The Long March
by bart plantenga
• Jack Kerouac
Don’t fall asleep on the Metro-North Train out of Grand Central late at night or you’ll end up somewhere you never in a million years thought you’d end up with the midnight hour approaching. If you’d been on that train, you could have heard me repeating the late-night mantra STAY AWAKE DON’T FALL ASLEEP … over and over and despite – or precisely BECAUSE of! – this mantra, and despite me imploring myself to stand up, go through your wallet, retie your shoe, make a list … I indeed conked out, clueless to the world and was only startled awake when a valise thudded against my seat, just as the signs flashed Ardsley-on-Hudson. I managed to gather whatever wits I had left and leapt out just as the doors began to squeeze shut in … uh… Tarrytown! Overshooting my destination, Dobbs Ferry, by about 5 or 6 miles to the south.
I’d gone to Manhattan to see the prog-grass band Girls on Grass, 2 Brooklyn women – and bassist friend Dave. Only something special can drag me out these days to the past-sell-by-date East Village to engage in that most consumerist of sidewalk dances: the shuffle-app-selfie-click-ice-cream-lick-dance. So only when: 1. my critical capacities tip below zero; or 2. when a friend is playing in a girl band at HiFi, which inhabits the ghostly space of the formerly renowned Brownie’s …
And as I am about to tell you the rest of this tale, I again hear my partner’s voice of reason whispering sternly into my ear: Do not advertise your stupidity or drunkenness – not charming and not a career maker. Not her actual voice but the one my mind has filed on a mental mp3 under Disapproval/Admonish/Raised Eyebrows.
But I’m hardwired to tell stories like this because humility forges a crooked and poorly marked trail to nirvana, or some place like that. When I encounter an error of judgement nourished by alcohol [not too much, just the right measure I thought], it usually incites impetuous, flakey reactions on my part. Rather than wait for the next train down the track, I decided to walk home. By walking back I mean like walking 2 hours to atone. It’s like winding a tangle of yarn into a ball, a metaphor, you rightly notice, for my unraveled foibles. Yes, walk: It was 85∘with humidity at 120% – if that’s even possible. Whatever the numbers, it’s like walking the doggy paddle and the air is a swimming pool.