Stare out generic hotel window at movie reel freeway traffic lights overlain with generic hotel lamp (light's on--anyone home? where's that?) Humming HVAC only sound in this insulation of a room where nothing moves, not even me-- one of extremes, constant speeding or stone still, a range that harbors no variations--it's what I call BEAT a movement that burned out decades ago the coals are cold frail dust, like dinosaur's bones and those who remember are in their 70s now My glasses stare into the blanket I do not wear them to see
Tuesday, April 27
Well, I just got warned to stay away from Terminal Bar when evening hits. Terminal Bar, where the food was pretty terminal. It's a different brand of friendliness that you get here. More along the nature of Tennessee. People I talk to don't seem terribly excited about what I'm doing. I guess it's not that original. Maybe I'm just a Kerouac lemming.
I reached the level of beat Kerouac describes for himself in S.F. when I was in "Chi"--it didn't bring on any spiritual revelations, though. Just a cold I feared might turn into something more severe that would inhibit the rest of my trip. I'm not really finding any pearls on this trip...'cept the one of the northern Arizona landscape, maybe.
I talked with my friend Ken last night. Complained how the wild literary crowd K ran with is unavailable to me. That even if it exists today, I'm not tapped into it. He said that the network of K's time is no longer around. That the literary community of the '90s is disjointed.
Enter Noplace, USA while Distrust floats from your back in dried flecks of a hardened crust My engine chugs country western songs like an alcoholic with whiskey Sunny freeway skies -- going, always going -- it's the "American Way" in airport hotels with TV and DO NOT DISTURB (Don't TOUCH the merchandise) The West is western but I see hear & speak no Cowboys (you're getting the drivel of a too-fried rambling used-to-be brain, but now pure mush -- and still I struggle to BREAK OUT of the recurring motifs of this life's work.) Oh well.
The isolation of the West I spoke of earlier--I am beginning to feel it already here in Denver. People on the street are friendly/polite enough. But here I am at the Mercury Cafe--this place has a '60s feel to it. A place where you know the underground, those who have refused to become "suits," hang out. Yet the conversations are private. It is a closed circuit, unlike Dojo's in the East Village where you could have separate simultaneous conversations with people on either side of you. It is much emptier here, too. The "space" of the West. Do I stay here? Go to where Kerouac went? Which is the place he wrote about?
Well, here I am at El Chapultepec. This is suppposed to be the hottest jazz bar in Denver. I flipped it. I hit the pool tables in Chicago and the jazz joint in Denver. I haven't heard that much of their music but this band seems to be driven by the keyboardist. Who looks a little bit like Allen Davison.1 But the saxophone player's in the men's room and I want him to come back.
I guess he wasn't in the men's room, but he has his saxophone still attached to him. Giving me the impression he doesn't go anywhere without keeping it on. Have sax, will travel. I don't know if I'm having my picture taken right now but it sure feels like it. This woman that has been photographing the band, and she's a lot less shy about it than I was when I was in New Orleans trying to photograph the musicians there. She goes right up for it, right next to the drum set.
Another woman at the bar has been real interesting. She's been losing herself in the jazz. With closed eyes, fingers tapping out the movements...she's completely synchronous with the keyboardist. God, the people here are so much more interesting than that attorney at the Brown Whatever Hotel. I go into the most expensive hotel bar, thinking that's what is going to help get me warmed up cause I was feeling timid. So I'd start in a "safe" place--it's interesting. The only people I like talking to are the bus drivers, the cab drivers, the guys in the dive bars, people I encounter on the street. Everybody in here smokes and it would be easy to start taking up cigarettes even though I don't have the craving, oddly enough. Interestingly enough. Attempting to fill in the empty gap. And I don't know why the hell this couple keeps photographing me.
Man in the bar: All I want is one heavy blues song.
Sax player: Alright.
Man in the bar: I'll pay.
Sax Player: Here it is, man. I want you to bring the house down.
From the looks of it, the saxophone player is the bandleader. The woman at the bar is finally singing.
Woman at the bar: Woooooooooo!!! Ohhhh, yeah...
The pianist is taking the lead now. It's a shame, it's set up so that you can't watch his hands. I'm seeing crosses everywhere lately. Right now I'm looking at the one tattooed on a man's forearm. The woman was escorted offstage by the bartender.
Sax Player: Who she think she is, Barbra Streisand?
I've been talking with Mark the Bartender all night. He recommended Pete's Kitchen tomorrow for breakfast at Colfax and Gilbert. According to Mark, I'm on the edge of Mexican Town. I keep wanting to ask somebody what time it is but then I start wondering, maybe it doesn't matter. I shouldn't be going by time, I should be going by feel. When I'm ready to leave, I'll leave.
