Tuesday, 24 March 2009

24 March 2009

concert tickets, and the names Jack and Joan and Henri and Vicki, the girl, together with a series of sad jokes and some of his favorite sayings such as ‘You can’t teach the old maestro a new tune.’ So Neal couldn’t ride uptown with us and the only thing I could do was sit in the back of the Cadillac and wave at him. The bookie at the wheel also wanted nothing to do with Neal. Neal, ragged in a motheaten overcoat he brought specially for the freezing temperatures of the East, walked off alone and the last I saw of him he rounded the corner of 7th Ave., eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again. Poor little Joan my wife to whom I’d told everything about Neal began almost to cry. “Oh we shouldn’t let him go like this. What’ll we do?” Old Neal’s gone I thought, and out loud I said “He’ll be all right.” And off we went to the sad and disinclined concert for which I had no stomach whatever and all the time I was thinking of Neal and how he got back on the train and rode over 3,000 miles over that awful land and never knew why he had come anyway, except to see me and my sweet wife. And he was gone. If I hadn’t been married I would have gone with him again. So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old brokendown river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the evening-star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the the prarie, which is just before the coming of of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks in the west and folds the last and final shore in, and nobody, just nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Neal Cassady, I even think of Old Neal Cassady the father we never found, I think of Neal Cassady, I think of Neal Cassady.

Monday, 23 March 2009

23 March 2009

had no money for a truck and couldn’t go back with at all now. He simply had no idea why he had come, beyond the fact that he wanted to see me and my sweet wife and we agreed she was. With pregnant Diane he spent one night fighting and she threw him out. A letter came for him care of me and I deliberately opened it to see what was up. It was from Carolyn. “My heart broke when I saw you go across the tracks with your bag. I pray and pray you get back safe…I do want Jack and his new wife to come and live on the same street…I know you’ll make it but I can’yt help worrying---now that we’ve decided everything…Dear Neal, it’s the end of the first half of the century. Welcome with love and kisses to spend the other half with us. We all wait for you. (signed) Carolyn, Cathy and Little Jami.” So Neal’s life was settled with his most constant, most embittered and best-knowing wife Carolyn and I thanked God for him. The last time I saw him it was under strange and sad circumstances. Henri Cri had arrived in New York after having gone round the world several times in ships. I wanted him to meet and know Neal. They did meet but Neal couldn’t talk any more and said nothing, and Henri turned away. Henri had gotten tickets for the Duke Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera and insisted Joan and I come with him and his girl. Henri was fat and sad but still eager the eager and formal gentleman and he wanted to do things the right way as he emphasized. So he got his bookie to drive us to the concert in a Cadillac. It was a cold winter night. The Cadillac was parked and raedy to go. Neal stood outside the windows with his bags ready to go to Penn Station and on across the land. “Goodbye Neal” I said. “I sure wish I didn’t have to go to the concert.” “D’you think I can ride to 40th St. with you?” he whispered. “Want to be with you as much as possible, m’boy and besides it’s so durned cold in this here New Yawk…” I whispered to Henri. No, he wouldn’t have it, he liked me but he didn’t like my friends. I wasn’t going go start all over again ruining his planned evenings as I had done at Alfred’s in San Francisco in 1947 with Allan Temko. “Absolutely out of the question Jack!” Poor Henri, he had a special necktie made for this evening; on it was painted a replica of the

22 March 2009

yes.” And he stared with rocky sorrow into his hands. “Can’t talk no more…do you understand that it is…or might be…but listen!” We all listened. He was listening to sounds in the night. “Yes!” he whispered in awe. “But you see…no need to talk any more…and further.” “But why did you come so soon Neal?” “Ah,” he said looking at me for the first time “so soon, yes. We…we’ll know…that is I don’t know. I came on the railroad pass…cabooses…brakeman pass…played flute and wodden sweetpotato all the way.” He took out his new wooden flute. He played a few squeaky notes on it and jumped up and down in his stockinged feet. “See?” he said. “But of course Jack I can talk as soon as ever and have many things to say to you in fact I’ve been reading and reading all the way across the country and digging a great number of things I’ll never have TIME to tell you about and we STILL haven’t talked of Mexico and our parting there in fever…but no need to talk. Absolutely, now, yes?” “All right we won’t talk.” And he started telling the story of what he did in L.A. on the way over in every possible detail, how he visited a family, had dinner, talked to the father, the sons, the sisters (they were cousins)---what they looked like, what they ate, their furnishings, their thoughts, their interests, their very souls, and having concluded this he said “Ah, but you see what I wanted to REALLY tell you…much later…Arkansas, crossing on train…playing flute…playing cards with boys, my dirty deck…won money, wooden sweetpotato…Long awful trip five days and five nights just to SEE you Jack. “What about Carolyn?” “Gave permission of course…waiting for me…Carolyn and I all straight forever-and-ever…” “And Diane?” “ I…I…I want her to come back to Frisco with me live other side of town…don’t you think? Don’t know why I came.” Later he said in a sudden moment of gaping wonder “Well and yes, of course, I wanted to see your sweet wife and you…gone and done it, old man…glad of love…love you as ever.” He stayed in NY three days and hastily made plans to get back on the train with his railroad passes and again re-cross the groaning continent, five days and five nights in dusty coaches and hardbench cabooses and still he didn’t know why he had come, and of course we

