I Know Those People


As I was making my way through On the Road I came across this:

He was a tall, gangly, shy satirist who mumbled to you with his head turned away and always said funny things. His wife and baby were with him the dobe house, a small one that his Indian stepfather had built. His mother lived across the yard in her own house. She was an excited American woman who loved pottery, beads, and books.

The character’s name was Hingham, and he lived in Tucson where Sal and Dean and Marylou go to borrow five dollars.

Something clicked – I said Hingham = Harrington as in Alan Harrington whose mother had married and divorced a Navajo (turned out it was a Papago). I knew Alan Harrington because after he divorced the wife Kerouac mentions, she and her son moved to Old Saybrook and lived first next door to us, then around the corner, and finally across the street.

Alan (he insisted even the littlest of kids address him by his first name at a time when that was unthinkable) came to visit on occasion, bringing wife No. 2 and later wife No. 3 and children. These visits were also the occasion for long sessions between Alan and John Clellon Holmes, who lived down the street from our pharmacy. All I remember about those visits were chasing a “Pluto Platter” (early Frisbee) around in the twilight. Mother was supposed to be part of the discussions but rarely spoke and we left early.

I didn’t know about the shy part, but Alan certainly was tall and gangly. Mother thought he had double-joined ankles and knees. And his books were acerbic. The Revelations of Dr. Modesto as I recall was a take-down of the world of salesmanship.

I had only a vague recollection of his mother, not enough to  to verify Kerouac’s observations.

Before I verified any of this online, I made one more connection. Hal Hingham is the protagonist of Dr. Modesto. It is also an upscale town in Massachusetts, about an hour from Newtown, Massachusetts, where Alan was born. Jack Kerouac, son of working-class Lowell, would have known both. Dig or compliment?

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