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VANITY ON THE GRIDIRON
Jack Kerouac
January 08, 1968
Years before he became a spokesman for the Beat Generation of the mid-1950s, the author was a promising football player, beginning on the sandlots of his home town, Lowell, Mass., and continuing through high school, prep school and into Columbia University, which he attended on a scholarship. What follows are excerpts from the forthcoming novel, "Vanity of Duluoz," which records the athletic reminiscences of John L. Duluoz—who is Kerouac himself
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January 08, 1968

Vanity On The Gridiron

Years before he became a spokesman for the Beat Generation of the mid-1950s, the author was a promising football player, beginning on the sandlots of his home town, Lowell, Mass., and continuing through high school, prep school and into Columbia University, which he attended on a scholarship. What follows are excerpts from the forthcoming novel, "Vanity of Duluoz," which records the athletic reminiscences of John L. Duluoz—who is Kerouac himself

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My father was on the sidelines and saw it. He strode up and down puffing on his cigar, face red with rage. (I'm going to write like this to simplify matters.) After three downs we have to punt, do so, the safety man of the older boys runs back a few yards and it's their first down. I tell Iddyboy Bissonnette about the punch in the pileup. They make their first play and somebody in the older boys' line gets up with a bloody nose. Everybody's mad.

On the next play Halmalo receives the ball from center and starts waltzing around his left end, long-legged and thin, with good interference, thinking he's going to go all the way against these punk kids. Running low, I come up, so low his interference thinks in their exertion that I'm fallen on my knees, and when they split a bit to go hit others to open the way for Halmalo, I dive through that hole and come up on him head on, and drive him some ten yards back, sliding on his arse with the ball scattered into the sidelines and himself out like a light.

He's carried off the field unconscious.

I wanted to go to college and somehow I knew my father would never be able to afford to send me, as it turned out to be true. I, of all things, wanted to end up on a campus somewhere smoking a pipe, with a button-down sweater, like Bing Crosby, serenading a coed in the moonlight down the old Ox Road as the strains of alma mater song come from the frat house. This was our dream, gleaned from going to the Rialto Theater and seeing movies. The further dream was to graduate from college and become a big insurance salesman wearing a gray felt hat getting off the train in Chicago with a briefcase and being embraced by a blonde wife on the platform, in the smoke and soot of the big city hum and excitement. Can you picture what this would be like today? What with air pollution and all, and the ulcers of the executive, and the ads in TIME magazine, and our nowadays highways with cars zipping along by the millions in all directions in and around rotaries from one ulceration of the joy of the spirit to the other? And then I pictured myself, college grad, insurance success, growing old with my wife in a paneled house where hang my moose heads from successful Labradorian hunting expeditions and I'm sipping bourbon from my liquor cabinet with white hair I bless my son to the next mess of sheer heart attack (as I see it now).

As we binged and banged in dusty bloody fields we didn't even dream we'd all end up in World War II, some of us killed, some of us wounded, the rest of us eviscerated of 1930s innocent ambition.

The next step was to pick a college. My mother insisted on Columbia because she eventually wanted to move there to New York City and see the big town. My father wanted me to go to Boston College because his employers, Callahan Printers of Lowell, were promising him a promotion if he could persuade me to go there and play under Francis Fahey. They also hinted he'd be fired if I went to any other college. Fahey, as I say, was at the house, and I have in my possession today a postcard he wrote Callahan saying: "Get Jack to Boston College at all costs." (More or less.) But I wanted to go to New York City too and see the big town, what on earth was I expected to learn from Newton Heights or South Bend, Indiana on Saturday nights and besides I'd seen so many movies about New York I was...well no need to go into that, the waterfront, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Don Ameche on the sidewalk, Hedy Lamarr on my arm at the Ritz. I agreed my mother was right as usual. She not only told me to leave Maggie Cassidy at home and go on to New York to school but rushed to McQuade's and bought big sports jacket and ties and shirts out of her pitiful shoe shop savings that she kept in her corset, and arranged for me to board with her stepmother in Brooklyn in a nice big room with high ceiling and privacy so I could study and make good grades and get my sleep for the big football games. There were big arguments in the kitchen. My father was fired. He went downtrodden to work in places out of town, always riding sooty old trains back to Lowell on weekends. His only happiness in life now, in a way, considering the hissing of the old radiators in old cockroach hotel rooms of New England in the winter, was that I make good and justify him anyway.

That he was fired is of course a scandal and something about Callahan Printers I haven't forgotten and is another black plume in my hat of "success." For after all, what is success? You kill yourself and a few others to get to the top of your profession, so to speak, so that when you reach middle age or a little later you can stay home and cultivate your own garden in bliss: but by that time, because you've invented some kind of better mousetrap, mobs come rushing across your garden and trampling all your flowers. What's with that?

First, Columbia arranged to have me go to prep school in New York to make up credits in math and French, subjects overlooked by myself at Lowell High School. Big deal, I couldn't speak anything but French till I was six, so naturally I was in for an "A" right there. Math was basic, a Canuck can always count. The prep school was really an advanced high school called Horace Mann School for boys, founded I s'pose by odd old Horace Mann, and a fine school it was, with ivy on granite walls, awards, running tracks, tennis courts, gyms, jolly principals and teachers, all on a high hill overlooking Van Cortlandt Park in New York City upper Manhattan. Well, since you've never been there why bother with the details except to say it was at 246th Street in New York City and I was living with my stepgrandmother in Brooklyn, New York, a daily trip of one hour and a half by subway each way.

Nothing deters young punk kids, not even today; here's how I managed it: a typical day:

First evening before first day of school I'm sitting at my large table set in the middle of my high ceilinged room, stately erect in the chair, with pen in hand, books ranged before me and held up by noble bronze bookends found in the cellar. It is completely formal beginning of my search for success. I write: "Journal. Fall. 1939. Sept. 21. My name is John L. Duluoz, regardless of how little that may matter to the casual reader. However, I find it necessary to give some pretense of explanation for the material existence of this Journal" and other such schoolboy stuff, followed by "And I will give some sort of apology for using pen and ink." ("Harrumph!" I'm thinking. "Egad! Zounds, Pemberbroke!") And then I add in ink: "It seems that such men as Thackeray, Johnson, Dickens, and others had to compile vast volumes in pen and ink, and despite the fact that I not modestly admit some degree of proficiency in typewriting, I feel that I should not proceed in my literary ventures with such ease as would befit a typewriter. I feel that a recurrence to the old method would sort of leave a silent tribute to those old gladiators, those immortal souls of journalism. Stay! I am not in any way suggesting that I am included in their fold, but that what was good enough for them should by all means suit me."

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