Saturday, 21 March 2009

21 March 2009

Laredo border in Dilley, Texas, I was standing on the hot road underneath an arclamp with the summermoths smashing into it when heard the sound of footsteps from the darkness beyond and lo, a tall old man with flowing white hair came clomping by with a pack on his back, and when he saw me as he passed, he said “Go moan for man” and clomped on back to his dark. Did this mean that I should at last go on my pilgrimage on foot on the dark roads around America? I struggled and hurried to NY, and one night I was standing in a dark street in Manhattan and called up to the window of a loft where I thought my friends were having a party. But a pretty girl stuck her head out of the window and said “Yes? Who is it?” “Jack Kerouac” I said, and heard my name resound in the sad and empty street. “Come on up” she called “I’m making hot chocolate.” So I went up and there she was, the girl with the pure and innocent dear eyes that I had always searched for and for so long. That night I asked her to marry me and she accepted and agreed. Five days later we were married. Then in the winter we planned to migrate to San Francisco bringing all our beat furnitures and broken belongings with us in a jaloppy truck. I wrote to Neal and told him what I had done. He wrote back a huge letter 18,000 words long and said he was coming to get me and personally select the old truck himself and drive us home. We had six weeks to save up the money for the truck so we began working and counting every cent. And suddenly Neal arrived anyway, five and a half weeks in advance, and nobody had any money to go through with the plan. I was taking a walk and came back to my wife to tell her what I thought about during my walk. She stood in the dark parlor with a strange smile. I told her a number of things and suddenly I noticed the hush in the room and looked around and saw a battered book on the television set. I knew it was Neal’s book. As in a dream I saw him tiptoe in from the dark kitchen in his stockinged feet. He couldn’t talk anymore. He hopped and laughed, he stuttered and fluttered his hands and said “Ah---ah---you must listen to hear.” We listened. But he forgot what he wanted to say. “Really listen---ahem…look dear Jack…sweet Joan…I’ve come…I’m gone…but wait---Ah

Friday, 20 March 2009

20 March 2009

tried to find Bill Burroughs too, and learned that he had just left for South America with his family, so Bill Burroughs had finally sunk from our sight and was gone. Then I got fever and became delirious and unconscious. I looked up out of the dark swirl of my mind and I knew I was on a bed eight thousand feet above sea level, on a roof of the world, and I knew that I had lived a whole life and many others in the poor atomistic husk of my flesh, and I had all the dreams. And I saw Neal bending over the kitchen table. It was several nights later and he was leaving Mexico City. “What you doing man?” I moaned. “Poor Jack, poor Jack you’re sick. Frank’ll take care of you. Now listen if you can in your sickness---I got my divorce from Carolyn down here and I’m driving back to Diane in NY if the car holds out.” “All that again?” I cried. “All that again, good buddy. Gotta get back to my life. Wish I could stay with you. Pray I can come back.” I grabbed the cramps in my belly and groaned. When I looked up again Neal was standing with his old broken trunk and looking down at me. I didn’t know who he was anymore, and he knew this, and sympathized, and pulled the blanket over my shoulders. “Yes, yes, yes, I’ve got to go now.” And he was gone. Twelve hours later in my sorrowful fever I finally came to understand that he was gone. By this time he was driving back alone through those banana mountains, this time at night, black night, secret night, holy night. BOOK FIVE:- A week later the Korean War began. Neal drove from Mexico City and saw Gregor again in Victoria and pushed that old car all the way to Lake Charles La. before the rear-end finally dropped on the road as he always knew it would and he wired Diane for $32 airplane fare and flew the rest of the way. Arriving in NY with the divorce papers in his hand he and Diane immediately went to Newark and got married; and that night, telling her everything was all right and not to worry, and making logics where there was nothing but inestimable sorrowful sweats, he jumped on a bus and roared off agin across the awful continent to San Francisco to rejoin Carolyn and the two baby girls. So now he was thrice-married, twice-divorced, and living with his second wife. In the Fall I myself started back from Mexico City and one night just over

Thursday, 19 March 2009

19 March 2009

An ambulance came balling through. American ambulances dart and weave through traffic with siren blowing; the great worldwide fellaheen Indian ambulances merely come through at eighty miles an hour in the city streets and everybody has to get out of the way, and it does not pause for an instant or any circumstance and flies straight through there. We saw it reeling out of sight.The drivers were Indians. People, even old ladies ran for buses that never stopped. Young Mexico City businessmen made bets and ran by squads for buses and barely jumped them. The busdrivers were barefoot and sat low and squat in T-shirts at the low enormous wheel. Ikons burned over them. The lights in the buses were brown and greenish and dark faces were lined on wooden benches. Downtown Mexico City thousands of hipsters in floppy strawhats and longlapeled jackets over barechests padded along the main drag, some of them selling crucifixes and weed in the alleys, some of them knealing in the beat chapels next to Mexican burlesque shows in sheds. Some alleys were rubble, with open sewers, little doors that led to closet-size bars stuck in dobe walls. You had to jump over a ditch to get your drink. You came out of the bar with your back to the wall and edged back to the street. They served coffee mixed with rum and nutmeg. Mambo blared from everywhere. Hundreds of whores lined themselves along the fronts of dark and narrow streets and their sorrowful eyes gleamed at us in the night. We wandered in a frenzy and a dream. We ate beautiful steaks for 48 cents in strange tiled Mexican cafeterias with marimba musicians and wandering guitars. Nothing stopped; the streets were alive all night. Beggars slept wrapped in advertising posters. Whole families sat on the sidewalk playing little flutes and chuckling in the night. Their bare feet stuck out. On corners old women cut up the boiled heads of cows and served it on newspaper. This was the great and final city that we knew we would find at the end of the road. Neal walked through with his arms hanging zombie-like at his sides, his mouth open, his eyes gleaming, and conducted a ragged and holy tour that lasted till dawn in a field with a boy in a strawhat who laughed and chatted with us and wanted to play catch, for nothing ever ended. We

