break-out, about what everybody was doing before going back to her perfect wave surfer boy and life, such were the times).               

Funny the first time I hit the California highway roads (first time starting in California not the east-west cross-country trips from New England) I didn’t think I would get a ride because some trucker, a real good guy who fed me at the trucker diner stops, gave me plenty of cigarettes, and some bennies that he practically lived on left me out in the lurch. He was going to see his girlfriend in Modesto and so that is where he left me off. But that is a tough spot to hitch from with traffic flying by (by the way also maybe a sign of the times then this Mr. America straight arrow by-the book-trucker had a wife and kids beside the gal, so there). A state trooper passed by, passed by twice, and then let it go but I wound up grabbing some sleep on the side of the road, a little off in some trees really, before I got a ride to Frisco from another lonely truck-driver the next morning.      

But enough of the Breslin hitchhike road. That road has been inspected, dissected, introspected, reflected enough so let’s get to what I was able to envision on that rainy day trip back from Todo el Mundo. As I headed back to Monterey later that day my hitchhiker was still there, a little wetter for the experience so I naturally had to stop and pick him up. As he entered the passenger side after placing  his gear in the back of the rental car I noticed that he looked considerably younger than I had thought passing him by on the way down to Todo. As he settled into the passenger seat and I got back on the road after telling me his name, Cliff Adams, he thanked me a couple of times for picking him up. He also told me how nobody would even look in his direction as the rain got thicker and I then mentioned that I had seen him on my way south and had assumed since he had rightly stored his gear away from the road and so looked like a guy who just needed a lift somewhere local and did not have the look of a career road bum who strikes fear in the hearts of even old time hippies he would have been picked up by then. Cliff laughed at that remark since he had only picked up that trick of the road the day before when a guy going in the other direction called over to him around Sam Simeon to put his gear out of sight if he wanted a ride on this road. The guy had looked like he knew what he was doing (he did) and so he had done so but had almost given up hope when I stopped.   

As we rode along he told me that he had headed west a few months before from Oklahoma, from some Podunk town outside of Topeka that I had never heard of although I had passed through that town a few times when I was working my thumb on the southern route west.  Cliff had hit the road after some fallout with parents over taking over the family grain business which he could have cared less about and hated every harvest he every had to participant in, fallout over some heartthrob girlfriend who found another boyfriend (or he had found another girlfriend who had found another boyfriend I did not follow the whole train of thought on that except to silently express solidarity over the woman question fallout), and fallout over with everybody else he knew of his desire, his instinctual desire, to get the dust (his term) of Oklahoma out of his nostrils, if not out of his blood. And so one moonless night (I assume it was a moonless night since the moon was missing when I had first hit the hitchhike road west he took down his rucksack from its peg, threw some utilitarian necessities, rolled his bedroll (forgetting to his dismay one rainy night when until he was on the road that he needed a waterproof ground cover to protect against a tough night’s half-sleep from being soaked to the bone) and headed out leaving a short note to his parents not to worry. (Thoughtful lad since I had left no note and only telephoned weeks later a definite wrong move on my part whatever the justice of my sulks.)

His running through those conversational points was when I noticed that his whole demeanor reminded me of those sons and daughters, hell, now grandsons and granddaughters of those Okies who came out to settle in California after the land played out back home in Muskogee, Tulsa, Norman or wherever it played out in the Great Depression dustbowl saga. So I asked him all kinds of questions about his kin and about his days in Oklahoma to compare notes with a previously generation of Okie/Arkie kids who had headed west in my time rather than going on and on about how in my day the pickings on the hitchhike road, especially along the Pacific Coast Highway, were like finding money on the ground. As he spoke in that bashful Okie drawl that some pretty sophisticated women find appealing and which is a relic from the old cowboy days I noticed that he had the same “from hunger” look of those by-gone highway travelers who I ran into back in the day.             

They are peculiarly an American lot those “from hunger” boys (and occasional young women), oh sure, they are all immigrant stock like almost everybody here now in America, Northwest Europe immigrant stock going back several generations, but still immigrant stock. More importantly they are still marked by the traces of the half- forgotten stories (or half-suppressed at this remove) that brought their forbears to this continent, mainly having been run out their countries of origin for cattle, horse, pig, deer stealing, or having run when the land ran out, or having to have to run when the lure of thriving thieving cities got to be too much and the high sheriff was hot on the trail, a few too having run for religious or political reasons but all with the wanderlust, the travelling gene. One academic guy I read, a Harvard professor if I recall, when talking about an early wave of this immigrants around the time of Andrew Jackson called them “master-less” men. Maybe, but here is my take which I think is closer to the nub. Jack Kerouac the previously mentioned great American writer of the travel road, physical and spiritual, from a couple of generations back startled me at first when in On The Road he spoke of the fellahin, those mired deep down in the base of society barely hanging on, and of his spiritual kinship for the wretched of the earth (being a Lowell mill town boy he knew of where he spoke). That designation however only makes sense if you don’t take the term literally and apply it to some eternal scratching welded to a lone piece of land but except for that the observation holds. 

