IN JANUARY, I FINISHED READING JACK KEROUAC’S Lonesome Traveler and got swept up with life things and haven’t had the chance to sit down and write something since. I also finished another book last night, as I previously admitted to you that I was cheating on Kerouac but alas I’m so glad that I did. I’ll tell you about John Williams’ unbelievable novel Stoner soon.
As I was walking home today, strolling down H St NE from the bus stop to my little brick DC row house, one of the mini homes with the elongated living rooms that stretch from the front door to the kitchen sink, I thought something neat. I was passing by the row of hip and up and coming spots, mostly bars with a few restaurants, speckled in between the run down and shelved forgotten store fronts that have been deserted and lonely and falling apart for years, all with FOR LEASE signs on them that are wearing thin. And I thought: “Everything’s always becoming something.” And isn’t that true? Whether it’s a storefront in a soon to be gentrified neighborhood of DC where I admit that I felt a little awkward getting looks from people on the bus as the only little white girl in sight, with the crazy man talking to himself sitting across from me, or whether it’s your own life and your own personality moving and shaking and every day becoming a little bit of something else and losing a little bit if what you were. It’s pretty spectacular.
Back to Kerouac.
Let me tell you what I learned from his collection of stories, almost like diary entries, moments and occasions reminisced from his dreamy mind, that he put together in Lonesome Traveler and published in 1960.
The stories that I remember, several weeks now after throwing the book to my bedside are the tales about his travels in Mexico and California and the beautiful women he saw and the drugs he smoked. I liked that story and I recall distinctly underlining a paragraph he wrote describing a couple of field hands making love in the field. It was magnificent in how innocently and secretly it was written. I remember his story of working on the ship and washing dishes or something like that, but I found that pretty boring. My two favorite stories were the one about Kerouac traipsing around Times Square in New York City and about his time spent working at the fire outlook on top of a mountain and how it brought him so close to God.
Going back through Lonesome Traveler now, the last story, “The Vanishing American Hobo” about his rambles with hobo friends, I had forgotten all about that, but that’s what inspired my writing Hobo Dreams.
It was Kerouac’s story “The Railroad Earth” that wrote that unforgettable scene of sex and the powerful railroad:
“Along comes the tired field hand Jose Camero and he see her in the vast sun red in the fruit field moving queen majesty to the well, the tower, he runs for her, the railroad crashed by he pays no attention…Switches rush up and melt into the rail, sidings part from it like lips, return like lover arms.—My mind is on the brown knees of Carmelity, the dark spltot between her thighs where creation hides its majesty and all the boys with eager head do rush suffering and want the whole the hole the works the hair the seekme membrane the lovey sucky ducky workjohn, the equaled you, she never able and down goes the sun and it’s dark and they’re layin in a grape row, nobody can see, or hear, on the dog hears OOO slowly against the dust of that railroad earth…”
Oh and it goes on and Kerouac tells some even more dirty details, but I’ll leave that for you to explore.
“New York Scenes” made me want to get up right then and take the next bus to New York City and a find a bum on the streets or an old crippled half deaf gentleman in an up-city nursing home who actually remembered what Times Square was like in the 40’s and 50’s. Probably wouldn’t have known Kerouac or any of the beatniks the original beats, but he would have known THE TIMES.
I loved Kearouac’s line “Men do love bars and good bars should be loved.” That’s the kind of man for me. Kerouac buzzed from place to place in this story, dramy places like Grants, the Automat, Bickfords… So many places famous of their time that they frequented, loved, lived in practically. And what is it all now? Some sleezy bright light pigeon hopping Broadway lurking tourist attraction that does nothing for humanity. I want to go there and find what those places… Grants, the Automat, Bickfords… what they really used to be like, what happened to them, and find old photographs of what they used to be like and side them next to the monstrosity of what stands there today.
The Garden Bar. The Cedar Bar. I bet those were bars to be loved by men. “Jazz belongs to the open joyful ten-cent beer joints, as in the beginning,” Kerouac said. And when he ended that story with the words, “This is the beat night life of New York ,” I had to write down just below it in my copy of the book, “Is there any beat left in New York City?”
And then what shocked me when I started reading “Alone on a Mountaintop” was that Jack Kerouac, THE Jack Kerouac, was writing with sentence structure! He was using periods and ending sentences in appropriate places!… for a bout half a page. And then it was back to his normal self. It was surprising and a little funny. I bet he had added that or his editor advised he throw in some introductory sentences to frame his experience. Funny though.
This story is where the name of the collection comes from. As Kerouac is en route to his mountain top, he asks his guides where it is.
“ ‘Where’s Desolation Peak?’ I asked, meaning my own mountain (A mountain to be kept forever, I’d dreamed all that spring) (O lonesome traveler!)”
O lonesome traveler! It was a proclamation he felt of excitement and exuberance in the life of adventure and going somewhere he didn’t know. He wasn’t afraid of it. And he surely wasn’t scared of being alone. He greeted the solitude with a strong embrace and probably something like a grinning smile.
O lonesome traveler! I say, if only we all felt that passion and lust when we were alone in any circumstance for we’re all travelers through our own lives.
This here is one of my favorite things he wrote in the whole collection:
“The stars are words and all the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words, and so is this world too. And I realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in this endless universe of stars and mountains, it’s all in my mind. There’s no need for solitude. So love life for what it is, and form no preconceptions whatever in your mind.”
And one more story to tell you from Kerouac’s stories, in “Big Trip to Europe,” Kerouac is in England and visits a museum to look up his family history and stumbled upon his family description. The “Keroack” family motto was written out as: “ Love, work, and suffer” He wrote, “I could have known.”
Jack, these stories are pieces of your mind, and have become shambles of my imagination of what you were like. You lived such a free and adventurous life, and that I envy. I wish you were still travelling and adventuring and loving and could still write about it today. You old lonesome traveler.