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

18 March 2009

stopped for pisscall I got out and walked across a field to the big trees and sat awhile thinking on the plain. Frank and Neal sat in the car gesticulating. Poor fellows, their flesh mingled with mine had been carried now a total of nineteen hundred miles from the afternoon yards of Denver to these vast and Biblical areas of the world and now were about to reach the end of the road and though I didn’t know it I was about to reach the end of my road with Neal. And my road with Neal had been considerably longer than nineteen hundred miles. “Shall we change our insect T-shirts?” “Naw, let’s wear them into town, hell’s bells.” And we drove into Mexico City. A brief mountain pass took us suddenly to a height from which we saw all of Mexico City stretched out in its volcanic crater below and spewing city smokes and early dusklights. Down to it we zoomed, down Insurgentes boulevard, straight to the town at Reforma. Kids played soccer in enormous sad fields and threw up dust. Taxi drivers overtook us and wanted to know if we wanted girls. No, we didn’t want girls now. Long ragged dobe slums stretched out on the plain; we saw lonely figures in the dimming alleys. Soon night would come. Then the city roared in and we were passing crowded cafes and theaters and many lights. Newsboys yelled at us. Mechanics slouched by barefoot with a wrench and a rag. Mad barefoot Indian drivers cut across us and surrounded us and tooted and made frantic traffic. The noise was incredible. No mufflers are used on Mexican cars. Horns are batted with glee continual. “Whee!” yelled Neal. “Lookout!” he staggered the car through the traffic
and played with everybody. He drove like an Indian. He got on a a circular drive on Reforma Boulevard and rolled around it with its eight spokes shooting cars at us from all directions, left, right, dead ahead, and yelled and jumped with joy. “This is traffic I’ve always dreamed of! Everybody GOES!” An ambulance came balling through. American ambulances dart and weave through traffic with siren blowing; the great worldwide fellaheen Indian ambulances merely come through at eighty miles an hour in the city streets and everybody has to get our of the way, and it does not pause for an instant

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

17 March 2009

Ixmiquilpan, or Actopan, I don’t know which, we had reached the approaches of the last plateau. Now the sun was golden, the air keen blue, and the desert with its occasional rivers a riot of sandy hot space and sudden Biblical treeshade. The shepherds appeared. Now Neal was sleeping and Frank driving. We went through an entire belt of the ascent to the last plateau where the Indians were dressed as in first times, in long flowing robes, the women carrying golden bundles of flax, the men staves. Across the shimmering desert we saw great trees, and under these great trees the shepherds sat and convened, and the sheep moiled in the sun and raised dust beyond. Great maguey plants showered out of the strange Judean earth. “Man, man” I yelled to Neal “wake up and see the shepherds, wake up and see the golden world that Jesus came from, with your own eyes tell!” But he was unconscious. I went out of my mind when we passed suddenly through a ruined dusty dobe town in which hundreds of shepherds were gathered by the shade of a battered wall, their long robes trailing in the dust, their dogs leaping, their children running, their women with head lowered gazing sorrowfully, the men with high staves watching us pass with noble and chieflike miens, as though they had been interrupted in their communal meditations in the living sun by the sudden clanking folly from America with its three broken bozos inside. I yelled to Neal to look. He shot his head up from the seat, saw one glimpse of it all in the fading red sun, and dropped back to sleep. When he woke up he described it to me in detail and said “Yes, man, I’m glad you told me to look. Oh Lord what shall I do? Where will I go?” He rubbed his belly, he looked to heaven with red eyes, he almost wept. At Colonia we reached the final level of the great Mexican plateau and zoomed straight ahead on an arrow road towards Zumpango and Mexico City. Here of course the air was tremendously cool and dry and pleasant. The end of our journey impended. Great fields stretched on both sides of us; a noble wind blew across the occasional immense trees and groves and over old missions turning salmon in the late sun. The clouds were close and huge and pink. “Mexico City by dusk!” We’d made it. When we

Monday, 16 March 2009

16 March 2009

a wristwatch. He showed it to the child. She whimpered with glee. The others crowded around with amazement. Then Neal poked in the little girl’s hand for “the sweetest and purest crystal she had personally picked from the mountain for us.” He found one no bigger than a berry. And he handed her the wristwatch dangling. Their mouths rounded like the mouths of chorister children. The lucky little girl squeezed it to her ragged breastrobes. They stroked Neal and thanked him. He stood among them with his ragged face to the sky looking for the next and highest and final pass and seemed like the Prophet that had come to them. He got back in the car. They hated to see us go. For the longest time, as we mounted a long straight pass, they waved and ran after us like dogs that follow the family car from the farm until they loll exhausted by the side of the road. We made a turn and saw them again, and they were still running after us. “Ah this breaks my heart!” cried Neal punching his chest. “How far do they carry out these loyalties and wonders! What’s going to happen to them? Would they try to follow the car all the way to Mexico City if we drove slow enough?” “Yes” I said, for I knew. We came into the dizzying heights of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The banana trees glemed golden in the haze. Great fogs yawned beyond stonewalls along the precipice. Below the Moctezuma was a thin golden thread in a green jungle mat. Steams rose from down there and mingled with the upper airs and great atmospheres like white heaven propelled among the bushy peaks. Strange crossroad towns on top of the world rolled by, with shawled Indians watching us from under hatbrims and rebozos. All had their hands outstretched. They had come down from the backmountains and higher places to hold forth their hands for something they thought civilization could offer and they never dreamed the sadness and the poor broken delusion of it. They didn’t know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and banks and reduce them to jumbles like the avalanche heap, and we would be as poor as them someday and stretching out our hands in the samesame way. Our broken Ford, old Thirties upgoing America Ford, rattled through them and vanished in dust. At Zimapan, or

