Saturday, 28 February 2009

28 February 2009

Twenty pesos, thrity pesos.” “You serious? True? Now?” “Now mon, ennytime. Too hot now” he added with distaste. “No like gurls when hot day. Wait tonight. You like shade.” I didn’t want the shade but I wanted the girls. I woke up Neal. “Hey Man I told you in Texas I’d get you laid---allright, stretch your bones and wake up boy, we’ve got girls waiting for us.” What? what?” he cried leaping up haggard. “Where? where?” “This boy Gregor’s going to show us where.” “Well lessgo, lessgo!” Neal leaped out of the car and clasped Gregor’s hand. There was a group of other boys hanging around the station and grinning, half of them barefoot, all wearing floppy strawhats. “Man” said Neal to me “ain’t this a nice way to spend an afternoon. It’s so much cooler than Denver poolhalls. Gregor, you got gurls? Where? A donday?” he cried in Spanish. “Dig that Jack, I’m speaking Spanish.” “Ask him if we can get any tea. Hey kid, you got mari-ju-a-na?” The kid nodded gravely. “Sho, ennytime mon. Come with me.” “Hee! Whee! Hoo! Yelled Neal. He was wide awake and jumping up and down in that drowsy Mexican street. “Let’s all go!” I was passing Lucky Strikes to the other boys. They were getting a great pleasure out of us and especially Neal. They turned to each other with cupped hands and rattled off comments about the mad American cat. “Dig them Jack talking about us and digging. Oh my goodness what a world!” We all got in the car and lurched off. Frank Jeffries had been sleeping soundly and woke up to this incredible madness. We drove way out to the desert the other side of town and turned on a rutty dirt road that made the car bounce as it never bounced before. Up ahead was Gregor’s house. It sat on the edge of Cactus flats overtopped by a few trees, just a dobe crackerbox, with a few men lounging around in the yard. “Who’s that?” cried Neal all excited. “Those my brothers. My mother there too. My sister too. That my family. I married, I live downtown.” What about your mother?” flinched Neal. “What she say about marijuana.” “Oh she get it for me.” And as we waited in the car Gregor got out and loped over to the house and said a few words to an old lady, who promptly turned and went to the garden in back and began pulling marijuana plants out of the earth. Meanwhile

Friday, 27 February 2009

27 February 2009

won’t change for a long time. If you’ll drive I’ll sleep now.” I took the wheel and drove among reveries of my own, Through Linares, through hot flat swamp country, across the steaming Rio Soto la Marina near Hidalgo, and on. A great verdant jungle valley with long fields of greencops opened before me. Groups of men watched us pass from a narrow oldfashioned bridge. The hot river followed. Then we rose in altitude till a kind of desert country began reappearing. The city of Victoria was ahead. The boys were sleeping and I was alone in my eternity at the wheel and the road ran straight as an arrow. Not like driving across Carolina, or Texas, or Arizona, or Illinois; but like driving across the world and into the places where we would finally learn ourselves among the worldwide fellaheen people of the world, the Indians that stretch in a belt around the world from Malaya to India to Arabia to Morocco to Mexico and over to Polynesia. For these people were unmistakably Indians and were not at all like the Pedros and Panchos of silly American lore---they had high cheekbones, and slanted eyes, and soft ways---they were not fools, they were not clowns---they were great grave Indians and they were the source of mankind and the fathers of it. And they knew this when we passed, ostensibly self-important moneybag Americans on a lark in their land, they knew who was the father and who was the son of antique life on earth, and made no comment. For when destruction comes to the world people will stare with the same eyes from the caves of Mexico as well as from the caves of Bali, where it all began and where Adam was suckled and taught to know. These were my growing thoughts as I drove the car into the hot sunbaked town of Victoria where we were destined to spend the maddest afternoon of our entire lives. Earlier, back at San Antonio, I had promised Neal, as a joke, that I would get him laid. It was a bet and a challenge. As I pulled up the car at the gas station near the gates of sunny Victoria a kid came across the road on tattered feet carrying an enormous windshieldshade and wanted to know if I’d buy. “You like? Sixty pesos. Habla Mexicano. Sesenta peso. My name Gregor.” “Nah” I said jokingly “buy senorita.” “Sure sure!” he cried excitedly. “I get you gurls, anytime.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

26 February 2009

girls that cut along with groceries. And downtown Monterrey was our first sight of thick city dobe neighbourhoods with thousands of shifty hipsters hanging around doorways and whores looking out of windows and strange shops that might have sold anything and narrow sidewalkscrowded with Hongkong-like humanity. “Yow” yelled Neal. “And all in that sun. Have you dug this Mexican sun, Jack? It makes you high. Whoo! I want to get on and on—this road drives me!” We wanted to stop in the excitements of Monterrey but Neal wanted to make extra-special time to get to see Bill Burroughs as quickly as possible and Mexico City and besides he knew the road would get more interesting, especially ahead. He drove like a fiend and never rested. Frank and I were completely bushed and gave it up and had to sleep. I looked up outside Monterrey and saw enormous weird twin peaks shaped like a wild saddle cutting clouds high up in the sky. Now we were going beyond Old Monterrey, beyond where the outlaws went. Montemorelos was ahead, a descent again to hotter altitudes. It grew exceedingly hot and strange. Neal absolutely had to wake me up to see this. “Look Jack, you must not miss.” I looked. We were going through swamps and alongside the road at ragged intervals strange Mexicans in tattered rags walked along with bolo knives hanging from their rope belts and some of them cut at the bushes. They all stopped to watch us without expression. Through the tangled bush we occasionally saw thatched huts with African like bamboo walls. Strange young girls dark as the moon stared from mysterious verdant doorways. “Oh man I want to stop and twiddle thumbs with the little darlings” cried Neal “but notice the old lady or the old man is always somewhere around---in the back usually, sometimes a hundred yards gathering twigs and wood or tending animals. They’re never alone. Nobody’s ever alone in this country. While you’ve been sleeping I’ve been digging this road and this country and if I could only tell you all the thoughts I’ve had man!” He was sweating. His eyes were red-streaked and mad and also subdued and tender---he had found a people like himself. We bowled right through the endless swamp country at a steady forty five. “Jack I think the country

25 February 2009

for work in the fields; they smiled at us. Neal stared at them with rocky eyes. “Damn” he said under his breath “Ooh! This is too great to be true. Gurls, gurls. And particularly right in my stage and condition Jack I am digging the interiors of these homes as we pass them---these gone doorways and you look inside and see beds of straw and little brown kids sleeping and stirring to wake, and the mothers cooking up breakfast in iron pots and dig them shutters they have for windows and the old men, the old men are so cool and grand and not bothered by anything. There’s no suspicion here, nothing like that. Everybody’s cool, everybody looks at you with such straight brown eyes and they don’t say anything, just look and in that look all of the human qualities are soft and subdued and still there. Dig all the foolish stories you read about Mexico and the humble peasant and all that crap---and crap about greasers and so on---and all it is, people here are straight and kind and don’t put down any bullshit. I’m so amazed by this.” Schooled in the raw road night Neal was come in to the world to see it. He bent over the wheel and looked both ways and rolled along slowly. We stopped for gas the other side of Sabinas Hidalgo. Here a congregation of local strawhatted ranchers with handlebar mustaches growled and whooped in front of antique gaspumps. Across the fields an old man plodded with a burro in front of his switch stick. The sun rose pure on pure & ancient activities of human life. Now we resumed to Monterrey. The great mountains rose snowcapped before us; we bowled right for them. A gap widened and wound up a pass and we went with it. In a matter of minutes we were out of the mesquite desert and climbing among cool airs in a road with a stonewall along the precipice side and great whitewashed names of presidents on the cliffsides---“Aleman!” We met nobody on this high road. It wound among the clouds and took us to the great plateau on top. Across this plateau the big manufacturing town of Monterrey sent smoke to the blue skies with their enormous Gulf clouds written across the bowl of day like fleece. Entering Monterrey was like entering Detroit, among great long walls of factories, except for the burros that sunned in the grass before them, and the barefoot

