Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Scroll

bumper stickerOne of my colleagues thinks that interest in the Kerouac scroll must be a generational thing, since he doesn't care at all. Me, I have history of a sort with manuscripts typed on rolls of teletype paper, and the museum is open on Friday evenings, so I hurried over after work.

The whole west wing of the museum echoes with the clatter of typing. I thought at first it was a recording, but it was way better than that: at the entry to the exhibit there is a room with old Underwood typewriters, and visitors are encouraged to compose either haiku (a bunch of Kerouac haiku are hung on display) or road narratives, and pin them to the wall. Type type type. Type type type. There is a film on continuous loop, apparently a shortened version of "What Happened to Kerouac". There are enormous blowups of the pictures from Life Magazine of an impossibly handsome Kerouac sitting by his typewriter, holding up the scroll as if reading. There are display units with photos and books of other Beats, and a display panel about Kerouac's associates' New Mexico connections. The sound of typing from the anteroom stops, begins again. Type type type. Type type type.

There is a long long case diagonally down the middle of the room, with the first thirty-six feet of the manuscript unfurled. I don't know if it has been opened to different parts of the story in different cities, but we get the beginning. He composed it with the real names. Neal is Neal. The paper is almost transparent, and the grain of the cloth on the floor of the case shows through behind the typing. Even if one weren't bending over sideways trying to read across the lines at an angle without leaning on the case (which might set off an alarm), it would be hard to read. With or without bifocals. As presented, impossible. I went to the foot of the case where I could at least read straight on instead of sideways. The thirty-sixth foot is the part where Kerouac is picking cotton for two dollars per hundred pounds. I read until I was practically standing on my head trying to puzzle out the last visible letters as the paper wrapped around the glass dumbbell holding the rest of the novel. Type type type type type.

The museum has a billboard, along I-25 northbound from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The same text as the bumper sticker above. Be sure to tell your friends about the exhibit. The Palace of the Governors is free to NM seniors with ID on Wednesdays, to all NM residents on Sundays, and to everyone on Friday evenings. Good pix in the San Francisco Chronicle.

No comments: