Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am Jack’s Tenuous Grasp on Reality

First off, thanks to Dan for sending me the link. This is completely amazing.

Jack Kerouac created a personal fantasy baseball league, using invented teams and made-up players, which he played (presumably by himself) and modified, from the years 1937 (when he was 13) until 1965 (when he was 42, eight years after the publication of On the Road). Detailed biographies were created for players and coaches, and were kept in spiral-bound notebooks. The article is vague about how games actually operated: “He created a set of cards that, in combination with the skill level of the batter and pitcher, controlled the progress of the game, possibly in conjunction with the use of dice,” which yields a picture of the legendary beatnick, sitting in a cold-water flat, with a jug of wine and a Camel hanging out of his mouth, playing Dungeons and Dragons by himself.

There is, I believe, a cautionary tale about technology here. Kerouac’s system, a fantasy baseball league with one participant, has to be one of the nerdiest things of all time. It might follow, since this thing seems to have taken up a lot of Kerouac’s time over a thirty year period, that Kerouac, in some essential way, was one of the nerdiest guys ever.

However, because the technologies needed to enable serious, hardcore nerdyness had not yet been invented, Kerouac went on to literally write the book on being cool. Coolness would seem to consist of drinking, smoking, sleeping with lots of girls and being an ass about it, doing recreational drugs, hanging out with non-white people, and listening to jazz music; Kerouac not only participated in all these behaviors, but he helped make them popular with America’s youth. (a last component of Coolness, New York Mets baseball, wasn’t invented until 1962)

The increased connectivity of the world has provided many more options for people who want to participate in things like imaginary baseball leagues, and since Kerouac’s death millions of people have spent thousands of hours on things like videogames, internet fantasy sports leagues, and Dungeons and Dragons, all of which seem to share a certain spiritual kinship with Kerouac’s baseball leagues. Did On the Road only get written because no one had invented Playstation in the 1950s? I guess we’ll never know.

Or maybe it’s a reason to be hopeful. The granddaddy of all hepcats seems to have been born to have a pocket protector and an opinion about StarTreck—under the pressure of circumstances he became Jack Kerouac. So throw your X-box out of a high window, tell you buddies on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fiction message-board that they can get started without you, buy a bottle of the cheapest wine at your local liquor store and head on down to the nearest highway and stick up a thumb… and you too might start a social revolution.

Kerouac seems to have named all of his teams after American car companies. That sort of makes the whole thing perfect.

1 comment:

nigel fowler said...

A fascinating counter-legendary revelation. Thanks to Sam and Daniel for unleashing it.

I had long wondered to what extent Jack and the others had hidden behind their common myth, and the story is rather revealing in this regard. (Perhaps, for instance, the Columbia football scholarship should not be seen as an ironic footnote, but rather as a heartfelt consequence of Kerouac's young life.)Furthermore one has to wonder what would have become of Kerouac and Ginsberg had they not met Neal Cassady; perhaps Allen would have moved placidly into market research; perhaps Jack would have lived out his life jockishly watching sports on the box whilst drinking endless beer (and moving through several marriages).

We'll never know, but this new take on the Father of the Beat Generation suggests that the title probably ought to have gone to Cassady, even though he never wrote anything, save a posthumous autobiography.