Note: this is the second of two installments about David’s archival research trip. The first can be found here.
I landed at La Guardia, took a taxi to the apartment building on W 71st street, unloaded my bags, and finally sat down in New York City, contemplating everything I would see over the next few days. The Berg Collection wouldn’t open until Tuesday—it was Saturday when I flew in—so I had two full days of sight-seeing available to me and I took advantage of it. I visited Times Square, the Empire State Building, Liberty Island, Ellis Island, NYU campus and Washington Square Park, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, the site of the World Trade center, The Strand, and up, down, and around Central Park on a tour-bus. By mid-week, I was used to catching the subway and disembarking near Bryant Park, a brief walk away from the ice skating rink and, most importantly, the Stephen A. Schwarzmann building, the iconic section of the New York Public Library. After two full days of exploring Manhattan from top to bottom, I was ready to begin the research that brought me to New York in the first place.
There is always a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens. I expected the Berg reading room to be an unsettlingly quiet room, observed by predatory librarians making sure that the timid, silent researchers at the tables didn’t destroy the priceless artifacts in their hands. But in reality, the room’s acoustics reminded me of the sixth floor of the PCL where occasional conversations and the jostle of books and pencils on the desks aren’t followed by an agitated, “Shh!” It was also staffed with helpful, caring, and most importantly, smiling, librarians ready to assist me however they could.
The Kerouac archives are, at first glance, daunting: they consist of 90 boxes of materials, as well as several oversized materials. The sports materials—real and fantastical—reside in 4 of those boxes. I figured I could finish a box a day, even having enough time to eat lunch and take an extended trip around Manhattan. What I didn’t expect was that I’d only make it through box 59—the first box that contains Kerouac’s sports diaries of 1936 and 1938, as well as his horse-racing newspapers and personal baseball statistics and analyses of his Pawtucketville teams—after two and a half days of work. When I started to read his sports diaries I became absorbed in his day-to-day accounts of sports events across the nation, including the wins and losses of baseball teams and horse races, as well as his detailed predictions for future events. He was dedicated to reporting the outcome of every game or race he encountered.
Boxes 60-62, which contain the fantasy baseball materials, weren’t as time-consuming as 59. I had plenty of time to examine the contents, including fantasy baseball newspapers, cards, statistics, letters, and diagrams for how to play the game. If you can imagine a 14 to 16-year-old Kerouac, sitting in his bedroom, developing his own sports newspapers and stories, some in pencil and others on a typewriter, you also have to imagine a much older Kerouac—in college, on the road, and eventually bloated and worn-down by excessive drinking in the early 60s—keeping a systematic record of his fantasy baseball league, teams, and players, some with fleshed-out backstories.
Whatever I thought sports meant to Kerouac before this trip was an underestimation. He lived and breathed sports. Before he ever had dreams of becoming a novelist, Kerouac had dreams of becoming a star athlete and a journalist. What appears to be an amusing anecdote about a football scholarship to Columbia University becomes the realization of a young Kerouac wanting to excel on the field and become a sensation. Before becoming part of the nomadic Beat gang of writers and artists in the 1940s and 1950s, Kerouac was part of the Lowell gang in the 1930s, playing baseball, running track behind the textile mills, jotting down the statistics of his friends’ batting averages, hits, and runs in a steno notebook.
It was thrilling to sit there amongst all of these materials and realize that I loved every minute of it. While looking at his sports diaries, I had to remind myself a few times that this was it. I wasn’t reading about these diaries; I was reading these diaries.
My subway ride back to the apartment gave me time to think about the future and what all of this meant to me beyond the thesis. Not only had I collected materials that would enrich my thesis, I had also gotten a brief taste of scholarly research. I wanted even more meals in the future.
The future still looks cloudy to me past the month of May when I graduate. I still don’t know which graduate school I will attend, or if I will be attending graduate school at all. My future has never felt so uncertain. But knowing how accomplished I felt after returning home to Austin after this trip, and knowing how much fun I had working with these primary sources and one-of-a-kind artifacts, I know that I can do this for the rest of my life without regret. I learned that I love research, and I believe research is quite fond of me, too.