Sunday, March 13, 2016

Celebrating Jack Kerouac's 94th birthday in Lowell, MA -- March 12, 2016

Roger Brunelle convenes the multitudes at the Commemorative (Richard, Rich, and Bill are in this shot)

March 12, got an early start from Maine headed to Lowell to dig other Kerouacians celebrating Jack's 94th birthday -- by early I mean earlier than planned to give me time, time to get lost, time to get stuck on I495 traffic -- but 8 miles and 12 (seemed longer) minutes Lowell-ward I realize I still have my house shoes on. Now, house shoes, as everyone knows, are easy-on sloppy shoes you only wear around the house and aren't fit for walking redbrick city streets on a crisp spring day, so I exit and re-enter I95 heading the opposite direction, the wrong direction -- of course, I startle her with my return and explain why I'm back and naturally my stomach isn't cooperating so I visit the w.c., making me even later and now later by 20 minutes than my latest planned start time and I worry about being late for the big rendezvous with my friend Richard at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center (where you can park for free as long as you get your ticket validated). So, I drive like Dean Moriarty all the way to Lowell and pull into the parking lot at the NHPVC two minutes ahead of Richard and it's good to see my friend and we make our way to the Visitor Center to get validated and use the john (sucks to be old but beats the alternative) before making our way across Market Street and over to Merrimack to walk in the sun to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative at Bridge and French Streets where I learn that my phone -- my only camera -- is about dead from acting as a GPS for the trip despite being plugged into the "cigarette lighter" (quotes meaning it hardly is that anymore). We give Roger Brunelle, Kerouac/Lowell docent extraordinaire and tour leader, hugs -- he looks well and we are happy about that -- and chat a bit and also greet Lowell/Kerouac docent extraordinaire Bill Walsh and Rich from Long Island who we see virtually every October at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac which also is putting on this day's activities -- not the usual October crowd but about 20 or so people (see pic above) are gathered among the Commemorative's stones and Roger starts the downtown walking tour with background about the Commemorative with a few minutes to browse all the Kerouac passages chiseled in stone before following him over to Merrimack Street where he reads some Kerouac passages from well-thumbed index cards's he's used a million times and we are transported back to the time when young Jack worked at the Sun newspaper whose building dwarfs us like it did Jack -- and on up Merrimack we go stopping here and there and the traffic and sirens drowning Roger out on occasion but it doesn't matter because we're in Lowell on Jack's birthday and there's La Bon Marché Building where Jack held a booksigning for The Town and the City and there's Lowell High School and the clock (under which Jack may have kissed Mary Carney but there's some dispute about when that clock was actually installed -- I even blogged about it but forgot I had done so and Richard thought Roger thought it was installed too late for Jack to have been there but today he and Bill didn't think that necessarily) and City Hall and Pollard Memorial Library where he went to read books instead of attend class and kept his grades up anyway or because of it and now just like that it's lunchtime so we have lunch at an old hangout of Jack's -- the Worthen House -- right around the corner...the hot meatloaf sandwich with cheese and Cajun mayo makes my mouth water -- and I forgot to say that Roger joined us and wouldn't you know he paid for our lunches on the sly when we thought he was just paying for his drink and Rich joined us later, too, and we got some inside scoop on various Lowell and Kerouacian things and talked about being retired and teaching and the usual guy stuff. Next up Richard and I made time for a stroll around Lowell looking for coffee but the new organic fru-fru place is packed with a line and we see another one along Merrimack and an old guy hears us pondering it -- something about hypertext book cafe or something -- and warns us it's expensive and there's a Dunkin' Donuts in the next block so we go there and drink our coffees strolling the path that leaves Market Street and meanders along the canal and then over to Merrimack, Richard asking a young father taking pictures of his young son if he'd like a shot of both of them -- Sure! -- and Richard snaps a pic and I almost don't make it to the Visitor Center bathroom before committing a misdemeanor along the parking garage but I make it and we both make it to Steve