Monday, January 30, 2017

Bill Cannastra: Death by Defenestration?

Bill Cannastra


One never knows how or when the muse will strike. The trigger for this week's post is a connection I made between the last name of a Beat Generation figure and a new vocabulary word I just learned.

Every work day -- as long as we catch up with each other -- the maintenance person in my building and I share a new vocabulary word (new to the person offering up the word). After we reach a list of 20 new words, I build a vocabulary test (matching format) and we both take it. It's not completely fair since I am the test maker, but suffice to say that we are up to test #15 tomorrow (that's 300 words!) and he has scored 100% on the previous 14 tests, whereas I have 13 perfect scores and one score of 13/15.

Here's the list for tomorrow's test to give you an idea of the level of words we are dealing with:

exegesis
histrionic
indagate
apoplectic
mansuetude
pariah
commination
beleaguered
defenestration
contemn
potage
hyperbole
kore
castigate
peruke
pernicious
byzantine
minutia
temulent
elucidate

If you can define even half of those words without study, you are way smarter vocabulary-wise than either of us. But we enjoy the challenge.

Part way down the list you see "defenestration," which means "the action of throwing someone or something out of a window." Two things struck me about that word. First, its definition reminded me of how Bill Cannastra died on October 12, 1950, hanging out a moving NYC subway car window as a gag and getting struck -- and pulled out of the window -- by a pillar. Some reports say he was decapitated.

Second, given that definition (which isn't quite what happened - Bill wasn't thrown out the window), it seems weirdly synchronistic that the word sounds similar to Bill's last name.

So could one sort of say that Bill Cannastra died of defenestration? Probably not, technically, but it has a certain consonant appeal to my ear.

They say Bill was the wild man of the bunch, eating glass at cocktail parties and running around the Village naked (with Kerouac, who modestly kept on his boxers) (Source: click here.). Of course, our regular readers will know that Jack married Cannastra's girlfriend, Joan Haverty, on November 17, a mere several weeks after Cannastra's death. Who knows what would have happened if Bill hadn't been killed and Jack had never married Joan? For one thing, there wouldn't be a Jan Kerouac as we knew her, and that could have had interesting ramifications for Jack's psyche as well as his comings and goings (i.e., not having to worry about Joan finding him for child support payments).

Wild Bill Cannastra, whose death by defenestration may have affected the trajectory of Jack Kerouac's life in ways we can only speculate about.

And there you have the weird Kerouacian blog post of the week, courtesy of a brain that always finds a way to make something about Jack. 


1 comment:

Crystal said...

According to Joan in her book, Nobody's Wife, she and Bill were never lovers, just close platonic friends. She spends quite a bit of the book on their relationship and I believe what she writes.