24 February 2009

worse. These people don’t bother with appearances.” The first town ahead that had any consequence on the map was called Sabinas Hidalgo. We looked forward to it eagerly. “And the road don’t look any different than the American road” cried Neal “except one mad thing and if you’ll notice, right here, the mileposts are written in kilometers and they click off the distance to Mexico City. See, it’s the only city in the entire land, everything points to it.” There were only 767 more miles to that metropolis; in kilometers that figure was over a thousand. “Damn! I gotta go!” cried Neal. For awhile I closed my eyes in utter exhaustion and kept hearing Neal pound the wheel with his fists and say “Damn” and “God what kicks!” and “Oh what a land!” and “Yes!” We arrived at Sabinas Hidalgo across the desert at about seven o’clock in the morning. We slowed down completely to see this. We woke up Frank in the backseat. We sat up straight to dig. The main street was muddy and full of holes. On each side were dirty brokendown dobe fronts. Burros walked in the street with packs. Barefooted women watched us from dark doorways. It was incredible. The street was completely crowded with people on foot beginning a new day in the Mexican countryside. Old men with handlebar mustaches stared at us. The sight of three bearded bedraggled American youths instead of the usual welldressed tourists was of unusual interest to them. We bounced along over Main Street at ten miles an hour taking everything in. A group of girls walked directly in front of us. As we bounced by one of them said “Where you going man?” I turned to Neal amazed. “Did you hear what she said?” Neal was so astounded he kept on driving slowly and saying “Yes I heard what she said, I certainly gawd-damn well did, Oh me, Oh my, I don’t know what to do I’m so excited and sweetened in this morning world. We’ve finally got to heaven. It couldn’t be cooler, it couldn’t be grander, it couldn’t be any-thing.” “Well let’s go back and pick them up!” I said. “Yes” said Neal and drove right on at five miles an hour. He was knocked-out he didn’t have to do the usual things he would have done in America. “There’s millions of them all along the road by gawd!” he said. Nevertheless he U-turned and came by the girls again. They were headed

23 February 2009

about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic either. “Think of these cats staying up all hours of the night” whispered Neal. “And think of this big continent ahead of us with those enormous Sierra Madre mountains we saw in the movies and the jungles all the way down and a whole desert plateau as big as ours and reaching clear down to Guatemala and God knows where, whoo! What’ll we do? What’ll we do? Let’s move!” We got out and went back to the car. One last glimpse of America across the hot lights of the Rio Grande bridge. We turned our back and fender to it and roared off. Instantly we were out in the desert and there wasn’t a light or a car for fifty miles across the flats. And just then dawn was coming over the Gulf of Mexico and we began to see the ghostly shapes of Yucca cactus and Organpipe on all sides. “What a wild country!” I yelped. Neal and I were completely awake. In Laredo we’d been half dead. Frank, who’d been to foreign countries before just calmly slept in the backseat. Neal and I had the whole of Mexico before us. “Now Jack we’re leaving everything behind us and entering a new and unknown phase of things. All the years and troubles and kicks---and now this! so that we can safely think of nothing else and just go on ahead with our faces stuck out like this, you see, and understand the world as, really and genuinely speaking, other Americans haven’t done before us---they were here weren’t they? The Mexican war. Cutting across here with cannon.” “This road” I told him “is also the route of old American outlaws who used to skip over the border and go down to old Monterrey, so if you’ll look out on that graying desert and picture the ghost of an old Tombstone hellcat making his lonely exile gallop into the unknown you’ll see further…” “It’s the world! We can go right on to South America if the road goes. Think of it! Sonofabitch---Gawd-damn!” We rushed on. The dawn spread immediately and we began to see the white sand of the desert and occasional huts in the distance off the road. Neal slowed down to peer at them. “Real beat huts, man, the kind you only find in Death Valley and much

22 February 2009

mysterious Spanish streets. It was only Nuevo Laredo but it looked like Barcelona. “Man those guys are up all night” whispered Neal. We hurried to get our papers straightened. We were warned not to drink tapwater now we were over the border. The Mexicans looked at our baggage in a desultory way. They weren’t like officials at all. They were lazy and tender. Neal couldn’t stop staring at them. “See how the cops are in this country. I can’t believe it!” He rubbed his eyes. “I’m dreaming.” Then it was time to change our money. We saw great stacks of pesos on a table and learned that eight of them made an American buck, or thereabouts. We changed most of our money and stuffed the big rolls in our pockets with delight. Then we turned our faces to Mexico with bashfulness and wonder as those dozens of Mexican cats watched us from under their secret hatbrims in the night. Beyond was music and all night restaurants with smoke pouring out the door. “Whee” whispered Neal very softly. “Thassall!” grinned a Mexican official. “You boys all set. Go ahead. Welcome Mexico. Have good time. Watch you money. Watch you driving. I say this to you personal, I’m Red, everybody call me Red. Ask for Red. Eat good. Don’t worry. Everything fine.” “Yes-yes-yes!” squealed Neal and off we went across the street into Mexico on soft feet. We left the car parked and all three of us abreast went down the Spanish street into the middle of the dull brown lights. Old men sat on chairs in the night and looked like Oriental junkies and oracles. No one was actually looking at us yet everybody was aware of everything we did. We turned sharp left into the smoky lunchroom and went in to music of campo guitars on an American Thirties jukebox. Shirtsleeved Mexican cabdrivers and strawhatted Mexican hipsters sat at stools devouring shapeless messes of tortillas, beans, tacos, whatnot. We bought three bottles of cold beer---told at once “Cerveza” was the name for beer---for about thirty cents or ten cents each. We bought packs of Mexican cigarettes for six cents each. We gazed and gazed at our wonderful Mexican money that went so far and played with it and looked around and smiled at everyone. Behind us lay the whole continent of America and everything Neal and I had previously known

