Letter Found in My Brother's Bar


This fragment of a letter was found on the wall at My Brother's Bar and transcribed it here with permission of the bar's owner. As the explanation that follows the letter says: Justin Brierly was an older friend and supporter of the young Neal Cassady who tried to help him cast aside his criminal tendencies by introducing him to a "better crowd" in Denver. This led to Neal's visit to Columbia University where he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg for the first time. Justin Brierly appears in "On The Road" as the (slightly ridiculous) Denver B. Doll.

COLORADO STATE REFORMATORY

TO: Justin W. Brierly, 2257 Gilpin St., Denver 5, Colo.

FROM: Neal L. Cassady

INMATE No.: 10205

RELATION: Friend

Dear Justin

At the corner of 15th & Platte streets there's a cafe called Paul's Place, where my brother Jack used to be bartender before he joined the army, because of this I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?

I see Phillip Wylie has written another book, "Night Unto Night" supposedly as good as "Generation of Vipers". Peter Arno also has a new collection of cartoons out, "Man in a shower" its called.

They have the Harvard Classics up here, the five foot shelf of books, I've read about 2 feet of it, very nice, I especially enjoy (over)

(fragment ends)

HEADING PARAGRAPH:

"These are rules to be read carefully and strictly applied. Inmates may receive letters written in English and signed in full. No letters will be received that does not meet the approval of the Warden. Inmates may receive packages twice a month only, limited to material and quantity as follows: 1 carton of cigarettes or tobacco at a time, store purchased candy not to exceed 1 lb., dentrifices, fruit in quantities of not more than 12 pieces. it is to be remembered that fruit spoils in transit and should be carefully selected and packed. No chewing gum, articles of clothing, food, or toiletries will be admitted. Money Orders may be sent to the Warden which will be credited to the Inmates account on which he may draw purchases. We are not responsible for money sent otherwise. Magazines of the proper character will be admitted. Newspapers may be sent direct from publisher only. Inmates may receive visits on Sundays only. Warden, Ed Lindsley"

COMMENTARY ON FACING PAGE:

"I first met Dean...when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery", begins Sal Paradise in ON THE ROAD. "First reports of him come to me through Chad King, who'd shown me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school." Chad King & Neal Cassady were Denver friends introduced by their mutual counselor Justin Brierly, a lawyer on the Denver schoolboard concerned with students of both persuasions -- the college-bound & the truant. He had been the "old professor" to Neal since their first encounter when Neal was 16, in 1941. The letters to King & Brierly were written while Cassady was serving a 10-month term at Colorado State Reformatory in Buena Vista (the "New Mexico reform school"), in 1944-45.

The letter reproduced here shows Neal at his most subtle, conning best. It initiated an exchange between Brierly & the warden, replying thanks, but no thanks. Cassady's next letter is a succinct, trenchant, between-the-lines censure of Brierly for not accomplishing this secret desire. "Thanks a lot for writing to the warden, however we have had a new warden (Thomas) since july, I'm rather disappointed to note that you, a man of the world, had failed to read in the newspaper that Ed Lindsley died in an auto accident three weeks ago, I know full well you must have purposely overlooked the article, because of the unimportance of the death of an ex-warden of a reformatory." He then takes a swipe at the "petty attitudes" of the guards, meanwhile handing out a plaudit to the institution as a whole, commenting that while it is "hard to be fair with everybody" most officials are quite just in their dealings w/the inmates, so that "consequently I find it rather easy to accept with philosophical calm the winds of dispute that swirl around this piece."

But Neal's fit didn't last long & later as a member of the basketball team he did get days away from the reformatory to play against teams of the neighboring towns. He never expressed any severe dislike with his sentencing, even writing once of his pride in how successfully he had "become adjusted to reformatory life." There was much in his letters about the winning & losing of points, a certain number of which wd entitle him to an early release. His duties were light. Soon after arriving he was transferred from the work gangs to the dairy farm where he stayed for four months until reduced to "shoveling sheep manure for my keep" as punishment for "hitting a cow" & losing points in the bargain. That lasted only long enough for Cassady to somehow be awarded the best scam possible, Office Boy. In a letter scrutinizing his friendship w/Brierly, Neal notes their differing attitudes: "already I have a tendency to be intolerant of society, at least its general opinions, which to you, because of your occupation, is quite important." He characterizes another person as "Brilliant woman Mrs. O'Sullivan, except, of course, for her nauseating Christianity, however, that's probably a necessity (in one form or another) for all otherwise intelligent females." He explains a lapse in letter-writing in true fashion: "I failed to write to you...because I had to write to a girl who (I presume) was naive enough to wire me asking if I wished her to come, what made her telegraph incriminating was that I was in a position to see her illegally and the warden suspected I had written her asking if she would come and - well - see me, consequently I wrote to her that week requesting an explanation." Another lapse was due to a letter from his father, requiring an immediate answer. Other family matters were his youngest sister Shirley's graduation from the 8th grade & subsequent release from the orphanage where she had been since she was eight years old. Neal writes of the possibility of his obtaining custody or perhaps having her adopted by friends, "working on several angles. Things are moving. I'll be 19 Feb. 8th."

Until one day, "Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time..." continues Paradise. Of their meeting he writes, "My first impression of Dean was of a young Gene Autry -- trim, thin-hipped, blue-eyed, with a real Oklahoma accent - a sideburned hero of the snowy West."

(Thanks to Jim, the owner of My Brother's Bar, 2376 15th Street, Denver, Colorado (15th & Platte) for the use of this letter.)

Literary Kicks
Neal's Denver Contributed by Andrew Burnett