They, the fellahin, settled in the East for a while, the landing point on the shorelines where working the rugged cross land was tough and many fell into the human sink, but once they heard there was land, lots of land beyond the outposts they moved, and moved fast, westward playing off the energy of that old country wanderlust gene. They kept stopping for a while, sometimes for a long while but they were born restless and their thing was movement, the push to leave when the helter-skelter not well-tended land played out. But like all things geographic there is a land’s end and that is where things got kind of squirrely, there was no more land to farm play out, no more moving westward unless you wanted to swim the Japan seas.

So those Okie/Arkie/fellahin drifters turned inward, turned in the generation before mine to sullenly and languidly riding on the edge of the world movement after World War II with their souped-up coups built from old jalopies, junkyard stuff turned into expressions of that strange California fast lane syrup with sweat and fervor, raced after midnight in rural highway drag strips filled with “chicken run” bravado and some fast chase girl sitting jammed next to that stick-shift, turned to challenging the seas (if not the Japan seas by swimming out to them) in golden boy waxed surfboards seeking the perfect way complete then with waiting golden girl surfer girls on shore once the day’s search for the perfect wave ebbed with the night (and those pruned boys sought to have those golden girls “curl their toes” as my one surfer girl conquest explained the matter one night when stoned I had asked her about the ethos of surfer culture, turned to outlaw motorcycle-dom with the hog (a Harley or else proud patriots all although an Indian or a Vincent Black Shadow would leave them in the dust, no problem) complete with tough tight-sweatered “mamas” and the jailhouse alternating for attention. And a few wanderers caught the Eastern bug, caught the Howl in the night bug especially around Frisco. And that younger brother hitchhiker on that rainy Big Sur day whether he knew it or not, for the forbears after all left no coda to lure later generations to all of that spoke of that Tom Joad Great Depression need to break West. I could see it in his rain washed-out blue eyes and in that laconic pattern of speech that spoke of restlessness and wonder.                     

As we approached Monterey coming up over the hill at Carmel (oops, sorry  Carmel-by-the-Sea where all the Mid-Coast swells congregate and show off their pedigree, pedigree dogs on sullen Sundays in June) I realized that the young brother could back about twenty, thirty years before, ah, maybe a few more than that, been my own boon companion. Been brethren just like in the days when the late Peter Markin and I whom I met out in California on Russian Hill in Frisco town raised holy hell with women, drugs, life and who subsequently because he never really could get off the road of his own “from hunger” wanting habits wound up face down in a Sonora dusty back alley when a drug deal he was trying to organize on his own went bell-up. Or when Sam Lowell before he got “square” and went back to law school and some success went west with me several times and we did things up right. Or Billy Bradley from even further back who wound up with his own wanting habit troubles from robbing too many stores and banks.

Yes, that young Okie brother would have fit in with my Eastern-etched corner boys in the days when I was riding the hobo “jungle,” when the railroad track (what did somebody call those tracks, oh yeah, “filled with train smoke and dreams,”), the cavern encampment (reminding me of the time when Peter and I stoned to the gills on peyote buttons found ourselves in a Joshua Tree canyon wall one night when we, dancing like whirling dervishes “saw” the ghosts of the Apache warriors who souls could never be appeased until future warriors came along, and we thought that was us), the ocean front tent complete with sweet all-Midwestern dish, Angelica, Saint Angelica of my boyhood dreams riding a borrowed Vincent Black Lightning roaring out in the Pacific Coast Highway not worrying about anything but being young, alive and splashed by ten thousand ocean waves like they were never going to end were what sustained my days.

I let Cliff off at Lighthouse Drive near the Sally soup kitchen spot. Sallies being the Salvation Army who if you could put up with a sermon and some good-natured but firm cajoling about changing your lifestyle, of searching for god or maybe the godhead I forget which, of getting “religion” and donning the uniform of the lord to beat drums out in the mission mean streets down in any hobo end of town would give you a bed for a few days and three squares with just a hard-hearted story of woe. I still tip my hat to that brethren for bailing me out a few times when things were very tough, very tough indeed. Yeah, I had my own “from hunger” wanting habits which for a while couldn’t be appeased, it was a close thing. As I drove off I wondered what was ahead for that young brother, would he break-down like Peter and Billy of yore, wondered whether he in his turn when he got older “see” a vision of Tom Joad on the side of a Big Sur highway and stop to move a fellow wanderer along.