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Authors: Jack Kerouac

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BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
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Ginger pondered for a moment.
“It's only five blocks downtown from your place,” supplied Polly, growing interested in the affairs of her world.
“But I have to get my permanent, Polly,” affirmed Ginger with a trace of desperation.
“You will still have time.”
“Sure!” chimed in Polly.
Ginger was trapped, and she knew it; she was trapped by the insistent logic of woman-kind, as surely as she had trapped others in her moments.
“Oh all right, I guess I can,” she concluded reluctantly. The other two girls leaned back, satisfied.
Wesley, who had been watching and listening, while the other two men were in reverie, now also leaned back in satisfaction. He gazed at Polly and wondered about her: she had been behaving unusually well all night, to his thinking, but now she had betrayed her colors. Polly was a woman! But when he squeezed her arm, and Polly touched her lips to his chin, quietly saying “Boo!” and tweaking his nose, he decided women had their virtues.
“Where and when do we go?” spoke George.
“To the place,” said Eve, picking up her handbag with long shiny fingers. “One of you two get a quart.”
“I'll get it,” mumbled Everhart. “By God, I'll get two quarts.”
“Let's go,” cried Polly.
In the cool night street, Polly hung from Wesley's arm and shuffled a dance step while Everhart crossed Broadway to a liquor store. The others chatted and laughed; all admitted their insobriety to one another, except Wesley, who shrugged uncertainly; they laughed.
On the way to Eve's and Ginger's, they were all very gay and marched down the side street linked six abreast while Everhart sang the Marseilleise. Near an alley, Day stopped the whole group and pledged their health with one of the quarts. They all followed suit, Wesley taking at one lift of the bottle what sure must have been a half pint of the whisky.
“You from Tennessee?” drawled Ginger while the others giggled in amazement.
“Hell no, woman!” answered Wesley with a sheepish grin.
They laughed raucously and proceeded on down the street. From then on, Wesley was aware of only three things: that he drank two more enormous draughts from the bottle; that he was in New York at night, because they were walking in a steep canyon between tall corniced buildings that leaned crazily, and the stars were very far
away from all this, nodding, aloof, cool up there overhead, and sternly sober; and finally, that he discovered he was holding an empty quart bottle as they climbed the stoop to the apartment, so he turned around and hurled it far up the empty street, and when the glass shattered and the girls screamed, he wanted to tell them that was what he thought of all the talk they had made tonight.
CHAPTER TWO
New Morning
When Wesley woke up, he wasn't surprised that he didn't know where he was. He sat on the edge of the bed and was annoyed because he could see all of his clothes except the socks. After having put on his shirt, trousers, and coat he squatted on the floor barefooted and peered under the bed. His socks were not there.
He left the bedroom, glancing briefly at the sleeping Polly on his bed, and roamed through the apartment searching for his socks. He went into the bathroom, with its steamy smell of soap, and rummaged around in a welter of silk underthings, hanging rayon stockings, and castoff slips. They were not to be found; as a last resort, he peeked under the bathtub. Not there.
He rubbed his teeth with his forefinger, threw water on his face, sneezed two or three times, and shuffled off into the parlor carrying his moccasins.
Everhart was sitting by the window reading a Reader's Digest.
“Where the hell are my socks?” Wesley wanted to know.
“Oh hello Wes! How do you feel?” greeted Bill, adjusting his glasses to peer at Wesley.
Wesley sat down and put on his moccasins over his bare feet.
“Lousy,” he admitted.
“I feel likewise . . . how about a bromo? I made myself one in the pantry.”
“Thanks.”
They went into the pantry where a fragile blue-pink light streamed in from the morning street. Everhart prepared the sedative while Wesley inspected the contents of the refrigerator, picking himself out a cold orange.
“We're the only ones up,” chatted Everhart. “George sleeps late all the time. Eve left for work this morning . . . I can't say as I envy her after what she drank last night.”
“Eve your girl?” inquired Wesley.
Everhart handed him the bromo: “I was with her last night; George was with Ginger.”
