“It’s Alright. He’s Kerouac.”
I’m currently sitting in the dark in Kerouac Park writing what just happened . . .
I came to Jack’s hometown of Lowell with lots of hopes and anticipation of magic sacred spots and moments. The top dream I’ve always had was getting inside the Pawtucketville Social Club — the very private bar that Jack went to and his dad Leo was a President of for a time.
But I know there’s no Pawtuckin way you’re getting in there. I learned about social clubs living in the Village in Manhattan. There’s a reason they’re private — and that means — Don’t Even Think about Crossing The Threshold.
I never made it over there during JackFest cuz things were always too crazy.
Monday morning I’m debating whether to check out of the hotel or stay one more night. I decide to order one more round. (I think this is actually the key to life. But I digress.)
Then it’s off on a mission to find spots I hadn’t hit during the high time of the fest — and I Neal Cassady the city all afternoon rackin’ off stuff like …
At 4PM the final Bill Walsh / Steve Edington walking tour was supposed to be returning to The Old Worthen, and I stop in there to hang but nobody’s home, so I go hit sumore hotspots — until the continuing Adventure-surfing had me whoosin’ back by the Worthen once more around 5:00 — and sure enough! — there’s Bill, Steve and Rick (who I hadn’t seen since Michael McClure) — the last standing soldiers in the Kerouac Army. Scout Hassett reporting in.
We riff n rap, and I ask ’em for some recon details I hadn’t tracked down yet, including where the Pawtucketville Social Club was. Before they even tell me the location, lifelong Lowellite Bill Walsh makes sure I realize, “NOOOObody gets in there.”
Understood, old boy. After the info and hugs get exchanged, Reverend Steve actively kicks me out of The Worthen Gardens to go work the last hour of daylight.
Boom boom boom — next thing I know I’m parked beside the Social Club — and then across the street taking some shots . . .
As I’m taking them, two guys come out of the propped-open front door and start staring at me. The sidewalks are empty — I’m the only guy in the sunset hood — and they’ve got their eyes on this photographing stranger in a strange land.
I hesitate where I am — I don’t want to get close to these guys — they look scary as shit. One’s a brush-cut muscle-shirt Republican redneck type, and the other guy looks like ZZ Top’s long-lost uncle who’s been living in a cave for the last 50 years — Tom Hanks at the end of Cast Away — like a grizzled Hell’s Angel, but with a Godfather vibe.
I have to cross the street to get back to my car, and they’re staring straight at me, side-by-side like sentries blocking the drawbridge. It’s O.K. Corral time with nobody on the street.
I think, “Fuck it — just go for ’em. Do or die.”
So I cross the road right at ’em — thinking at least through the challenge I can peak over their shoulders into the place. And I draw first. “Hey! I just came by here cuz Jack Kerouac used to hang out here — and I think his dad was the president at one time.”
And they nod slightly and silently in the affirmative, but just keep staring at me like I’m, maybe, a second away from a painful death. So I riff some lifesaving more — “I’m in town for the Kerouac festival . . . always heard about this place . . . it’s like, an historic site . . . “
And somehow through the riffing innocence of experiences they’re not telling me to fuck off. We have a bit of an actual exchange, and after a while, I say (what the hell, they haven’t killed me yet), “Could I possibly just … see inside?”
And the crewcut weight-lifter immediately shakes his big tough head saying with his expression, “No fuckin way, kid.” But ol’ ZZ Top backhand taps him on the bicep and says — “It’s alright. He’s Kerouac.“
I’ll never forget that line the rest of my life.
He meant, of course, “The guy’s a Kerouac fan” or some such. But he said — “It’s alright. He’s Kerouac.” 😀
And thus he ushers me across the forbidden threshold . . . into the front just to have a peak. And it’s exactly as I pictured it — an ancient, dark, cluttered, history-stacked bar — like a man-made old-growth forest.
