ANOTHER Throwback Thursday post about an early encounter of mine here in The Duke City - R.I.P., Jan.
I first moved here in 1993, armed with a Bachelor's Degree in Rhetoric and a high degree of respect for the likes of The Beats, Bukowski, Mary Jane, and things which are not mechanized. I owned no car & no TV. I arrived on Greyhound via Denver, with 750 bucks in my pocket from selling my 1976 Silver VW Beetle (painted with Black and White polka dots and Yin & Yangs on the wheels-- or is that Yins and Yangs...). The girl that bought it called me the next day asking if I would buy it back from her because her boyfriend was so mad that she bought "a clown car". Some months and an additional owner later I visited it after it had been painted "Champagne Pink"...
My college buddy with whom I had a loosely based agreement to "meet up" with after graduation had an English degree built entirely on his poetry skills. I know people throw this word around but he truly was a poet. He exhibited an even more profound mortal fear of technology and modern conveniences than I, one-upping me by refusing to own even a blender. Our post-baccalaureate soul searching pan-country jaunts crossed paths in Colorado- he on his way back east and I on my way out west. Despite our subdued efforts to meet up for a beer at buddy "UE" (Eugene) Takahashi's place in Boulder, we missed each other by a day and connected over the phone.
"Of all the places I went through I think I liked Albuquerque the best" he told me. "So if you're getting a place there- get a two-bedroom. I'll be out in 2 weeks."
So it was decided. Albuquerque would be where we would conquer the world, 2 medium length, messy-haired dudes seething with boyish enthusiasm and nearly unparalleled Scrabble skills (is that what 100K in Liberal Arts education gets you?).
Those days on Madison Ave. across from the "Zia Tres" Apartments were subsistence at its basest, at least for two guys from a liberal arts college in Maine- one a private school educated son of a Massachusetts judge (him), the other a public school educated son of a soon to be convicted felon (me). I slept under a sleeping bag on a box spring and mattress buttressed by milk crates yoinked from behind the old John Brooks Food Town on Lomas across from (the bigger) Los Cuates. My roommate again outdid me by sleeping on a tatami mat on the hardwood floors, revealed to us after pulling the nasty brown "cottage cheese" carpet. The rent was $425 a month. Sundays were "rice and tamari night".
We both got jobs as bus boys- he at a new restaurant downtown called Rio Bravo (anyone remember this?) located I think where the ill-fated Club 7 was, and I at Nob Hill Bistro (anyone remember that one?-- nee Central Deli?") located where Vivace is. The Rio Bravo was hip and young and cool both in the type of employees they hired and in the spiciness of the menu offerings. The Nob Hill Bistro was pomp and circumstance, with a mirrored wall, a giant Rousseau mural and thick French sauces like "Havarti Dill".
One day, at the Nob Hill Bistro, having ascended to the lofty post of lunchtime waiter, I served a 40-ish year old woman who dined solo, and whom I’d seen in there for lunch a few times in my busboy days. I had also noticed her many times previously, walking slowly up and down Central in Nob Hill late morning and early afternoons. It was during those precious moments before the patrons arrive, when tuxedo clad wait staff stand outside of busy Central Ave. cafes spiritually beckoning all high tippers whilst lending some class and refinement to the establishment as a whole-- "Wow, a lunch place with waiters in Tuxedo shirts. I'll have to try that...". (At least that was my rationale for doing it myself back in the day).
As I served her, I noticed the manner in which she chose her words-- the most precise of manners, actually. The rhetor in me really appreciated that. She savored every spoonful of that French Onion Soup (topped with a puff pastry, natch) and asked careful questions regarding its preparation. She seemed to savor life itself, her lunchtime dining experience was merely the conduit. She was slow and deliberate in her actions, had a puppy dog face and a remarkable yet small paunch in her belly, which she attempted to hide by only wearing dresses- oddly, it only served to accentuate it. She was small, maybe 5 foot 1, and was a bit of a throwback to an earlier time in the way she dressed and comported herself. Her overall appearance belied her age, frankly. She was 40 going on 80. I never really thought of her as attractive, or in a sexual way, but she imbued a sense of chivalry in me, or at least a need for me to help her out, be nice to her, be her companion, something. I thought she was lonely, but not in a pathetic way. She was not desperate. She didn't need anyone.
The intoxicating moment for me came, when I hustled to the back to use the credit card machine in my usual manic way, and I read on her card that her name was “Jan Kerouac”. The copious hairs on my forearms stood at attention. I was born and partly grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts and that name is obviously near and dear to me. I have visited the grave site, the statue in the slightly underwhelming Jack Kerouac Park in the mill district. I have read all that there is to read. But this was different. This was Beat flesh and blood. This was knee-buckling.
As I approached the table with her receipt and requested her signature, the rhetorician (me) said, "I don't mean to pry... I grew up in Lowell Mass.... Kerouac is not a very common name... (blurting) are you related to Jack Kerouac?" At least that's what i thought i said... I'll bet it was actually even more stammered and choppy, with some shaking for good measure. I fully expected her to say, "No, but my family's from Quebec and i'm sure we're distantly related- I get that all the time, blah blah blah..." But no.
While I stood there, hunched over the prim little front window table with its white on white linens, on baited breath...
She said, "Yeah, I'm his daughter."