A Major Announcement

First off, I’d like to thank all of you for coming on such short notice. There’s coffee on the terrace over there for anyone who wants it, in those Thermos things. Just push down the squeezy doodad on the top and the coffee’ll come out the spigot thing. I believe most of you know the people who are standing up here with me, but for those of you who don’t, this is my lovely wife, Gail. Thanks for being here, honey. And these are my sons, Leo, who’s 10, and Max, who’s 13. Some of you here today know that 13 is one of those really, really cute ages. Anyway, thanks for being here for your old man, guys. I know this isn’t fun, exactly, but here’s a secret for you: I only pretended to love going to all those soccer games over the years. Little joke there, fellas. Kidding. Little joke never hurt anybody. I’d also like to thank the Rosens for generously allowing us the use of their townhouse this morning. We thought about having you all over to the apartment. Glad we didn’t. Would’ve been a pretty tight squeeze. Great turnout, and I appreciate it.

What’s that? Did someone-oh, hiya, Bill. Welp. Here goes. Guess I’ll get right to it. I’ve decided to become a tai chi guy.

I know this may come as a slight shock to some of you, especially those of you who go back a long way with me, but there you have it. I plan to learn tai chi.

I guess the best thing for me to do now would be to stand back and just hear your questions, if you have any. Feel free to ask anything-and you also get a follow-up. Yes, Stu Rawlston, back row. Stu and I went to Colgate together back in the Neolithic Age. Nice seeing you here this morning, Stupinator.

Back at ya, Weasel. Does this mean you’re gonna be one of those guys in the park, moving all slow?

Excellent question, Stu. Did everybody get that? Stu’s wondering if I’m going to be one of those guys in the park. Let me tell you, Stu, I just don’t know at this point. Is that fair, as an answer? I will say I’ve had a chuckle or two over the years, watching those guys doing their slow-motion routine in Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn or wherever. And I’ve had the thought that these guys are exhibitionist A-holes, to be honest, ‘scuse my Français. But maybe, Stu, just maybe, those guys got tired of practicing the tai chi moves in their apartments. As I believe I mentioned, ours is a little cramped, and so right now I couldn’t rule out that I may, in fact, end up being one of those guys, much as I hate to admit it. That cover it, Stu? You good? O.K., next question. Jane. Jane … I’m sorry, I just blanked on your last name.

Blanston .

Jane Blanston, everybody. Blanston, of course. Jane’s a researcher at the office. You had a question, Jane?

Why are you doing this?

Whoo! Leave it to Jane to come in there with the old inside fastball. Boy! That’s the big question right there, isn’t it? Let’s just say I can feel in my bones that I’m a little older than I used to be, and I tried the yoga thing, but there was a slight flatulence problem with all the stretching, so I thought that tai chi might be a better way for me to go. Martial aspect appealed to me as well. Next question. Uh, yes, you, Rick.

You said we could have follow-ups.

I thought I covered it pretty good, Jane. But if you feel the need for another-

Is there a specific problem you’re hoping to cure with this? Bad knee, hamstring, maybe some sex thing? Or is there a spiritual element that you’re not discussing?

Wowee. Let me process all of that, Jane. Have you done this before, by the way? College newspaper, maybe? Look, there are a number of things that go into a decision like this. You know death is coming. It may be a speck on the horizon, but that speck’s gettin’ a little larger each day, so one day it hits you: Stave off that bad boy. Get the bod in shape. And, sure, maybe some side benefit, given the Eastern-ness of the whole tai chi enterprise, is that some spiritual thing is gonna sneak its way in there. You have those sages over there. Some of those fellows wrote the Kama Sutra , I believe. So if there’s a benefit in that area-desire and performance and all that-I’ll certainly take it. I think Gail will, too. Won’t you, honey? Just nod, dear. That’s it. Hope I’ve answered your question, Jane. Rick, you had something. Rick Hernandez, everybody.

Jane asked the thing I was gonna ask.

O.K. Is that it? I think I see a hand in the back-is that … Bevo? Haven’t seen you since high school, Bevo. Didn’t know you were in the neighborhood. How’d you hear about this?

You mentioned something before that caught my attention. Flatulence. At least I think that’s what you said.

Yup, that’s what I said. Looks like you still got the same smirk you had back in Paulsen’s history class. What’s your question, Bevo?

Well, uh, I was just curious. When you were doing the yoga, which is when the flatulence problem occurred, I believe you said, did it take the form of actual blasts of gas flying out of your anus with a loud vibrating sound, or was it more along the lines of your basic seepage, like air leaving a big, fat tire little by little?

Very funny, Bevo. Bevo, everybody, old high-school buddy of mine. Hasn’t changed a bit, God bless him.

You haven’t answered the question.

Let’s just say the other people in the yoga class don’t miss me. That answer it for ya?

Not really, no.

