Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Found: Insane Typist Anecdote

Thank you so much to those of you who came to my rescue last night. I'm quite overwhelmed that within a few short hours, someone had typed out the passage, someone had scanned it, and someone had somehow sent me the entire book. I am indebted to all of you, particularly Timid Heathen for typing it out - that shows a special kind of devotion to niceness.

Anyhow, just in case you're interested, here's the anecdote. (Oh, and the Mark in question is Mark Vonnegut, Kurt's son):

I knew Kerouac only at the end of his life, which is to say there was no way for me to know him at all, since he had become a pinwheel. He had settled briefly on Cape Cod, and a mutual friend, the writer Robert Boles, brought him over to my house one night. I doubt that Kerouac knew anything about me or my work, or even where he was. He was crazy. He called Boles, who is black, "a blue-gummed nigger." He said that Jews were the real Nazis, and that Allen Ginsberg had been told by the Communists to befriend Kerouac, in order that they might gain control of American young people, whose leader he was.

This was pathetic. There were clearly thunderstorms in the head of this once charming and just and intelligent man. He wished to play poker, so I dealt some cards. There were four hands, I think—one for Boles, one for Kerouac, one for Jane, one for me. Kerouac picked up the remainder of the deck, and he threw it across the kitchen.

It was then that Mark came in, unexpectedly home for a weekend from Swarthmore College, where he was a religion major. He was also a middleweight wrestler in very good shape. He wore a full beard and a work shirt and blue jeans, and carried a duffel bag. Everything about his costume and even his posture might have been inspired by Kerouac's books.

The moment Kerouac saw him, Kerouac stood and looked him over smolderingly from head to toe. The calm before a fight settled dankly over the room.

"You think you understand me," said Kerouac to Mark.

"You don't understand me at all. You want to fight about it?" Mark said nothing, not knowing who Kerouac was or what he was so mad about.

Kerouac praised himself as a fighter, asked Mark if he really thought he was man enough to take him on.

Mark understood this much, anyway: that he might really have to fight this person. He didn't want to, but then again, he wouldn't have minded fighting him all that much.
But then Kerouac sat back down in his chair heavily, shaking his head and saying over and over again, "Doesn't understand me at all."

Later on that night, after Kerouac and Boles left, Mark and I talked some about Kerouac, who was then completing his seventeenth and last book. He would die very soon.

It turned out that Mark had never read Kerouac.

I don't care for Jack Kerouac – neither his writing nor the man, or at least what I can glean of the man from his writing – but I find this story very sad nonetheless.

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Heptaparaparshinokh said...

I read "On the Road" when i was a yoof (as you do) and found myself underwhelmed. Of course, not trusting my own lack of whelm, years later I shelled out for the the very well produced and packaged 3 CD box set of Kerouac reading Kerouac.
It was crap.
He was a tosser.
I discovered my feel for Beat when someone thrust Brautigan into my sweaty hands. Whelm rediscovered.

Gusset said...

It is sad. But also kind of funny. I'd like to have a pop at Kerouac for the time I wasted reading The Dharma Bums.

clumpf said...

I have read no Kerouac and now I know why.

He reminds me of my father.

Anonymous said...

Aw... there are some good, lovely people walking this earth who display kindness to others – just coz they can. I like that.

Clare said...

"Heptaparaparshinokh" is a lot of fun to mutter to yourself when you are bored. Good name: I approve.

Anonymous said...

It does sound rather sad. He sounds exactly like my first husband. Only my ex was never famous. An aspiring writer, misunderstood by all, brilliant on that razor's edge of insanity, and ultimately dropped off the face of the earth. Not even his relatives know what became of him. Sad.

Maria in Oregon

Steerforth said...

The saddest Kerouac anecdote I know is about an attempt to repeat his On the Road trip when he was in his 40s.

One afternoon, Kerouac left his New York flat and walked to the nearest interstate highway, where he found a promising spot and stood waving his thumb.

Nobody stopped. People driving past saw a raddled, middle-aged man who looked like an escaped mental patient.

It started to rain. Kerouac was soon completely drenched but continued to wait in hope. Two hours later, he gave up and walked back to his flat.