Kerouac and Burroughs: 'New' Beats novel

More than 50 years ago, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac collaborated on a scandalous novel. Published now for the first time, this extract shows how the Beats began
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The Independent Culture

I left Dennison's place at six o'clock and started home to Washington Square. Down on the street it was chill and misty, and the sun was somewhere behind the East River piers. I walked east along Bleecker Street after going into Riker's to look for Phillip and Al.

When I got to Washington Square I was too sleepy to walk straight. I went up to Janie's apartment on the third floor, threw my clothes on a chair, and pushed her over and got into bed. The cat was running up and down the bed playing with the sheets.

When I woke up that Sunday afternoon it was quite warm, and the Philharmonic symphony was playing on the radio in the front room. I sat up and leaned over and saw Janie sitting on the couch with only a towel on and her hair all wet from a shower.

Phillip was sitting on the floor with only a towel on and a cigarette in his mouth, listening to the music, which was the Brahms First.

"Hey," I said, "throw me a cigarette."

Janie walked over and said "Good morning" just like a sarcastic little girl and gave me a cigarette.

I said, "Jesus, it's hot."

And Janie said, "Get up and take a shower you bastard."

"What's the matter?"

"Don't what's the matter me. You smoked marijuana last night."

"It wasn't good stuff anyway," I said, and I went into the bathroom. The June sun was all over the room and when I turned on the cold jet it was like diving into a shady pond back in Pennsylvania on a summer afternoon.

After, I sat in the front room with a towel and a glass of cold orangeade, and I asked Phillip where he had gone last night with Ramsay Allen. He told me that after they had left Dennison's, they started out for the Empire State Building.

"Why the Empire State Building?" I asked.

"We were thinking of jumping off. I don't clearly remember."

"Jumping off, hey?" I said.

We talked along for a while about the New Vision, which Phillip was then in the process of trying to work out, and then when I had finished my orangeade I got up and went into the bedroom to put my pants on. I said I was hungry.

Janie and Phillip started dressing, and I went into the small alcove we called the library and thumbed through some things in the desk. In a slow sort of way I was getting ready to ship out again. I laid out a few things on top of the desk and then I went back into the front room and they were ready. We went down the stairs and out on the street.

"When are you shipping out again, Mike?" Phillip asked.

"Why," I said, "in a couple of weeks, I guess."

"The shit you are," Janie said.

"Well," Phillip said as we crossed the Square, "I've been thinking about shipping out myself. You know I have seaman's papers, but I never have shipped out. What would I have to do to get a ship?"

I gave him all the details briefly.

Phillip nodded in a satisfied way. "I'm going to do it," he said. "And is there any chance of our getting on the same boat?"

"Why yes," I said. "You suddenly decided all this? And what would your uncle say?"

"He'll be all for it. Glad to see me do a patriotic turn and all that. And glad to get rid of me for a while."

I expressed my satisfaction with the whole idea. I told Phil it was always best to ship out with a partner in case of trouble onboard ship with the other members of the crew. I told him that sometimes the lone wolf was liable to get the shit end of the stick, especially if he was one who liked to keep by himself all the time. That type of seaman, I told him, inadvertently aroused the suspicions of the other seamen.

We went into the Frying Pan on Eighth Street.

Janie still had some money left from her last trustfund check. She came from Denver, Colorado, but she hadn't been home in over a year. Her father, a wealthy old widower, lived in a swank hotel out there, and occasionally she got letters from him describing his good times.

Janie and I ordered plain fried eggs with bacon, but Phillip ordered two three-and-a-half-minute boiled eggs. There was a new waitress behind the counter and she gave him a sour look. A lot of people resented Phillip's exotic appearance and looked at him suspiciously as if they thought he might be a dope fiend or a fag.

"I don't want Allen to know about my shipping out," Phillip was saying. "The whole point of the idea is to get away from him. If he finds out, he's liable to gum up the works."

I laughed at this.

"You don't know Allen," Phillip said seriously. "He can do anything. I've known him too long."

I said, "If you want to get rid of the guy, just tell him to get off your tail and stay away."

"That wouldn't work. He just wouldn't stay away."

We drank our tomato juice in silence.

"I don't see your logic, Phil," I said. "It seems to me you don't mind his hanging around you too damned much, providing he doesn't make a pass at you. And he can be convenient sometimes."

"He's getting inconvenient," Phil said.

"What would happen if he found out you were shipping out?"

"Any number of things."

"What could he do if he found out only after you'd actually left overseas on a ship?"

"He'd probably be waiting for me at our foreign port, wearing a beret and cracking shells on the beach with five or six little Arab boys at his feet."

I laughed at this. "That's a good one," I said.

"You don't want to let that queer in on anything you do," Janie was telling Phillip.

