Saturday Feb 7 – Neal Cassady‘s Birthday tomorrow. In celebration of Neal Cassady, we draw your attention to previous Cassady postings on the Allen Ginsberg Project here, here, here, and here. In the context of the current focus on Cassady, the writer (as a result of the sudden re-emergence of the fabled Joan Anderson Letter) – here’s some brief selections from his prison letters (written to his wife, Carolyn)
August 13, 1959 from San Quentin
to Carolyn Cassady,
Dearest Darling Wife:
O Joy! what happiness! my heart sings to know you still care and are there in our lair despite its wear and all the people in your hair – and have stayed so fair and firm in the face of all the flabby shabby treatment I’ve handed you, but beware!, the worm has turned (again) and warns your lonely old heart (again) he’s going to smother it in the Love-silk he’s spinning for none but you for life; and to complete the flip-flop of this fishy Foul – altho’ I can’t walk alone, or at all in this crummy cell, and am certainly not a prime target for anyone except my Peers. I at least know what species I am, a foul ball, but the exact kind is a secret until I see you – I ask you to come and visit once more before I face the Mighty Men, not only to express my devoted devotion is the understated way of putting it, love and thereby release some of our mutual tension and pentup longing for each other, but also to find out what you wrote Them, what Mr Miller [sic] of the S.P. [Southern Pacific Railroad] has to say when you tell him my only, or best, hope of getting out is for him to say that he has a job waiting whether it’s open or not, what your exact planning for Edinburgh is, what your reaction will be to my uncovering of what’s wrong with me, wha’s the latest with our kiddies and whatever else comes under the heading of what’s what, what? Speaking of our dear ones, especially our youngest, I bet he’s as homesick right now as I am, for one can recall when I first went to camp, tho nine or ten, and with only a Wino flophouse to yearn for, how desperately lonely and homesick I was even, or on account of, being camp champ athlete (won fifteen of sixteen events, didn’t enter the sixteenth), and while quite compatable to the others, including my priest Godfather, who hasn’t written lately, wonder if he’s sick again; and Johnny isn’t eight yet! so be sure and reassure as you pet without fret or letup our mighty man who I can remember best in his Zorro costume or when sleeping warm with Teddy, gosh! come to think of it, I’ve not even seen a kid for sixteen-and-a-quarter months let alone the ones my thoughts dwell on so much, so how about a picture, Champ? Take it when Cathy comes back from camp and crowd yourself in even if you have to get some passing Hod Carrier to drop his load (these Freudian slips of simile have got to go!) and click the shutter for you or does it automatically shut – until I arrive to open it?; I think so, hard as it is on you, sweet thing I love.
Last Saturday, “Uncle Gavin” Arthur, grandson of our twenty-first President who, Republican though he was, could hardly have been more conservative than is Gain underneath all his Occult Astrology, failed to show (again, for the third time in six weeks) to teach our class in Comparative Religion and Philosophy, about three dozen regularly in attendance, on account of a death in his group at the Global House, which he bought by selling papers on Market Street for ten years; so again it was my pleasurable duty to instruct the boys in Cayce-hood [Edgar Cayce] – a task they always urge upon me whenever our respected and illustrious, tho’ altogether ludicrous, Leader, who knows literally everyone important in the Metaphysical field (his talks range from descriptions of taking Yoga-enemas – and you too, my dear bloated blonde beauty, should take one every month, for that’s what Cayce advised also – with the great Gurdjieff – to making H Horoscopes for Mrs Winter’s [sic] old crony, Dr. Blanche Baker and Lottie Von Stral [Lotte von Strahl], who he now suspects is losing her psychic power because using it exclusively to get money to keep her husband, the Baron who’s dying of cancer, alive despite his oft-repeated desire to go), our leader who either oversleeps or runs out of gas, as he did on the two times previous to this latest, most seious and quite the saddest – if the as yet to me unknown deceased is not properly prepared, and who is?, to meet the conditions of that bloody bloodless Bardo Plane, the Astral Realm to which his own subconscious will attune him, that particular portion of Purgatory region, where until next incarnation, if earth-bound, as is usually the unhappy case, he’ll emotionally burn away the drearer dross, or if higher bound, as may well be, since I heard the victim was old and on the Path, reap the dearer dreams of his Divine desires – a soundest reason for Gavin’s absence.
