My conscious hours are featureless, my sleep ragged, unearned. I’m a proofreader. Misunderstandings and hurt riddle my dreams. I’m served food I can’t eat, take vague transcontinental airplane voyages with people I haven’t seen in decades. I wake feeling clammy. I ride with strangers, each of us walled off by personal electronic devices. I arrive on time. I sit in a cubicle. I eliminate mistakes. My mind wanders. Mistakes slip through.
Huron, Spart’nb’g, Tidewater, Spart’nb’g, Ral.-Durham, Reading, Eugene, Eugene, Reading, Hawaii, Reading, Eugene. Litany of a nobody. Putrid averages, few games played. Larry Cox kept slipping through.
When I was 19 I tried to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac but was too timid and just rode a bus the whole way, his hallowed continent reduced to a stock footage scroll across the Greyhound window, mountains giving way to plains giving way to mountains, everything leaden with brown pot and boredom. By the time he was the age I am now the dew of his writing had evaporated and he stayed at home with his mother and watched television drunk.
When Larry Cox was 19 the Phillies signed him to a professional contract. Was it a mistake? He hit .219 his first minor league season, which he wasn’t able to improve upon, and then only slightly, until five years later. He eventually had a few at-bats in the majors, but by his late 20s seemed on the way back down, spending an entire year in Tacoma. But instead of disappearing he was bought by a team that did not yet really exist. When he heard the news did he even know of this team which had yet to play a game? Did he wonder if the whole thing was some kind of a mistake?
When Jack Kerouac was 29, the same age as the blurred figure in the imaginary hat at the top of this page, he sat down and out of the desperation of not ever being able to say what he truly wanted to say started hammering words down onto a long scroll of teletype paper. The first line he wrote contained a mistake, a stutter, an inadvertent repetition of the word met, the kind of thing that, had he been typing on a computer, would have produced a squiggly line beneath it, an automated alert that already rules had been broken, but he was saved this niggling indignity and anyway there was no time for corrections, life too short, death too close, the only thing to do just move on, a hungering heartbeat:
“I first met met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had to do with my father’s death and my awful feeling that everything was dead.”
Kerouac wrote those words April 2, 1951, by chance exactly fifty-seven years to the day before I read them in my new copy of On the Road, The Original Scroll. From there he did not stop but gripped the story in his mind as fiercely as a story has ever been gripped and got it all down in a rush, barely sleeping, pouring everything he had onto the scroll from April 2, 1951, to April 22, 1951. I once hoped for similarly immediate deliverance. All through my twenties I ruined days by sitting down at a desk with the hope that I would just start writing and not stop until I emerged from a trance three weeks later looking gaunt and Dostoyevskian and holding a glowing work of genius in my hands. It never happened. I got jobs to get by. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I stopped trying to stop. I pray for mistakes.