I met Neal Cassady last night in a waking dream sitting across from me with his back turned to the noise; the bar was loud. He repeatedly leaned forward and asking if I wanted a smoke.
He looked just like Neal, talked like him. I hated and admired him just like I would the real Neal Cassady. His mind was incredible; beyond the worries of mortality, no thoughts or pains of hubris. He had the candor that I lacked only because I hadn't the nerve to jump first. When I asked him if he truly was the great Cassady, he stared at me from across the table with a wry smile; patted his breast pocket down, leaned back and said as he turned with precision out of his chair,
"Let's go for a smoke".
Such practiced determination, he was already outside before I had put on my coat. Of course I had no cigarettes of my own, he had expected me to bring one for the both of us. But I for one expected him to procure an entire carton by the time I was outside; one bent cigarette from every Saintly being at the bar.
And what a bar! Great young gone gals; dressed in short skirts and long autumn coats; wool scarves around their necks and under chins beneath cold steel eyes. Ahh, forever young the white dresses and mistresses of the college bar.
By the time I had opened the door and exhaled my first breath of the crisp night air, Neal was playing the part of locomotive engine with a German couple who were smoking and pretending to be Parisian. The three of them were standing in formation of a triangle on the edge of a stone staircase with a railing leading down into a steep lawn with Neal’s back facing the moon. It was all arranged in a perfect geometric mandala of overlapping Platonic solids.
As I approached the cloud, Neal was recounting the tale of a nurse he had lain in the backseat of her father's station wagon in Nebraska in the heat of the afternoon sun. The German man was stocky and ill-dressed for the weather. He told me later that his name was Heinrich, but I did not believe him even though I knew he had nothing to hide. The woman whom I believed to be only his girlfriend told me, with a thick German accent, that her name was Deline. I believed her. She was well-dressed for the weather and smoking heavily; style is everything.
"They've graciously offered to roll us a dozen", Neal expelled between great gusts of smoke, a boyish grin smeared on his face by the thousand red lips and wet ***** of passed consequence. Even in the light of a single lamppost coming through the haze that billowed forth from the three talking chimneys, I could still see a sheen in Neal's eye. The sort of sheen that implied hooliganisms. The sort of sheen you see before a person flies off the handle. The exact sheen you see before you wake up tomorrow in the late light of the afternoon, wondering who the Hell took your hand last night and jumped into total darkness with you. That is, if there was somebody around to take your hand.
I liked Neal.
He had a style about him that reminded me of a dark velvet curtain. Once you had passed through that curtain in your business casual attire, you witnessed the burgundy coloured stain of truth. There was no backpedaling after that; your chains would knot up and you would fall off the ride if you tried.
The German couple looked around at their surroundings and the both of us with a degree of boredom. I had seen them earlier in the bar, they looked bored then too. Neither had spoken to the other once and I was beginning to feel like we were exasperating them.
“Who cares? They offered to roll us a dozen” I thought. What did it matter how Neal got them to do it, they've offered twelve cigarettes and now they belong to us.
Deline handed Neal and I six cigarettes each; they were magnificently rolled.
“Goodbye, then! Thank you for your business”, Neal said and slid down the railing to the lawn below, lighting his cigarette mid-slide. I had just lit mine and started after him down the staircase. I turned around and spoke clumsily with a cigarette bobbing at the corner of my mouth,
“Yes… thanks”, and left without another word.
Neal walked with sporadic intensity; arms often stabbing out into the blanket of night; legs that would walk straight and stiff but then bent and fast with sudden changes as if he was preparing to spring off into the evening of speckled lampposts and smoke. His head bobbed West to East, North to South, and all Axis’ between X, Y and Z. The more I stared at this character whom I called Neal the more I thought of him as an illusion of my own delusions. When I had finished that thought, Neal had spun around and laughed a good hearty and honest laugh; he seemed to have read my mind and proceeded to flick the space between by eyebrows with his thumb and *******. The pain was real enough. This Neal must be real, unless I had gone full mad with lunacy. We blasted off down the avenue which connected the college bar to the dormitories and the library after that.
Beyond the avenue laid the cozy valley of goodnight downtown with all it’s lights of sodium pearls below and us upon the hill top looking down with eager intensity. Neal gave another rounded laugh and stared with mad eyes above my head and pointed straight up into the sky at Sirius.
“Tonight, yes yes, we go out. Not just out, my dear friend, but up. Yes yes, to the great up-and-over. Beyond the next stop we absolutely must climb.”
I don’t know what mad beast had possessed me that evening but I followed this ghost; this great memory of romantic America into the heart of the infinite night.
“Good gal Deline”, said Neal
“Who?” I replied
“Nimble fingers, strong hands for the German working class” he said, “Great gone gal. Good gal. Fine gal by all standards of beauty and sleek german ingenuity”
“Hmm”, I responded inhaling my cigarette deeply. The Germans were just fine at rolling, but the tobacco was all American. It was harder and harder for me to physically keep up with Neal. He kept speeding off sporadically twenty feet in front of me, sometimes stopping and spouting at young folks asking for cigarettes.
“But you’ve already got one” They would say
“Yes yes, but it’s for when I’m not smoking one is why I want one”, Neal would answer as he trailed off further and further down the road. They thought he was mad, but they all smiled nonetheless.
My curiosity was brimming. Who was this mad man? Who was this loon impersonator of the American night? I could not stand by my idle silence and unquestioning.
“What’s the plan tonight?”, I asked
“What plan? No good plan. Only great plan and great plain rising higher and higher and we will be up all night but on top of the world for we must climb up and up forever until we can climb no more, and then after we can climb no more then we must climb a little further for life itself is nothing more than an infinite climb ever higher and why not get there faster than all the rest?”
I had stopped walking and Neal’s voice echoed and vibrated the walls of the stairs between the library and the meal hall. His voice was like that of mountain that had slid beneath the ground reborn into an endless peak above.
“Jailbird Cassidy. Great bellowing Cassidy all energy and no direction, but getting there in no time just the same Cassidy”, I thought to myself.
“I trust you Neal”, I had said out loud.
“Not yet! First great big night time breakfast for you and me, for one can not climb without a good energy and good rounded stomach digested of food and stories.”