I finished re-reading Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums for the half-dozenth or so time on the long commute home from work last night. This reading of the book, which I don’t think measures up to Kerouac’s opus, On the Road, but which has what I find to be an extremely touching sincerity and a frail, delicate beauty all its own, was colored by my reading, immediately beforehand, of Jack’s Book, an oral biography of the author that concludes by charting his long sad retreat from the guileless embrace of life that colored his early years and his greatest prose. He died a bloated housebound wino watching television in the afternoon, crippled by fame and bitter and tired of life at the age of 47. I knew this already, but had never seen it so intimately described, with the words of those close to him, so this time when I read Dharma Bums, a book that ends, literally, with him coming down from a mountain, I couldn’t help but sadly see the clues to his eventual ruin everywhere. He is, in that book, already starting to drink too much. More generally, there is something in his version of buddhism, as opposed to the always-engaged-with-life buddhism of the co-star of the book, Japhy Ryder (the poet Gary Snyder), that speaks of a deep wish to negate the pain of the world by negating the world. Hints of a return-to-womb mentality, a curl-up-and-die mentality. The beauty of the book comes in the tension between the author’s growing wish to pull the plug on the Whole Cosmic Show and his deeply felt love for all creatures great and small, his sincere attempt to love every inch of this world as if it were heaven already arrived.
The book ends with him coming down from the mountain, but since I know that what happens after that descent is a sad reversal of the zen saying, quoted in the book, “when you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing,” I want to focus on the beginning of the book, which I mentioned yesterday, Kerouac’s stand-in Ray Smith noticing and drawing out the thin little St. Theresa bum. When you stop noticing the people and things in the margins of life, you might be on your way to a general creeping darkness, the world disappearing from your weakening grasp. So here is the marginal Terry Hughes, who played a few games for the Red Sox in 1974. Does anyone ever mention him in the litany of Red Sox names? Has anyone ever asked him if he’s got a special prayer? Also, why so glum, Terry? And where did you get your haircut? And whither goest thou in the fading October light with your droopy features and baggy eyes?
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Some more random thoughts about my Bosox. If in April I was told the following, I would have assumed I’d not be staying up past my bedtime to watch playoff games in October:
1. The starting pitcher who dominated all last season and into the playoffs is going to be hurt a lot and will be generally less effective, then at the very end of the year he will sustain an oblique injury.
2. The older veteran starting pitcher who once again came up big in the playoffs last season is not going to be able to pitch a single game all year, with or without a bloody sock.
3. The all-world lefty slugger is going to be out for over a month with an injury that will linger the rest of the year, noticably reducing his effectiveness.
4. The all-world righty slugger is going to start tanking it half way through the season, leading to a huge ugly controversy that ends with him being traded.
5. The right-fielder who will pick up the slack for the injured all-world lefty slugger will himself get injured and miss a lot of time.
6. The reigning World Series MVP will get injured and miss a lot of time and look aluminum-walker-worthy when he returns.
7. The starting shortstop will get injured midseason and miss the rest of the year.
8. The reliever from Japan who was such a huge part of the team’s bullpen success in 2007 will be much less effective.
9. The kid pitcher who threw a no-hitter and looked so promising in 2007 will be absolutely awful.
10. The rookie outfielder who was so electrifying in the World Series will look fairly ordinary and have long stretches where he won’t be able to get on base.
11. The team captain will hit like he’s blind and crippled.