Sunday, 15 March 2009

15 March 2009

THERE because it’s ALWAYS hot the year round and she knows nothing of non-sweat, she was born with sweat and dies with sweat.” The sweat on her little brow was heavy, sluggish, it didn’t run, it just stood there and gleamed like a fine olive oil. “What that must do to their souls? How different they must be in their evaluations and wishes!” Neal drove on with his mouth hanging in awe, ten miles an hour, desirous to see every possible human being on the road. We climbed and climbed. The vegetation grew more riotous and dense. A woman sold pineapples in front of her roadhut. We stopped and bought some at a fraction of a penny; she sliced them with a bolo knife. They were delicious and juicy. Neal gave the woman an entire peso which must have been a month’s satisfaction for her. She gave no sign of joy but merely accepted the money. We realized there were no stores to buy anything in. “Damn, I wish I could give somebody something!” As we climbed the air finally grew colder and the Indian girls on the road wore shawls over their heads and shoulders. They hailed us desperately; we stopped to see. They wanted to sell us little pieces of rock crystal. Their great brown innocent eyes looked into ours with such a soulful intensity that not one of us had the slightest sexual thought about them; moreover they were very young, some of them eleven and looking almost thirty. “Look at those eyes!” breathed Neal. They were like the eyes of the Virgin Mother must have been when she was a child. We saw in them the tender and forgiving gaze of Jesus. And they stared unflinching into ours. We rubbed our nervous blue eyes and looked again. Still they penetrated us with sorrowful and hypnotic gleam. When they talked they suddenly became frantic and almost silly. In their silence they were themselves. “They’ve only recently learned to sell these crystals, since the hiway was about ten years back---up until that time this entire nation must have been silent.” The girls yammered around our doors. One particularly soulful child gripped at Neal’s sweaty arm. She yammered in Indian. “Ah yes, ah yes dear one” said Neal tenderly and almost sadly as he got out of the car and went fishing around the battered trunk in the back---the same old tortured American trunk---and pulled out

Saturday, 14 March 2009

14 March 2009

up for the climb into the mountainsthat loomed ahead all green. After this climb we would be on the great central plateau again and ready to roll ahead to Mexico City. In no time at all we soared to an elevation of 5,000 feet among misty passes that overlooked steaming yellow rivers a mile below. It was the great River Moctezuma. The Indians along the road began to grow extremely weird. Don’t you see this is a nation in itself, these people are mountain Indians and shut off from everything else!” cried Neal. They were short and squat, and dark, with bad teeth; they carried immense loads on their backs. Across enormous vegetated ravines we saw patchworks of agriculture on steep slopes. “The bastards walk up and down those slopes and work the crop!” yelled Neal. He drove the car five miles an hour. “Whooee, this I never thought existed!” High on the highest peak, as great a peak as any Rocky Mountain peak, we saw bananas growing. Neal got out of the car to point. We stopped on a ledge where a little thatched hut suspended itself over the precipice of the world. The sun created golden hazes that obscured the Moctezuma now more than a mile below. In the yard in front of the hut, for there was no back to it, only a chasm, a little three year old Indian girl stood with her finger in her mouth watching us with big brown eyes. “She’s probably never seen anybody parked here before in her entire life!” breathed Neal. “Hel-lo little girl…how are You?...do you like us?” The little girl looked away bashfully and pouted. We began to talk and she again examined us with finger in mouth. “Gee I wish there was something I could give her! Think of it being born and living on this ledge---this ledge representing all you know of life---her father is probably groping down the ravine with a rope and getting his pineapples out of a cave and hacking wood at eighty degree angle with all the bottom below. She’ll never leave here and know anything about the outside world. It’s a nation. They probably have a chief. Off the road, over that bluff, miles back they must be even wilder and stranger because the Pan American hiway partially civilizes this nation on this road. Notice the beads of sweat on her brow” Neal pointed out “It’s not the kind of sweat we have, it’s oily and it’s ALWAYS

Friday, 13 March 2009

13 March 2009

other side and all I heard was the faint hoofbeat fading away in the woods. The dogs subsided and sat to lick themselves. What was this horse? What myth and ghost, and what spirit? I told Neal about it when he waked up. He thought I’d been dreaming. Then he recalled faintly dreaming of a white horse and I told him it had been no dream. Frank Jeffries slowly woke up. The faintest movements and we were sweating profusely again. It was still pitchdark. “Let’s start the car and blow some air!” I cried. “I’m dying of heat.” “Right!” We roared out of town and continued along the mad highway. Dawn came rapidly in a gray haze revealing dense swamps sunk on both sides, with tall forlorn viney trees leaning and bowing over tangled bottoms. We bowled right along the railroad tracks for awhile. The strange radio station antenna of Ciudad Mante appeared ahead, as if we were in Nebraska. We found a filling station and loaded the tank just as the junglenight bugs hurled themselves in a black mass against the bulbs and fell fluttering at our feet in huge wriggly groups, some of them waterbugs with wings a good four inches in spread, others frightful dragonflies big enough to eat a bird, and thousands of immense mosquitoes and unnamable spidery insects of all sorts. I hopped up and down on the pavement for fear of them; I finally ended up in the car with my feet in my hands looking fearfully at the ground where they swarmed around our wheels. “Lessgo!” I yelled. Neal and Frank weren’t perturbed at all by the bugs; they calmly drank a couple of bottles of Mission Orange and kicked them away from the watercooler. Their shirts and pants like mine were soaked in the blood and black of thousands of dead bugs. We smelled our clothes deeply. “You know I’m beginning to like this smell” said Frank “I can’t smell myself anymore.” “It’s a strange good smell” said Neal “I’m not going to change my shirt till Mexico City, I want to take it all in and remember it.” So off we roared again, creating air for our hot caked faces, and went to Valles and on towards the great foothill town of Tamazunchale. This town is at an elevation of 682 feet and still in the jungle heat. Mudhuts leaned brownly on both sides of the road; great groups of children stood in front of the only gas station. We loaded