Two weeks tomorrow I endured, needless to say, with typically unflinching courage (ahem), the removal by that modern savior of shaky doctors, Electro-surgery, of a pinpoint cyst, now infect-swollen to the size of a two-bit piece, on my right forearm very near the elbow which was always irritating it somehow (not being at all lazy any more, ahem; most inexplicable, you see) being forced to lean on the tools of my trade, so recently those splinter-breeding rungs of that monstrous twenty-foot ladder in the Cotton Textile Mill, ring on O ears, to that anvil chorus of looms, but now simply those smoother, tho still splintery, bottom holes – containing q, v, u, t, three-em spacer, a, r, period, semi-colon, colon, dash and two and three-em quads (the 3-em spacer is actually one third of an em – an em is the standard unit from which everything else is measured) in the lower letters, X, Y, Z. J (for John, I think, every time I pick one up), U, &, and the ligiture FFL in the upper ones – of my type case. The California Job Case, which is the most popular case for storing type account consisting of both upper and lower case (letters) together: a storage case is a shallow wooden, sometimes metal, tray divided into compartments of different sizes, one for each character in a font (font: an assortment of types of a single size, point size equals body size of type: seventy two points equals an inch & style). Last week finished (whew!) my initial assignment as Devil (Printer’s Devil is youngest apprentice in print shop), to clean (sort) all the dirty (unsorted) type they had, from six to ninety-six point, from plain thru bold and fashion to Gothic and Italic. This week have already finished two-thirds of my lessons, ten of the fifteen. Next will begins setting Aids, I mean Ads, advertisements, out of the newspaper and this entails imposition and lockup of the stonework engravings from which the fashion figures are impressed; however, since the Demon (no devil he) from Denmark, who is the boss, the Free Man in our shop (Free Man includes anyone not a convict or guard) that has been a printer for forty years and head one here for half that long, tho’ his accent is still a delightful Danish Pastry starts his annual vacation Monday and, because he dominates everyone (say, vot ya mean goink to tolet tvice todah?) and thing so thoroughly, I can’t tell what the situation will be after his departure, whether will start on ads, loaf or what, anyway, do know that when he returns I must pass complicated test to complete my probationary period, supposedly thirty days, and start in as Pressman. So from Rails to Ink, what the devil will try to get into my blood next? certainly not the Devil, tho that’s my official title, perhaps writing.
& it only can if you send names & dates used in summary on back page of my journal atop race forms
Love to the Last
Septetmber 22 1959 from San Quentin
to Carolyn Cassady,
Dearest yourself there, old dearest wife of mine:
Hey! hey! now THAT’s the way to wail! – a five page mash note crammed with everything, including the always running over – say, just how many times a day. Are our toilets used; no need to splurge because we’ve two you know – altho’ I’m sure YOU aren’t the prime culprit! – tank designed to effect rapid disintegration of , not, I might add SURELY not, what Helen [sic – Helen Hinkle] would call it, “organic matter” in lieu of the traditional kitchen sink. Yes I suspected that septic tank when you told me on your wonderful September second visit that the pool was punk again, and I was certain that it would cause you trouble as I stood under the big tin shed in the bigger tinnier (with, to say the gentlest least, noise) yard on Friday morning awaiting the gate’s opening for work; perhaps I could get a job going from house to house – and NOT the kind that’s not a home, please leave Polly Adler out of this – divining when the tank was about to go on the fritz, sort of an unlicensed doctor of dump, dowser of disposal; Seer of Sewage, W.I.R. (when it rains) would emblazon the elaborate emblem of a toilet plunger on my calling card – better give the idea to Helen, I’m sure sure sure she can take it from there.
