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The Northport Report

August 30th, 2013 · 14 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Real-life Adventure Tales, Weird Things About Me

 The Northport Report

 

P1020217

 

Whale, we had another Jackfest — dancing with Big Sur by the Sea, My Brothers! — this time in Jack’s wave-lapping hometown of Northport, the idyllic little living Rockwell harbortown where he went to dock near the darkness of the city but still remain a slip away.

I’m just back from the novel-performing road trip with Cassady, and his bottle’s still spinning on the table but not falling over as he’s dashed out the door to JFK to hop the bird back to Cali, so before the body gets cold and the news gets old lemme be so bold as to share some gold …

Sunday, July 22nd, 2001 began with a proclamation where the mayor gave Carolyn & John Cassady the keys to the city or some such thing at a very official ceremony. And as part of it, Carolyn read two revealing letters Jack wrote to her. One, from Oct. ’61, was just after he finished writing Big Sur, and describes the big bursting Cassady-Kerouac reunion scene in Ferling’s tiny cabin that, wildly, we were all going to read together later. Both letters were full of longing and heart-felt passion — and Carolyn’s just a beaming gem in a tender-heart treasure-chest. Jack and her were really close, and it’s so nice she was around for the whole weekend being open and accessible to anyone who wanted to talk.

It was Sunday morning in the Universe, and this being the crumbling Empire of New York, there were no liquor stores open! So, Big Tim Moran and I — he was Edie, Henri & Herbert’s friend — bolted back to our Chalet hideaway to collect the only bottle of cold white wine in town. It was a dizzy hounds of hair morning for more than just myself after a night of howling at the Jackmoon out on George Wallace’s back deck. We were bad. Clearly could have used some parental supervision.

So Tim and I follow the directions to where the all-day reading of the novel will be, and he looks back at the paper and says, “That’s it right there,” pointing to a sign that reads “Northport Police Station”!

He kept driving looking for a parking spot as I’m looking back over my shoulder, but still see the word “Police”, as I’m tryin to shake the picture clearer in my beer-soaked lab, but it still, “Looks like it said ‘Police Station’ back there.”

“Yeah,” Tim bursts out with a long-suppressed laugh. “That’s where it is.”

“Hmm,” I say, turning around, trying to count how many laws I was breaking at the moment. “First time we ever played a cop shop,” I Jaked to his Elwood.

We go up the stairs and on the right is the door directly into the precinct, and in the center are 2 glass doors leading to . . . a courtroom. Sure enough, we’re celebrating Jack’s judgement day novel in a court of law. There’s a poem in here somewhere. But we must have been acquitted cuz in the end (tho I don’t want to give it away) we were all let go on our own recognizance.

Levi Asher and others are sitting up in the judge’s bench area, there’s a big camera from the Metro Channel in the witness stand, and the room’s packed with rows of chairs that are all full in the early excitement. Maybe a hundred people, then a spilling overflow anti-chamber room just outside the courtroom by the glass doors where the pacers and racers had a space to zoom. Printed on the front of the table with the books and CDs for sale it says in big bold letters: “Defendants Stand Here” — as if we needed this reminder when we’re admitting our guilty pleasure!

Outside the doors, the front steps became the green room hang-out scene. You could just open the glass doors and hear the show from right there, and sorta pick whichever chapter or reader you wanted to catch, then take a break and hang with the cigarette smokers and surreal surfers.

It became obvious that we needed a proper dressing room, so I brought out a nice chair for St. Carolyn By The Sea, and that pretty much evened out the Universe — except that we didn’t have a corkscrew! We thought of going in the police station to see if they’d confiscated one recently but instead John & Big Tim went across the street to the old brick house that was the Northport Hysterical Society with two old ladies behind glass-top counters containing artifacts and tiny labels like, “Hammer – circa 1850” or “Mabel – circa 1925”

“Uh, do you have a corkscrew by any chance?” asks our dangerous duo. “No, I should say not!” Then Ambassador John turns on the charm and they get to talkin’ and he says, “It’s for me mum, she’s the co-chair at your event across the street.”

