When I Was Coolby Sam Kashner
First student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Sam Kashner tells with humor and grace his life with the Beats. But the best story is Kashner himself -- the coming-of-age of a young man in the chaotic world of the very idols he hoped to emulate.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews,/p>
First student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Sam Kashner tells with humor and grace his life with the Beats. But the best story is Kashner himself -- the coming-of-age of a young man in the chaotic world of the very idols he hoped to emulate.This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
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When I Was Cool
My Life at the Jack Kerouac School
A Postcard from Allen
Growing up on Long Island, my father used to tease me. He said that I knew John F. Kennedy's birthday but that I didn't know his. May 29, 1917 -- that was Kennedy's; my father was right. But I knew the year John Kennedy was born only because Seymour was born the same year. My mother, Marion, was younger. She grew up in her own house in Brooklyn, my father in a cramped apartment on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. My parents met in the Weiss & Klau building on Grand Street in lower Manhattan. They had a four-year courtship. My grandmother, my mother's mother, Lilly Greengrass, used to call my father "the undertaker" because he always looked so serious and wore dark suits.
They got married in 1950. Only recently did that start to sound like a long time ago. We lived in Brooklyn on Avenue J, in my grandmother's old apartment. She had since moved to South Fallsburg, up in the Catskill Mountains, with my grandfather, a retired furrier. They rented rooms and little apartments in an old house they bought. Eventually, my father moved us to Long Island, around 1960. I remembered watching television on a rolling stand in our new house empty of furniture, our front lawn just sand and rock. Our house stood on filled-in swampland before it was a town named for a tribe of Indians called Merokes (translated as Merrick).
I watched John Kennedy being sworn in as president on television that year, but all I remember is that you could see his breath when he spoke, and I liked how his hand chopped the air as if he were chopping through ice so I could see him better.
My sister was two; I was five. As we watched America's youngest president chop the air, I sat in my fire chief's car and she stood in her crib. My mother was upstairs with the first friend she had made in Merrick, Mary Stamler. Like Mrs. Weiner, Mrs. Stamler was very glamorous looking. I didn't know it at the time but my mother was also beautiful. I do remember that I wouldn't let her get old. When I started to notice her gray hair (I was about seven years old), I asked her to get blond hair. So she went to the beauty parlor and had her hair dyed. She looked like television and the things on it that caught my eye. I never really saw my mother then, in those days. But I can see her now.
My sister is named Gella. It had been my father's mother's name before she came to America. They called her Gertrude in America, but Marion thought "Gertrude" was too old-fashioned and it would be a burden in the playgrounds of Merrick, where we kids played baseball and climbed the monkey bars over the burial grounds of the Meroke Indians. So the name Gella came back to America, as everything comes back, one way or another.
My sister was a smart, dark-haired little girl with cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie blowing his crooked trumpet. She always made the honor roll. I did not. She was always a good girl. She cried the first time she cursed in front of my parents. She hit her elbow and said "shit," and then looked at our parents and the tears came. They thought it was funny and told her nothing bad would happen just because she had said "shit." This was only a moment, but it shows what the rest of her life might be like.
I wasn't that way. I was more of a contrarian. If my life was easy, I wanted it to be hard. When it was hard, I wanted it to be easy. Before I knew what the word meant, I wanted life to be "beat," but I also wanted a hot towel waiting for me when I got out of the shower. Maybe my parents sheltered me with too much love, too much affection -- is that possible? Maybe they should have made me go to a conventional college. Maybe I should I have brought my laundry home every weekend. Instead, I sent home Allen Ginsberg's laundry once a month. I started sending Allen's laundry home because when he gave it to me to do, I didn't know how to work the machines.
After Philip Weiner went to college, my two best friends on Long Island were Fred Mollin and Neal Warshaw. Fred lived in the older part of Merrick, called North Merrick because it was north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks. Fred's father worked as the manager of a Key Food store. He was a grumpy guy with three children. Fred was the youngest. He had long, long red hair. He loved music and was something of a genius on the guitar. He wrote songs. I was his manager. I wrote a letter to John Hammond, the record producer who had "discovered" Bob Dylan; he must have taken pity on my terrible handwriting and guessed that what I wanted was for him to hear my friend. So he invited us to come into the city and play for him in his office at the CBS building.
We took the day off from school. Fred carried his guitar in a big black case. He had his song titles Scotch-taped to the side of the guitar. He played a few songs for Mr. Hammond, who sat behind his desk with the shortest gray-haired crew cut I had ever seen. He liked Fred's songs, but he said he wanted a second opinion, so he called for someone to come into his office. He introduced us to Al Kooper.
Al Kooper had played organ on "Like a Rolling Stone" for Bob Dylan. Fred, who was already pale and nervous, started playing for Kooper ...When I Was Cool
My Life at the Jack Kerouac School. Copyright © by Sam Kashner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Sam Kashner, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author of three books of nonfiction and one novel, Sinatraland.
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