"That's a good one about the beach, all right," I said.

Our eggs had now arrived, but Phillip's eggs were absolutely raw. He called the waitress over and said, "These eggs are raw." He illustrated the point by dipping his spoon into the eggs and pulling it out with a long streamer of raw white.

The waitress said, "You said soft-boiled eggs, didn't you? We can't be taking things back for you."

Phillip pushed the eggs across the counter. "Two four-minute eggs," he said. "Maybe that will simplify matters." Then he turned to me and started talking about the New Vision. The waitress snatched up the eggs and swished herself off to the slot where the food comes through from the kitchen: "Two in the water four minutes."

When the eggs came back they were all right. The waitress slammed them down in front of Phil. He began calmly eating the eggs.

"Okay," I said after I'd finished my breakfast. "Tomorrow you go down to Broadway like I told you and get yourself straightened out. I guarantee we can get a ship within the week. We'll be out on the open sea before Allen even finds out."

"Good," said Phillip. "I want to get out as soon as possible."

"There's no telling where our ship'll be going," I told him.

"I don't care, although I'd like France."

"So would I," I said, "but you've been to France."

"I was there with my mother when I was fourteen, with an English governess hanging around. The Latin Quarter's what I want to see."

"The Latin Quarter's in Paris," I said, "and all we have is a strip of the Normandy peninsula. I don't think we'll see Paris this time."

"There might be a breakthrough to Paris at any event. However, the main thing is to get out of America."

I said, "You're giving Ramsay Allen a broad berth."

"I hope so," he said.

"Lots of time to write poetry at sea," I added.

"That's another thing."

"Why can't you write poetry and work out your New Vision in New York?"

Phillip smiled. "Because Al's around, and he's a dead weight on all my ideas. I've got some new ideas. He belongs to an ancient generation."

"Ah," I said, "you betray a lack of gratitude for your old and venerable teacher."

Phillip gave me a sly undersmile.

Janie said, "Both of you are talking crap. You want to make some money, don't you? When you get back we can all go to Florida or New Orleans or someplace for the winter. Never mind the poetry."

We had cigarettes but no matches. Phil called out to the waitress, "I say, have you a match, miss?"

The waitress said, "No."

Phillip said, "Then get some," in his clear, calm tone.

The waitress got a wooden box of matches from under the counter and threw it at him. It lit in my empty egg plate and knocked some french fries out on the counter. Phillip picked up the box and lighted all our cigarettes. Then he threw the box back so it lit on the counter near her.

She jumped at the sound and said, "Oh! I shouldn't have given them to you."

Phillip smiled at her.

I said, "She must be having her period."

At this a short, stocky male waiter came up to me and said, "Are you a wise guy?"

"Sure," I said. It looked like there would be a fight.

Then Janie said, "That bitch started it all. Why don't you get yourself a new waitress?"

The waiter gave us all a dirty look and walked away.

"Let's get out of here," Janie said. She paid the check and we walked out.

We walked back to Washington Square and sat on a bench in the shade. I got tired of that so I sat down on the grass and started chewing a twig. I was thinking about the books I would bring for this trip and what a time Phil and I would have in some foreign port. Phil and Janie were talking about his girl Barbara Bennington – "Babs" to her friends – and what her reaction would be to this news of his sudden departure.

Then a little old man came staggering by, drunk and muttering to himself. He stopped in front of our bench and started staring at me. We paid him absolutely no attention, so he began to get sore. He had an alcoholic twitch and every time he twitched he snarled.

He twitched and said "Aah" at me, and walked away.

Phil and Janie went on talking and suddenly the little drunkard was back staring at me.

"Who are you?" he wanted to know.

I twitched and said "Aah!"

"Go home," Phil told him, and the little drunkard got scared and went away, twitching and snarling at benches and trees.

We sat there awhile and then decided to go home.

Phil said he was going straight home to start packing.

He lived in a family hotel just around the corner from Janie's apartment, where he had a little two-room suite with private bath.

As we were turning the corner we met James Cathcart, a student at the NYU School of Business, and he went on with Phillip to help him with his packing.

Phillip was telling him to keep mum. Although Cathcart was a pretty good friend of his, Phil was taking every precaution in order that the news wouldn't leak out to Ramsay Allen.

Janie and I went upstairs and took a shower together.

Then we sat down in the front room to talk. I was sitting on the rocking chair facing her and she was sitting on the couch with a towel on, native style. I kept staring at the towel and finally it began to annoy me, so I got up and pulled the towel off her and went back to the rocking chair.

She said, "What are you going to do out at sea?" and I said, "Don't worry about the future."

© 2008, the Estate of Jack Kerouac and the William Burroughs Trust. Excerpted from 'And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks', published by Penguin Classics (£20).

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