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'A Hustler'
Ron West's Queer Chicken Dinner,pages 35-40
© 2018 James LaFond
When Kerouac gets back to Denver, he meets up with Ginsberg and claims Ginsberg tells him that he [Ginsberg] had been in Central City with Cassady and bar hopping at that. Not mentioned is how Ginsberg and Cassady had gotten themselves to Central City but Ginsberg tells Kerouac that Cassady had stolen a car, to get the two of them back to Denver. Now, this is an unlikely tale. By the era of Kerouac’s party adventure to Central City, Colorado, the town’s population had fallen to several hundred people. I supposed if you’d had every resident in town out partying, plus every tourist leaving their kids un-minded to do the same, it MIGHT be possible Kerouac would not have encountered or noticed or heard about the odd couple/flamboyant Ginsberg with side-kick Cassady in the town’s handful of bars.
More likely, Kerouac was feeling like persona-non-grata in relation to his hosts Ed White and Bob Burford particularly, was afraid to ride back to Denver with them. Also he’d certainly made enemies of some of the locals with his behaviors. Probably he’d called Ginsberg and Cassady, asking them to find a way to rescue him from Central City, because of town folk he’d been a perfect boor to, now looking for him with an eye to kick his ass, as well perhaps fearing the ride back with Burford particularly. Cassady had stolen a car and Ginsberg rode along to fetch Kerouac back to Denver. This thought would be buttressed by Kerouac at this point plans bailing out of his Denver hospitality, and his burning desire to get out of town. He’s running scared and needs to put some distance, let things cool off.
But Kerouac can’t leave Denver because he’s broke, so he airmails his mom a request for $50 and soon we’ll be back to his multiplying money like fishes and loaves. Meanwhile, the cad Kerouac has screwed a young local he describes as “a little girl, simple and true, and tremendously frightened of sex.” More likely, she was tremendously frightened of Kerouac and that’s why she gave herself up to him. Then, Kerouac’s weak Catholic conscience pricks him and he wonders “what God had wrought when He made life so sad.” I’d have wondered ‘what god had wrought’ when ‘he’ made sorry-ass characters like Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg.
I can’t be proud of everything I’ve done, but some people can grow up and correct themselves. I’d stolen cars to joyride, and so had other kids I knew. More often than not, we were not caught. The kid closest to Cassady, that I’d known, was Dusty from Livingston, Montana. I doubt he’d ever been butt-fucked by a ‘mentor of promising but disadvantaged young men’ because he’d never looked at me with that gaze of a ‘peculiar’ predator, or made any pass suggesting homosexuality, but Dusty had been disadvantaged, for certain. More or less an orphan, likely on account of alcoholic parents, Dusty had been neglected for years as a child, he had issues on account of it, was toughened up by his associations in the near to Livingston and notoriously rough town of Butte, prior to relatives taking him in ‘up the line’ at Coram, Montana. I was a Coram kid, our family lived at an old homestead in a then 70 years old log house less than a mile through the woods from Coram, farther if you walked the road.
It happened both Dusty and I were in hot water, Dusty likely for his penchant for committing robberies, he never really said why he’d a sudden case of ‘cold feet’, but he was itching to get out of town and fast at that. I was into trouble over a relationship with a 16 years old local girl, she was willing, and I’ll leave it at that. We split town together and went to Livingston, where we’d caught a freight train east, on the run. We jumped off at Dickenson, North Dakota, and it seemed the most forlorn place on Earth. Having gone to the local skid row ‘mission’, we were issued a voucher, good for a meal at the local truck-stop café. The food was tremendous at the start of the meal but both of us had slowed down our eating by time it was ¾ consumed, and Dusty had said “notice how good it was when you were really hungry and now it is getting kinda hard to stomach?” His statement was absolutely true, the chicken fried steaks were terrible, as though the café had been authorized to feed folk with a ‘voucher’ freezer-burned food. After, looking out at the desolation that passes for a town in North Dakota, we looked at each other and walked back to the freights, to hitch a train returning to Livingston.
