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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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You just can't run off a broken leg. Of course, old Lu Libble didn't know that the leg was broken, but even so I felt he had some kind of bug against me. He was always hinting I was a no-good and with those big legs he ought to put me in the line and make "a watch charm guard" out of me.

That next summer came the time when my father, who'd been working out of town as a linotypist, sometimes at Andover, Mass., sometimes Boston, sometimes Meriden, Conn., now had a steady job lined up at New Haven, Conn., and it was decided we move there. My sister by now was married. As we were packing, I went about and wrote sad songs about "picking up my stakes and rolling." But that wasn't the point.

One night my cousin Blanche came to the house and sat in the kitchen talking to Ma among the packing boxes. I sat on the porch outside and leaned way back with feet on rail and gazed at the stars for the first time in my life. A clear August night, the stars, the Milky Way, the whole works clear. I stared and stared till they stared back at me. Where the hell was I and what was all this?

I went into the parlor and sat down in my father's old deep easy chair and fell into the wildest daydream of my life.

As Ma and Cousin talked in the kitchen, I daydreamed that I was now going to go back to Columbia for my sophomore year, with home in New Haven, maybe near Yale campus, with soft light in room and rain on the sill, mist on the pane, and go all the way in football and studies. I was going to be such a sensational runner that we'd win every game, against Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Georgia U., Michigan U., Cornell, the bloody lot, and wind up in the Rose Bowl. In the Rose Bowl, worse even than Cliff Montgomery, I was going to run wild. Uncle Lu Libble for the first time in his life would throw his arms around me and weep. Even his wife would do so. The boys on the team would raise me up in Rose Bowl's Pasadena stadium and march me to the showers singing. On returning to Columbia campus in January, having passed chemistry with an A, I would then idly turn my attention to winter indoor track and decide on the mile and run it in under 4 flat (that was fast in those days). So fast, indeed, that I'd be in the big meets at Madison Square Garden and beat the current great milers in final fantastic sprints bringing my time down to 3:50 fiat. By this time everybody in the world is crying Duluoz! Duluoz! But, unsatisfied, I idly go out in the spring for the Columbia baseball team and bat home runs clear over the Harlem River, one or two a game, including fast breaks from the bag to steal from first to second, from second to third, and finally, in the climactic game, from third to home, zip, slide, dust, boom. Now the New York Yankees are after me. They want me to be their next Joe DiMaggio; I idly turn that down because I want Columbia to go to the Rose Bowl again in 1943. Hah. But then I also, in mad midnight musings over a Faustian skull, after drawing circles in the earth, talking to God in the tower of the Gothic church steeple of Riverside cathedral, meeting Jesus on the Brooklyn Bridge, getting friend Sabby a part on Broadway as Hamlet (playing King Lear myself across the street), I become the greatest writer that ever lived and write a book so golden and so purchased with magic that everybody smacks their brows on Madison Avenue. Even Professor Claire is chasing after me on his crutches on the Columbia campus. Mike Hennessey, his father's hand in hand, comes screaming up the dorm steps to find me. All the kids of HM are singing in the field. Bravo, bravo, author, they're yelling for me in the theater where I've also presented my newest idle work, a play rivaling Eugene O'Neill and Maxwell Anderson and making Strindberg spin. Finally, a delegation of cigar chewing guys come and get me and want to know if I want to train for the world heavyweight boxing championship fight with Joe Louis. Okay, I train idly in the Catskills, come down on a June night, face big tall Joe as the referee gives us instructions, and then, when the bell rings, I rush out real fast and just pepper him real fast and so hard that he actually goes back bouncing over the ropes and into the third row and lays there knocked out.

I'm the world heavyweight boxing champion, the greatest writer, the world's champ miler, Rose Bowl and (pro-bound with New York Giants football nonpareil) now offered every job on every paper in New York, and what else? Tennis anyone?

I woke up from this daydream realizing that all I had to do was go back on the porch and look at the stars again, which I did, and still they just stared at me blankly.

I began to see that good old Lu Libble wasn't going to start me in the starting lineup my sophomore year but let me sit on the bench while Liam McDiarmid and Spider Barth, who were seniors, wore out their seniority. Now they were shifty and nifty runners but not as fast or strong as I was. That didn't matter to Lu Libble. He insulted me in front of everybody again by saying "You're not such a hot runner, you can't handle the KF-79 reverse deception" (as if I'd joined football for "deception" for God's sake), "first thing you know, you with your big legs" (they weren't that big), "I'm going to make you a lineman."

"Now run and do that reverse."

With my eyes I said "I can't run any faster these first two days, my legs are sore."

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