FROM Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
A big axe chopping contest began after breakfast, some of us sitting watching on the porch and the performers down below hacking away at the tree trunk which was over a foot thick’- They were chopping off two foot chunks, no easy job — I realized you can always study the character of a man by the way he chops wood — Monsanto an old lumberman up in Maine as I say now showed us how he conducted his whole life in fact by the way he took neat little short handled chops from both left and right angles getting his work done in reasonably short time without too much sweat — But his strokes were rapid — Whereas old Fagan pipe-in-mouth slogged away I guess the way he learned in Oregon and in the Northwest fire schools, also getting his job done, silently, not a word — But Cody’s fantastic fiery character showed in the way he went at the log with horrible force, when he brought down the axe with all his might and holding it far at the end you could hear the whole treetrunk groaning the whole length inside, runk, sometimes you could hear a lengthwise cracking going on, he is really very strong and he brought that axe down so hard his feet left the earth when it hit — He chopped off his log with the fury of a Greek god — nevertheless it took him longer and much more sweat than Monsanto
“Used to do this in a workgang in southern Arizony” he said, whopping one down that made the whole treetrunk dance off the ground — But it was like an example of vast but senseless strength, a picture of poor Cody’s life and in a sense my own — I too chopped with all my might and got madder and went faster and raked the log but took more time than Monsanto who watched us smiling — Little Arthur thereupon tried his luck but gave up after five strokes… The axe was like to carry him away anyway… Then Dave Wain demonstrated with big easy strokes and in no time we had five huge logs to use — But now it was time to get in the cars (McLear had re-arrived) and go driving south down the coast highway to a hot springs bath house down there, which sounded good to me at first. But the new Big Sur Autumn was now all winey sparkling blue which made the terribleness and giantness of the coast all the more clear to see in all its gruesome splendor, miles and miles of it snaking away south, our three jeeps twisting and turning the increasing curves, sheer drops at our sides, further ghostly high bridges to cross with smashings below — Tho all the boys are wowing to see it — To me it’s just an inhospitable madhouse of the earth, I’ve seen it enough and even swallowed it in that deep breath — The boys reassure me the hot springs bath will do me good (they see I’m gloomy now hungover for good) but when we arrive my heart sinks again as McLear points out to sea from the balcony of the outdoor pools: “Look out there floating in the sea weeds, a dead otter! ” — And sure enough it is a dead otter I guess, a big brown pale lump floating up and down mournfully with the swells and ghastly weeds, my otter, my dear otter, my dear otter I’d written poems about
“Why did he die? ” I ask myself in despair — “Why do they do that? ” — “What’s the sense of all this? ” — All the fellows are shading their eyes to get a better look at the big peaceful tortured hunk of seacow out there as tho it’s something of passing interest while tome it’s a blow across the eyes and down into my heart — The hot water pools are steaming, Fagan and Monsanto and the others are all sitting peacefully up to their necks, they’re all naked, but there’s a gang of fairies also there naked all standing around in various bath house postures that make me hesitate to take my clothes off just on general principles — In fact Cody doesnt even bother to do anything but lie down with his clothes on in the sun, on the balcony table, and just smoke — But I borrow McLear’s yellow bathingsuit and get in — “What ya wearing a bathingsuit in a hot springs pool for boy? ” says Fagan chuckling — With horror I realize there’s spermatazoa floating in the hot water… I look and I see the other men (the fairies) all taking good long looks at Ron Blake who stands there facing the sea with his arse for all to behold, not to mention McLear and Dave Wain too — But it’s very typical of me and Cody that we wont undress in this situation (we were both raised Catholics? ) — Supposedly the big sex heroes of our generation, in fact — You might think — But the combination of the strange silent watching fairy-men, and the dead otter out there, and the spermatazoa in the pools makes me sick, not to mention that when somebody informs me this bath house is owned by the young writer Kevin Cudahy whom I knew very well in New York and I ask one of the younger strangers where’s Kevin Cudahy he doesnt even deign to reply — Thinking he hasnt heard me I ask again, no reply, no notice, I ask a third time, this time he gets up and stalks out angrily to the locker rooms — It all adds up to the confusion that’s beginning to pile up in my battered drinking brain anyway, the constant reminders of death not the least of which was the death of my peaceful love of Raton Canyon now suddenly becoming a horror.
