Driving into the sun with kerouac


it’s a slow process recovering from rotator cuff surgery but hey i had nothing else planned for these past weeks so why not experience something new? but today as the rain beats against my window and i struggle with my creativity why not remember, memory is so frail and ephemeral, or at least try to some of the more comic events in my life.

this won’t be about pictures although as minor white says ‘i am always mentally photographing every thing as practice.’ just the pictures in my memory or what is left of it, everything degrades with time, becomes warped with the heat of thought. as if a passing thought somehow warps another in its passing by.

this is about a long long time ago, the summer of  1964 in northport on long island new york. i guess it relates to robert franks ‘the americans’ as franks say ‘you can photograph anything.’ but this is a photographic memory without a camera.

that summer i had the job as stage manager/ lighting designer/ driver and a few other jobs i’ve probably forgotten. the theater was the red barn, the show the fantasticks, the town northport ny and the car a 1956 blue and white ford station wagon.

that’s where and why i met jack kerouac . there wasn’t much for me to do after the show  which is unusual for a summer stock playhouse. the show ran for 6 weeks or so with my only duties being running the show and picking up people either in the new york city or the train station. i don’t do ‘having time on my hands well’, at least in those days.

my first form of entertainment was drinking or at least hanging around bar rooms. that was how i got a lot of jobs in those days from my bar room friends but this one was actually gotten through a trade magazine.  after work with nothing else to do usually found me wandering around the town looking for something. that’s where i met kerouac we were both looking for something.

there is a much more informative account of the life and times of jack kerouac in nortport naming people, places and times. maybe not the same people i knew nor who jack knew but more respectable ones with addresses. the thing i liked about nortport was the harbor which was part of the huntington, centerport and nortport harbors. this is primarily a fishing working class village.

how i got involved with these people i am not sure, maybe a self-image problem of mine but at a bar with drinks flowing everyone is equal. there was this guy quite charming even drunk as a skunk who wore these checkered 5 and dime shirts. jack was quite a handsome man before the booze bloated him up as he looked now.

in his early writing career he summered in fire watchtowers alone in the wilderness. anyone able to do that isn’t  a slouch at all, but now he was just an educated overgrown kid. i was amazed at some of the stuff that would come out of his mouth nonstop. he considered himself a jazz musician and wrote that way. my literary knowledge wasn’t developed enough to keep up with him. i was still doing the classics hemingway, durrell  maybe camus and baudelaire. so i knew there was something jack  was talking about.

there never was a problem of finding something to do when the bars were open, the problem came after the bars  closed. what to do before unconsciousness overcame us? the clammer’s usually had to get up early in the morning to haul their catches into the wholesaler at a reasonable time of day. they had a airstream trailer secured to a floating raft in the harbor outfitted with double bunk beds and a small kitchen.

jack and i would sometimes hitch a ride with them to the trailer or out to a tent they had across the harbor. it was pretty neat screaming across the harbor full speed ahead towards the tent with a couple of drunks. some fun with harbor and land lights whizzing by into the darkness winding up beaching the boat at 25 mph or whatever, being thrown onto the sand laughing.

or jack would convince me to go into the city with him to see some friends, maybe score some weed. maybe it was just the drive he liked reminding him of all those miles spent with cassidy driving across the country, or maybe the companionship. it wasn’t a long drive maybe an  hour or so, of course we were probably drunk at least by the legal definition of it. i remember one night jacks friends didn’t answer the buzzer and i had to help boost jack up to the firescape while he climbed up to their windows.

jack didn’t like drugs per say other than booze maybe he just tolerated weed something to calm hm down. we were all looking to escape somewhere and i guess he have more to than i. but we had booze in common and i had the keys to the ford and memories long past. since then i’ve read a lot of his books and understand him more that i am older. i only wish i knew him better then.

this was in soho before there was such a thing. there were no people on the street, no nothings except maybe a few rats running across the street darting under a few parked trucks. there i was asleep in the front seat of a 1956 blue and white ford station wagon. sometimes i was invited in to share in the booty.

but it was the drive home that i remember so well. we drove against rush-hour traffic then but i am sure now it’s everywhere. the long island expressway goes straight east from new york, most of the times right into the raising blazing red sun. it’s a wonder in those days we didn’t kill ourselves not for us not trying but maybe we were watched over for some reason or worst yet to kill some innocent being with our stupidity.

i liked jack but felt sorry for him as his mother controled his life but someone had to as he didn’t seem to be able to. there were a lot of good people in my life that summer. i’ve been lucky in life. that fall jack moved to florida or paris or somewhere he later wrote the esquire magazine article which i bought and read. them he died in 1969, i was sad for he touched me with his humanity.

these thoughts filled my head seeing robert franks work. the freedom of driving across america, europe, panama or anywhere. being an american, cars have played an important part in my life, having them or not having them has always been important. i’ve driven this country alone or with my family staking out a new life.

i could spend hours seeing the sun set across the smooth cool pacific ocean as i am not a morning person. there are times in my life when i wish i had a camera and other times when i do i do nothing. it’s enough just to be there. photography is about the past not the present.

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