“Oh, who’s she?” asks the inquisitive matron. John looks down at the countertop and there’s a picture of her & Jack & John’s two sisters. “That’s her right there.” And the motherly one behind the counter smiles and says, “Just a minute,” and goes and unlocks one of the glass cabinets and takes out this large bone handle corkscrew that Walt Whitman used or something and goes, “Here, maybe this’ll work.”

So we popped open the bottle, and oh yeah, we’d brought one crystal goblet from the sweet suite, and got Carolyn perched on a throne sitting at the top of this grand staircase like Abe Lincoln, holding a glass of wine and holding court, surrounded by her coterie of boys as different people would come by to visit her. Most would squat down to be close to her, and each would have some story they wanted to share, always including the line, “I first read On The Road in 19whatever and it changed my life . . .”. Eventually I snuck out a few more chairs and smuggled over some Heinekens from my secret iced 2-4 stash in the trunk and it evolved into a full-blown, feet-up, room-with-a-view backstage party — on the front steps of the Main Street police station at high noon on a Sunday!

Inside the reading, Dave Amram’s set up in the corner with his 7,000 instruments strewn all over the place, with drummer Kevin Twigg workin the brushes on a full kit, and bearded John Dewitt thrummin’ the upright bass. There’s about 5 different little digi cameras rollin, and it looks like a two-camera shoot from The Metro Channel. There’s musician-poet Casey Cyr, painter-poet Susan Bennett, installation artist China Blue, filmmakers and actors Michelle Esrick and Peter Gerety, architect and photographer Larry Smith, poet George Dickerson, and on and on.

And if this wasn’t already enough of a Surreal Circus — in between some readers there were these — belly-dancers!  Ya’huh. Jingling little-bell-tingling colorfully costumed barefoot belly-dancers weaving to Amram’s best Middle-Eastern snake-charmer, and yer goin’, “Okay, which one’a you Pranksters slipped the acid in my joe?”

Within this belly-dancing 3-ring courtroom, some readers really rose to the occasion — like Levi Asher on chapter 9 who was understated and funny and riveting reading Jack’s first sea-me breakdown. And then this actor John Ventimiglia who’s in The Sopranos among other things, plays Artie the restaurant owner, he’s way into Jack (had just played him in Joyce Johnson’s play Door Wide Open) and as John smiled later, “He sounded more like Jack than Jack does.” And Carolyn said, “When I closed my eyes I thought I was listening to Jack.” So he was pretty good. He read chapters 10 and 11 including Jack’s great description of Lew Welch & Phil Whalen’s S.F. Zen-East House crashpad.

And then this local woman Kate Kelly came up for 12 and kicked the thing into another gear being really passionate and playful and strong and forceful and funny, all done with a smile as Jack rages thru his confusion. Then, with Amram on piano, John Cassady read chapter 13 — and John’s funny cuz he throws in all these little asides and commentary on the text as it’s passing. “’… in the old photo …’ Hey who took that? ‘… throwing tires all over the place …’ Oh this is so accurate, it’s great,” he says, laughing along to a quick memory movie. He picked chapter 13 cuz it’s about their life in Los Gatos, and he’s tossing off comments to his mom who’s keeping a running commentary right back in a smile sharing across a half-a-stage and half-a-century of them playing together.

After John read, we had a break until the three of us were on for our chapter 23 group jam, so we drifted down Main Street and popped in Gunther’s Tap Room, Jack’s old drinking hole, and you can see why — nuthin but a bar and a pool table. Except today there’s just tons of people sitting around with orange & black Big Sur paperbacks in front of them. So we shambled off like dingledodies down the sidewalk like we’ve been doing all our lives until we found a front window booth in some joint who’s motto was: “If you want service, serve yourself.” No sooner did we sit down than Levi and his sister Sharon come along (who was into the Beats before Levi was, we learned this weekend) and they stand there looking at the outside menu as we’d done seconds earlier and make the same call we did. And then Regina Weinreich … and now there’s a whole whack of us Beats munchin the Big Cereal recovery brunchfast. But this is also how ya miss part of the show, you understand.

