My eyes are starting to burrow towards the back of my head. It’s been a gradual thing but I first started to notice it when the skin beneath them began to detach and migrate south. My composure, akin to a stomach ulcer threatens to burst from a left field existential thought. The sort of thought that only comes knocking at 3:30am. I find myself measuring the dimensions of my window to see if it would compensate my form. No, there would be no payoff anyway — it’s only a second floor fall. A plunderphonic tune fades out over the speakers, and slots up another song at random.
Jack Kerouac’s reading an extract from Desolation Angels, backed by a heavily jazz sampled beat. It has a tone similar to the East Coast Hip Hop renaissance of the early 90’s — Looping sax and ominous minor piano chords pierced by eighth-note hi-hats
I’m transported to a nocturnal New York — specifically Midtown Manhattan. A place encased in a slime that had plagued it for many years. This was before Giuliani had washed ‘all the scum off the streets’, and sadly, its character with it — or so I’ve heard. A mist excretes from manholes, the exhaling scent of rot within the apples core. Communities, saturated with more crack vials then groceries. The epicentre of an aids epidemic. Triple X sleaze of West 42nd street neon. Police morale — all-time low. Clash on Broadway, CBGB’s the urine soaked punk mecca. The Ravenite Club, the ‘Teflon Don’. A smug grin, to welcome the beginning — of Cosa Nostra’s end. Graffitied subway trains, chalk residue of Keith Haring’s ghost. Jack leads me down into 42 St – Bryant Park station. We jump on a Queens bound F train.
Alighting at Lexington Av-63rd St. I scale the elevator with Jack leading the way. The wind blows stray sheets of that mornings papers at our feet. We arrive onto street level, hoodlum hieroglyphics wrap the concrete structures. Through the winter cold streets we pass homeless encampments — cardboard tepees . We zig zag down various blocks, vibrant with the city’s incessant pulse. He has his back to me while spontaneously sprouting ‘everything is going to the beat – It’s the beat generation, its béat, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world’
I soon realise he had no specific destination in mind. He was as foreign to this as me. An intruder from another time, and me — another time and place. I forage for a light, he lifts one to my chin cupping his hand, shielding the ‘god-awful’ winter chill from the naked flame. We were free falling through the metropolis carried by it’s music, and like him I didn’t pause to care. I ask him ‘how is it I could feel like I know this place so well — without ever coming here before.’ He turned to me, with a furrowed brow and an abruptly spat ‘shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry’ at this point the city scape pixilated and Jack had disappeared from focus into the night.
I’m jolted back on my window perch, exhausted and blue. Where the subway is the tube and manholes are drains. A fabricated tapestry from the influence of a life directed by film and books, brought to reality by the music and Jack’s scatter gun commentary. The Kerouac spirit — that spirit with a penchant for exploration and spontaneous prose. For some reason I’m left yearning the momentary thrill of those nocturnal streets, lit by lines of lone bulbs tracing into the unknown. Shame, it’s now 4am and I’m 3306 miles from 59th street Manhattan. I would have to await sleep to continue to overlook the East River, Roosevelt Island and the sprawling Queensboro Bridge. Visualising McNeil’s Buick crashing over its side, as I await the sunrise to a place I feel would never live up my expectations. I step back from the perch repulsed at this pretention, and go to bed.