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

21 February 2009

we’d done. And now we were ready for the last 150 miles to the magic border. We leaped into the car and off. I was so exhausted by now I slept all the way to Laredo and didn’t wake up till they were parking the car in front of a lunchroom at two o’clock in the morning. “Ah” sighed Neal “the end of Texas, the end of America, we don’t know no more.” It was tremendously hot: we were all sweating buckets. There was no night dew, not a breath of air, nothing, except billions of moths smashing at bulbs everywhere and the low rank smell of a hot river in the night nearby---the Rio Grande, that begins in cool Rocky Mountain dales and ends up fashioning world-valleys to mingle its heats with the Mississippi muds in the great Gulf. Laredo was a sinister town that morning. All kinds of cabdrivers and border rats wandered around looking for opportunities. There weren’t many, it was too late. It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip in unnoticed. Contraband brooded in the heavy syrup air. Cops were redfaced and sullen and sweaty, no swagger. Waitresses were dirty and disgusted. Just beyond you could feel the enormous presence of the whole continent of Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night. We had no idea what Mexico would really be like. We were at sea level again and when we tried to eat a snack we could hardly swallow it. We left our food on plates: I wrapped it up in napkins for the trip anyway. We felt awful and sad. But everything changed when we crossed the mysterious bridge over the river and our wheels rolled on official Mexican soil tho it wasn’t anything but a carway for border inspection. Just across the street Mexico began. We looked with wonder. To our amazement it looked exactly like Mexico. It was three in the morning and fellows in strawhats and white pants were lounging by the dozen against battered pocky storefronts. “Look…at…those…cats!” whispered Neal. “Oo” he breathed softly, “wait, wait.” The Mexican officials came out grinning and asked please if we would take out our baggage. We did. We couldn’t take our eyes from across the street. We were longing to rush right up there and get lost in those

20 February 2009

for the type of infection he had but none of us bothered to pronounce it. They gave him a shot of penicillin. Meanwhile Neal and I went out to dig the streets of Mexican San Antonio. It was fragrant and soft---the softest air I’d ever known---and dark, and mysterious, and buzzing. Sudden figures of girls in white bandanas appeared in the dark. Neal crept along and said not a word. “Oh this is too wonderful to do anything!” he whispered. “Let’s just creep along and see everything. Look! look! a crazy San Antonio pool shack.” We rushed in. A dozen boys were shooting pool at three tables, all Mexicans. Neal and I bought cokes and shoved nickels in the jukebox and played Wynonie Blues Harris and Lionel Hampton and Lucky Millinder and jumped. Meanwhile Neal warned me to watch. “Dig now, out of the corner of your eye and as we listen and as we also smell the soft air as you say---dig the kid, the crippled kid shooting pool at table no. 1, the butt of the joint’s jokes, y’see, he’s been the butt all his life. The other fellows are merciless but they love him.” The crippled kid was some kind of malformed midget with a great big beautiful face much too large in which enormous brown eyes moistly gleamed. “Don’t you see, Jack? A sanAntonio Mex Jim Holmes, the same story the world over. See they hit him on the ass with a cue? Ha! ha! ha! hear them laugh. You see, he wants to win the game, he’s bet four bits. Watch! Watch!” We watched as the angelic young midget aimed for a bankshot. He missed. The other fellows roared. “Ah man” said Neal “and now watch.” They had the little boy by the scruff of the neck and were mauling him around, playful. He squealed. He stalked out in the night but not without a backward bashful sweet glance. “Ah man, I’d love to know that gone little cat and what he thinks and what kind of girls he has---Oh man, I’m high on this air!” We wandered out and negotiated several dark mysterious blocks. Innumerable houses hid behind verdant almost jungle-like yards; we saw glimpses of girls in front rooms, girls on porches, girls in the bushes with boys. “I never knew this mad San Antonio! Think what Mexico’ll be like! Lessgo! lessgo!” We rushed back to the hospital. Frank was ready and said he felt much better. We put our arms around him and told him everything

19 February 2009

bum.” Suddenly we were in absolute tropical heat at the bottom of a five mile long hill and up ahead we saw the lights of old San Antonio. You had the feeling all this used to be Mexican territory indeed. Houses by the side of the road were different, gas stations beater, fewer lamps. Neal delightedly took the wheel to roll us into San Antonio. We entered town in a wilderness of Mexican rickety southern shacks without cellars and old rocking chairs on the porch. We stopped at a mad gas station to get a greasejob. Mexicans were standing around in the hot light of the overhead bulbs that were blackened by valley summerbugs, reaching down into a softdrink box and pulling out beer bottles and throwing the money to the attendant. Whole families lingered around doing this. All around there were shacks and drooping trees and a wild cinnamon smell in the air. Frantic teenage Mexican girls came by with boys. “Hoo!” yelled Neal. “Si! Manana!” Music was coming from all sides, and all kinds of music. Frank and I drank several bottles of beer and got high. We were already almost out of America and yet definitely in it and in the middle of where it’s maddest. Hotrods blew by. San Antonio, ah-haa! “Now men listen to me---we might as well goof a couple of hours in San Antone and so we will go and find a hospital clinic for Frank’s arm and you and I Jack will cut around and git these streets dug---look at those houses across the street, you can see right into the frontroom and all the purty daughters lying around with True Love magazines, whee! Come, let’s go!” We drove around aimlessly awhile and asked people for the nearest hospital clinic. It was near downtown, where things looked more sleek and American, several semi-skyscrapers and many neons and chain drugstores yet with cars crashing through from the dark around town as if there were no traffic laws. We parked the car in the hospital driveway and I went with Frank to see an interne while Neal stayed in the car and changed. The hall of the hospital was full of poor Mexican women, some of them pregnant, some of them sick or bringing their little sick kiddies. It was sad. I thought of poor Bea Franco and what she was doing now. Frank had to wait an entire hour till an interne came along and looked at his swollen arm. There was a name

Monday, 23 February 2009

18 February 2009

Abilene where they shipped the cows and shot it up for gumshoes and drank red-eye. Lookout there!” yelled Neal out the window with his mouth contorted. He didn’t care about Texas or anyplace. Redfaced Texans paid him no attention and hurried along the burning sidewalks. We stopped to eat on the hiway south of town. Nightfall seemed like a million miles away as we resumed for Coleman and Brady---the heart of Texas only, wildernesses of brush with an occasional house near a thirsty creek and a fifty mile dirtroad detour and endless heat. “Old dobe Mexico’s a long way away” said Neal sleepily from the backseat “so keep her rolling boys and we’ll be kissing senoritas b’dawn cause this old Ford can roll if y’know how to talk to her and ease her along---except the backend’s about to fall but don’t worry about it till we get there. Heeyah!” and he went to sleep. I took the wheel and drove all the way to Fredericksburg, and here again I was crisscrossing the old map again, same place Louanne and I had held hands on a snowy morning in 1949, and where was Louanne now? “Blow!” yelled Neal in a dream and I guess he was dreaming of Frisco jazz and maybe Mexican mambo to come. Frank talked and talked: Neal had wound him up the night before and now he was never going to stop. He was in England by now, relativing adventures hitchhiking on the English road, London to Liverpool, with his hair long and his pants ragged and strange British truckdrivers giving him a lift. We were all redeyed from the continual mistral-winds of old Tex-ass. There was a rock in each of our bellies and we knew we were getting there if only slow. The car only pushed forty with shuddering effort. From Fredericksburg we descended the great western high plains in darkness towards the hot basins of Rio Grande. San Antone was straight ahead. “Still be long after midnite before we get to Laredo” warned Neal. We were all awake anticipating San Antonio. It grew hotter and hotter in the luscious night as we descended the plains. Moths began smashing our windshield. “Getting’ down into the hot country now boys, the desert rats and the tequila. And this is my first time this far South in Texas” added Neal with wonder. “Gawd-damn! this is where my old man comes in the wintertime, sly old

