From Jack Kerouac To Tom Paine For Words We Never Reconciled

14 Jul


Thomas Paine by Lau­rent Dabos


Date­line July 14, 2003

Betsy Sue and I have just returned home in DC from a four-day tour of sev­er­al spe­cif­ic sites in jol­ly old New Eng­land. First stop of keen inter­est was the Thomas Paine estate and cot­tage in New Rochelle, NY (up I‑95 a few miles north­east of the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge in NYC), and a rather encour­ag­ing con­ver­sa­tion with the on-premis­es care­tak­er there, a pre­sid­ing mem­ber of the Thomas Paine Soci­ety. Always per­fect tim­ing, we were beam­ing when we learned that although the cot­tage was present­ly closed for paint­ing and oth­er ren­o­va­tions, con­duct­ed as an Eagle Scout project not due for com­ple­tion for anoth­er month, we were offered and we made the quick tour and snapped a few pic­tures of the tiny man’s cot­tage and what was left of his grounds, all to our patri­ot­ic delight.

Although this was not our first encounter with the small stature of most men of that era, it was still shock­ing to note how often we had to duck to get through doors and even the nar­row hall­ways were notably men­ac­ing to the mod­ern super-sized Amer­i­can tourist.

Then we con­tin­ued on up through Con­necti­cut where we stayed our first night in a quaint lit­tle Mass­a­chu­setts motor lodge in a town­ship called Stir­bridge, where the wife swears she recalls stay­ing as a child on fam­i­ly vaca­tion. The next morn­ing (July 4th) we drove the hun­dred miles up to Low­ell, MA to breathe the air around that old mill­town which was lat­er dec­i­mat­ed by the migra­tion of the mill indus­try to Geor­gia and oth­er parts south. Our lead­ing pur­pose in Low­ell was to check out the Jack Ker­ouac memo­r­i­al erect­ed in the deceased Beat writer’s home­town. We were not dis­ap­point­ed.

Jack Kerouac

Jack Ker­ouac

Though nary a bust or por­trait of the old drunk was present, a dozen or so mar­ble tablets bear­ing excerpts from Ker­ouac’s books were set length-wise into the stone plaza, clus­tered among wel­comed bench­es and the hand­ful of tow­er­ing and small­er weep­ing wil­lows on an unap­point­ed edge of town seem­ing­ly frozen in dingy time still look­ing eeri­ly like the peri­od of young Jacques’ child­hood (the 1940s), all of which seemed to cap­ture the des­per­ate and mourn­ful spir­it of Ker­ouac’s beat gen­er­a­tion.

To the east spanned an old iron bridge, glis­ten­ing sil­ver in the morn­ing sun but draped in an indif­fer­ent rash of pre­dictable rust upon clos­er inspec­tion. Due east and south, old mill ware­hous­es now con­vert­ed into lux­u­ry apart­ments were squired by nar­row canals which zig zagged through the entire down­town.

It was siz­zling even in the shade by now, but amply pleas­ant nev­er­the­less as we watched the tourist trol­leys whiz by with a few rid­ers we would have joined but for oth­er plans for that day. A quick gas-up at the green and white and we were soon cruis­ing again, this time on the Inter­state head­ed forty miles south into Bean­town in antic­i­pa­tion of the annu­al star­burst sky, a born-again patri­ot’s hol­i­day in the foot­steps and lantern calls of where this coun­try tis of thee all began, where we had reserved a room on the 27th floor of the four star 28 floor Sher­a­ton in the fiendish­ly trendy and invit­ing Boston Back Bay mid­town neigh­bor­hood marked to the west by the Charles Riv­er, to the north by down­town, and to the south by Fen­way Park — home of the Red Sox who were then busy set­ting a home run record down in Yan­kee Sta­di­um by send­ing sev­en pitch­es off pin­striped pitch­ing into the stands. In a hun­dred years no team had accom­plished this feat against the leg­endary Bronx squads. Look it up.

After check­ing in and grab­bing some lunch, we rest­ed a bit before shoot­ing to the top of the Pru­den­tial Tow­er (50th floor, attached by an indoor mall to our hotel), where for sev­en bucks apiece we could view the entire Boston sprawl through the active gray haze of smog and 95 degree heat and humid­i­ty. But see it we did, and can’t wait to view all the pic­tures. We lat­er joined on foot some 700,000 head­strong rev­el­ers march­ing toward the Charles where after an evening of the Boston Pops and oth­er spe­cial guests, the thir­ty minute fire­works dis­play wowed many.