Thursday, 12 March 2009

12 March 2009

and rotten jungle all over from hair and face to feet and toes. Of course I was barefoot. To minimize the sweat I put on my bug-smeared T-shirt and lay back again. A huddle of darkness on the blacker road showed where Neal was sleeping. I could hear him snoring. Frank was snoring too. Occasionally a dim light flashed in town and this was the sheriff making his rounds with a weak battery and mumbling to himself in the junglenight. Then I saw his his light jiggling towards us and heard his footfalls coming soft on the mats of sand and vegetation. He stopped and flashed the car. I sat up and looked at him. In a quivering almost querulous and extremely tender voice he said “Dormiendo?” indicating Neal in the road. I knew this meant sleep. “Si, dormiendo.” “Bueno, bueno” he said to himself and with reluctance and sadness turned away and went back to his lonely rounds. Such loveley policemen God hath never wrought in America. No suspicions, no fuss, no bother: he was the guardian of the sleeping town, period. I went back to my bed of steel and stretched out with my arms outspread. I didn’t even know if branches or open sky was directly above me, and it made no difference. I opened my mouth to it and drew deep breaths of jungle atmosphere. It was not air, never air, but the palpable and living emanation of trees and swamp. I stayed awake. Roosters began to crow the dawn across the brakes somewhere. Still no air, no breeze, no dew, but the same Tropic of Cancer heaviness held us all pinned to earth where we belonged and tingled. There was no sign of dawn in the skies. Suddenly I heard the dogs barking furiously across the dark and then I heard the faint clip clop of horse’s hooves. It came closer and closer. What kind of mad rider in the night would this be? Then I saw an apparition: a wild-horse, white as a ghost, came trotting down the road directly towards Neal. Behind him the dogs yammered and contended. I couldn’t see them, they were dirty old jungle dogs, but the horse was white as snow and immense and almost phosphorescent and easy to see. I felt no panic for Neal. The horse saw him and trotted right by his head, passed the car like a ship, whinnied softly, and continued on through town bedeviled by the dogs and clipclopped back to the jungle on the

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

11 March 2009

on a June night in New Orleans. All up and down the street whole families were sitting around in the dark chatting; occasional girls came by, but extremely young and only curious to see what we looked like. They were barefooted and dirty. We leaned on the wooden porch of a brokendown general store with sacks of flour and fresh pineapple rotting on the counter with flies. There was one oil lamp in here, and outside a few more brown lights, and the rest all black, black, black. Now of course we were so tired we had to sleep at once and moved the car down a dirtroad to the backside of town and flopped off to sleep. It was so incredibly hot it was impossible to sleep. So Neal took a blanket and laid it out on the soft hot sand in the road and stretched out. Frank was stretched on the front seat of the Ford with both doors open for a draft but there wasn’t even the faintest puff of a wind. I in the backseat suffered in a pool of sweat. I got out of the car and stood swaying in the blackness. The whole town had instantly gone to bed, the only noise now was barking dogs. How could I ever sleep? Thousands of mosquitos had already bitten all of us on chest and arms and ankles, there was nothing to do but give in to it and even enjoy. Then a bright idea came to me: I jumped up on the steel roof of the car and stretched out flat on my back. Still there was no breeze but the steel had an element of coolness left in it and dried my back of sweat, clotting up thousands of dead bugs into the cakes of my skin and I realized the jungle takes you over and you become it. Lying on the top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying in a closed trunk on a summernight. For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, that caressed me, froze or sweated me, but became me. The atmosphere and I became the same. Soft infinitesimal showers of microscopic bugs fanned down on my face as I slept and they were extremely pleasant and soothing. The sky was starless, utterly unseen and heavy. I could lie there all night long with my face exposed to the heavens and it would do me no more harm than a velvet drape drawn over me. The dead bugs mingled with my blood, the live mosquitos exchanged further portions, I began to tingle all over and smell of the rank, hot

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

10 March 2009

“What! what! damn now what? And he punched and fumed at his dashboard. Oh my, we’ll have to drive through the jungle without lights, think of the horror of that, the only time I’ll see is when another comes by and there just aren’t any cars! And of course no lights? Oh what’ll we do Jack?” “Let’s just drive. Maybe we ought to go back tho?” “No never-never! Let’s go on. I can barely see the road. We’ll make it.” And now we shot in inky darkness through the scream of insects and the great rank almost rotten smell descended and we remembered and realized that the map indicated just after Victoria the beginning of the tropic of Cancer. “We’re in a new tropic! Nowonder the smell! Smell it!” I stuck my head out the window; bugs smashed at my face; a great screech rose the moment I cocked my ear to the wind. Suddenly our lights were working again and they poked ahead illuminating the lonely road that ran between solid walls of great drooping snaky trees as high as a hundred feet. “Son-of-a-BITCH!” yelled Frank in the back. “Hot-DAMN!” He was still high. We suddenly realized he was still high and the jungle and troubles made no difference to his happy soul. We began laughing all of us. “To hell with it!- -we’ll just throw ourselves on the gawd-damn jungle, we’ll sleep in it tonight, let’s go!” yelled Neal. “Old Frank is right, Old Frank don’t care! He’s so high on those women and that tea and that crazy out-of-this-world impossible-to-absorb mambo blasting so loud that my eardrums still beat to it - -whee! He’s so high he know’s what he’s doing!” We took off our T shirts and roared through the jungle bare-chested. No towns, nothing, just jungle, miles and miles, and down-going, getting hotter, the insects screaming louder, the vegetation growing higher, the smell ranker and hotter until we began to get used to it and like it and love it. “I’d just like to get naked and roll and roll in that jungle” said Neal- -“No hell, man, that’s what I’m going to do soon’s I find a good spot.” And suddenly Limon appeared before us, a jungle town, a few brown lights, dark shadows, enormous and unimaginable skies overhead and a cluster of men in front of a jumble of woodshacks---a tropical crossroads. We stopped in the unimaginable softness. It was as hot as the inside of a baker’s oven

