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Mitch Sisskind - Correspondent at Large

Jack Kerouac, Columbia's football star [by Mitch Sisskind]

Kerouacfootballia0

I have enjoyed reading on this site about Jack's outstanding work in Mark Van Doren's class at Columbia. However, while it may be true that Jack quit the football team after receiving an 'A' in the class, this is not actually why he quit the team. In 'Vanity of Dulouz,' one of his last books -- it may even have been posthumous -- Jack makes it very clear that he left the team out of frustration at the Columbia Coach. The Coach's real name was Lou Little, and I believe in the book Jack refers to him as Lou Libble. Here he is...

Little

As the book describes it, Little (or Libble) had a tremendous fixation on a reverse play called KF-79. He had won a game with it thousands of years ago, when he was so happy he fell off his dinosaur. Now he kept insisting that Kerouac practice this play over and over, which pissed Jack off. Plus, Jack had broken his leg sometime earlier and Lou had moved him down in the depth chart, very unfairly in Jack's opinion. So Jack left the team. In fact, not long afterward he left Columbia altogether.

Jack was a good player in high school in Massachusetts, and I believe he did a postgraduate year at Horace Mann School where he also played. He was probably the best football playing writer ever, certainly the best since U. of Penn All-American T. Truxton Hare in the early years of the 20th century. 'Vanity of Dulouz' is one of the best books ever about football, although only the opening section actually deals with the game. Jack had the ability (like Homer) to magnify a small incident like a football game into something on the scale of the Normandy invasion. 'Dulouz' is really good, and you feel like you're right next to Jack on the field, or on your barstool.

However, the all time best book on football -- in fact, it's in a completely different league than any other football book -- is Don Delillo's End Zone. Which is wonderful, because unless I am mistaken Delilo did not play the game past the high school level and I'm not sure he even played high school ball. In this sense he's a kind of Stephen Crane, who wrote convincingly about combat without having taken part in it. Well, Tolstoy said if you've seen a street fight you can write about a war. If you've seen Mr. Smee, you can write about Captain Hook. If you've seen a dachshund, you can write about a Shar Pei. Trust me!

from the archive; July 27, 2008


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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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