There Went My Baby

Snavely wound up staying home from school for three days after he and Jane broke up. He instinctively knew that a big gesture was needed to mark this cataclysm in his life. On the second day without Butch Wax the front of his flattop fell down over his forehead in a cool way that looked kind of like Dave Guard, the "intellectual" member of the Kingston Trio. Snavely decided to keep it that way. He lived in his pajamas for three days, neither washing his body nor brushing his hair. He had lots to read, and it was a nice vacation. He sneaked downstairs periodically and raided the refrigerator, while pretending to his mother to be sick and off his feed.

He was beginning to realize that self-pity could be delicious.

* * *

Snavely and Comstock had been devouring Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a revelation to their parched Alum Falls consciousnesses. Snavely's blues-in-the-night prose this early morning is influenced by the beat master.

"It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time. 'There she blows!' yelled Dean. 'Wow! Made it! Just enough gas! Give me water! No more land! We can't go any further 'cause there ain't no more land!' ...And he drove into the Oakland Bay Bridge and it carried us in. The downtown office buildings were just sparkling on their lights; it made you think of Sam Spade. When we staggered out of the car on O'Farrell Street and sniffed and stretched, it was like getting on shore after a long voyage at sea; the slopy street reeled under our feet; secret chop sueys from Frisco Chinatown floated in the air."

* * *

He doubtless found the phrase "balling the jack" in Kerouac. From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins: "balling the jack is a phrase from the jargon of railroadsmen and simply means going at top speed. It also has acquired the meaning in gambling circles of risking everything on a single throw of the dice or turn of a card."

In Listening to America Stuart Berg Flexner tells us: "balling the jack - 'balling,' mid 1930s, to mean 'having a ball,' having a wild good time drinking, dancing, having sex, etc. (this term was also influenced by the 1925 'balling the jack', to move quickly , have a good time, and the railroaders' use of 'highballing,' to go full speed). 'To ball,' to have coitus, mid 1950s.

Snavely also might have heard a recent version of the old dance-blues song "Balling the Jack":

First you put your two knees close up tight
Then you sway 'em to the left, then you sway 'em to the right,
Step around the floor kind of nice and light,
Then you twis' around and twis' around with all your might,
Stretch your lovin' arms straight out in space
Then you do the eagle rock with style and grace
Swing your foot way 'round then bring it back,
Now that's what I call "Ballin' the Jack."

copyrighted (1913) lyrics by Jim Burris, music by Chris Smith

Back to Dec. 7, 1959