Monday, 9 March 2009

09 March 2009

wonderful bath. And he directed us to the strangest thing in the world: it was an ordinary American type bathhouse one mile out of town on the hiway, full of kids splashing in a pool and showers inside a stone building for a few centavos a crack, with soap and towel from the attendant. Besides this it was also a sad kiddy park with swings and a brokendown merrygoround and in the fading red sun it seemed so strange and so beautiful. Frank and I got towels and jumped right into ice-cold showers inside and came out refreshed and new. Neal didn’t bother with a shower and we saw him far across the sad park strolling arm in arm with good Gregor and chatting volubly and pleasantly and even leaning excitedly towards him to make a point and pounding his fist. Then they resumed arm-in-arm and strolled. The time was coming to say goodbye to Gregor so Neal was taking the opportunity to have moments alone with him and to inspect the park and get his views on things in general and in-all dig him as only Neal could do and does. Gregor was very sad now that we had to go. “You come back to Victoria, see me?” “Sure man!” said Neal. He even promised to take Gregor back to the States if he so wished it. Gregor said he would have to mull over this. “I got wife and kid—ain’t got a money---I see.” His sweet smile glowed in the redness as we waved to him from the car. Behind him was the sad park and the children. Suddenly he jumped after us and asked for a ride home. Neal was so bent on the road he was momentarily annoyed by this and brusquely told him to get in. And we went back to Victoria and dropped Gregor a block from his house. He didn’t understand this sudden businesslike grimness on the part of Neal and Neal realizing it began talking and pointing what he could to him, and finally they were straight again and Gregor walked down the streets of his life. And off we bowled for the jungle, the mad mad jungle that we never expected. And after all this what more could we take in? Immediately outside Victoria the road began to drop, great trees arose on each side, and in the trees as it grew dark we heard the great roar of billions of insects that sounded like one continuous high-screeching cry. “Whoo!” said Neal, and he turned on his headlights and they weren’t working.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

08 March 2009

Neal saw that, and began frowning and thinking and trying to straighten himself out, and finally I broached the idea of leaving once and for all. “So much ahead of us man it won’t make any difference.” “That’s right!” cried Neal glassy eyed and turned to his Venezualan. She had finally passed out and lay on a wooden bench with her white legs protruding from the silk. The gallery in the window took advantage of the show; behind them red shadows were beginning to creep, and somewhere I heard a baby wail in a sudden lull, remembering I was in Mexico after all and not in a sweet and orgiastic final dream. We staggered out; we had forgotten Frank; we ran back in to get him, like the boys run to get Ollie the seaman in Long Voyage Home, and found him charmingly bowing to the new evening whores that had just come in for the nightshift. He wanted to start all over again. When he is drunk he lumbers like a man ten feet tall and when he is drunk he can’t be dragged away from women. Moreover women cling to him like ivy. He insisted on staying and trying some of the newer, stranger, more proficient senoritas. Neal and I pounded him on the back and dragged him out. He waved profuse goodbyes to everybody, the girls, the cops, the crowds, the children in the street outside, he blew kisses in all directions of Victoria and staggered proudly among the gangs and tried to speak to them and communicate his joy and love of everything this fine afternoon of life. Everybody laughed; some slapped him on the back. Neal rushed over and paid the policemen the four pesos and shook hands and grinned with them. Then he jumped in the car, and the girls we had known, even Venezuala who was wakened for the farewell gathered around the car huddling in their flimsy duds and chattered goodbyes and kissed us and Venezuala even began to weep---tho not for us, we knew, not altogether for us, yet enough and good enough. My dusky darling love had disappeared in the shadows inside. It was all over. We pulled out and left joys and celebrations over hundreds of pesos behind us and it didn’t seem like a bad day’s work. The haunting mambo followed us a few blocks. It was all over. “Goodbye Victoria!” cried Neal blowing it a kiss. Gregor was proud of us and proud of himself. “Now you like bath?” he asked. Yes, we all wanted

Saturday, 7 March 2009

07 March 2009

ness I had the opportunity to see what Neal was up to. He was so out of his mind he didn’t know who I was when I peered at his face. Yeah, yeah!” is all he said. It seemed it would never end. Again I rushed off with my girl to her room; Neal and Frank switched the girls they’d had before; and we were out of sight a moment and the spectators had to wait for the show to go on. The afternoon grew long and cool; soon it would be mysterious night in old gone Victoria. The mambo never let up for a moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off the little dark girl, even after the second time, and the way, like a Queen, she walked around and was even reduced by the sullen bartender to menial tasks such as bringing us drinks. Of all the girls in there she needed the money most; maybe her mother had come to get money from her for her little infant sisters and brothers. It never, never occurred to me to just approach her and give her some money. I have a feeling she would have taken it without a degree of scorn and scorn from the likes of her made me flinch. In my madness I was actually in love with her for the few hours it all lasted; it was the same unmistakable ache and stab across the breast, the same sighs, the same pain, and above all the same reluctance and fear to approach. Strange that Neal and Frank also failed to approach her; her unimpeachable dignity was the thing that made her poor in a wild old whorehouse, and think of that. At one point I saw Neal leaning like a statue toward her, ready to fly, and befuddlement cross his face as she glanced coolly and imperiously his way and he stopped rubbing his belly and gaped and finally bowed his head. For she was the queen. Now Gregor suddenly clutched at our arms in the furor and made frantic signs. “What’s the matter?” He tried everything to make us understand. Then he ran to the bar and grabbed the check from the bartender who scowled at him and took it for us to see. The bill was over 300 pesos, or thirty-six American dollars, which is a lot of money in any whore house. Still we couldn’t sober up and didn’t want to leave and tho we were all fussed-out we still wanted to hang around with our lovely girls in this strange Arabian paradise we had finally found at the end of the hard, hard road. But night was coming and we had to get on to the end; and

