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Excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s Avatar Angel: His Last Novel by Chuck Rosenthal


I am looking out over the dreamy landscape of Mexico with its poor hopeful stretching sun in the west and beyond, the brown desert stretching from here to everywhere, to the deserts of America—Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California—to the Gobi desert and the Sahara, on the edge of which I once sat with Bull and Irwin and stared across the desert of sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and watched the sun heading for America, thinking about the Void, and the void between passages, and the passage of time, and the passage of immigrants, and the sons and suns of immigrants crossing the ocean and back again (even when you stop you're moving). It all makes me think of the gray sad east (because this is a story about going backwards). It makes me want to stop the bus and sit in the sand beside the road and roast some hot dogs over an open fire and wait for other ghosts to come by, to sit in the desert and wait for ghosts, like the Indians, who actually see them (in their peyotl dreams of ghosts who hold this ghostly world upon their shoulders, standing on Time, standing on turtles and more turtles). Maybe Cody will come by.

This is the bus back from death. The old man next to me with stubble silver beard on chin like light around the moon during an eclipse, a stubble that has been waiting for him to grow into it with enough age and wisdom and speechlessness, he has a key chain with only one key, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the flag of Mexico on little plastic holder, he, having a nap, napping in the face of end of day with the sun on his whiskers of eternity, and he is on the same bus and moving in the opposite direction (!), and who is he to care with his face napping in the verge of night, breathing the sacrament of the moment in his sleep (the sacrament of the moment, as the Jesuits say, wrong about so many things you'd have to believe they could be nothing but holy).

This is how paths cross, Gnostics, Jesuits and Buddhists, bums of Saint Teresa, old Indians with Our Lady of Guadalupe key chains and one key, and writers coming back from the dead—who would ever have to make anything up when this is the world and all you have to do is write it down! it's so simple, it's so close to heart and hand that all the great writers of the universe (and America and Europe too) have wracked their brains against the ceiling of heaven, thinking there was heaven up there, trying to create, (when in front of them saints are breathing out their lives in heroic breaths, working in factories and planting fields, holding babies in their bellies who are as pure and doomed as the deepest felon in Fellaheen night)—(how can anything be more sad and ironic).

In Juarez I walk the bridge to El Paso and look back across to Mexico, shacks stacked up the cliffs along the Rio Grande, in between the shacks, old American pick-up trucks (almost like the Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico but for the trucks being newer and the shacks more spread out there, little brick ovens and outdoor pits with black iron skillets atop, frying Indian fry bread), in these Mexican shacks women pat tortillas as white as clouds, kids running everywhere playing games with their feet, football, which we call soccer in America (unlike All-American American boys, even French Canuck ones like myself, who learned to play ball with hands, batting balls with sticks, sticking balls in hoops and running them across fields, big dreams of dribbling and batting and touching down touchdowns in the middle of America under camera lens, old men bending beer cans in their faces in that kaleidoscope of TV, dreaming their own dreams of the days they dreamed of being the big sports stars of America, probably dreaming they actually were the big sports stars of America) (I say this remembering my own dreams which had of course more basis in fact), but those American dreams aren't free, they require equipment, and in Mexico it's cheaper to dream per soccer ball, though in Mexico City I see some kids now and then with balls and bats.

Behind those shacks are the American factories, black stacks and gray stacks along the river, if you weren't in the desert you might think you were in Pittsburgh (old Pittsburgh, stretching its black legs out and down the Monongahela and Allegheny and Beaver and Ohio Rivers, black factories spouting fire, and you'd drive down those green rivers through towns with names like Beaver Falls and Beaver, Aliquippa and Monaca, Washington, Union, New Brighton, Freedom, Hope; houses on the hills on the other side from the factories in the showers of soot, a valley of gray houses and factories and fire and soot, train tracks along the river sparks sparking from the wheels of trains loaded with West Virginia coal, anthracite and bituminous and coke—they've cleaned all that up now I hear, Pittsburgh sitting in the center of corroding factories like a jewel, pretending to be San Francisco, people inside her silver buildings wearing white shirts and wincing and tricking at computer screens, thinking they gave all that soot to Korea —) and Mexico! (not thinking of the poor dead cities of America with their winos and sad mothers in the sootless streets, the sons of high school football stars shooting heroine and cocaine thinking in their hearts of the New America and the new sadness of America that anyway at least it's clean). No wonder why I think of Lowell.

I hear there are all new forms of dirt only now it's invisible, by-products of the great Bomb that saved us from being taken over by the Japanese, dangerous half-lives more dangerous than a whole life, pesticides and insecticides that go from outside to inside and now side against us, their very inventors! now they side with the pests and insects. I hear this from a truck driver who picks me up at a restaurant outside the bus station in El Paso where I mistake the President of the United States for a movie on the television (and I can't go anywhere without seeing a television which I knew, even in the early days of post-war pre-electro-addicted America, would replace peoples' heads), and I remember those days after coming down from Desolation and saying, ah, the world and everything in it is just a movie and we can laugh or cry but we don't have to join up, in fact we can't though we insist we do, and I was right (again!) except for having it reversed (and technologically short-sighted)—the movie is the world and the movie is on TV and the TV is on our heads, not even any rabbit ears, everybody hooked up to the same cable getting the same information, same electrons electrifying through everybody, not even watching TV but watching through TV and nobody's in charge, everybody is Big Brother.

We are in the truck barreling for Las Cruces. This truck driver is a big man, big arms, big belly, big thighs, big fat lipped tight smile of placidity and road concentration—he is my age and he's still working, driving an eighteen wheeler with fire painted on the hood, Bob O'Grady, Independent Trucker on each door.

“Everything is lousy and we're all tied up in the lousiness,” he says. “The air is lousy, I drive a diesel. TV is lousy, I got two of them, in the truck. The president is lousy, I voted for him.”

“You could have voted for the other louse,” I say.

“That's right,” he says, “you understand me. Have a cigarette.”

Which I wouldn't normally do anymore, seeing as you have to protect your health when you're this close to death (whether you're coming or going) (tee-hee), but when you accept a ride you accept someone's generosity and it's against karma to reject the flow, this I've come to understand with age.

“You are the Buddha who says everything is lousy,” I tell him.

“Damn right. The air is lousy, the water is lousy, work is lousy, the money is lousy, I sleep lousy, I breathe lousy, I eat lousy, I shit lousy. People are lousy because they don't give a lousy shit, all they care about is money. You want to watch some TV?”

He flips on a small TV on the dash and on comes a silver haired man with a big microphone interviewing a whole audience of portly ladies and everybody giving their secrets for losing weight.

“You want to lose weight you eat less,” says the Buddha who says everything is lousy.

“No tricks. People are idiots but you have to love them because there ain't nobody else.”

And I see in that moment how this cab is wonderful in its lousiness, its digital meters metering, its dashboard lighting our faces as we cut through the desert with our truck full of American items made in Mexico, parts for food blenders in fact, parts for some kind of food machine I've never heard of, though I too am complicit because I've taken a ride, helping Mexicans work and starve so Americans can relax and eat—if I had the room I'd go to a store in Las Cruces and buy one for my mother, rest her soul, if she were here yet in America to have one—

“Las Cruces is a lousy town,” says this driver who drives with his lousiness, pure and simple, and he drives me all the way to Boulder, Colorado.

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