LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Jack Kerouac


Dear Jack,

I don't know if you remember me but I was that eighteen-nineteen-twenty-year-old blue-eyed brown-haired (sometimes blonde) shy confused lonely drunk girl just trying to figure out who I was while usually wearing something like my grandfather's old hunting outfits a thousand fashion miles away from those beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed ringleted Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow types or those beautiful brown-eyed black-haired Mexican girls you liked to flirt with on buses going West (or South or North, whatever). But none of that really matters because honestly I never loved you (like I never loved Hemingway) for your physicality I always loved you for your On the Road and your Dharma Bums and your bottle which I kept close in my back pocket (so to speak) during those eighteen-nineteen-twenty-year-old years and never mind the whoring and the hangovers I enjoyed all that, too.

Jody_Kennedy_St. Genevieve .jpg

So you might be wondering why I'm writing after such a long time well it just so happens that on a recent visit to Madison Wisconsin I passed through the old Willy Street neighborhood where I lived for those few years after graduating high school, remember? It all started in that upstairs flat on Jenifer Street where I shaved my head and went from hippie to punk rock pretty much overnight (why-the-fuck-not?) and soon after got my first official on the record boyfriend and moved in with him down the street (where my deeply fossilized self-loathing eventually destroyed the whole thing). Well, being in the old neighborhood got me thinking about your book Satori in Paris and how you traveled to France (Brittany and Paris) in search of your French Lebris de Kérouac family roots (btw I was in Paris a while back and followed your footsteps or cab steps rather to the old church Saint-Louis-en-l'Île on Île Saint-Louis and there I said a prayer for you in front of the statue of St. Genevieve, patron saint of Paris).


I'm sharing all of this because it turned out that the visit to my old Willy Street neighborhood was a pilgrimage of sorts and you (as previously stated) were highly influential during those aforementioned years. I didn't take a cab in Madison though (like you did in Paris) but was driving a borrowed Subaru Forester. I also didn't do any drinking or whoring (I'm sober now) but I did drive past the old tattoo parlor on Atwood Avenue. Remember that place? Larry's or Steve's or something? Where Larry (or Steve) tried to talk my eighteen-year-old self out of getting a tattoo of an Ouroboros and to choose instead something more normal and girly like a rose or a bluebird and how I scoffed at the suggestion but would never have listened anyway because I already fancied myself a hardened badass or something and was 100% convinced that it was never going to be otherwise. Larry (or Steve) turned out to be right (but that's another story). Anyway, the old tattoo parlor is now an ice cream shop which happened to be shuttered for the season otherwise I would have bought myself a scoop (chocolate probably) minus the slice of apple pie and minus the tattoo. I passed the old art house on Willy Street where I lived for a short time in a flea-infested room with a painted black door and where I had the acute awareness of not having felt clean since moving out of my mother's place. I passed the old Willy Bear (now an Ethiopian restaurant) where I used to spend hours bellied up to the bar with friends. I couldn't find the other Willy Street apartment though where I stayed with my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend and my badass black German Shepard puppy with a floppy ear named Blixa (after Blixa Bargeld the guitarist from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) who ended up almost destroying my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend's wall-to-wall carpeted bedroom. I turned onto South Brearly Street passing the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center (still there) where we used to pack in on weekends to see punk rock bands and where I hung back still shy even half-drunk and after the Wil-Mar I looked for my best friend at the time's brick apartment building where she had a studio the size of a shoe box and where we shared her bed (with her tortoiseshell cat) and drank beaucoup cases of crap Point beer. I drove around Orton Park still hemmed in by those big beautiful houses and I remembered the (now at a park in Manhattan) Gay Liberation statues (by American artist George Segal) near the Spaight and South Few Street corner across from the one-time home of Spaightwood Galleries. I ended up skipping B.B. Clarke Beach Park where I would sometimes sprawl out near Lake Monona on summer evenings my head spinning from the booze and the heat and as I was driving away I was thinking what a beautiful neighborhood and I'm not the same person I was back then and Madison Wisconsin is not the same city it was back then and I had an illumination of sorts a kick in the eye you might say a sudden feeling of love and tenderness towards that shy confused lonely drunk girl I once was and also a kind of forgiveness towards Madison Wisconsin and all of that and well there you have it for what it's worth something like my very own satori on Willy Street. So in closing Jack, merci mille fois for helping shore me up during those sometimes sweet and difficult aforementioned years.

All the best,


Jody Kennedy's writing and photography have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Tin House Online, Electric Literature’s Okey-Panky, Rattle, CutBank's The Woodshopand elsewhere. She lives in Provence, France.
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