Edington's talk on time (our Worthen excursion made us late for Bill Walsh's Pollard Memorial Library tour and we had skipped that, feeling guilty about it now) comparing the lives of Jack and Woody Guthrie and it's very informative and well done and David Amram gets up to play his pennywhistle/flute thingie behind Steve's conclusion and gives a talk about various things including the importance of finding an outlet for your creativity including self-publishing a book if that's what it takes and I think about my book which I'm fixing to again leave at Jack's grave but that is tomorrow -- afterwards we have a little time before the open mike at The Worthen so I follow Richard to my hotel (my GPS is out of commission like my camera) and we get a little lost and go around the rotary twice and he sees Stephens Street (more on that later and it may be v not ph) but we finally take the correct exit off the rotary and I get my key form the Courtyard desk clerk and park and grab my stuff for the rest of the day and Richard gives me a lift to The Worthen saving me cab fare but first we must go drive along Stephens Street where he says John Sampas lives then it's on to The Worthen where we part ways as he is heading home and I am continuing on. Upstairs is only Rich and Cliff Whalen is setting up so I go downstairs to grab a Baxter's (from Maine) Stowaway IPA and see Cat DeLeon from Lynn -- the artist we've mentioned here before -- and we say hi for the first time in person with a hug and chat a little and then we retire upstairs where there ends up being me and Rich and Cat and her nephew and her friend and Cliff and Bill Walsh so not much reading happens -- I read the last few paragraphs of On the Road, reciting the last paragraph by heart -- and Cat reads an excellent original for Jack's birthday and then some unpublished Lucien Carr letters -- and no one else wants to read so it turns into a Talking Jack session (LCKers will know what that title means) where we sit around and muse about things Kerouacian and wow do we muse -- lots about Kerouac's class consciousness and the influence of Lucien -- and I learn that Moxie was invented in Lowell not Maine and was called Moxie Nerve Food Tonic (thanks, Bill Walsh) and over an hour flies by so it's time for dinner -- Rich and I grab a  burger at the Wicked Irish Pub - 'twas good -- before heading to the UnchARTed Gallery to wait for jazz by the The Moody Street Sound and drink Naragansett (brewed in Rochester, NY) but the only seats are the couch in the back pointing at the bar and not the music but good thing we take it because there's enough room for Bill Walsh to squeeze in later and he and I get a chance to shoot the breeze and laugh at the guy during intermission doing a performance piece called "Iceberg Lettuce" -- several Naragansetts later (Bill says sportscaster Curt Gowdy used to advertise it and take a sip during the commercial) this old Kerouac fan is tired and I say my goodbyes to various folks and call Yellow Cab with my phone I charged a little at The Worthen -- hope they don't mind and I was glad I remembered to stow my charger in my backpack -- and wait in the flashing lights of some emergency vehicles down Market a ways -- the cab is timely enough and comes from the opposite direction I anticipated and cabbie makes sure I don't get in on the traffic side and I get a good cab ride -- safe and just chatty enough -- for a fitful night's sleep in a strange bed to recharge enough to visit Jack's grave the next morning which I do first thing and leave a book and then make my way back to Maine thinking about all the great Kerouac people I get to hang around even though one of them -- I won't say which one -- brings up our crazy Governor mostly because of his French-Canadian background and I'm sad that I didn't take my usual raft of pictures but I did get a couple as you can see and it was safe and efficient travel back to my sweetie in Maine and Karma the cat was happy and now it's back to the work-a-day world and no one said the secret word this year (again) but there's a brand new signed copy of The Beat Handbook (may get rained on - didn't bring my usual plastic bag for it) on Jack's grave in Edson Cemetery and I even rinsed off the Massachusetts road dust from my car this morning, thinking about Lowell and Jack and how like we talked about instead of open miking every seemingly at the time "little" decision makes up your life's trajectory and I think about how different my life would be if it weren't for Jack Kerouac. I'm happy, me.

The clock at Lowell High School under which Jack may have kissed Mary Carney (Maggie Cassidy)

The evening's beer of choice ($3 a can)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it was all that. Good work, good time, good friends. RM