Sunday, 22 February 2009

17 February 2009

somewhere off the road in front of a campfire with Ginger and perhaps a handful of anthropologists and as of yore he too was telling his life story and never dreamed we were passing at that exact moment in the hiway headed for Mexico telling our own stories. Oh sad American night! Then we were in New Mexico and passed the rounded rocks of Raton and stopped at a diner ravingly hungry for Hamburgers, one of which we wrapped in a napkin not to eat till over the border below. “The whole vertical state of Texas lies before us Jack” said Neal. “As before we made it horizontal. Every bit as long. We’ll be in Texas in a few minutes and won’t be out till tomorrow night this time and won’t stop driving. Think of it.” We drove on. Across the immense plain of night lay the first Texas town, Dalhart, which I’d crossed in 1947. It lay glimmering on the dark floor of the earth fifty miles away. The land by moonlight was all mesquite and wastes. On the horizon was the moon. She fattened, she grew huge and rusty, she mellowed and rolled, till the morning-star contended and dews began to blow in our windows---and still we rolled. After Dalhart---empty crackerbox town---we bowled for Amarillo, and reached it in the morning among windy panhandle grasses that only a few years ago, (1910) waved around a collection of buffalo tents. Now there were of course gas stations and new 1950 jukeboxes with immense ornate snouts and ten-cent slots and awful songs. All the way from Marillo to Childress Texas Neal and I pounded plot after plot of books we’d read into Frank, who asked for it because he wanted to know. At Childress in the hot sun we turned directly south on a lesser road and continued across abysmal wastes to Paducah, Guthrie and Abilene Texas. Now Neal had to sleep and Frank and I sat in the front seat and drove. The old car burned and bopped and struggled on. Great clouds of gritty wind blew at us from shimmering spaces. Frank rolled right along with stories about Monte Carlo and Cagnes-sur-Mer and the blue places near Menton where darkfaced people wandered among white walls. Texas is undeniable: we burned slowly into Abilene and all woke up to look at it. “Imagine living in this town a thousand miles from cities. Whoop, whoop, over there by the tracks, oldtown

16 February 2009

irrigation ditches and shady dells---the places where little boys go swimming---produce a bug like the bug that bit Frank Jeffries. He had his arm draped over the broken door and was just riding along and talking happily with us when suddenly a bug flew into his arm and imbedded a long stinger in it that made him howl. It had come out of an American afternoon. He yanked and slapped at his arm and dug out the stinger and in a few minutes his arm had begun to swell. He said it hurt. Neal and I couldn’t figure what it was. The thing was to wait and see if the swelling went down. Here we were heading for unknown southern lands and barely three miles out of hometown, poor homely old hometown of childhood, a strange feverish exotic bug rose from secret corruptions and sent fear in our hearts. “What is it?” “I’ve never known of a bug around here that can make a swelling like that.” “Damn!” It made the trip seem sinister and doomed. It was a parting farewell from our native land. Did we know our native land so well? We drove on. Frank’s arm got worse. We’d stop at the first hospital and have him get a shot of penicillin. We passed Castle Rock, came to Colorado Springs at dark. The great shadow of Pike’s Peak loomed to our right. We bowled down the Pueblo hiway. “I’ve hitched thousands and thousands of times on this road” said Neal. “I hid behind that exact wire fence there one night when I suddenly took fright for no reason whatever.” We all decided to tell our stories, but one by one, and Frank was first. “We’ve a long way to go” preambled Neal “and so you must take every indulgence and deal with every single detail you can bring to mind---and still it won’t be all told. Easy, easy,” he cautioned Frank who began telling his story “you’ve got to relax too.” Frank swung into his life story as we shot across the dark. He started with his experiences in France but to round out ever-growing difficulties he came back and started at the beginning with his boyhood in Denver. He and Neal compared times they’d seen each other zooming around on bicycles. Frank was nervous and feverish. He wanted to tell Neal everything. Neal was now arbiter, old man, judge, listener, approver, nodder. “Yes, yes, go on please.” We passed Walsenburg; suddenly we passed Trinidad where Hal Chase

15 February 2009

his car, U-turned, and threw a parting sally at the little boy. “When I was your age I was confident too. My mudpies were marvels of architecture. Eh?” Brierly and the little boy disappeared around the corner slowly then we heard him shoot the car ahead to businesslike affairs and he was gone. Then Neal and I and Frank got in the old heap that was waiting for us on the curb and slammed all the loose doors together and turned to say goodbye to Beverly. Ed was riding with us to his house outside town. Beverly was beautiful that day: her hair was long and blond and Swedish, her freckles showed in the sun. She looked exactly like the little girl she had been. There was a mist in her eyes. She might join us later with Ed…but she didn’t. Goodbye, goodbye. We roared off. We left Ed in his yard on the plains outside town and raised a cloud of dust. I looked back to watch Ed White recede on the plain. That strange guy stood there for a full two minutes watching US recede on the plain and thinking God knows what sorrowful thoughts. He grew smaller and smaller, till all I could see was a spot---and still he stood motionless with one hand on a washline like a captain with his shrouds and watched us. Neal and Frank sat in front talking excitedly but I was twisted around to see more of Ed White till there was nothing of the human except a growing absence in space, and what space it was, the eastward view towards Kansas that led all the way back to my home in Long Island in a mystery of ever-swallowing spaces. “Ed is still watching us” I told them up front. We took a sudden left and I saw no more of Ed White. I had missed him on the boat and I had missed him here. Now we pointed our rattly snout South and headed for Castle Rock Colorado as the sun turned red and turned the rock of the mountains to the West to look like a a Brooklyn brewery in November dusks. Far up in the purple shades of the rock there was someone walking, walking, but we could not see; maybe that old man with the white hair I had sensed years ago up in the peaks. But he was coming closer to me, if only ever just behind. And Denver receded back of us like the city of salt, her smokes breakingup in the air and dissolving to our sight. It was May: and how can homely afternoons in Colorado with its farms and

14 February 2009

talking on the porch with Beverly and Ed under the immense beezing trees of drowsy Denver afternoon. And Brierly came to say goodbye. He rolled around the corner in his Olds and we heard his “Merry Christmas” across the heat. He came bustling to us across on little businessman feet. “Well well well, ready to go and not a care. How do you feel about this Ed, do you want to go with the boys?” Ed White flipped his hand in the air and just smiled. Beverly was all game to go. She had been hinting it for days. “I wouldn’t be in the way” she said. Frank and she had been boyhood-girlhood pals: he used to pull her pigtails and roll hoops in Denver alleys with her brother Bob; later they roared in high schools, the golden high schools of Denver Neal had never made. “Well this is a strange trio indeed” said Brierly “I would never have forseen it a few years back. Neal, what do you propose to do with these two fellows, do you think you’ll drive them to the So. Pole?” “Ah ha, ah ha, yes.” Neal looked away. Brierly looked away. All six of us sat in the hot sun and were silent “Well” said Brierly “I suppose everything has a meaning. I want to see all of you come back in one piece unless you get lost in the jungle with an Indian girl and end your days sitting in front of a hut making pots. I think you should see Hal in Trinidad on the way down. I can’t think of anything else to say except Happy New Year. I’ll bet you want to go with them, Beverly? I think you’d better stay in Denver. Isn’t that so, Ed? Hmm.” Brierly always mused in his soul. Dancingmaster Death picked up his suitcase and got ready to go. “Did you ever hear the story about the midgets who wanted to go up on the giant? It’s a very short story. Or the one about---well I think that’s enough don’t you? Eh?” He looked at all of us and grinned. He straightened his panama hat. “I’ve got an appointment downtown, I’ll have to be saying goodbye now.” We all shook hands. He was still talking on the way to the car. We couldn’t hear him any more but he was still saying something. A little boy came by on a tricycle. “Merry Christmas there. Don’t you think it might be better if you stayed on the sidewalk, someone might come by and make oatmeal out of you.” The little kid shot by in the street with his face pointed to the future. Brierly got in