At Livingston, Dusty had parked me at his ‘safe’ house and told me to wait, that he’d be back. Several hours later he’d returned with over $200, a lot of money to us, in those days. We bought proper train tickets, from Butte to Seattle, drank a few shots in the club car during the trip and then got a room on the skid-row. I went looking for a job while Dusty proceeded to try and make it as a hustler in a local pool hall but was taken by a better shark, who’d whipped him fair and square, that’d been ok but the local shark had made a near fatal mistake and insulted Dusty on top of taking all his money. The next day, Dusty caught the guy in the elevator and with doorclose button, up button, down button, beat him senseless. Out and about, I’d gone looking for Dusty and came to the pool hall and saw what looked like the grime of decades had been cleaned up from the floor of the elevator, someone had cleaned up the blood. Back at the room, Dusty was there, he told me what had happened, we had to leave, fast, and we were broke again.
We’d walked out of the downtown area of Seattle, to one of the suburbs, and the next day I knocked on a Catholic rectory door, to ask if the priest was in and if we could be given a little something to eat. The high school girl who answered my knock said the priest was not in, but she was pretty and I stayed on a few minutes to talk with her, told her we were sleeping in a sawdust pit at the nearby school, if the priest would like to send something over for us to eat. The next morning, this pretty girl woke me with a touch, looking like a frightened deer, Dusty and I had buried ourselves in the sawdust to stay warm, only our heads showing and were sound asleep. The girl’s father was a deacon at the church and he’d sent her to wake us and bring us home for breakfast, he took his Christian faith in a genuine way. Then, after we’d put on our very best and sincerely grateful country manners for this event and explained our predicament in a highly self-censored way, not wishing to freak this kind family out, we were surprised with being told we could have a spare basement room their house while looking for work.
Deep under it all, Dusty remembered his roots. After breakfast, and with a chance to speak alone, Dusty had told me “Ron, these are really decent people and I want nothing to do with it. You’ve been a good friend, no one could ask for better. But I have to cut you loose, you’re too decent to be my partner. You stay here and find a job and best of luck to you.” Dusty had then left and I never saw him again. Maybe I wasn’t as decent as Dusty made it sound, but by comparison, perhaps he was right. I’d stolen cars, but I could not bring myself to commit robberies or engage in wanton acts of violence.
I got a job at ‘Gil’s Burgers’ and picked up a second shift working at the Kentucky Fried Chicken next to Gil’s at the top of the hill, when you’ve come across the bridge into West Seattle. Across the road was a used car sales lot. I’d bought a $100 car from a private party with my first pay-check, figuring I would live in it, move on and get out of where I was staying, to stop being a pain to patient and kind people, I’d had a truly sweet lips to lips encounter with their virgin daughter by this time and was feeling like an ass. She’d need me to make love to her like she’d want to fall into an open sewer, was my feeling and I wanted away before that became reality with all its possible complications. But my car’s engine promptly blew up. With my next pay check cashed and money in my pocket, I went across the street to the used car lot, not to buy one, but to steal a car, at 4 am and get out of Seattle, headed nowhere in particular, just out of town. I wanted away from the entire circumstance and there was damn certain no way I’d want to keep working at fast food joints in the city, the very thought was nauseating.
I jimmied the door- lock in no time, pushed the car, an easy to hotwire older Chevy, into the street, jumped in and coasted it down the hill to a turn under a bridge where I’d take my time to hotwire it, a clean job that was not obvious, was my plan. Everything went smoothly until I had it hotwired and the car would not start, the gauges came alive and there was no fuel in the tank! I cleaned up my fingerprints and left, daybreak was coming. I could not bring myself to walk back to the house and face the people who’d given me a real break and I was faking it. I thought it all through, how everything was bothering me, while walking, and figured I didn’t desire go the criminal direction and needed to change tact. I simply did not like the path I was on. That was the last car I’d ever stolen. I was 18 years old.
Walking across the bridge and into downtown Seattle while the sun was rising, I had a bite to eat, then volunteered for the draft at the US Army recruiting office later in the day, my room and board was resolved.
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