So of course I get us back to the gig about 5 minutes before we’re supposed to go on, as Carolyn’s proclaiming with a raised I-told-you-so finger, “Brian gets things done!” followed by a big smile and laugh. She’s been riffing that refrain since we first started hanging together and by now it’s a running joke.

For my reading, even before we knew they were coming to Northport, I’d picked chapter 23 about the Cassadys arriving at the cabin and surprising Jack and McClure. I wanted to do it justice if they weren’t gonna be here to do it themselves (it is a courtroom after all) — then Lo and Behold! The Angels! They showed! So we weaved it into having John do the Neal & “Timmy” parts, Carolyn doing her parts, and me playing narrator Jack. We’d read together in Amsterdam — the first time John & Carolyn ever performed together thanks to High Times and the Cannabis Cup of all things. Then John and I just did a duet in L.A. at the Jack scroll-writing celebration that S.A. Griffin & I put together for Jack-finishing-On The Road-Day April 22nd, so we were already old hams at this.

And it was funny cuz everybody else was reading solo and suddenly we’re a trio with god knows what kind of improv winginess, and I’m sure ol’ producer George Wallace was kinda, “Oh jeez, what are these guys gonna do?!” ‘Course, we had no idea either. We’d gotten together the afternoon before and attempted to block off paragraphs and passages, but we were all just seeing each other for the first time in ages and much more gushy gooey gabby than rehearsey.

And it was funny — I wuz tryin to funnel some paragraphs or passages to Carolyn cuz she didn’t have too many “lines”, and each time I’d pass over something she’d scan down it and then go, “Aaa-no.” She loves the writing but it’s too close to home and some pretty graphic details about Cody’s lovelife.  But it also has the stuff about Carolyn having two husbands for a while, which she loves, so we just go, “Ah, wheel wing it. No potholes on this golden road.”

So we get to the courtroom and Amram’s just taken off for soundcheck at his evening concert, but our “song” was gonna be so chaotically theatric we’d be more than making our own music!  So we start off, bouncing back & forth, and John takes the McClure dialogue so we get to perform the cabin rap in two voices, and then he also rides the “Boom!” Cassady-bursting-in-the-door scene. When Jack lists the kids’ character names John starts laughing at his sister Jami’s Jackname ‘Gaby’. “See, that’s so perfect for her cuz she used to get up on his knee and just gab-gab-gab-gab-gab.”

And John takes off on the Neal raps, channeling Pop, rollin fast like the road, with animated hand gestures, laughin’, goofin’, playin’.  Carolyn yells out “Grape” when Cody’s tryin to think of his new jeep’s color.  At Jack’s comical adage for Neal, “He Lived, He Sweated”, John cracks up and starts doing this classic Cassady Sweating Shuffle dance at the podium, laughin and hemmin ‘n’ hawin and ah-shucksin’ and ya-had-to-be-therein’, then laughs again and says, “Ah man, that’s the best line in the book. I’m only serious.”

At Carolyn’s dialogue we all get it about half right which of course makes it even funnier and everybody’s laughin but it’s workin and there’s Carolyn gentle and petit and lady-like laughing away and gamely trying to hit her mark and it was a sweet tender family-beaming moment in Beatport.

 

After the reading we went off on a wild adventure to two of Jack’s three houses in town. The first one at 34 Gilbert was Really Nice!  Couldn’t believe it.  He bought it for $14,000 in March ’58 on a one-afternoon road trip with Robert Frank and Joyce Glassman (Johnson) just after On The Road splashed down.  It’s a large Victorian, 50 years old when he bought it, with brown shingle siding, a big front porch, high front hedge, massive tree in backyard, and a big old double garage for both the cars he couldn’t drive. The house has three floors, with an attic garret for his writing zone, and as Levi kept commenting on, this beautiful stained-glass window in the front, looked like a reclining cubist nude, maybe 3′ wide, 18″ high. “You’d think this would have made it into the fiction somewhere,” Levi says.