Friday, 13 February 2009

13 February 2009

ver side-street cottage with the beads hanging in the doors and the overstuffed furniture in the parlor. He was as white as a sheet. He was still calling Frank. There was something extremely paralyzed about all his movements and for this reason he did nothing about leaving the doorway but just stood in it muttering the name “Frank” and “don’t go” and looking after us anxiously as we rounded the corner. “God Jeff, I don’t know what to say.” “Never mind!” he moaned. “He’s always been like that. I wish you hadn’t seen him. My mother’s leaving him as soon as she gets straightened out.” “That poor old man’ll go mad if she leaves him.” “She’s too young for him anyway” said Frank. We met his mother at the bank where she was surreptitiously drawing money for him. She was a lovely white-haired woman still very young in appearance. She and her son stood on the marble floor of the bank whispering. Frank was wearing a levi outfit jacket and all and looked like a man going to Mexico sure enough. This was his tender existence in Denver and he was going off with the flaming tyro Neal. Neal came popping around the corner and met us just on time. Mrs. Jeffries insisted on buying us all a cup of coffee. “Take care of my Frank” she said “no telling what things might happen in that country.” “We’ll all watch over each other” I said. Frank and his mother strolled on ahead and I walked in back with crazy Neal: he was telling me about the inscriptions carved on shithouse walls in the east and in the west. “They’re entirely different, in the East they make cracks and corny jokes of all kinds; in the West they just write their names, Red O’hara, Bluffton Montana, came by here, date, the reason being the enormous loneliness that differs just a shade and cunthair as you move across the Mississippi.” Well there was a lonely guy in front of us, for Jeffries’ mother was a lovely mother and she hated to see her son go but knew he had to go. I saw he was fleeing his father. Here were the three of us---Neal looking for his father, mine dead, Frank fleeing his and going off into the night together. He kissed his mother in the rushing crowds of 17th and she got in a cab and waved at us. Goodbye, goodbye. We got into our old Ford heap and went back to Bev’s. here we spent a planned hour just sitting and

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

12 February 2009

and create confusion with the neighbors. At nine o’ clock in the morning everybody had left except Neal and Jeffries who were still yakking and talking like maniacs. People got up to make breakfast and heard strange subterranean voices from next door saying “Yes! yes!” It never ended. Beverly cooked a big breakfast. The time was coming to goof along to Mexico. Neal took the car to the nearest station and had everything shipshape. It was a 37 Ford sedan with the rightside door unhinged and stuck on the frame. The rightside front seat was also broken and you sat there leaning back with your face to the tattered roof. “Just like Min n’ Bill” said Neal. “We’ll go coughing and bouncing down to Mexico, it’ll take us days and days!” I looked over the map. A total of nineteen hundred miles mostly Texas to Laredo, and then another 767 miles through all Mexico to the great city near the Isthmus. I couldn’t imagine this trip. It was the most fabulous of all. It was no longer east-west but magic SOUTH. We saw a vision of the entire Western Hemisphere rockribbing clear down to Tierra del Fuega and us flying down the curve of the world into other tropics and other worlds. “Man this will finally take us to IT!” said Neal with definite faith. He tapped my arm. “Just wait and see. Hoo! Whee!” I went with Jeffries concluding the last of his Denver business, and met his poor father who stood in the door of the house saying “Frank---Frank---Frank.” “What is it, Dad?” “Don’t go.” “Oh it’s settled, I have to go now; why do you have to do that Pa?” The old man had gray hair and large almond eyes and a tense mad neck. “Frank” he simply said “don’t go. Don’t make your old father cry. Don’t leave me alone again.” Frank had explained to me that his father was going mad in recent years. It broke my heart to see all of this. “Neal” said the old man addressing me “don’t take my Frank away from me. I used to take him to the park when he was a little boy and explain the swans to him. Then his little brother drowned in the same pond. I don’t want you to take my boy away.” “Father” said Frank “we’re leaving now, goodbye.” He struggled with his grips. His father took him by the arm. “Frank, Frank, Frank, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go.” We fled with our heads bowed and the old man still stood in the doorway of his Den-

11 February 2009

thick. I broke my middle finger and didn’t even realize it till the next day. We were fumingly drunk. Fifty glasses of beer sat on our table at one time. All you had to do was rush around and sip from each one. Canon City ex-cons reeled and gabbled with us. In the foyer outside the saloon old former prospectors sat dreaming over their canes under the tocking old clock. This fury had been known by them in greater days. This was the bar where Lucius Beebe came once a year in his private railroad champagne car that he parked in the railyard in back. It was mad. Everything swirled. There were scattered parties everywhere. There was even a party in a castle to which we all drove, except Neal who ran off elsewhere, and in this castle we sat at a great Knight’s table in the hall and shouted. There was a swimming pool and grottos outside. I had finally found the castle where the great snake of the world was about to rise up. Then in the late night it was just Neal and I and Frank Jeffries and Ed White and Al Hinkle and Jim Holmes in one car and everything ahead of us. We went to Mexican town, we went to Five points, we reeled around. Frank Jeffries was out of his mind with joy. He kept yelling “Sonofabitch! Hot-damn!” in a high squealing voice and slapping his knees. Neal was mad about him. He repeated everything Frank said and whood and wiped the sweat off his face. “Are we going to get our kicks traveling down to Mexico with this cat Frank! Yes!” It was our last night in holy Denver, we made it big and wild. It all ended up in the basement by candlelight with wine and Austice creeping around upstairs in her nightgown with a flashlight. We even had a colored guy with us now, called himself Gomez. He floated around Five Points and didn’t give a damn. When we saw him Bill Tomson called out “Hey is your name Johnny?” Gomez just backed up and passed us once more and said, “Now will you repeat what you said?” “I said are you the guy called Johnny?” Gomez floated back and tried again. “Does this look a little more like him because I’m trying my best to be Johnny but I just can’t find the way.” Well man come on with us!” cried Neal and Gomez jumped in and we were off. We whispered frantically in the basement so as not to wake Austice and Jim upstairs

10 February 2009

wonderful little joys and delights. Hmm, it’s sweet, so sweet. My. My!” And he stood swaying in the middle of the room eating his cake and looking at everyone with awe. He turned and looked around behind him. Everything amazed him, everything he saw. A picture on the wall made him stiffen to attention. He went up and looked closer, he backed up, he stooped, he jumped up, he wanted to see from all possible levels and angles. He had no idea the impression he was making and cared less. People were now beginning to look at Neal with maternal and paternal affection glowing in their faces. He was finally an Angel, like I always knew he would become, but like any Angel he still had angelic rages and furies and that night when we all left the party and repaired to the Windsor bar in one vast brawling gang Neal became frantically and seraphically drunk. Remember that the Windsor, once Denver’s great goldrush hotel and now a bum’s flophouse in many respects and a point of interest in the big saloon downstairs where bullet holes were still preserved in the walls, had once been Neal’s home. He’d lived here with his father with other bums in one of the rooms upstairs. He was no tourist. He drank in this saloon like the ghost of his father; he slopped down wine, beer and whiskey like water. His face got red and sweaty and he bellowed and hollered at the bar and staggered across the dancefloor where wild western characters danced with floosies and tried to play the piano and threw his arms around ex-cons and shouted with them in the uproar. Meanwhile everybody in our party sat around two immense tables stuck together. There were Justin W. Brierly, Helena and Bill Tomson, a girl from Buffalo Wyoming who was Helena’s friend, Frank, Ed White, Beverly, me Al Hinkle, Jim Holmes and several others, thirteen in all. Brierly was having a great time: he took a peanut machine and set it on the table before him and poured pennies in it and ate peanuts. He suggested we all write something on a penny postcard and mail it to Allen Ginsberg in New York. This we did. There were crazy things written. The fiddle music roared in the Larimer street night. “Isn’t it fun?” yelled Brierly. In the men’s room Neal and I punched the door and tried to break in but it was an inch

