My Kerouac stories Part I

(above: one of my favorite pictures of Kerouac, conspicuous in the pocket of his jacket is one of his notebooks)

I was a late discoverer of the amazing writing of this American icon. Of course, I knew of him, and knew that On the Road, was “one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century,” but I hadn’t gotten around to reading him (or it) yet. Then, in the summer/fall of 2006, I began to plan starting “A New Book Club” (my first one had petered out in the 90s – lack of dedicated readers, lack of of sufficient number of members, lack of direction that a benevolent dictatorship -as I’ve been accused of in my current club – would have avoided) with some co-workers in downtown Indianapolis. I remember our first planning “meeting” (i.e. lunch) sitting at a table on the western side of the center building of the downtown City Market. Somehow, we came up with the plan for book selection that we are still using today. We also came up with a ‘random number generator’ – in this case the last two digits of the ending Dow Jones Industrial Average (hey, we were all accountants and bankers, what would you expect?) to determine who would make the first pick. Sonja was the lucky member and picked one of Dale’s books, (these two, along with myself, were the members present at this meeting so I consider us the Founding Fathers, er – “Parents” of the book club) and it just happened to be On the Road.

(above: Colts owner Jim Irsay with the On the Road manuscript)

Sometime later, as our first meeting approached. Sonja and I were talking about how, fairly recently, Jim Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts! – hey, that’s my team!) had purchased the original manuscript of this iconic work. I jokingly suggested that Sonja talk to our friend Nancy in marketing – we did, after all, work at The Official Bank of the Indianpolis Colts at the time – and see if she could get Jim Irsay to come to our book club meeting. On a lark, she did, and no, he didn’t come to our meeting, but he did dispatch his assistant and the keeper of the manuscript scroll, who was the ‘conservator’ (I think I’m getting that term right – he’s the person who takes care of manuscripts) at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, IN, where the scroll resides when not on tour.

(the manuscript up close)

Well, we were all a little surprised that we would be having guests at our very first meeting, but we were also excited. Irsay’s assistant brought some memorabilia to the meeting, including the bidding “paddle” used by Irsay at the auction.

The guy from the Library brought a box full of Kerouac-related books to show us and he was clearly someone who was passionate about Kerouac, even being moved to tears once when describing the author’s futile struggles against alcoholism. He gave me a new appreciation for the depth of Kerouac’s work beyond On the Road which, until then, had been all that I had known of his writings.

Irsay, who – upon buying the manuscript – had realized that he had given very little thought to what he would do with it or even where he would keep it. It was sheer luck that, theretofore unknown to him, his offices were just an hour away from one of the most extensive collections of original manuscripts in the whole country, and their custodian, the man who came to our book club meeting, was also a lifelong and devoted fan of Jack Kerouac.

Why am I writing about all of this now, you ask? Well, last Saturday I made one of my “irregularly scheduled” appearances at a coffee shop in the “Meridian-Kessler” neighborhood here in town. This is on the ‘old’ north side and home to many old, grand houses (think Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons which, in fact, is probably an actual fictional (actual fictional?!) representation of this part of town). Anyway, the thing about this coffeehouse is that it is the home of the “Bishops of Cappuchino” chess “club” (cute name, huh?), and – although I’m still retired from tournament chess – I do still enjoy a casual game every now and then.

Anyway, on this day, I met up with an old chess friend/colleague of mine who we’ll call Bob. I’ve known Bob for about ten years, and I’d known he did some technical writing for his job, but little else about his “literary history.” I don’t remember today how the subject came up, but we started talking about Jack Kerouac and I found out that he actually wrote a book (!) about the author back in 1981. It was part of the whole 25-Year Anniversary celebration of the publication of On the Road that was going on at the time, and there was apparently a host of Kerouac scholars making the pilgrimage to Colorado for this event…

To be continued…