Mr. Salon Man speaks to us from his corner of the Starbucks near his wife's osteopathy clinic. He is agitated and stabs his finger at a photocopy on the table. “My mouth went agape as I sat reading the letter,” he says. “How could Kerouac be so pitiless?” He paws through a drift of pages torn out of paperbacks. He holds up one page and then another. “Lee Ann is 'a fetching hunk, a honey-colored creature,'” he reads. “There is 'a beautiful blonde called Babe—a tennis-playing, surf-riding doll of the west.'” He fishes one from the bottom of the pile. “And then there is Terry, 'the cutest little Mexican girl… Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious.'” Mr. Salon Man twists his mouth. He wags his head. Physical override is required to get the words out. “'Her hair was long and lustrous black,'” he says, “'and her eyes were great big blue things with timidities inside.'”
The word “timidities” pains one; it is inelegant. But Mr. Salon Man doesn't notice. His hair is sticking out sideways in clumps.
He begins talking about the library at Columbia. He talks for 14 paragraphs. “But the building really is Nicholas Murray Butler’s big erection,” he snorts, eyes looking sideways. Nobody overheard, and he talks some more. He really doesn't like that library.
Mr. Salon Man leans back in his seat. He raises an eyebrow. “It seems appropriate that this vast book sarcophagus houses some of Kerouac’s letters,” he says. He swats the photocopy. What Kerouac said about Marilyn Monroe is still on his mind. “Six days before the date on the letter, Monroe, 36, had been found dead of a barbiturate overdose at her home in Los Angeles,” he says. His voice drops. He is somber. “Her death was both a spectacle and a singular American tragedy,” he says, as if making an announcement to himself.
Mr. Salon Man looks up, locks glances. “What would prompt a worldly, middle-aged man to emote such adolescent contempt for a woman whose life and death had been heartbreaking?” he demands. He is rubbing his jaw. “Clearly, the letter was a plea for Lucien Carr’s elusive endorsement via humor rooted in shared chauvinism,” he says. “Affirmation from Carr was the”—gesturing in the air—“sine qua non of Kerouac’s manhood.”
He slumps. He pokes here and there in his drift of pages. He mutters to himself. Then he sits upright, very fast. “That might seem sweet—had it not been buried in woman-hating sludge about death-inducing penal assaults,” he snarls. You push a glass of water his way, partly to calm him down and partly because he's having trouble getting out the s's. He doesn't look at the water.
He starts doing his film noir voice. It's a party trick. “For Kerouac, one hot blonde screen star apparently blurred with the next into some warped apotheosis of Woman as a loveless cipher,” Mr. Salon Man says. But why is he talking this way at Starbucks?
His wife shows up. The keys to the SUV are in her hand, and she looks like she's had a hard day of pushing muscles around. Mr. Salon Man casts about for his satchel and starts wrestling papers into it.
In a patient, distracted way, his wife asks Mr. Salon Man what he makes of his Kerouac reading. He doesn't meet her eye. “I can’t decode the references to eyeballs and parrots,” he says, speaking into his satchel.
Then they're gone, and the SUV pulls out of the parking lot.
What did Kerouac say? Here's the quote, from a letter Jack Kerouac wrote in August 1962. It's some pretend dialogue between Kerouac and the man the letter was written to, Lucien Carr.
LUCIEN: Mr. Kerouac, what do you think of Marilyn Monroe? Your honest opinion.
KEROUAC: She was fucked to death.
LUCIEN: Will you send us a telegram saying so?
The dialogue continues with a joke about Arthur Miller having a dick the size of Robert E. Sherwood (a very tall playwright). The whole letter can be read here, thanks to Mr. Salon Man.
—Follow C.T. May on Twitter: @CTMay3