09 February 2009

bustled to a new set of plans and arranged a big night and it was an unforgettable night. There was a party at Al Hinkle’s sister’s house. Two of his brothers are policemen. They sat in awe of everything that went on. There was a lovely spread on the table, cakes and drinks. Al Hinkle looked happy and prosperous. “Well are you all set with Helen now?” “Yessir,” said Al, “I sure am. I’m about to go to Denver University you know, me Jim and Bill.” “What are you going to take up?” “Oh I don’t know right now. Say, Neal gets crazier every year don’t he?” “He sure does.” Helen Hinkle was there. She was trying to talk to someone but Neal held the whole floor. He stood before Jeffries White Bev and I who all sat side by side in kitchen chairs along the wall and performed. Al Hinkle hovered nervously behind him. His poor sister was thrust into the background. “Hup! Hup!” Neal was saying, tugging at his shirt, rubbing his belly, jumping up and down. “Yass, well---we’re all together now and the years have rolled severally behind us and yet you see none of us have really changed, and to prove that I have here a deck of cards with which I can tell very accurate fortunes of all sorts”---It was the dirty deck. Helena Tomson and Bill Tomson sat stiffly in a corner. It was a meaningless party, a complete flop-out. Then Neal suddenly grew quiet and sat in a kitchen chair between Jeff and me and stared straight ahead with rocky doglike wonder and paid no attention to anybody. He simply disappeared for a moment to gather up more energy. If you touched him he would sway like a boulder suspended on a pebble on the precipice of a cliff. He might come crashing down or just sway rocklike. Then the boulder exploded into a sunflower and his face lit up with a lovely smile and he looked around like a man waking up and said “Ah, look at all the nice people that are sitting here with me. Isn’t it nice! Jack, how nice.” He got up and went across the room hand outstretched to one of the policemen in the party. “How’d’y’do. My name is Neal Cassady? Yes I remember you well. Is everything allright? Well, well. Look at the lovely cake. Oh, can I have some?” Al’s sister said yes. “Oh, how wonderful. People are so nice. Cakes and pretty things set out on a table and all for the sake of

08 February 2009

Hinkle and Helen Hinkle, and Jim Holmes. Everybody was in Denver again. I went out on the porch. “Well m’boy” said Neal sticking out his big hand “I see everything is allright on this end of the stick. Hello hello hello” he said to everybody “oh yes, Ed White, Frank Jeffries, how’d’y’do!” We introduced him to Austice. “Oh yass, how’d’y’do. This is m’friend Bill Tomson here, was so kind as to accompany me, harrumph! egad! kaff! kaff! Major Hoople sir,” he aid sticking his hand out to Jim, who stared at him “yass, yass. Well Jack old man what’s the story, when do we take off for Mexico? Tomorrow afternoon? Fine, fine. Ahem! And now Jack I have exactly sixteen minutes to make it to Al Hinkle’s house where I am about to recover my old railroad watch which I can pawn on Larimer street before closing time, meanwhile buzzing very quickly and as thoroly as time allows to see if my old man by chance may be Jiggs’ buffet or some of the other bars and then I have an appointment with the barber Brierly always told me to patronize and I have not myself changed over the years and continue with that policy---kaff! kaff!- -At six o’clock SHARP! sharp har me? I want you to be right here where I’ll come buzzing by to get you for one quick run to Bill Tomson’s house, play Gillespie and assorted bop records, an hour of relaxation prior to any kind of further evening you and Ed and Frank and Bev may have planned for tonight irrespective of my arrival which incidentally was exactly forty-five minutes ago in my old ’37 Ford which you see parked out there I made it together with a long pause in Kansas City seeing my stepbrother not Jack Daly but the younger one…” And saying all these things he busily engaged himself in changing from his suitcoat to T-shirt in the livingroom alcove just out of sight of everyone and transferring his watch to another pair of pants that he got out of the same old battered trunk. And Diane?” I said. “What happened in New York.” “Officially Jack this trip is to get a Mexican divorce cheaper and quicker than any kind…I’ve Carolyn’s agreement at last and everything is straight, everything is fine, everything is lovely and we know that we are not worried about a single thing don’t we Jack?” Well, lackadaddy, I’m always ready to follow Neal so we all

07 February 2009

arrival of Gargantua; preparations had to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies. It was like an oldfashioned movie when Neal arrived. I was in Beverly’s crazy house in a golden afternoon. A word about the house. Her mother was away in France. The chaperone aunt was an old Austice or whatever, she was 75 years old and spry as a chicken. In the Burford family which stretched from here to Iowa she was continually shuttling from one house to another and making herself generally unuseful. At one time she’d had dozens of sons. They were all gone, they’d all abandoned her. She was old but she was interested in in everything we did and said. She shook her head sadly when we took slugs of whiskey in the livingroom. “Now you might go out in the yard for that, young man.” Upstairs---it was a kind of boarding house that summer---boarded a mad guy called Jim who was hopelessly in love with Beverly. He actually came from Connecticut, from a rich family they said, and had a career waiting for him there and everything but he preferred where Bev was. The result was this: in the evenings he sat in the livingroom with his face burning behind a newspaper and everytime one of us said anything he heard but made no sign. He particularly burned when Bev said something. When we forced him to put down the paper he looked at us with incalculable boredom and suffering. “Eh? Oh yes, I suppose so.” He usually said just that. Austice sat in her corner knitting watching us all with her birdy eyes. It was her job to be chaperone, it was up to her to see that nobody sweared. Bev sat giggling on the couch. Ed White, Jeffries and I sprawled around in various chairs. Poor Jim suffered the tortures. He got up, yawned and said “Well another day another dollar, goodnight” and disappeared upstairs. Bev had no use whatever for him; she was in love with Ed White. He wriggled like an eel out of her grasp. We were sitting around like this on a sunny afternoon towards suppertime when Neal pulled up in front in his jalopy and jumped out in a tweed suit with vest and watch chain. “Hup! hup!” I heard out in street. He was with Bill Tomson who’d just returned from Frisco with his wife Helena and was living in Denver again. So was