From the baths we go to Nepenthe which is a beautiful cliff top restaurant with vast outdoor patio, with excellent food, excellent waiters and management, good drinks, chess tables, chairs and tables to just sit in the sun and look at the grand coast — Here we all sit at various tables and Cody starts playing chess with everybody will join while he’s chomping away at those marvelous hamburgers called Heavenburgers (huge with all the side works) — Cody doesn’t like to just sit around and lightly chat away, he’s the kind of guy if he’s going to talk he has to do all the talking himself for hours till everything is exhaustedly explained, sans that he just wants to bend over a chessboard and say “He he heh, old Scrooge is saving up a pawn hey? cak! I got ya! ” — But while I’m sitting there discussing literature with McLear and Monsanto suddenly a strange couple of gentlemen nearby strike up an acquaintance — One of them is a youngster who says he is a lieutenant in the Army — I instantly (drunk on fifth Manhattan by now) go into my theory of guerilla warfare based on my observations the night before when it did seriously occur to me that if Monsanto, Arthur, Cody, Dave, Ben, Ron Blake and I were all members of one fighting unit (and all carrying canteens of booze on our belts) it would be very difficult for the enemy to hurt any of us because we’d be, as dear friends, watching so desperately closely over one another, which I tell the first lieutenant, which attracts the interest of the older man who admits that he’s a GENERAL in the Army — There are also some further homosexuals at a separate table which prompts Dave Wain to look up from the chess game at one quiet drowsy point and announce in his dry twang “Under redwood beams, people talking about homosexuality and war… call it my Nepenthe Haiku” — “Yass” says Cody checkmating him “see what you can ku about that m’boy and get out of there and I’ll noose you with my queen, dear. ” I mention the general only because there is also some-thing sinister about the fact that during this long binge I came across him and another general, two strange generals, and I’d never met any generals in my life — This first general was strange because he seemed too polite and yet there was something sinister about his steely eyes behind goof darkglasses — Something sinister too about the first lieutenant who guessed who we were (the San Francisco poets, a major nucleus of them indeed) and didn’t seem at all pleased tho the general seemed amused — Nevertheless in a sinister way the general seemed to take great interest in my theory about buddy units for guerilla warfare and when President Kennedy about a year later ordered just such a new scheme for part of our armed forces I wondered (still crazy even then but for new reasons) if the general had got an idea from me… The second general, even stranger, coming up, occurred when I was even more far gone.
Manhattans and more Manhattans and finally when we got back to the cabin in late afternoon I was feeling good but realized I was going to be finished tomorrow — But poor young Ron Blake asked me if he could stay with me in the cabin, the others were all going back to the city in the three cars, I couldn’t think of any way to reject his request in a harmless way so said yes… So when they all left suddenly I was alone with this mad beatnik kid singing me songs and all I wanta do is sleep — But I’ve got to make the best of it and not disappoint his believing heart. Because after all the poor kid actually believes that there’s something noble and idealistic and kind about all this beat stuff, and I’m supposed to be the King of the Beatniks according to the newspapers, so but at the same time I’m sick and tired of all the endless enthusiasms of new young kids trying to know me and pour out all their lives into me so that I’ll jump up and down and say yes yes that’s right, which I cant do any more — My reason for coming to Big Sur for the summer being precisely to get away from that sort of thing — Like those pathetic live highschool kids who all came to my door in Long Island one night wearing jackets that said “Dharma Bums” on them, all expecting me to be 25 years old according to a mistake on a book jacket and here I am old enough to be their father — But no, hep swinging young jazzy Ron wants to dig everything, go to the beach, run and romp and sing, talk, write tunes, write stories, climb mountains, go hiking, see everything, do everything with everybody But having one last quart of port with me I agree to follow him to the beach.
We go down the old sad path of the bhikku and suddenly I see a dead mouse in the grass — “A wee dead mousie” I say cleverly poetically but suddenly I realize and remember now for the first time how I’ve left the cover off the rat poison in Monsanto’s shelf and so this is my mouse — It’s lying there dead — Like the otter in the sea — It’s my own personal mouse that I’ve carefully fed chocolate and cheese all summer but once again I’ve unconsciously sabotaged all these great plans of mine to be kind to living beings even bugs, once again I’ve murdered a mouse one way or the other — And on top of that when we come to the place where the garter snake usually lie; sunning itself, and I bring it to Ron’s attention, he suddenly yells “LOOKOUT! you never can tell what kind of snake it is! ” which really scares me, my heart pounds with horroi — My little friend the garter snake turns therefore with my head from a living being with a long green body into the evil serpent of Big Sur.