Wesley drank down the sedative.
“Eve works at Heilbroner's, she gets off at noon. Ginger'll have to get up soon herself—she's a model. Boy! What a night . . .”
Everhart followed Wesley back into the parlor.
“Is Polly awake yet?” Bill asked.
Wesley shrugged: “Wasn't when I got up.”
“You certainly are the boy with the women,” laughed Everhart, turning on the radio. “She was all over you last night; rare thing for Polly.”
“Cute kid,” reflected Wesley. He walked over to the window and sat on the ledge; pushing open a side pane, he glanced down at the street. It was a cool, sunny morning. The brownstone buildings, reminders of an older New York, stood in deep brown against a sky of magic blue; a pink-winged breeze breathed in through the open window. A faint sea-tang filled the new morning.
The radio began to play a Bing Crosby ballad. Wesley swept his gaze down the street and saw the Hudson in the clear distance, a mirrored sheen specked with merchant ships.
Everhart was standing beside him: “What do you do, Wes?”
Wesley pointed toward the ships on the river.
Everhart gazed in the same direction: “You're a merchant seaman are you?”
Wesley nodded as he offered his friend a cigarette; they lit up in silence.
“How is it?” inquired Everhart.
Wesley turned his brown eyes on Bill: “I try to make it my home,” he said.
“Lonely sort of business, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” admitted Wesley, emitting a double tendril of smoke from his nose.
“I always thought about the sea and ships and that sort of thing,” said Everhart, his eyes fixed on the distant ships. “Get away from all this baloney.”
They heard women's laughter from the bedrooms, rich bursts of confidential mirth that precipitated a sheepish grin on Everhart's face: “The gals are up; now what in heavens are they laughing about?”
“Women always laugh that way,” smiled Wesley.
“Isn't it the truth?” agreed Everhart. “Gets my goat oftentimes; wonder if they're laughing at me . . .”
Wesley smiled at Everhart: “Why should they man?”
Everhart laughed as he removed his heavy glasses to polish them; he looked quite younger without them: “Tell you one thing, though; no finer sound in the morning than women laughing in the next room!”
Wesley opened his mouth and widened his eyes in his characteristic silent laughter.
“Whose apartment is this?” Wesley presently asked, throwing his cigarette butt in the street below.
“It's Eve's,” responded Everhart, adjusting his spectacles. “She's a drunkard.”
From the next room Polly's voice called out in a hurt way: “Is my Wesley gone away?”
“No he's still here,” called back Everhart.
“That's my honey!” asserted Polly from the next room.
Wesley smiled from his seat at the window. Everhart approached him: “Why don't you go on in?”
“Had enough. That's all I been doing for two weeks,” confided Wesley.
Everhart laughed heartily. At the radio, he tuned for a while until he found a satisfactory program.
“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” informed Everhart. “Great old tune, isn't it? What does it make you think of?”
They both listened for awhile, until Wesley made his answer; “Abe Lincoln and the Civil War, I guess.”
Ginger swept into the room and gasped: “My Gawd! Will you look at this room!” It was, indeed, a sorry sight: chairs were turned over, bottles, glasses, and cocktail mixers were strewn everywhere, and a vase had been broken near the couch. “I'll have to improve this mess somewhat before I go to work,” she added, more or less
to herself. “How do you feel, Shortypants?” she asked of Everhart. Then, without a pause for his response: “Wes! You look absolutely tip-top there? Haven't you got a big head?”
Wesley nodded toward Everhart: “He gave me a bromo. I feel right fine.”
“Right fine,” echoed Everhart. “I heard that expression last time . . .”
“George is still sleeping!” interrupted Ginger, bustling around picking up the bottles and things. “He's a lazy old slop.”
“Last time I heard ‘right fine' was down in Charlotte, North Carolina,” continued Everhart. “They also used to say, when you wanted to know where something was, that it was ‘right yonder,' I thought you were from Vermont, Wes?”
“I am,” smiled Wesley. “I been all over this country though; spent two years in the south. Them expressions just come to me.”
