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October in the Kerouac Earth Luis Alberto Urrea We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad. —Jack Kerouac About twenty years ago, I had a girlfriend who didn't care much for me, and I didn't much like her, either. But we didn't know how to get away from each other, and there we were in New England together , my first time, her last, shuffling from Waiden Pond to Kittery. She had a 1971 vibe going, and would have worn headbands, but I wouldn't let her. It took me a month of wrestling just to get her to give up her old records and listen to U2, and then she decided she was the ultimate expert on them. She was destined to marry the Edge, she realized , because only she could understand what he was saying with his guitar. Eventually she vanished on a cheap flight to Dublin where, I heard, she spent all her money leaving flowers at the gate of what she thought was the Edge's country house. She called me "The Wannabeat." Lots of whiskey on Greyhound buses and wild-eyed journals. She had made it a point to appear naked in public swimming spots. I don't know. I was in alien territory already, and I thought these were the rules. Td flown out from San Diego with a passable job and a duffel bag full of Neruda poems, mystery books, and Elvis Costello records. I had a typewriter. I knew God was smiling on me when I got on the plane because Bo Diddley sat in the seat across the aisle from me and used my red pen to sign autographs. The back of his jacket said: Rock N. Roll. I had an apartment in an old pile of brown brick called The Somerset Arms. I saw my first raccoon in a tree on Somerville Ave as I walked home from a midnight Willie Loco Alexander gig in Central Square. I sat up all night watching people in underwear illuminated bright blue by their televisions in the windows across the street. I was fervently typing myself a new life, and among my creations was the carefully typed and stapled relationship I thought I had with the U2 expert. I bought ham sandwiches for the one-eyed bum who begged 108 Luis Alberto Urrea outside the Mug'n'Muffin on Mass Ave. Nobody knew my name. I was looking for signs. So there we were, on the cold beaches of the Yorks. Looking for Orion. I had never seen Orion. In San Diego, I had not had time to learn about the natural world. Life was all about trying to find enough pennies in the couch so I could get to work. Maybe finding unexpected grace in the Woolworth's useless book bin beneath the escalators. Td layover between buses downtown and wander over and see what was selling for $1.50. 1 found six Jim Harrison hard covers in there one day. It was my entire supper budget. And now I was trying to sell a story, a poem, anything. All of Maine's coast was shut down, like my prospects. We snuck into the dead amusement park near Ogunquit and walked through the Tunnel of Love like some kind of Bruce Springsteen song. Ate chocolate -covered frosties and made love in a cheap sleeping bag on the beach. She had never eaten a lobster—I hadn't either, but I wasn't going to tell her that. I drank coffee while I watched her work on it. It was like seeing an Amazon warrior biting a giant scorpion. We stayed in a fifty-dollar motel room with a coffeepot in a niche in the wall: we called it the statue of Saint Caffeine. She said, "Jack's buried in Lowell." I didn't have to ask Jack who? We were in that phase, reading On the Road over and over while she smoked and I cooked. She was Sal Paradise, lying in the tub with her long legs hung over the edge, her cigarette smoke curling languid...


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pp. 108-112
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