So we take a buncha snaps with Levi and John and China Blue and Anthony who booked us in Amsterdam and who grew up right behind Jack’s house here as he tells us about Memere inviting them in for cocoa in the winter and disheveled Jack shuffling around in his terrycloth bathrobe and bedroom slippers.

All weekend there were different people with different memories of Jack. The artist Stanley Twardowicz was softly sharing stories of their drinking exploits, and Larry Smith who took their pictures remembering the mix of solemness and revelry, and all these other locals with little anecdotes about him. He really did live in Northport a long time — April ’58 to September ’64, minus a few excursions to Orlando.

Stanley was a great guy, by the way. Very friendly and open and sensitively remembering his old friend. Larry Smith had a few photos he’s never had published that were haunting. One of them from ’64 just gave Carolyn the willies. “It’s all in there. It’s all in those eyes,” she’d say emphatically pointing and shivering all over.

Then we went to his second house at 49 Earl Avenue after getting lost for about 500 hours. This was the “secret hideaway” he moved to after he sold Gilbert Street and their plans to build a house in Florida fell through — and where he was living when he took the Big Sur trip.  He bought it in part for the finished basement he envisioned as his study, but later insulated the attic and put in a little electric fireplace to warm his crow’s-nest.  It looks smaller than Gilbert, and did indeed have “the six-foot fence I’d built around my yard for privacy,” as he describes in Big Sur — a high old stockade style that you couldn’t see thru or get over.  In fact Jack climaxes Big Sur right here on Earl with, “— The corner of the yard where Tyke is buried will be a new fragrant shrine making my home even more homelike somehow — On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under the stars — Something good will come out of all things yet —” And sitting on the front step of the house watching us watch the house was this big warm friendly calico cat, who never laid down or ran scaredy-cat away, but rather held there, saying, “Hello. Yes. I’m here.”

We never did find 7 Judyann Court, but wheel be back cuz we were all fully stoked about this fairy tale of a town with its salty harbor and sultry air.  I mean gorgeous — quaint old-world Main Street with windy tree-covered sideroads, surrounded by hills ‘n’ sails, and nooks ‘n’ grannies. “Why didn’t Jack write more about this place?” Carolyn kept asking. The beauty of the town was really the surprise hit of the weekend for all of us. We were fully bummed we didn’t catch more of the readers, but it was such a gorgeous day and there were seven or eight Adventure Cards on deck. Had t’play ‘em.

After the tour, we all went out for this enormous steak dinner following a tip from a local actor Cassady’d dubbed John Goodman — and we took over the place.  It was your jumbo grill here’s-the-beef kinda joint where we could only get a big table in the non-smoking section, so we’d keep leaving our spread completely empty like a Dine ‘n’ Dash and huddle in the smoking corner while our sad plates sat there silently steaming.

We finally headed to Amram’s show late as hell, got lost, and when we finally found the park in the dark there’s this flood of people leaving with lawn chairs and blankets, and we’re like, “Whoops!”  Carolyn and John were supposed to read some Jack with Dave’s band. So we wag up with our tails between our legs — but thank gawd he’s just takin a break and there’s a whole second set!

I spotted Jason Eisenberg, the crazy Lord Buckley channel who read chapter 18 and was probably great but we missed him when we went for that surreal recovery brunch, so he & I snuck away for a comical confab in the holy gazebo in the back of the park and riffed on the Universe as Dave wailed away on Ellington and Monk down the dark treed hill below us.

Then Carolyn came out and read the part of OTR where Jack’s “on the rooftop of America,” at The Great Divide, yelling across the plains to an old man with white hair walking toward him with “the Word”.  And then John came out and knocked it out of the Harry Chapin Park — probably his best reading ever.  Like a blues player he sang, “I’ll be seeing old Denver at last.”  By this time I’d wound down with Levi and his parents & sister on a blanket right at the foot of the stage, and he leaned in and whispered, “He’s channeling Neal.”