Friday, 6 March 2009

06 March 2009

daughter. When I saw that I was too ashamed to try for the one I really wanted. I let the leech take me off to the back, where as in a dream, to the din and roar of further loadspeakers inside, we made the bed bounce a half hour. It was just a square room with wooden slats and no ceiling, a bulb hanging from the hall roof, and ikon in the corner, a washbasin in another. All up and down the dark hall the girls were calling “Aqua, aqua caliente!” which means hot water. Frank and Neal were also out of sight. My girl charged thirty pesos, or about three dollars and a half, and begged for an extra ten pesos and gave a long story about something. I didn’t know the value of Mexican money, for all I knew I had a million pesos, I threw money at her. We rushed back to dance. A greater crowd was gathered in the street. The cops looked as bored as usual. Neal’s pretty Venezualan dragged me through a door and into another strange bar that apparently belonged to the whore house. Here a young bartender was talking and wiping glasses and an old man with handlebar mustache sat discussing something earnestly. And here too the mambo roared over another loudspeaker. It seemed the whole world was turned on. Venezuala clung about my neck and begged for drinks. The bartender wouldn’t give her one. She begged and begged, and when he gave it to her she spilled it and this time not on purpose for I saw the chagrin in her poor sunken lost eyes. “Take it easy baby.” I told her. I had to support her on the stool, she kept slipping off. I’ve never seen a drunkener woman, and only eighteen. I bought her another drink, she was tugging at my pants for mercy. She gulped it up. I didn’t have the heart to try her either. My own girl was about thirty and took care of herself better. Still with Venezuala writhing and suffering in my arms I had a longing to take her in the back and undress her and only talk to her---this I told myself. I was delirious with want of her and the other little dark girl. Poor Gregor, all this time he stood on the brassrail of the bar with his back to the counter and jumped up and down gladly to see his three American friends cavort. We bought him drinks. His eyes gleamed for a woman but he wouldn’t accept any, being faithful to his wife. Neal thrust money at him. In this swelter of mad-

Thursday, 5 March 2009

05 March 2009

The piano montunos showered down on us from the speaker. The cries of the leader were like great gasps in the air. The final trumpet choruses that came with drum climaxes on conga and bongo drums, on the great mad Chattanooga record, froze Neal in his tracks for a moment till he shuddered and sweated, then when the trumpets bit the drowsy air with their quivering echoes like a cavern’s or a cave’s his eyes grew large and round as tho seeing the Devil and he closed them tight. I myself was shook like a puppet by it; I heard the trumpets flail the light I had seen and trembled in my boots. On the fast Mambo Jambo we danced frantically with the girls. Through our deliriums we began to discern their varying personalities. They were great girls. Strangely the wildest one was half Indian, half white and came from Venezuala, and only eighteen. She looked like she came from a good family. What she was doing whoring in Mexico at that age and with that tender cheek and fair aspect God knows. Some awful grief had driven her to it. She drank beyond all bounds. She threw down drinks when it seemed she was about to chuck up the last. She overturned glasses continually, the idea also being to make us spend as much money as possible. Wearing her flimsy housecoat in broad afternoon she frantically danced with Neal and clung about his neck and begged and begged for everything. Neal was so stoned he didn’t know what to start with, girls or mambo. They ran off to the lockers. I was set upon by a fat and uninteresting girl with a puppy dog who got sore at me when I took a dislike to it because it kept trying to bite me. She compromised by putting it away in the back, but by the time she returned I had been hooked by another girl, better looking but not the best, who clung to my neck like a leech. I was trying to break loose to get at a 16 year old colored girl who sat gloomily inspecting her navel through an opening in her flimsy dress across the hall. I couldn’t do it. Frank had a 15 year old girl with an almond colored skin and a dress that was buttoned halfway down and halfway up. It was mad. A good twenty men leaned in that window watching. At one point the mother of the little colored girl---not colored but dark---came in to hold a brief and mournful convocation with her

04 March 2009

the whorehouse. It was a magnificent establishment of stucco in the golden sun. On it were written the words “Sale de Baile” which means dancehall, in proud official letters that seemed to me in their dignity and simplicity like the letterings on stone friezes around the Post offices of the United States. In the street, and leaning on the windowsills that opened into the whorehouse, were two cops, saggy-trousered, drowsy, bored, who gave us brief interested looks as we walked in and stayed there the entire three hours that we cavorted under their noses, until we came out at dusk and at Gregor’s bidding gave them the equivalent of twenty four cents each just for the sake of form. And in there we found the girls. Some of them were reclined on couches across the dancefloor, some of them were boozing at the long bar to the right. In the center an arch led into small cubicle shacks that looked like the places where you put on your bathingsuit at public municipal bathhouses. These shacks were in the sun of the court. Behind the bar was the proprietor, a young fellow who instantly ran out when we told him we wanted to hear mambo music and acme back with a stack of records, mostly by Perez Prado, and put them on over the public address system. In an instant all of the city of Victoria could hear the goodtimes going on at the Sale de Baile. In the hall itself the din of the music---for this is the real way to play a jukebox d what it was originally born for---was so tremendous that it shattered neal and Frank and I for a moment in the realization that we had never dared to play music as loud as we wanted and this is how loud we wanted. It blew and shuddered directly at us. In a few minutes half that portion of town was at the windows watching the Americanos dance with the gals. They all stood, side by side with the cops, on the dirt sidewalk leaning in with indifference and casualness. “More Mabo Jambo,” “Chattanooga de Mambo,” “Mambo Numero Ocho,” all these tremendous numbers resounded &b flared in the golden mysterious afternoon like the sounds you expect to hear on the last day of the world and the Second Coming. The trumpets seemed so loud I thought they could hear it clear out in the desert, where the trumpets had originated anyway. The drums were mad.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

