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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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This done, I go downstairs to the basement where my great stepmother Aunt Ti Ma has fixed up her place like a combination of gypsy with drapes and hanging beads in doorways and lace doilies Victorian style, a thousand dolls, comfort, beautiful, clean, neat chairs, reading her paper, big fat happy Ti Ma. Her husband is Nick the Greek, Evangelakis, whom she met and married in Nashua, N.H. after the death of my own mother's Pa. Her daughter Yvonne, blue-eyed, companion of her mother, married to Joey Robert who comes home every night at eleven with the Daily News from a trucking warehouse job and gets in his T shirt at the kitchen table and reads. Down there they have for me all the time great vast glasses of milk and beautiful sand tart cakes from Cushman's of Brooklyn. They say "Go to bed early now, Jacky, school and practice tomorrow. You know what your Mama said, gotta make good." But before I go to bed, full of cake and ice cream, I make my lunch for the next day: always the same: I butter one sandwich plain and the other peanut butter and jam, and throw in a fruit, either apple or banana, and wrap it up nice and put it in bag. Then Nick, Uncle Nick, takes me by the arm and says "When you have more time I tell you some more about Father Coughlin. If you want some more books, there are many more in the cellar. Look this one." He hands me a dusty old Jules Romains novel called "Ecstasy," no I think it was "Rapture." I take it upstairs and add it to my library. My room is separated from Aunt Yvonne's by nothing but a huge double glass door but the gypsy drapes are there. My own room has a disusable marble fireplace, a little sink in an alcove, and a huge bed. Out the vast Brooklyn Thomas Wolfe windows I see exactly what Wolfe always saw, even in that very month: old red light falling on Brooklyn warehouse windows where men lean out of sills in undershirts chewing on toothpicks while taking a break.

I set up my neatly pressed pants, sports jacket, school books, shoes in place together neatly, socks over that, wash and go to bed. I set the alarm clock for, listen to this, 6 a.m.

At 6 a.m. I groan and get out, wash, dress, go downstairs, take that lunch bag and rush out into the pippin' red nippy streets of Brooklyn and go three blocks to the IRT subway at the El on Fulton Street. Down I go and push into the subway with hundreds of people carrying newspapers and lunch bags. I stand all the way to Times Square, threequarter solid hour, every blessed morning. But what does young dughead do about it? I whip out my math book and do all my homework while standing, lunch between feet. I always find a corner where I can sorta guard my lunch between feet and where I can lean and turn and study with face to lurching car wall. What a stink in there, of hundreds of mouths breathing and no air; the sickening perfume of women; the well-known garlic breath of Old New York; old men coughing and secretly spitting between their feet. Who lived through it?

Everybody.

By the time we're at Times Square, or maybe Penn Station at 34th just before that, most people rush out, to midtown work, and ah, I get the usual corner seat and start in on the physics studies. Now it's easy sailing. At 72nd Street we pick up another slew of workers headed for uptown Manhattan and Bronx work but I don't care anymore, I've got a seat. I turn to the French book and read all those funny French words we never speak in Canadian French, I have to consult and look them up in the glossary in back, I think with anticipation how Professor Carton of French class will laugh at my accent this morning as he asks me to get up and read a spate of prose. The other kids however read French like Spanish cows and he actually uses me to teach them the true accent. Now you'd think I'm close to school but from 96th Street we go past Columbia College, we go into Harlem, past Harlem, way up, another hour, till the subway emerges from the tunnel (as though by nature it was impossible for it to go underground so long) and goes soaring to the very end of the line in Yonkers practically.

Near school? No, because there I have to go down the elevated steps and then start up a steep hill about as steep as 45 degrees or a little less, a tremendous climb. By now all the other kids are with me, puffing, blowing steam of morning, so that from 6 a.m. when I got up in Brooklyn till now, 8:30, it's been 2� hours of negotiating my way to actual class.

Now the football field. Practice. We don our regalia, as Don Regalis, the sports writer, always says in The New York Sun, and we come out. Of all things and lo and behold, the coach of Horace Mann, Ump Mayhew, is going to let me start every game and is also going to let me do the punting and even a little passing. It seems he thinks I'm okay....

We showered after practice, dressed up and went our various ways, me down the hill to the subway with my books, bone weary of course, dark over the roofs of upper Manhattan, the long El ride dipping down into the subway, zoom down through old Manhattoes, me thinking "What's up there above this hole? Why, it's sparkling Manhattan, shows, restaurants, newspaper scoops, Times Square, Wall Street, Edward G. Robinson chomping on a cigar in Chinatown." But I had to stick to my guns and ride all the way to Brooklyn and get off there, trudge to Ma's rooming house and there was my huge steaming supper, 8:30, almost time for bed already and of course no time to do any homework.

On Armistice Day, next game, my Pop, Emil Duluoz, came down all the way from Lowell just to see me play against Garden City, in Long Island, and also to check on how my studies were going, how the situation was in the boarding house in Brooklyn, to go see a few shows, eat a few New York steaks, take me out to see the town and generally amuse himself. Naturally I wanted to show off for Pop. Funny man that he is, and used to locker rooms as a former wrestling and boxing promoter around Lowell, he hung around as we changed and joked with us, and the coaches didn't mind one bit: and my father's presence amused the rest of the team. "That kooky Dulouse's got a hell of a nice father." None of their own fathers ever dared to come in the locker room. We went out and took the field against poor Garden City and somewhat hurt them, if you ask me. For instance at one point, after throwing a block for Biff Quinlan, I look up from the ground and see his big feet plowing onward about 20 yards with his head down, over the goal line, knocking kids aside in every direction. And a few plays later, to show off to my father and remind him again, some poor Garden City kid is waltzing around his left end precisely as Halmalo had done, but he a stranger in this case, I pull the same trick, come up full speed, low, get inside his interference and hit him head on in a legitimate and clean tackle at the knees that knocks him back ten feet. Off the field on a stretcher.

Now I begin to feel bad about football and war. And showing off. But after the game (HM 27, Garden City 0) my father is beaming and all delighted. "Come on Jacky me boy, we're going out and hit the town tonight." So we go down to Jack Delaney's steak restaurant on Sheridan Square, myself little knowing how much time I was destined to spend around that Square, in Greenwich Village, in darker years, but tenderer years, to come.

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