The River

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Funny book

I opened Kerouac's On the Road the other night and read the following: “When I found him [Remi] in Mill City that morning he had fallen on the beat and evil days that come to young guys in their middle twenties.” Wow. I had just written about On the Road and my middle twenties in a post called Oxford. The material below is just after that, and it cracked me up. In this part of the book, Sal Paradise and friend Remi Boncoeur are working as guards of barracks housing men who are going to be shipped to overseas construction jobs.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Signet 25th anniversary mass market paperback, pages 54-56:

It was a horrible crew of men, men with cop souls, all except Remi and myself. Remi was only trying to make a living, and so was I, but these men wanted to make arrests and get compliments from the chief of police in town. They even said that if you didn’t make at least one a month you’d be fired. I gulped at the prospect of making an arrest. What actually happened was that I was as drunk as anybody in the barracks the night all hell broke loose.

This was a night when the schedule was so arranged that I was alone for six hours – the only cop on the grounds; and everybody in the barracks seemed to have gotten drunk that night. It was because their ship was leaving in the morning. They drank like seamen the night before the anchor goes up. I sat in the office with my feet on the desk reading Blue Book adventures about Oregon and the north country, when suddenly I realized there was a great hum of activity in the usually quiet night. I went out. Lights were burning in practically every damn shack on the grounds. Men were shouting, bottles were breaking. It was do or die for me. I took my flashlight and went to the noisiest door and knocked. Someone opened it about six inches.

“What do you want?”

I said, “I’m guarding these barracks tonight and you boys are supposed to keep quiet as much as you can” – or some such silly remark. They slammed the door in my face. I stood looking at the wood of it against my nose. It was like a Western movie; the time had come for me to assert myself. I knocked again. They opened up wide this time. “Listen,” I said, “I don’t want to come around bothering you fellows, but I’ll lose my job if you make too much noise.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m a guard here.”

“Never seen you before.”

“Well, here’s my badge.”

“What are you doing with that pistolcracker on your ass?”

“It isn’t mine,” I apologized. “I borrowed it.”

“Have a drink, fer krissakes.” I didn’t mind if I did. I took two.

I said, “Okay, boys? You’ll keep quiet, boys? I’ll get hell, you know.”

“It’s all right, kid,” they said. “Go make your rounds. Come back for another drink if you want one.”

And I went to all the doors in this manner, and pretty soon I was as drunk as anybody else. Come dawn, it was my duty to put up the American flag on a sixty-foot pole, and this morning I put it up upside down and went home to bed. When I came back in the evening, the regular cops were sitting around grimly in the office.

“Say, bo, what was all the noise around here last night? We’ve had complaints from people who live in those houses across the canyon.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds pretty quiet right now.”

“The whole contingent's gone. You were supposed to keep order around here last night – the chief is yelling at you. And another thing -- do you know you can go to jail for putting the American flag upside down on a government pole?”

“Upside down?” I was horrified; of course I hadn’t realized it. I did it every morning mechanically.

“Yessir,” said a fat cop who’d spent twenty-two years as a guard in Alcatraz. “You could go to jail for doing something like that.” The others nodded grimly. They were always sitting around on their asses; they were proud of their jobs. They handled their guns and talked about them. They were itching to shoot somebody. Remi and me.

Comments: Post a Comment