03 March 2009

Franklin Delano Roosevelt---some delusion in my flaming eyes and floating soul----that I drew up in my seat and gasped with amazement. I saw streams of gold pouring through the sky, and sensed God in the light just outside the car in the hot sunny streets. I looked out the window and saw a woman in a doorway and I thought she was listening to every word we said and nodding to herself---routine paranoiac visions of tea. But the stream of gold continued. For a long time I lost consciousness of what we were doing and only came around some time later when we were parked outside Gregor’s house and he was already at the door of the car with his little baby son in his arms showing him to us. “You see my baby? Hees name Perez, he six month age.” “Why” said Neal, his face still transfigured into a shower of supreme pleasure and even bliss “he is the prettiest child I have ever seen. Look at those eyes. Now Jack and Frank” he said turning to us with a serious and tender air “I want you part-ti-cu-lar-ly to see the eyes of this little Mexican boy who is the son of our wonderful friend Gregor, and notice how he will come to manhood with his own particular soul bespeaking itself through the windows which are his eyes, and such lovely eyes surely must belie the loveliest of souls.” It was a beautiful speech. And it was a beautiful baby. Gregor mournfully looked down at his angel. We all wished we had a little son like that. So great was our intensity over the child’s soul that he sensed something and began a grimace which led to bitter tears and some unknown bitter sorrow that we had no means to soothe. We tried everything, Gregor smothered him in his neck and rocked; Neal cooed; I reached over and stroked the baby’s little arms. His bawls grew louder. “Ah” said Neal “I’m awful sorry gregor that we’ve made him sad.” “He is not sad, baby cry.” In the doorway in back of Gregor, too bashful to come out, was his little barefoot wife with anxious tenderness waiting for the babe to be put back in her arms so brown and soft. Gregor having showed us his child, he climbed into the car and proudly pointed to the right. “Yes” said Neal, and swung the car over and directed it through narrow Algerian streets with faces on all sides watching us with gentle wonder and secret fancy. We came to

Monday, 2 March 2009

02 March 2009

guys are real CATS. Ain’t never seen anything like it. And they’re talking and wondering about us just like we are but with a difference of their own, their interest probably resolving around how we’re dressed---same as ours---but the strangeness of the things we have in the car and the strange ways that WE laugh so different from them, and maybe even the way we smelled compared to them. Nevertheless I’d give my eye-teeth to nknow what they’re saying about us.” And neal tried. “Hey Gregor, man…what your brother say just then?” Gregor turned mournful high brown eyes on Neal. “Yeah, yeah.” “No you didn’t understand my question. What you boys talking about?” “Oh” said Gregor with great perturbation “you no like this mariguana?” “Oh yes, yes fine! What you TALK about?” “Talk? Yes, we talk. How you like Mexico.” It was hard to come around without a common language. And everybody grew quiet and cool and high again and just enjoyed the breeze from the desert and mused separate national thoughts. It was time for the gurls. The brothers eased back to their station under the tree, the mother watched from her sunny doorway, and we slowly bounced back to town. But now the bouncing was no longer unpleasant, it was the most pleasant and graceful billowy trip in the world, as over a blue sea, and Neal’s face was suffused with an unnatural glow that was like gold as he told us to understand the springs of the car now for the first time and dig the ride. Up and down we bounced and even Gregor understood and laughed, Then he pointed left to show which way to go for the girls, and Neal, looking left with indescribable delight and leaning that way, pulled the wheel around and rolled us smoothly and surely to the goal, meanwhile listening to Gregor’s attempts to speak and saying grandly and magniloquently “Yes, of course! There’s not a doubt in my mind! Decidedly, man! Oh indeed! Why, pish, posh, you say the dearest things to me! Of course! Yes! Please go on!” To this Gregor talked gravely and with magnificent Spanish eloquence. For a mad moment I thought Neal was understanding everything he said by sheer wild insight and sudden revelatory genius inspired by his supreme and glowing happiness. In that moment, too, he looked so exactly like

Sunday, 1 March 2009

01 March 2009

Gregor’s brothers grinned from under a tree. They were coming over to meet us but it would take a while for them to get up and walk over. Gregor came back grinning sweetly. “Man” said Neal “that Gregor is the sweetest gonest little cat I’ve ever met all my life. Just look at him, look at his cool slow walk. There’s no need to hurry around here.” A steady insistent desert breeze blew into the car. It was very hot. “You see how hot?” said Gregor sitting down with Neal in the front seat and pointing up at the burning roof of the Ford. “You have marijuana and it no hot no more. You wait.” “Yes” said Neal adjusting his dark glasses “I wait. For sure Gregor m’boy.” Presently Gregor’s tall brother came ambling along with some weed wrapped in a newspaper. He dumped it on Gregor’s lap and leaned casually on the door of the car to nod and smile at us and say “hallo.” Neal nodded and smiled pleasantly at him. Nobody talked; it was fine. Gregor proceeded to roll the biggest bomber anybody ever saw. He rolled (using brown paper bag) what amounted to a tremendous Optimo cigar of tea. It was huge. Neal stared at it popeyed. Gregor casually lit it and passed around. To drag on this thing was like leaning over a chimney and inhaling. It blew into your throat in one great blast of heat. We held our breaths and let out simultaneously. Instantly we were all high. The sweat froze on our foreheads and it was suddenly like the beach at Acapulco. I looked out the backwindow of the car and another and strangest of Gregor’s brothers---a tall Peruvian of an Indian---leaned grinning on a post too bashful to come up and shake hands. It also seemed the car was surrounded by brothers for another one appeared on Neal’s side. Then the strangest thing happened. Everybody became so high that usual formalities were dispensed with and the things of immediate interest were concentrated on, and what it was now, was the strangeness of Americans and Mexicans blasting together on the desert and more than that, the strangeness of seeing one another up close. So the Mexican brothers began talking about us in low voices and commenting, while Neal Frank and I commeneted on them. “Will you d-i-g that weird brother in the back.” “Yes, and the one on my left here, he’s like a gawddamn Egyptian king. These