The first vision I have of Kesey, at least in memory, was his blue-jeaned bottom bounding away over my backyard-bricked wall, as the knocks that inspired his flight continued, and a deep voice repeated "Police!"
As most of my life seems to have arranged itself in storybook sequences, improbable but ultimately entertaining, the occasion was Ken's teaching me how to smoke dope, at Stanford, where we were both in the writing program of their graduate school. Kesey had come from the University of Oregon, where he had written his first novel, receiving a prize for a work-in-progress that then could not find a publisher. More than a blow to the heart, I would have found it. But his energy seemed undiminished, and he couldn't have more appealing unless played by the young Paul Newman. Although Jack Nicholson, who was to portray the character of Randall MacMurphy, Kesey's fictional self, in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, was not bad casting.
I had come to Stanford in my twenty-fifth year, to study with Wallace Stegner, in hopes of writing the great novel, or at least a really good one. I'd been out in the world, the European part of it, and a little bit the New York one, for a couple of years, hoping of course to set it on fire, the musical-comedy sector, having been screwed in the aspiration and sexual part by Frank Loesser, who was, or at least had seemed at the time, the most gifted person in it, writer of Where's Charley, Guys and Dolls, and The Most Happy Fella. My spirit, which had seemed indefatigable and indominatable had run out of ins, and the torch I'd held for Broadway and musical comedy appeared to have burned out. So as the student I'd been, I'd decided to try the academic route. Wallace Stegner, considered one of the great American writers of his day, was teaching there and they didn't tell you till after you had paid your tuition that he was on sabbatical.
So there I was, in my living room, with the knocking on the door, the accompanying announcement that who the knocker was 'Police,' Kesey's immediate flight over the backyard fence, my being high for the first time, steadying myself against the doorjamb as I opened the door, and Kesey's bottom disappearing over the back brick wall. Creatively, I could not have imagined a better, more comical set-up. But in real life it was truly distressing.
"Yes, Officer?" I managed.
He said he was just wondering if I'd found my driver's license, lost the previous week. I told him 'No,' and managed to get through what was to come.
That included the vigil outside San Quentin for Caryl Chessman, a convicted rapist who was to be executed over the protests of several years and several thousand people who found his self-education and struggles to become both his own legal defender and a worthwhile human being touching and important. They killed him anyway, even though Marlon Brando came to protest the execution and Shirley MacLaine when she was still interested in other people marched to Sacramento to try and dissuade the governor.
Afterwords Kesey and I drove through the countryside, a scene I was to use in KINGDOM COME when I was still a devoted writer which I am apparently not this morning, feeling vaguely depressed as I do and specifically disheartened. I bought Time Magazine yesterday for the first time in a lot of years, my favorite friend having been the first female Time Magazine reporter, Sandra Burton, killed by her boyfriend in Bali and Time didn't even bother to investigate, as by then they had run out of balls and the impetus to be a great magazine. It was not much of an article, and I was sorry I had bought the rag. Oh, excuse me. I meant to say 'mag.'