This drummer really gets into it--with his whole body. You can tell I'm getting buzzed--I've had two beers, and now I'm smoking a cigarette. I've just been informed by Mark the Bartender that I've hit on another one of Kerouac's spots. He introduces me to Jerry, who owns the place.
Jerry: Right behind there in the parking lot, right there, that's where he was sleepin'.
Jerry: He was sleepin' in the car right in the parking lot behind here. He used to come in, an' I thought he was a bum. How'd I know? He left here an' he went to New York an' he became a famous writer.
What was he like?
Jerry: I thought he was just a bum. Really.
Just because he drank a lot?
Jerry: Well, he used to go drinkin', he'd go leave here...he used to use my restroom an' that to go wash up an' change clothes and stuff.
Jerry: We put a fence up there now but there used to be all types of cars an' stuff there an' that's where he used to sleep. In his car. His car's parked there an' he used to go to all of these bars here up and down Larimer. But I don't advise you to go there.
Jerry: It's not a place that's safe--
Was it back then?
Jerry: Then it was a lot different. Now...the times have changed. You're talkin' thirty years ago. At that time there was over a hundred and something bars on Larimer. There was all of the bars, they tore it all down under urban renewal and now there's just a few of them left here. But--go in the daytime, don't bring anything with ya. Bring as little as ya have to. Because I'm bein' honest--it's not safe.
But it would have been when he was around.
Jerry: It was a lot different when they had all the stores and stuff there. Now there's nothin'. There's winos an' wetbacks an' drug dealers.
That wasn't going on back then?
Jerry: No. A lot of winos, transients an' such but not like it is today. Back then drugs wasn't that bad.
Did you ever talk to Kerouac when he was here?
Jerry: Yeah. I talked to him all the time, but I didn't pay no attention to what he was doin'.
What did he have to say?
Jerry: Nothing. To be honest, I'd get transients shuffln' in all the time. I don't pay no attention to them.
He was just another transient?
Jerry: He was just a transient. I thought he was a bum. He used to get drunk every day. Go back an' sleep in his car. That's why I said, I thought he was just a bum.
Well, he had a drinking problem.
Jerry: He spent a lot of dollars in here. To me, he was just a bum. We had all kinds of them coming through here.
Do you remember Neal Cassady at all?
Jerry: Cassady came here after.
Do you remember Neal Cassady better than you remember Kerouac?
Jerry: Kerouac, to me, I just thought he was just a...hippi, a drunk. All the drunks and the tramps. After a while you don't pay attention from one to another.
Did Dean Moriarty, did Neal Cassady used to play pool here?
Jerry: No, I didn't have a pool table back there then. There wasn't pool tables in the bars back then. Pool tables came into the bars.... When did pool tables come in? Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, somewhere around there?
Pool Player: Uhhh...sixty.
Jerry: Sixty. That's when the pool tables came in. Calvin, when was it Cassady came through here? Remember when Cassady came through here and wanted to talk to me? Do you remember? I said five, six years ago, I don't even remember.
Calvin: Geez.... It's so long ago, I don't even remember.
You knew Neal Cassady?
Jerry: He was just in here talking one day.
Calvin: He just stopped through.
Well, he grew up around here, didn't he?
Jerry: Remember when they came in and they left that card and that? I don't know. I said five, six, seven years. I don't know. Time goes by.
Well, Cassady's been dead awhile, hasn't he?
Dave: Yeah, but there was somebody that was in here that was related--
Jerry: Yeah, they gave me the card and I gave it to somebody. Somebody wanted the card as a souvenir.
So, you've had a lot of people come by to talk to you?
Jerry: There's been a lot of them over the years. Lots and lots and lots of them. Different people, different ways of life. Lawyers, airline pilots, writers and such. I tell them the best I can.
Like you said, times have changed so much. It'd make more sense to try to figure out what made that book--
Jerry: To me, I thought he was a bum, an' he gets back to New York an' he becomes a famous writer.
Did you ever read the book?
You weren't even curious what he said about Denver?
Jerry: What do I care about it?
It's just life, right?
Jerry: Just another day.
1 A quirky mandolin player and co-founder of the band The Philes, for which he shaved his beard ("Facial hair is not cool for a Phile," he explained at the time), who lives in San Diego and is married to a wonderful artist named Michelle.
>Read the rest of In Search of Jack Kerouac: Part 5<