06 February 2009

remember Bruce Rockwell sitting in his room with a major decision to make one May night, which was, go back to Denver or go stay in New York in advertising. I was on a bunk with a critical review in my hands. I threw it out of my hands and it landed at his feet. “That’s what I think of critics!” I yelled. Bruce Rockwell brooded over his destiny. Suddenly he got up and walked out. He had decided. There was some sort of Gen. MacArthur in him. Now he was assistant to the Mayor and rushing around fogerishly with appointments, golf, cocktail parties and conferences, hurried Martinis in the Brown Hotel and all that; to fatten before his time and get ulcers and go mad in recognized sanity. “No” I said “I think Neal is all right. One of these days he’ll go up in a tongue of flame and something’ll happen.” I was having good times with the Denver kids and lounging around and getting ready to go to Mexico when suddenly Brierly called me one night and said “Well Jack, guess who’s coming to Denver?” I had no idea. “He’s on his way already, I got this news from my grapevine. Neal bought a car and is coming out to join you.” Suddenly I had a vision of Neal, a burning shuddering frightful Angel palpitating towards me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the shrouded stranger on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Neal had gone mad again. There was no chance of sending money to either wife if he took all his savings out of the bank and bought a car. Everything was up, the jig and all. Behind him charred ruins smoked. He rushed westward over the awful and groaning continent again and soon he would arrive. We made hasty preparations for Neal. News was that he was going to drive me to Mexico. “Do you think he’ll let me come along?” asked Jeff in awe. “I’ll talk to him” I said grimly. We didn’t know what to expect. “Where will he sleep? What’s he going to eat? Are there any girls for him?” It was like the

05 February 2009

bunch of Mexican boys. They pulled up fearfully, they thought it was the law. “Aren’t your headlights working? “Yes sir, yes sir.” they said. “Well” called Brierly “Happy New Year” and because he’d held up traffic for this ridiculous conversation horns were tooting behind. “Oh shut up!” yealled Brierly and shot the car ahead. He pointed his spotlight flush on the richest home in Dnever at four o’clock in the morning and explained every room to me as the beams illuminated the interior. People were sleeping in there,---he didn’t care. In his study he suddenly fished out an old full-face portrait of Neal when he was sixteen yrs. old. You never saw a chaster face. “See what Neal used to look like? That’s why I had faith in him then. Don’t worry I saw his possibilities---he just wouldn’t learn so I washed my hands of him.” “It’s too bad---Neal could have become a big man in the world. On the other hand I like him better the way he is. Big men in the world are unhappy.” “You wouldn’t say that Neal is happy would you?” “He’s ecstatic---if that’s more or less than happy.” “I should think it’s less. Getting all involved with three wives and kids all over the country---it’s absurd.” “Go find his mother for him.” “Anyway Jack it’s been a lot of fun.” Brierly grew serious. “Yes I’ve had a lot of fun and I’d live this life all over again. I’m getting more and more wrapped up in discovering and developing these kids---why I’ve left my law practice practically go to pot, I’ve abandoned real estate altogether and next year I think I’ll give up my Central City secretaryship. I’m back where I started teaching hi school English.” On Brierly’s blackboard in High School I saw the names of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman scribbled in chalk. A little Negro boy came to him with a problem. He had no time to deliver papers and do his homework all at the same time. Brierly called up his bosses and changed the hours and set everything straight. Boys coming in from vacation from Eastern Universities came to him for summer jobs. He merely picked up the phone and called the Mayor. “Do you happen to remember Bruce Rockwell at Columbia? He’s assistant to the mayor now you know---doing very well indeed. He was in your class wasn’t he” He’d been after me. I

04 February 2009

scraggled off to sleep in George’s hotel room on Glenarm. “I can’t even come home late---my father starts fighting with me then he turns on my mother. I tell you Jack I got to get out of Dnever quick or I’ll go crazy.” Well, and I stayed at Ed White’s and then later Beverly Burford fixed up a neat little basement room for me and we all ended up there with parties everynight for a week. George vanished off to his brother’s at Climax, Col. and we never saw him again and never will know if anybody’s signified with him since and if they’ve put him away in an iron hall or if he busts his gaskets in the night free. Ed White, Frank, Bev and I spent an entire week of afternoons in lovely Denver bars where the waitresses wear slacks and cut around with bashful loving eyes, not hardened waitresses but waitresses that fall in love with the clientele and have explosive affairs and huff and sweat and suffer from one bar to another; and we spent the same week in nights at Five Points listening to jazz, drinking booze in crazy colored saloons and gabbing till five o’clock in the morn in my basement. Noon usually found us reclined in Bev’s backyard among the little Denver kids who played cowboys and Indians and dropped on us from cherry trees in bloom. I was having a wonderful time and the whole world opened up before me because I had no dreams. Frank and I plotted to make Ed White come with us but he was stuck to his Denver life. I spent evenings chatting to with Justin W. Brierly in his study. Here he put on his Chinese dressinggown and pulled out salted nuts and straight Scotch. “Sit down Jack, and tell me everything about New York. How’s Neal? How’s Allen? How’s Lucien? Do you know where Hal Chase is?- -in Trinidad Colorado on a dig. Have you seen Mr. Hinkle anywhere in the country? What’s the latest on yr. friend Burroughs? Burford is still in Paris. Have you been having long talks with Ed? How do you like Jeffries? Is Beverly in good spirits these days?” Justin loved to talk about all of us. “It all describes a wonderful big circle, doesn’t it?” he said. “Don’t you think it’s fun?” He took me out for a ride in his Olds with the big spotlight. We were going down West Colfax when he saw a rickety Mexican jalopy with headlights off. He turned on his spotlight and put it flush on them, a

03 February 2009

open up in Denver will you Jack?- -mebbe I can get to my brother’s safe.” I certainly agreed. When we arrived in Denver I took him by the arm to Larimer street to pawn the penitentiary suit. The old Jew immediately sensed what it was before it was half unwrapped. “I don’t want that damn thing here, I get them every day from the Canon City boys.” All of Larimer street was overrun with ex-cons trying to sell their prison-spun suits. George ended up with the thing under his arm in a paper bag and walked around in brand new levis and sports shirt. We went to Neal’s old Glenarm bar---on the way George threw the suit in an ashcan---and called up Ed White. It was evening now. “Yo” chuckled Ed White. “Be right over.” In ten minutes he came loping into the bar with Frank Jeffries. They were both returned from France and tremendously disappointed with their Denver lives. They loved George and bought him beers. He began spending all his penitentiary money left and right. Again I was back in the soft dark Denver night with its holy alleys and crazy houses. We started hitting all the bars in town, roadhouses out on West Colfax, Five Points Negro bars, the works. Frank Jeffries had been waiting to meet me for years and now for the first time we were suspended together in front of a venture. “Jack, ever since I came back from France I ain’t had any idea what to do with myself. Is it true you’re going to Mexico? Hot-damn, could I go with you? I can get a hundred bucks and once I get there sign up for the GI Bill in Mexico City College.” Okay, it was agreed, Frank was coming with me. He was a rangy bashful shock-haired Denver boy with a big conman smile and slow easy-going Gary Cooper movements. “Hot-damn!” he said and stuck his thumbs on his belt and ambled down the street, swaying from side to side but slowly. His father was having it out with him. He had been opposed to France and now he was opposed to the idea of going to Mexico. Frank was wandering around Denver like a bum because of his fight with his father. That night after we’d done all our drinking and restrained George from getting his nose opened up in Hot Shoppe on Colfax---a fellow came in with two girls and we addressed him as “Hat” and wanted to meet the girls and George leaped for him---Frank

