The title of Sam Kashner’s new book. In 1975, he found out that Kerouac had just started a new college, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, in Boulder, Colorado. Kashner was a 19-year-old kid who lived on Long Island and worshipped the leaders of the Beat generation.
In his book, he writes, “Most of all, I wanted to be in the picture… the photograph in front of City Lights Bookstore of Allen Ginsburg, Peter Orlovsky, and Neal Cassady. They had their arms around each other. They looked happy.”
By some miracle of persuasion, Kashner persuaded his parents to pay for him to attend the Kerouac School. His acceptance postcard from Ginsburg, one of the faculty members, read, “I look forward to meeting you. I hope you can type. Sincerely yours, A. Ginsburg.”
It turned out that Kashner was not only the first student to sign up to attend – he was the only one. From the moment he arrived, he was bamboozled, ignored, and taken advantage of.
Allen Ginsberg put him to work typing poems and helping out his lover, Peter Orlovsky. He also made it clear he was sexually attracted to Kashner. Writes Kashner, “I spent a lot of time in front in front of the mirror before I went over to Allen’s because I noticed that the better looking you were, the more Allen liked your poems.”
Ginsburg once said to him, “You’re a sweet boy. So unborn.” Then there was the time Ginsberg’s Buddhism instructor required him to abandon vanity and shave off his beard. Kashner, in his role as housekeeper, found the beard in a cigar box.
Another Kashner assignment was trying to keep Gregory Corso clean, sober, and productive, a nearly impossible task. Corso was a wild man by trade, juggling drugs, drink, children, wives, and sex partners. Corso liked to threaten, extort, and kidnap Kashner, who nevertheless treats the poet with the utmost affection. Kashner recalls Corso telling him, “We’re just old men, soon to poof into the air.”
Then Kashner was introduced to William Burroughs, who spent the summer idly looking on as his only son Billy tried to drink himself to death. Billy’s diet consisted primarily of of Lucky Charms cereal because the marshmallows were easy to chew. Meanwhile, Burroughs senior contemplated a Martian invasion of the Midwest and taught a course about imaginary maps.
At one point, Kashner realized that some of the female poetry admirers in his midst were also hookers. “You must be here on one of those ‘born yesterday’ scholarships the Jack Kerouac School gives out,” the younger Burroughs told him.
Billy Burroughs, who had a decidedly unromantic view of his father and the rest of the Kerouac faculty, said to Kashner, “They stood in front of a cracked mirror, Sam, and they fell in love with that cracked image. They’ll just stare at it until they die.”