The Cosmic Kitchen - Bookshelf - Jack Kerouac:  On The Road 

<< (+)
(+) >>
 On The Road  by Jack Kerouac


   Chapter 2   

The following midnight, singing this little song,     
Home in Missoula, Home in Truckee,
Home in Opelousas, Ain't no home for me.
Home in old Medora, Home in Wounded Knee,
Home in Ogallala, Home I'll never be,
I took the Washington bus; wasted some time there wandering around; went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge, heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson's grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha River and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston, West Virginia; at midnight Ashland, Kentucky, and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed-up show. The dark and mysterious Ohio, and Cincinnati at dawn. Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon. The muddy cobbles and the Montana logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. The endless poem. By night Missouri, Kansas fields, Kansas night-cows in the secret wides, crackerbox towns with a sea for the end of every street; dawn in Abilene. East Kansas grasses become West Kansas rangelands that climb up to the hill of the Western night.

     Henry Glass was riding the bus with me. He had got on at Terre Haute, Indiana, and now he said to me, "I've told you why I hate this suit I'm wearing, it's lousy — but ain't all." He showed me papers. He had just been released from Terre Haute federal pen; the rap was for stealing and selling cars in Cincinnati. A young, curly-haired kid of twenty. "Soon's I get to Denver I'm selling this suit in a pawnshop and getting me jeans. Do you know what they did to me in that prison? Solitary confinement with a Bible; I used it to sit on the stone floor; when they seed I was doing that they took the Bible away and brought back a leetle pocket-size one so big. Couldn't sit on it so I read the whole Bible and Testament. Hey-hey — " he poked me, munching his candy, he was always eating candy because his stomach had been ruined in the pen and couldn't stand anything else — "you know they's some real hot things in that Bible." He told me what it was to "signify." "Anybody that's leaving jail soon and starts talking about his release date is 'signifying' to the other fellas that have to stay. We take him by the neck and say, 'Don't signify with me!' Bad thing, to signify — y'hear me?"

     "I won't signify, Henry."

     "Anybody signify with me, my nose opens up, I get mad enough to kill. You know why I been in jail all my life? Because I lost my temper when I was thirteen years old. I was in a movie with a boy and he made a crack about my mother — you know that dirty word — and I took out my jackknife and cut up his throat and woulda killed him if they hadn't drug me off. Judge said, 'Did you know what you were doing when you attacked your friend?' 'Yessir, Your Honor, I did, I wanted to kill the sonofabitch and still do.' So I didn't get no parole and went straight to reform school. I got piles too from sitting in solitary. Don't ever go to a federal pen, they're worstest. Sheet, I could talk all night it's been so long since I talked to somebody. You don't know how good I feel coming out. You just sitting in that bus when I got on — riding through Terre Haute — what was you thinking?" , "I was just sitting there riding."

     "Me, I was singing. I sat down next to you 'cause I was afraid to set down next to any gals for fear I go crazy and reach under their dress. I gotta wait awhile."

     "Another hitch in prison and you'll be put away for life. You better take it easy from now."

     "That's what I intend to do, only trouble is m'nose opens up and I can't tell what I'm doing."

     He was on his way to live with his brother and sister-in-law; they had a job for him in Colorado. His ticket was bought by the feds, his destination the parole. Here was a young kid like Dean had been; his blood boiled too much for him to bear; his nose opened up; but no native strange saintliness to save him from the iron fate.

     "Be a buddy and watch m'nose don't open up in Denver, will you, Sal? Mebbe I can get to my brother's safe."

     When we arrived in Denver I took him by the arm to Larimer Street to pawn the penitentiary suit. The old Jew immediately sensed what it was before it was half unwrapped. "I don't want that damn thing here; I get them every day from the Canyon City boys."

     All of Larimer Street was overrun with ex-cons trying to sell their prison-spun suits. Henry ended up with the thing under his arm in a paper bag and walked around in brand-new jeans and sports shirt. We went to Dean's old Glenarm bar — on the way Henry threw the suit in an ashcan — and called up Tim Gray. It was evening now.

     "You?" chuckled Tim Gray. "Be right over."

     In ten minutes he came loping into the bar with Stan Shephard. They'd both had a trip to France and were tremendously disappointed with their Denver lives. They loved Henry and bought him beers. He began spending all his penitentiary money left and right. Again I was back in the soft, dark Denver night with its holy alleys and crazy houses. We started hitting all the bars in town, roadhouses out on West Colfax, Five Points Negro bars, the works.

     Stan Shephard had been waiting to meet me for years and now for the first time we were suspended together in front of a venture. "Sal, ever since I came back from France I ain't had any idea what to do with myself. Is it true you're going to Mexico? Hot damn, I could go with you? I can get a hundred bucks and once I get there sign up for GI Bill in Mexico City College."

     Okay, it was agreed, Stan was coming with me. He was a rangy, bashful, shock- haired Denver boy with a big con-man smile and slow, easy-going Gary Cooper movements. "Hot damn!" he said and stuck his thumbs on his belt and ambled down the street, swaying from side to side but slowly. His grandfather was having it out with him. He had been opposed to France and now he was opposed to the idea of going to Mexico. Stan was wandering around Denver like a bum because of his fight with his grandfather. That night after we'd done all our drinking and restrained Henry from getting his nose opened up in the Hot Shoppe on Colfax, Stan scraggled off to sleep in Henry's hotel room on Glenarm. "I can't even come home late — my grandfather starts fighting with me, then he turns on my mother. I tell you, Sal, I got to get out of Denver quick or I'll go crazy."

     Well, I stayed at Tim Gray's and then later Babe Rawlins fixed up a neat little basement room for me and we all ended up there with parties every night for a week. Henry vanished off to his brother's and we never saw him again and never will know if anybody's signified with him since and if they've put him away in an iron hall or if he busts his gaskets in the night free.

     Tim Gray, Stan, Babe, and I spent an entire week of afternoons in lovely Denver bars where the waitresses wear slacks and cut around with bashful, loving eyes, not hardened waitresses but waitresses that fall in love with the clientele and have explosive affairs and huff and sweat and suffer from one bar to another; and we spent the same week in nights at Five Points listening to jazz, drinking booze in crazy Negro saloons and gabbing till five o'clock in the morn in my basement. Noon usually found us reclined in Babe's back yard among the little Denver kids who played cowboys and Indians and dropped on us from cherry trees in bloom. I was having a wonderful time and the whole world opened up before me because I had no dreams. Stan and I plotted to make Tim Gray come with us, but Tim was stuck to his Denver life.

     I was getting ready to go to Mexico when suddenly Denver Doll called me one night and said, "Well, Sal, guess who's coming to Denver?" I had no idea. "He's on his way already, I got this news from my grapevine. Dean bought a car and is coming out to join you." Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again. There was no chance to send money to either wife if he took all his savings out of the bank and bought a car. Everything was up, the jig and all. Behind him charred ruins smoked. He rushed westward over the groaning and awful continent again, and soon he would arrive. We made hasty preparations for Dean. News was that he was going to drive me to Mexico.

     "Do you think he'll let me come along?" asked Stan in awe.

     "I'll talk to him," I said grimly. We didn't know what to expect. "Where will he sleep? What's he going to eat? Are there any girls for him?" It was like the imminent arrival of Gargantuan preparations had to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies.


Previous Chapter Index Next Chapter






Home | Songs | Art Projects | Jamroom | Cupboard


What a long strange trip it's been!