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56 the minnesota review Nora Roberts Wainer Jack Kerouac's Seventy-Ninth Birthday "Christ," said Tommy Scanlon, mopping the sweat from his brow as he stashed his crash helmet in my coat closet—he keeps a room here, that's all. "Christ. Jack Kerouac would be seventy-nine today." "And what does that make you," I said, unimpressed. "Same as you, babe," he said. "Hundred and forty-six. But Christ. That's what I mean. Christ." He poured himself ice water out of the refrigerator from an old milk jug I bought at an imitation antique shop on Broadway, then stripped down to his shorts. As he walked by, I pinched his fleshy butt. "We're getting old, Scan," I said. "Another era has passed by." "Christ," said Tommy again. "I was in the army. I was in the fucking army when I read Dharma Bums. Even before they sent me off to Nam." "You can even remember the cunt you were fucking while you turned the page," I said. "You're a bad-mouth broad, Bozo," Tommy said, dipping a napkin in his water glass and scrubbing the sweat off his forehead. "No wonder you can't hold a man." "In the words of the immortal William Burroughs, that's a very inneresting conjecture," I said. "Christ," he said again. "Christ. The beer parties we used to have in Vallejo. Ol buddy Mike bringing in six-packs by the carload on the back of a souped-up Honda M-30, some Berkeley broad he found reading aloud in an unbelievable nasal twang—we're talking Snob Hill bad news vowel shit, get the picture—with heavy duty, I mean industrial strength, baby, Tijuana red fresh flown in reefer out of my head on top of beer, did I tell you, I almost never confess this to just anyone not even to my shrink, only to you, sweetie, in honor of your foul mouth, I never ever, even in Nam did lysurgic acid. Popped a lot ofpills. Hit coke. But that's another time, and besides the wench is dead. Anyway, there we are in Mike's in Vallejo, reefer and beer and bike fumes like I said and this Berkeley bitch screaming her stupid lungs out reading passages from On the Road like it was fucking T.S. Eliot or shit. Then over the TV some motherfucker had left blaring on comes word Jack Kerouac has died. Christ we were already having his fucking wake and we didn't even know it. I was shook. Let me tell you I was shook. I called my old lady in Jersey. She's due like in two weeks. Tells me she just had the kid. Just came home with it. Him. Call it Jack for me, I say. Too late, she says. I already named him Nathan, after my father. Fuck, I say. I didn't think you were coming Wainer 57 back, she says. Fuck, I say again. I'm having a kid. The kid is born almost the same day Jack Kerouac dies, and my old lady doesn't think I'm coming home. Well, are you? she says. Maybe in a couple of weeks, I say. Few things I gotta take care of out here first." "Did you?" I said. "What?" he said. "Go home in a couple of weeks." "Okay, maybe it was a couple of years," he said. "I had things to do." Tommy took a long drink of cold water before mopping his forehead out of the glass again. "So what do we do now," he said. "Now?" "Now that it's Jack Kerouac's seventy-ninth birthday." "We could roast a kid at Connolly's," I said. He thought a long minute. Got up to refill his water, absently scanned the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where I usually keep a six-pack of Miller Lite. His Jockeys had runs and there was a big hole in the black socks that went with his jetney suit he wore for work. I knew I wasn't going to offer to do any mending. "I'd offer you a beer," I said, "but I'm not...


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