02 February 2009

bible, I used to sit on it on the stone floor, when they seed I was doing that they took the bible away and brought back a leetle pocket size one so big. Couldn’t sit on it so I read the whole bible and testament. Hey hey” he poked me, munching his candy, he was always eating candy because his stomach had been ruined in the pen and couldn’t stand anything else---“you know they’s some real hot things in that ba-ble.” He told me what it was to signify. “Anybody that’s leaving jail soon and starts talking about his release date is signifying to the other fellas that have to stay. We take him by the neck and say ‘Don’t signify with me!’ Bad thing to signify- -y’hear me?” “I won’t signify, George.” “Anybody signify with me my nose opens up, I get mad enough to kill. You know why I have been in jail all my life? Because I lost my temper when I was thirteen years old. I was in a movie with a boy and he made a crack about my mother---you know that dirty word----and I took out my jack-knife and cut up his throat and woulda killed him if they hadn’t drug me off. Judge said, Did you know what you were doing when you attacked your friend. Yessir your honor I did, I wanted to kill the sonofabitch and still do. So I didn’t get no parole and went straight to reform school. I got piles too from sitting in solitary. Don’t ever go to a Federal pen, they’re the worsest. Sheet, I could talk all night it’s been so long since I talked to somebody. You don’t know how GOOD I feel coming out. You just sitting in that bus when I got on---riding through Terre Haute---what was you thinking?” “I was just sitting there riding.” “Me, I was singing. I sat down next to you cause I was afraid to set down next to any gals for fear I go crazy and reach under their dress. I gotta wait a while.” “Another hitch in jail and you’ll be put away for life---you better take it easy from now.” “That’s what I intend to do, only trouble is m’nose opens up and I can’t tell what I’m doing.” He was on his way to live with his brother and sister-in-law; they had a job for him in Colorado. His ticket was bought by the Feds, his destination on the parole. Here was a young kid like Neal had been; his blood boiled too much for him to bear; his nose opened up; but no native saintliness to save him from the iron fate. “Be a buddy and watch m’nose don’t

Sunday, 1 February 2009

01 February 2009

thinking their parents had lived smooth well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot, of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. Juices inform the world, children never know. “Goodbye, goodbye.” Neal walked off in the long red dusk. Locomotive smokes reeled above him, just like in Tracy, just like in New Orleans. His shadow followed him, it aped his walk and thoughts and very being. He turned and waved coyly, bashfully. He gave me the brakeman’s hiball sign, he jumped up and down, he yelled something I couldn’t catch. He ran around in a circle. All the time he came closer to the concrete corner of the overpass. He made one last signal. I waved back. Suddenly he bent to his life and walked quickly out of site. I gaped into the bleakness of my own days; I had an awful long way to go too. The following midnight I took the Washington bus; wasted some time there wandering around; went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge; heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson’s grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston West Virginia; at midnight Ashland Kentucky and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed up show. The dark and myserious Ohio, and Cincinnati at dawn. Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon. The muddy cobbles and the Montana Logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. By night Missouri, Kansas fields, Kansas night-cows in the secret wides, crackerbox towns with a sea for the end of every street; dawn in Abilene. East Kansas grasses become West Kansas rangelands that climb up the hill of the western night. George Glass was riding the bus with me. He had got on at Terre Haute Indiana and now he said to me “I’ve told you why I hate this suit I’m wearing, it’s lousey---but that ain’t all.” He showed me papers. He had just been released from Terre Haute Federal pen, stealing and selling cars in Cincinnati. A young curly headed kid of 20. “Soon as I get to Denver I’m selling this suit in a pawnshop and getting me Levis. Do you know what they did to me in that prison?---solitary confinement with a

31 January 2009

away. Others darted in and smoothly shot over our heads. We jumped at the basket like maniacs and the younger boys just reached up and grabbed the ball from our sweating hands and dribbled away. They thought we were crazy. Neal and I went back home playing catch from each sidewalk of the street. We tried extra special catches diving over bushes and barely missing posts. When a car came by I ran alongside and flipped the ball to Neal just barely behind the vanishing bumper. He darted and caught in and rolled in the grass, and flipped it back for me to catch on the other side of a parked bread truck. I just made it with my meat hand and threw it back so Neal had to whirl and back up and fall on his back across the hedges. This went on. Back in the house Neal took out his wallet, harrumphed, and handed my mother the fifteen dollars he owed her from the time we got a speeding ticket in Washington. She was completely surprised and pleased. We had a big supper. “Well Neal” said my mother “I hope you’ll be able to take care of your new baby that’s coming and stay married this time.” “Yes, yass, yes.” “You can’t go all over the country having babies like that. Those poor little things’ll grow up helpless. You’ve got to offer them a chance to live.” He looked at his feet and nodded. In the raw red dusk we said goodbye, on a bridge, over a superhiway. “I hope you’ll be in NY when I get back” I told him. “All I hope, Neal, is someday we’ll be able to live on the same street with our families and get to be a couple of oldtimers together.” “That’s right man---you know that I pray for it completely mindful of the troubles we both had and the troubles coming, as your mother knows and reminds me. I didn’t want the new baby, Diane insisted and wasn’t careful and we had a fight. Did you know Louanne got married to a sailor in Frisco and’s having a baby?” “Yes. We’re all getting in there now.” He took out a snapshot of Carolyn in Frisco with the new baby girl. The shadow of a man crossed the child on the sunny pavement, two long trouser legs in the sadness. “Who’s that?” “That’s only Al Hinkle. He came back to Helen, they’re gone to Denver now. They spent a day taking pictures.” He took out other pictures. I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder,

30 January 2009

son Valley that night. The great world piers of the sea-wide river were drenched in it, old steamboat landings at Poughkeepsie were drenched in it, old split rock pond of sources was drenched in it, Vanderwhacker Mount was drenched in it, all earth and land and city street was drenched in it. “So” said Neal “I’m cutting along in my life as it leads me. You know I recently wrote to my old man in Denver county jail---I got the first letter in years from him the other day.” “Did you?” “Yass, yass...he said he wants to see the babby spelt with two b’s when he can get to Frisco. I found a $13 a month coldwater pad on East 40th, if I can send him the money he’ll come and live in New York---if he gets here. I never told you much about my sister but you know I have a sweet littlekid sister. I’d like her to come and live with me too.” “Where is she?” “Well that’s just it, I don’t know---he’s going to try and find her, the old man, but you know what he’ll really do.” “So he got back to Denver?” “And straight to jail.” “Where was he?” “Texas, Texas…so you see man, my soul, the state of things, my position---you notice I get quieter.” “Yes that’s true.” Neal had grown quiet in New York. He wanted to talk. We were freezing to death in the cold rain. We made a date to meet at my mother’s house before I left. He came the following Sunday afternoon. I had a television set. We played one ballgame on the TV, another on the radio, and switched to a third and kept track of all that was happening every moment. “Remember Jack, Hodges is on second in Brooklyn, so while the relief pitcher is coming in for the Phillies we’ll switch to Giants-Boston and at the same time notice there Di Maggio has a three ball count and the pitcher is fiddling with the resin bag so we quickly find out what happened to Bob Thomson when we left him thirty seconds ago with a man on third. Yes!” Later in the afternoon we went out and played baseball with the kids in the sooty field by the Long Island railyard. We also played basketball so frantically the younger boys said “Take it easy, you don’t have to kill yourself.” They bounced smoothly all around us and beat us with ease. Neal and I were sweating. At one point Neal fell flush on his face on the concrete court. We huffed and puffed to get the ball away from the boys: they turned and flipped it