“Been to California?” asked Everhart.
“All over the place—forty-three states. I guess I missed Dakota, Missouri, Ohio and a few others.”
“What were you doing, just loafing around?” inquired Everhart.
“I worked here and there.”
“My goodness, it's already ten o'clock!” discovered Ginger. “Let's eat some breakfast right away! I've got to beat it!”
“Do you have any eggs?” asked Everhart.
“Oh, hell, no! Eve and I finished them yesterday morning.”
Polly entered the room in Ginger's bathrobe, smiling after a shower: “I feel better,” she announced. “Mornin' Wesley!” She walked to his side and puckered her lips: “Kiss me!” Wesley planted a brief kiss on her lips, then slowly blew a cloud of smoke into her face.
“Give me a drag!” demanded Polly, reaching for his cigarette.
“I'll go down and buy some eggs and fresh coffee buns,” Everhart told Ginger. “Make some fresh coffee.”
“Okay!”
“Coming with me, Wes?” called Everhart.
Wesley ruffled Polly's hair and rose to his feet: “Right!”
“Come right back,” said Polly, peering slant-eyed through a cloud of cigarette smoke with a small seductive smile.
“Back right soon!” cried Everhart, slapping Wesley on the back.
In the automatic elevator, they could still hear the strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” coming from Eve's radio.
“That song makes you think of Abe Lincoln and the Civil War,” remembered Everhart. “It does me too, but it also makes me mad. I want to know what the hell went wrong, and who it was inflicted the wrong.” The elevator stopped on the ground floor and slid open its doors. “That old cry ‘America! America' What in heavens happened to its meaning. It's as though an America is just that—America—a beautiful word for a beautiful world—until people just simply come to its shores, fight the savage natives, develop it, grow rich, and then lean back to yawn and belch. God, Wes, if you were an assistant instructor in English Literature as I am, with its songs, songs ever saying: ‘Go on! Go on!' and then you look over your class, look out of the window, and there's your America, your songs, your pioneer's cry to brave the West—a roomful of bored bastards, a grimy window facing Broadway with its meat markets and barrooms and God knows the rest. Does this mean frontiers from now on are to be in the imagination?”
Wesley, it is to be admitted, was not listening too closely: he was not quite certain as to what his friend rambled on about. They were now in the street. Ahead, a colored man was busy disposing of a black pile of coal down
a hole in the sidewalk: the coal flashed back the sun's morning brilliance like a black hill studded with gems.
“It certainly does,” Everhart assured himself. “And there is promise in that: but no more romance! No more buckskins and long rifles and coonskins and hot buttered rum at Fort Dearborn, no more trails along the river, no more California. That state is the end of it; if California had stretched around the world back to New England, we might have driven west eternally, rediscovering and rebuilding and moving on until civilization would assume the aspects of a six-day bike race with new possibilities at each bend. . . .”
Wesley, walking around the coal pile with his talkative friend, addressed the man with the shovel.
“Hey there, Pops! Don't work too hard!”
The man looked up and smiled happily: “Watch out there, man!” he shouted with whooping delight, leaning on his shovel. “You is talkin' out mah league—I doan split no gut! Hoo hoo hoo!”
“That's the ticket, Pops!” said Wesley, looking back with a smile.
“I swear to God,” resumed Everhart, adjusting his glasses, “if this were 1760 I'd be on my way West with the trappers, explorers, and the huntsmen! I'm not rugged, the Lord knows, but I want a life with purpose, with a driving
force and a mighty one at that. Here I am at Columbia, teaching—what of it? I accomplish nothing; my theories are accepted and that's all there is to it. I have seen how ideas are accepted and set aside for reference . . . that is why I gave up writing a long time ago. I'm thirty-two now; I wouldn't write a book for a million. There's no sense to it. Those lynx-eyed explorers—they were the American poets! The great unconscious poets who saw hills to the westward and were satisfied and that was that: they didn't have to rhapsodize, their very lives did that with more power than a Whitman! Do you read much, Wes?”
BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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