Anybody else? Lars Trino, everybody. Supervisor of mine, from the Munich office.

Vat haff you done to actually prepare? Vill you verk vith a real live tai chi master or vith the DVD instructional unit?

I’m leaning toward finding a teacher-a master, as you called it, perhaps more properly. Karen. Karen Maxwell, everybody, old friend of Gail’s-and an old friend of mine, too, I suppose, albeit by the commutative property. Karen!

How does your family feel about your decision to become what you call a “tai chi guy”? And I ask this with special emphasis on Gail’s feelings.

Very good question. So thoughtful. Although I can’t really speak for Gail and the boys, I’d have to say they’ve been supportive so far. As for Gail specifically, look, I know she didn’t marry a tai chi guy. Gail married a regular guy. A normal guy. But when she and I met, back in ’87, did we think we’d be eatin’ sushi twice a month, not to mention tandoori chicken? Or chuckling over Miyazaki movies with the kids? Or having cocktail-party conversation about the fighting style of Jet Li versus that of Jackie Chan? What I’m saying, Karen, is that the influence of Asian culture has taken all of us by surprise. Which is another way of saying that I can continue to be the regular guy I’ve always been even as I explore tai chi. Gail’s the one who got me to try yoga, by the way. So blame her for all this.

Bffffffthhhht!

That’s Bevo, everybody, with a pretty good sound effect. Looks like that’s it. Again, I’m glad you could be here today. In a month, maybe two, I hope to have all of you back to update you on my progress, or lack thereof. There’s coffee in the back, in those Thermos deals. Thanks again, everybody.

Off the Road

Students of the Beat Generation know that Jack Kerouac’s last years weren’t so beatific. Pot-bellied, miserable and incoherent, he lived with his mother, reading National Review, supporting the Vietnam War and denouncing the hippies before dying at age 47 of internal bleeding caused by getting beat up in a bar and cirrhosis of the liver. It was a tragic end for someone who lived a big life and wrote a Great American Novel in three weeks and had sex with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gore Vidal. Good times, right?

Thanks to a new book, Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac , edited by Douglas Brinkley, we see that the writer’s youthful glory days weren’t so glorious. Often they were pretty damn boring-almost as painful as one of those Slate diaries.

While there are some wonderful passages in Windblown World , nearly every page offers entries that should have been made available only to the most suicidal grad student with a lot of time on his hands at the University of Texas.

Jack Kerouac, a great writer and a swell guy by all accounts, really didn’t deserve this. Here are several entries from 1947-48, when he was living in New York City and composing On the Road , among other works. Thank goodness Kerouac didn’t have a blog.

June 15 (Sunday)-I find it almost impossible to get underway again: my mind seems blank and disinterested in these fictions. I give up after 500-words of preliminary nature.

Monday 16-Feeling just as hopeless-feeling that I may not, after all, be able to complete anything. But I write 2000-words pertaining to the chapter, and things begin to break, or crumble & seethe.

Saturday 21-Day off. Went out in N.Y.

Tuesday 24-Wrote on final draft. Chapter will be 10,000 wds. long now.

Wednesday 25-Wrote. Am reading the New Testament, really for the first time.

Thursday 6th-Am freeing myself of old shackles, to be described later. I think that I’m about to be free at last. It’s really amazing. And it’s all so silent, I can’t say it. Began writing in a freer style tonight. 1000-words pertaining, in an hour. Can it last?

Thursday Nov. 13-Went out on big binge which lasted into-

Friday Nov. 14-and

Saturday Nov. 15

Sunday Nov. 16-Made extensive notes, Sat. night, about 2000-words. Today read and ate and recuperated. Wrote 4000-words tonight, wonderfully absorbed too. What more need to be said? Talk is cheap. I’m happy.

Saturday Nov. 29-Day off, social “duties”-and a lot of restless , thoughtless banging-around at parties and binges in N.Y.

Sunday Nov. 30-Same thing, same stupid things.

Monday December 8-Wrote 3500-words, swiftly, surely. Am no longer worried about “labor”-just my mother .

Thursday December 11-At 5 a.m. wrote 1500-words. Spent most of the night typing and re-working 3,000 words in the manuscript, and thinking of the structures. The world is a structure of souls, nein? And so on-

Saturday December 13-(goofing)-

Sunday December 14-that is, read all the papers tonight

Monday December 15-Wrote 2000-words, good ones too.

Saturday Jan. 10-Spent a lazy afternoon in my bathrobe and slippers, playing the piano, thinking of nothing in particular. “Tired of writing” for this week-about 10,000 words written this week. At night, went to N.Y.; saw Sarah Vaughn on 52nd St. Feeling another change …

Thursday Jan. 22-Tried to write and wrote nothing at all, what I wrote was crossed out. This is one of the worst ones yet, especially after all I’ve written.

Saturday February 14-Took Ma to a movie at night.

-George Gurley