Boston offi­cials claimed some 700,000 strong had made it to the Charles Riv­er Esplanade for this year’s fes­tiv­i­ties, top­ping the pre­vi­ous high count of a half mil­lion with room to spare, and than dou­bling last year’s 300,000 vis­i­tors.
We, how­ev­er, sweaty, exhaust­ed, and hun­gry, strolled back to the Boyl­ston Street drag to find some din­ner, final­ly decid­ing on a dap­per lit­tle Thai place called Bom­bay Blue detailed with a beau­ti­ful expanse of dark teal paint, red brick, and opaque glass walls. Our only com­plaint was, what else, the heat, but we were smil­ing­ly accom­mo­dat­ed with seat­ing in the direct line of the fan purring from the cashier counter. My own soft-shelled crab entree sealed the night for me. A half hour pace back to the hotel, and we still had­n’t heard the req­ui­site boom of fire­works, but some­how sus­pect­ed we had missed the show com­plete­ly, not that I hold any fas­ci­na­tion for the light show. I nev­er have, not as a child, not as a drunk, not as an old sober patri­ot. No appeal at all.

But Bet­sy was inter­est­ed, and strange­ly enough, just as we arrived on foot back in front of the Pru­den­tial Tow­er which would lead back to the hotel, a strong breeze began blow­ing into the streets off Boston Har­bor. The excru­ci­at­ing heat of a mere half hour ear­li­er had van­ished.

We decid­ed to plop down on one of the hand­ful of bench­es there among the mod­ern sculp­ture instal­la­tions, soak­ing up the city and the time. We chat­ted, and watched quick, pret­ty peo­ple flow across the stones for thir­ty min­utes or so before mak­ing it back to the room, but not before Bet­sy almost ducked me for the hotel bar where the big screen TV had just announced the fire­works were to begin. Not me. I was flus­tered, fuzzy, and fin­ished. I had to get out of my clothes and hori­zon­stal, still not rest­ed enough after two ear­li­er all-nighters launch­ing RADIO SCENEWASH, my online radio sta­tion of which I’ll spill more beans lat­er.

So, despite every­thing, we watched the his­toric dis­play on tele­vi­sion, can you believe it? Boston offi­cials claimed some 700,000 strong had made it to the Charles Riv­er Esplanade for this year’s fes­tiv­i­ties, top­ping the pre­vi­ous high count of a half mil­lion with room to spare, and than dou­bling last year’s 300,000 vis­i­tors. The big news, echoed var­i­ous forms of the media, was the influx of trav­ellers from across the nation who had spir­it­ed specif­i­cal­ly to Boston to toast her as the sym­bol­ic cra­dle of patri­o­tism and free­dom that marks this nation’s birth.

On the way back, we stopped in Darien, CN for lunch. Quaint? This lit­tle nest of quaint is like some fairy tale. Had hot sand­wich­es at a busy lit­tle tav­ern where the men’s restroom was plas­tered in nudes and oth­er erot­i­ca from a bygone era. I asked the wife if she’d had a pecu­liar pot­ty room expe­ri­ence, and she said no before I told her about the men’s deco­rum. Very strange. And then we were off to Philadel­phia where we vis­it­ed the awe-inspir­ing Muse­um of Art, the tiny but delight­ful Auguste Rodin sculp­ture gallery, and last­ly, the Edgar Allan Poe House, while vis­it­ing a friend (Yet Anoth­er Steve Tay­lor) who gave us the play by play tour since all these places are with­in walk­ing dis­tance of his apart­ment, although the Poe exhib­it is more like a long hike…so we drove. Twas thought­ful of you Richard Waller to call my dear dear Bet­sy. Some­thing eerie about get­ting a ring in Philadel­phia stand­ing in the EAP muse­um how­ev­er. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your con­tin­ued ener­gies. I know you are excit­ed to still be going strong. Keep us informed. I’m tired as tigers with heavy eye­lids today, Bet­sy’s at work, but thought I’d let you know I got your note…


Quaint liv­ing…

Most of this nation’s gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion of a cer­tain age knows noth­ing of the strug­gles and suc­cess­es of our beloved very first American—Thomas Paine, Cit­i­zen Paine, crit­ic of scroundrels and per­fumed high­brows alike, instead we are taught from the over­wrought spit-pol­ished images of Wash­ing­ton, Adams, Jef­fer­son, no insult to these men intend­ed, but for the love of lib­er­ty, why is the rep­u­ta­tion of this very sin­gu­lar mind and heart of the rev­o­lu­tion allowed to with­er on the vine of Amer­i­can cul­ture?

Long live Cit­i­zen Paine! I was told by the Paine cot­tage­mas­ter that the BBC was plan­ning to cross the pond to film a fea­ture on him. Let’s hope so, and let’s also bear wit­ness to the desire that the ego­nom­i­cal fox Bill O’Reil­ly has­n’t for­ev­er taint­ed the name of the very author of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion with his recent attacks on the so-called ultra left Tom Paine web site financed by staunch lib­er­al Bill Moy­ers, and run by his son…

© 2003 — 2017, Gabriel Thy. All rights reserved.

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