Seriously, your beautiful letter did did did (I’ll turn into a Gertie Stien [sic] , or, more likely, judging sol-y, or is it soley; no it’s soly, nope, solely, never mind! from looking at the word (her name), is it Stein, yes, yes, yes, that’s it!, if I can stay here much longer longer longer after all, as you MUST well remember, my nose is a nose IS a nose sniffsniffsniff) thrill thrill thrill and mean mean (cutting down to two words only , as a means of originality you understand) so so much MUCH to two me (pretty slick, huh/like there’s no need to hide the two mes – doesn’t plural look funny; or am I leaving myself toototwo open here” – since you’ve also admitted a schizophrenic-type (very mild of course, for a BEAT wife, har had, ambivalency – toward the state of the Golden Bear; and Do that please, in fact tou must if you intend to read on) that not only do I retreat. (GLADLY,) condone & encourage, even plead, but also insist, urge, want and demand a visit so I can tell you exactly just how very very very very (going Gertie one better, for luck) it dif,
Well now I don’t feel so badly, if California’s cops are getting so good as to give you comeuppance for acautious driving there’s even stronger evidence than before that BIG BROTHER will soon be here, and thank goodness we’re not going to have to wait until 1984 either; to escape much more, and less, than traffic tickets that is: a good e.g is the two thousand plus more laws that on the eighteenth were added to the over million & one half now effective (?) in these United (?) States; and these two grand of prohibitions were only those of this state, multiply by fifty please, and add up what years of this will mean to our kids. As for your second bit of bedeviled driving: I’ve always known you were a swinging number, but there was, especially without my witnessing it, ha ha, no need for you to literally prove it – that ought to “handle” who’s THE driver now, right?
Happy to hear about the fair, the kiddies fine attitude thru it all, and, by far the best – a most confirming sign that John IS an Atlantian Scientist who will come a better than American Engineer – that our lovely lonely-for-a-father John boy has his “work” to seek refuge in, weak as is that outlet at present, poor kid.
“Uncle” worry-wart [Gavin Arthur] missed showing up for the class again last week and I hear, probably unfounded, rumors that it is to be discontinued, too bad if true, because it was fun to hear the old geezer expound, without at all remembering he had, on the very same things week after week. I mean his examples, and their wording were always so alike one could not only anticipate, but, with any memory at all, give in advance the exact sentence he would be about to pronounce: it was sort of a game. No, I didn’t read about Russian prisons but I know they pay inmates the wage they were earning on the outside & allow those concubinal – all weekend – visits that Mexico, & now Chino in our own state system, are famous for, to we frustrated felons anyway. Also agree Mr K [sic] kinda makes one think, as I’m happy to see you have, lover. Must give a gory instance confirming Karma & the law of attraction most grimly (for he had wounds about the head from respectively, fists, broomhandle & flatiron, on three of the half dozen times I met him); the bludgeoning-with-a-blunt-instrument beating to death of the same informer who caused my being here – but only indirectly, of course; my multiple sins & God’s merciful manner of expiating them being the direct one,right? – yes, according to the thirteenth’s (brr) Chronicle, an ex-convict killed the very ex-convict whom, while hiding in fear in the rear of his county jail cell I last saw when, before taking the third of my four giant steps in the rank prison journey : Vacaville. I gave both sugar, to materially console, a mumbled encouragement – “Cheer up, you’ll soon hit the bricks” (be on the streets because of how he’d just finished grunting out the stinking stool relieving him) – to show (thank God!!) I mentally, at least, forgave hiis “cooperating” to prevent being deprived of the dope that constituted the cop’s billy making him a perfect type of fink: “gutter-hype” (a hype is one who takes heroin) – so please join me in praying both for this poor devil, another soul lost to a sadistic system in our seemingly senseless society, and the one who did the damning death deed, won’t you? Shocking though it is to so quikly change from one depressing subject to another (tho for much different reasons indeed) the limited space demands it so will here comment that if you think your “Snake-in-the-box” dream was something you should see the ones I have about you, why the censor would cutthis for sheet pornography should I detail them; suffice to say that the last one ended, after much play, with us climaxing together as the book we were reading finished with the heavily printed words, ROAR, ROAR, ROAR: funny, what?