He tells me it’s the second oldest drinking establishment in Lowell after The Old Worthen. And it’s fulla scary ancient people, lemme tell ya! The Four Seasons this ain’t.
And they’re smokin up a storm in there — cuz ya still can in a private club.
And after an appropriate time smoking it in, I mean soaking it in and appreciating what I’m seeing, but not overstaying my welcome, I ask the big question — “Are there … pool tables here?”
The second to last film footage in existence of Jack is of him shooting pool here in 1967. It was home-country CBC that came to town doing a show on him and his French-Canadian roots, and as the story goes, they came by this place to get some background footage of his haunts — and Jack just happened to be in there shooting pool!!
And Godfather Grizzly goes — “Yeah. It’s in the back,” and points in that dark direction. And then God Bless The Universe — he starts walking there for me to follow!!
We pass through the crazy bar past everyone, who are definitely eyeing me like “Who the fuck is this guy?” But I’m with ol’ ZZ Top so I seem to be not getting shot.
Then he leads me into some dark room . . . and I’m like, “Uh-oh … Pesci in Goodfellas . . .” . . . then — Boom!
— he turns on the lights — and there it is! — Jack’s pool table!
And of course I’m freaking out — but don’t want to totally let on. But I bet I did a little. And I know this place is super private and secret, but I just go for it, what the hell — “Do you think you could take a picture of me here?”
And scary Grizzly Adams goes . . . “Yeah, sure.” (me: ahhhhh!) “Wanna get some balls out and grab a cue to make it look like you’re playin?” (ahhhhh!!)
“Yeah!!” sez I, barely holding on to functionality during this out-of-body-experience. And he starts cupping balls out of the pockets and rollin’ them out on the table. I look for the white cue ball but don’t see it anywhere — and I’m not about to get particular.
And as I hand him my camera, he goes, “I don’t know what this is.” I tell him how it works, and he goes, “Alright . . .” and looks at it some more. . . . Then . . . “Send this to the Kerouac people,” he says as he lifts it up to shoot.
I’m thinkin, don’t push it — don’t ask for more than one. But suddenly he becomes Annie freakin Leibovitz and starts walking around the table — “You want one from here? . . . What if I shoot from the end?”
“Yeah, that’d be fine,” says the radiating adventurer.
And then we just start hangin in the pool room, and I mention how papa Leo was once president, and he says, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m the current president.” Whaaat?!?! And he says his name and sticks out his tanned weathered hand for a shake just as his girlfriend comes in wide-eyed at this complete non-one-of-us suddenly in the inner sanctum. She can’t take her eyes off me — like I’m an alien being . . . talking to her boyfriend like we’re brothers.
I’m quite sure all three of us were freaking in agreeance at how completely weird this was.
And he tells me the whole history of the place — how the pool table is definitely the Brunswick here since the ’50s and the one Jack played on — and how the club was originally just the bar part, and there were a couple other stores that were part of the building, but they gradually bought each part until it was nuthin but them. And how the pool room used to not have a divider but was big enough for two tables — and you could see the other dark pool room through a open window in the new dividing wall. He shows me the giant back room that was built after World War II for the returning veterans. And I’m looking around freaking out at the old Lowell characters, men and women alike, smoking, playing cards, talking, and now not giving me a second glance because apparently the Prez sez I’m okay.
Best extra night in a hotel room I ever spent.
For more on Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2015, you’ll love the opening day story.
For more on the Boulder ’82 Kerouac SuperSummit check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here you can check out Who All Was There.
Or to get a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” you can order it here.
For another 2015 Kerouac summit Adventure Tale check out the amazing Beat Shindig story.
For a huge online photo album of the event check it out here.
Or here’s a reading of “the San Francisco epiphany” part of On The Road with Kerouac’s principal musical collaborator David Amram from the closing Sunday of LCK 2015 …
Or here’s a crazy impromptu staged reading of part of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” riffed at one of Jack’s old drinking holes, The Old Worthen, as part of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!
by Brian Hassett
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