Then John Ventimiglia did the ‘Hearing Shearing’ riff from On The Road with Dave’s sextet stepping into the role of Shearing’s band. Killer jazz-jam rendition. And local hero George Wallace closed the show with the classic last paragraph of OTR, just praised by the New York Times’ Editorial Page earlier this year. He read with this quiet sadness that almost made me cry, and it sounded like he was going to break down himself and could barely choke out the words, “I think of Dean Moriarty.”

So, there it is.  I believe there may have been some drinking involved. Some folks are real straight and some folks are nine-bottles-later. It was pretty funny. But everyone was golden and glistening. It was really … small town niceness. The locals are livin’ near enough to New York City that there’s still a healthy voltage surging thru them, and they’re passionate about words & self-expression and being yourself — all the while living in a Norman Rockwell painting — just really good people … with a penchant for partying in police stations. 

 

{An early version of this story first appeared in Beat Scene magazine.}

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For an excerpt from my book about the ’82 Kerouac Conference in Boulder — check out Meeting Your Heroes.

For more from the Boulder Beat Book — check out Who All Was There.

For Henri Cru’s 70th birthday party — check out The Legend Turns 70!

For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.

For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.

For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure!

For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.

For a beautiful poem to Carolyn Cassady on her birthday — check out the Carolyn Cassady Birthday Poem.

For an account of the historic Beat show at the Whitney Museum in New York — check out Wailin’ at the Whitney.

For an inspiring and colorful description of being at a Beat jazz-&-poetry reading in Greenwich Village — check out Be The Invincible Spirit You Are.

 

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by Brian Hassett      —      KarmaCoupon@gmail.com

BrianHassett.com

 

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Levi Asher // Aug 31, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Wow! I remember it all vividly and it was just like you said.
    Thanks for writing it down.

  • 2 Susan Bennett // Aug 31, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Really enjoyed reading that Brian!

  • 3 Kevin Twigg // Sep 1, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    Fantastic!
    Such a great day, and great to read your side of the days events.
    Once again, Brian, you hit the grand slam of easy reads!

  • 4 Vincent X // Sep 1, 2013 at 10:09 PM

    Great read indeed! Kudos, Brian.

  • 5 Jason Eisenberg // Sep 2, 2013 at 10:41 PM

    BRIAN!
    Man I wouldn’t mind scoring a Karma Coupon meself — could always use a little extra in the karma warehouse, just in case.
    Methinks I must have your original text of the fabled Northport Report from daze of yore.
    I remember digging it then as NOW!
    Thanks for beaming it HERE.
    Was great to revisit that thrilling day of yesteryear.
    All good fortune, keemosabi.

  • 6 John Dorfner // Sep 2, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    Nothing like sharing a bottle of wine or 12 w/ JC. and the stories do just roll out.

  • 7 Jeanne Masanz // Sep 3, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    Another great read, so glad you posted this.

  • 8 Sarah Cattell // Sep 3, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    Another great adventure by Adventureman! I love it when you take me with you! Thanks for the share.

  • 9 Levi Asher // Sep 5, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    What happened to those photos of the stained glass at Jack’s house … I remember one of us taking pics but don’t know if I ever saw them.

  • 10 Brian // Sep 5, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    I was wonderin the same thing, homes. I thought it was you. I don’t think I owned a camera at that time. Could you have them in some archive somewhere?

  • 11 Levi Asher // Sep 5, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    I never carry a camera … well now I do of course … but I don’t think I owned one then either. Maybe John was the shutterbug?

  • 12 Alex Nantes // Sep 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    You and the Cassadys! What a team. Look out world!

  • 13 Debbie Vazquez // Sep 9, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    John! Carolyn! You! ahhhhhh hahahahaha!
    I can picture the whole thing! You always bring a smile to my face!
    xxxx ooooo

  • 14 Brian Humniski // Sep 14, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Great read. Love the line about playing the adventure cards. Do you ever hold any ? Keep playing them all brother.

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