February 14, 1960, from San Quentin
to Carolyn Cassady
My Funny Valentine Wife:
Even though still perched here athwart this sagging sleep-sack, it is under far different conditions than prevailed a week ago: on the physical side, much worse – whereas before my belly-break was hardly the size of a dime, now, the piddling pain correspondingly changed from pinpricks to cramps, I’ve a knot biggern’ a dollar bill (not folded either!) athwart (I LIKE that word, don’t you?) the abdomen…oh well it seems true with the doctor himself, I can do nothing about it except “come back next week” – on the mental side, much better – whereas before my madly muddled mind was driven into “on you fastening filthy feet” (it well shows my contrary, callous, even cruel confusion that I wrote “feet” rather than the proper “fangs”, right?), now, the drives correspondingly changed from half-crazed to at least half-caring. I’ve fought thru (knowing me, you might well guess the altogether mean & terrible thinking overcome; from “no sex” and “not seeing” to worse, whew a phew, GLAD that’s over!) toward a more constructive thought-control, and not just somewhat… it has been an effort that the very difficulty of the struggle itself resolved into a dedicated one, for, no matter how grim, like my emotions themselves still continue to be depite all, I DO realize as never before that letting them – those hellish ideas – run wild (from waking to sleeping and even & especially then – tho must report the exception-proving-rule dream so filled with hope it shattered some of my isolation and gave the needed impetus to chuck the negative attitude & again take up mental shadow-boxing in earnest, unhealthy as that may be: wheeling into the driveway, I caught you cultivating trees in the orchard across the road and, replying to my bellow to stick to your own garden, you said: “Love has no degrees for we’re all one in HIM even trees”; by this, spoken with a quiet conviction that instantly shut me up, I understood, conversely, that you were not going to Scotland after all & in a burst of unspeakable joy I grabbed up and carried you to…THE GARBAGE CANS! where together we planned, while I pestered by stroking your body & legs, construction of a play room for the kiddies by stretching a canvas from that bit of fence directly under the trees – I remember being bothered by its branches as I put the tarpaulin up – to the fence with the balky gate (ever fix it?); the plan worked out swell, while the dream never took up the problem of the smelly garbage cans being enclosed, it did regret covering part of the garage window, & I recall how good it felt to really be WITH you for once & how proud I felt to be constructive – from waking to sleeping, then. I had almost NEVER let up thinking how very hopeless it all was; still but a big boo-hoo baby, you see) could only succeed – these wildly whirling wailings – in forever hardening the barrier between us, to say the least…not just somewhat, I say, because to save something of sanity as well as our pitiful relationship, now the same instant hatred for this culture wells or resentment toward anyone swells (who can control feelings? my awful ones shall only improve as healthy thoughts affect them; thus the effort) I ruthlessly switch the mind to other channels which, thereby occupying it, greatly help me to shun the shuddering upsurge…now you may protest that it’s useless to repress these results of crooked thinking (thoughts produce emotions & emotions thoughts; they lways interact, with emotions taking priority, to we who live mostly in our lower nature anyhow), yet such is not strictly the case, i.e., until, thru prayer & meditation, thoughts & thus emotions, are sufficiently controlled to be handled without imminent danger of explosion, the bad ones are to be cradled like dynamite, or, better, if possible, ignored! As you know, allowed but one free letter a week, I had to wait the half-dozen days until the beginning of a new one to answer that lovely loving ten page outpouring of yours which I received immediately after mailing the silly, week & stupid letter I now – how many times have I done this? blown