Sunday, October 21, 2007

All over the road

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Although there are writers and works falling within the Beat milieu that I appreciate more, the level of celebration evident in the literary community here has been quite impressive. Throughout the entire weekend, there have been interesting On the Road events, each one slightly different, but all featuring public readings of the book.

Friday night, at Visible Voice, there was a beer bash in honor of Kerouac (who was, somewhat ironically, I guess, an incredible alcoholic that drank himself to death before he turned 50). So-called "local dignitaries" read bits of Part 1. That was pretty boring, actually, so after the first reader, I headed up to the attic there and watched a half-hour or so of film clips about Kerouac, as well as Ginsberg, Burroughs, and other important Beat figures. I stayed around till about 915 or so.

Once in my car, my typical map anxiety kicked in, as I tried to fine my way over to the east side, to watch one of my cooler student's band play. The band, the Whisky Daredevils, were pretty cool, actually -- a hard rockin' rockabilly spectacle. The two opening acts were cool, too; one a faux-southern experimental apostolic rock act, the other a straight-forward rockabilly troupe. One of my colleagues joined me, along with his wife, though they mostly hung to the back, blaming sensitive ears and early bedtimes. It was cool that they came out, though, supporting students and being open-minded to cultural events attended primarily by folks a generation or two younger than them.

Afterwards, I headed back home, watched an episode of Oz, and hit the hay. Saturday morning I woke around 11:30, put on a sweater (and pants, duh) and walked over to the Bookstore on West 25th. This was part 2 of the Kerouac festivities, and this time, instead of booking a list of "dignitaries" - many of whom had never actually read On the Road and mistook Kerouac for a hippie, even though the book was written 20 years before the Summer of Love - it was a free-wheeling, democratic affair. I had submitted a poem of my own via email for a related event to Jim Lang, the big chief of the event, and when I met him, he was enormously kind, greeting me with a bag of poetry (you'd have to see it to get it) and an introduction to the literary scene in Cleveland. We read and read and read, interspersed with some pretty great blues music from a local guy (also a Cuyahoga County newbie, though from West Virginia, as opposed to Illinois/Texas) and lukewarm beers. It was so much fun, I haven't laughed and smiled as I did there in a long time, especially when words like "maniacally" and "Tucson" and "Houma" and others were mispronounced.

After a while, the energy started to fade and the critical mass began to disperse. Most of the poets headed over to the Barking Spider Tavern, an interesting bar frequented by writers and artists on the campus of Case Western. I headed home, attended to the feeding/watering/walking needs of Smellie Mae, and watched another episode of Oz.

After getting on Mapquest and trying to find out how to get to the Cinematheque (an awesome indie/art/international film theatre on the campus of the Cleveland Institute of Art, I kissed my darling doggie goodbye and left for an evening of live jazz-accompanied silent films. I got there about 45 minutes early, so I walked over to the Barking Spider (2/10 of a mile away, or about that anyway) for a beer and to observe part 3 of the Kerouac festivities. They had Labatts on tap and on special, so I ordered one, said hi to the Visible Voice owner and a couple of the writers I had just met a few hours before. About the time my beer was gone, it was time to head back to the theatre.

I got back to the CIA building, with just enough time to find the restroom, get a watery coffee out of a machine, and find the perfect seat (according to my own baroque movie seat preference matrix). I did, plopping down in the seat on the inner aisle of the last row in the left third of seats at the front half of the room. The place is great, by the way. I think it seats about 600, though there only seemed to be about 250 in attendance. The sound quality is extraordinary, the projectionist the most professionally competent I've observed since the Angelika Film Center in Houston. They really take their craft seriously at the Cinematheque and it makes a noticeable difference.

Eventually the announcements concluded, the lights dimmed, the previews ended, and the musicians took the stage. First up was Blackmail, an early Hitchcock film starring Anny Ondra, John Longden, and Donald Calthorp in a story about a woman who ditches a boorish Scotland Yard detective for a smooth-talking artist who later tries to rape her. She kills him, flees the scene, and later the jilted lover is assigned to the case. When he finds evidence tying her to the crime (a glove with holes at the ends of two fingers - earlier in the film he noticed the holes and dryly commented that he would have to buy her fingernail scissors for Christmas), he goes to confront her. As he is trying to do so, another hoodlum steps up and tries to blackmail the estranged pair. Drama ensues, ending with a chase scene, a fatal fall, and a narrowly avoided confession.

At intermission, I went for another coffee, filled in some nervous Indians fans on the score -- thanks to Cary and his texts, I was well-informed throughout the night -- and then headed back for the next film. Next up was Underworld, a movie about organized crime figures, love triangles, and betrayal. It ends with a pretty awesome shoot-out/siege scene, especially considering the era.

All in all, the evening was great, the movies were fine, and the musicians were fantastic (though I still have to give Graham Reynolds' Golden Arm Trio's live score of Battleship Potemkin at the old Alamo Drafthouse in Austin the nod). I headed home, played with the dogder a bit, and hit the hay.

Today, I woke up, decided against attending the final Kerouac event and instead took Ellie to the Tremont Dog Park. She's usually skittish when playing with other dogs, at least for the first 20 minutes. Today, it seemed to take her longer to warm up, and she never did do much running around, mostly just sniffing and walking and exploring. She finally did a little running toward the end, when I was chasing her, but even then she seemed disinterested. We eventually left, but I decided to stop off at Lincoln Park in Tremont before heading home. I took her on a long walk around and through the park, and here she seemed happier and more relaxed. I enjoyed it more, too. Lincoln Park is really beautiful, and with the leaves turning and crisply covering the grass, it was wonderful, the first true fall day I've enjoyed since before I moved to Texas in 2002.

As Ellie and I walked, I kept getting deja-vu vibes, as the foliage and the setting reminded me of times when I was very young, visiting my great-grandmother Ross (my mom's grandmother) on her farm in Bonfield, and also of times driving alone in the afternoon on 113 back in Illinois. Those times, for whatever reason, always make me think of the Civil War, what it was like, fighting battles between trees and over stone fences. If I believed in reincarnation -- I'm not against it, I just don't carry a torch for the idea -- I'd swear that in a past life I fought and died in one fall day, somewhere in Virginia or Tennessee or Pennsylvania.

Anyway, eventually it was time to go. We'd ceased the hike, were sitting and observing the quiet area at a chess table in a corner of the park. A look between the dog-der and I sealed it, and we headed back to the car, driving home to the sweet sounds of Electric Six's new album.

Now I'm at home, about to make tacos and then look for my VHS copy of the Deer Hunter (most of the domestic portion was filmed in the very same neighborhood that the dog park and Lincoln Park are located). After that, there's a lecture on presidential elections to write and an Indians game to sweat.

Go Tribe!

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