hot and cold toward the only one who really counts, tried, in vain, I HOPE, to crush with selfishness that sole soul-love offered me? – humbly apologize for & ask that you “ignore”, for such rot will be sent NO MORE!, after so long a delay then, imagine my chagrin when, three days later, making this a whole novena-time late (I still say them, why don’t you try it?), I got back this letter I’m now hastily re-typing to get out tonite, because I’ve suddenly some money on the books from Peter Orlovsky; so, excusably late as it is, & the more appropriately dated, since that priest & doctor, St.Valentine himself would surely concede that underneath all – shall I EVER surface it?- I DO indeed LOVE YOU & WILL make all your last years happy ones (when you get back you’ll not even be J(ack) Benny’s age & like him, we’ll keep it that way, OK?) I give belated answer: By providence you talked to the very best man in that worst (very, very, I hear) of branch offices. I’ll have served my minimum sentence, March 3rd, the day after Lent begins – have you ANY bad habits to give up for His sake? I’ve plenty – & more because records are sent ANYTIME after the parolee has less than ninety days to go than because I’ll be eligible for release after that date but a fortnight away, they should really have my papers in the S(an) J(ose) (they’ll go there, not S(an) F(rancisco)): just as I will if you REALLY want it, otherwise, no) office by the time of that month turns lamb-like. Of the several valid reasons – for one thing CassAdy might be considered an alias – for not writing the dept. of motor vehicles. I mention the chief one; my vehicle shan’t have a motor; as for Mr Campbell [sic], he was correctly taken care of over one-and-a-half years go when at Vacaville. I signed an authorization for Santa Clara Co. to be notified thirty days prior to parole. As well as (Edgar) Cayce, whom, much as he is now missed (& ALWAYs will be), I know can’t care for properly, sell the car (speaking of cars, my ex-bro,-in-law, a boyhood idol who used to let me (softly) throw darts at him (to barely miss, you understand) & who could rip shirt-sleeves (of a too-small one, that is) by simply flexing biceps, is doing a year in county jail account caught drunk-driving one for the umpteenth time: this I read in nice thanks-for-Xmas-card letter from Mrs Dorothy Daly – bro. Ralph’s wife – 4620 E Pixley, Compton 2, Calif(ornia), since can’t write, please drop her a card (only) saying so & thanking for the letter to me: & thanks to you, my hard-working one who must “front” here too, ugh), the spare Buick parts,grille, generator, fog lites; in short, go whole hog & sell everything you can – except the bicycles, I intend to trade them in on one of my own, yes, reverting over a decade, & big as Santa Clara Co. is, steep as S(an) F(rancisco)’s hills are, or loco as it may seem in Lompoc, I seriously intend to pedal – my legs should please you then – wherever I go – to work, church, parole office & back to unfurnished flat – the next three years. The RR [Railroad] job I want, one that would save five thousand dollars yearly in Deadheads (reason RR might go for the proposition), is the Lompoc Local, which would consist of switching cars in an industrial plant forty miles south of San Luis Obispo a doz(en) hours each day, then retiring to the outfit car provided as FREE living quarters for the brakeman who like myself (desperately), wants it: altho writing Mr Mace [sic] sounds sound I think a better idea is for me to see Mr McKinnon [sic], head of hiring for the whole S(outhern) P(acidic) & a Coast div(ision) Conductor who would well understand about the Lompoc Local, & ask, beg, DEMAND he intercede for me with Mr Miller [sic], the div(vision) superintendent. Glad to hear of Cathy’s big improvement, may it be permanent; can’t believe John needs new glasses, if so, why no wait till Scot(land). & get free, or cheaper, thus further justify trip; sure Jami will steal May show, equally sure shan”t see it, but million thanks for your noble effort & Jami for birthday note, say she’s my Valentine
as most sincerely Hope you will continue to be. All love always