He [Jack Kerouac] was invited by one of his Italian editors: I found out about the invitation as Jack called me from Hyannis where he lived with his mother. They invited him to promote the Medusa collection: they had chosen “Big Sur” as the 500° volume of the collection and they wanted Kerouac to do a publicity tour or at least to show up in Milan, Rome and Naples, and they offered him 1000 dollars. Kerouac had accepted to come and when he telegraphed to ask for a delay because his mother had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed, they answered that the tickets had already been sent, and either he came now or never.

So, the 28th of September Kerouac came to Italy, for only 76 hours, because he needed 800 dollars to pay the rent and with the other 200 he would pay for part of his mother’s hospital bills. On the plane he drank whiskey which immediately had a bad effect on him; an editorial bureaucrat who was escorting him and whose name I have never known said to him that he was “making an ass of himself”, he was giving a very bad impression, and that by showing up drunk he wouldn’t earn the money of the Italian editor honestly.

This is what made him go crazy. As soon as he arrived, he told me that he was desperate, and asked me to join him immediately; I met him at the Hotel Cavour after a few minutes, to the great embarrassment of the editorial officials who had been told to avoid me. He was completely paranoid, he told me that they were reproaching him the 1000 dollars and they had given him an injection, he felt his tongue heavy with morphine, he wanted to go back home, he wanted absolutely to “tell them off”, he wanted to cancel the commitment, and he demanded to know what kind of injection they had given him.

[…]

But the invitations were already sent. The editorial official that followed us around to control him, to verify that we would not steal Kerouac and maybe cut him into pieces and hide him in a trunk, told him that they had to go to the press conference; and he didn’t understand the “tell them off” that Kerouac continued to repeat in a sort of stupor. After that, Kerouac took a bottle of whiskey to give himself some nerve and in that state went to the press conference, where he could no longer fight the sedative and fell soundly asleep.

After two hours they woke him up because they had to do a television interview; they carried his dead weight and put his head under cold water and as soon as he saw me he started to repeat again “tell them off, tell them off”; no one understood, or maybe they pretended not to understand and so the interview began. Naturally Kerouac didn’t want to answer even the most simple and banal questions, such as “Which writers influenced you?” or “Tell us about your mysticism”.

[…]

So there I was, sitting next to Jack Kerouac, drugged up the demands of society; surrounded by the keepers of cultural respectability – with paid holidays, thirteen months pay, eager to cheat on their wives with the office secretary and get drunk in secret on a saturday night, but always on time to work on monday morning – they were having fun: they looked at the old rebel imprisoned for seventy-six hours in the trap of rent to pay, they said that it was a shame, that at the very least he should have been sober on television, and they smiled condescendingly, lighting their contraband cigarettes, the biggest risk they could imagine taking.

Naturally Kerouac understood everything, and the more he understood the more he insisted with his jokes made up of “bum bum bum” and continued to repeat into the microphone “I’m drunk”, not to challenge anyone or out of naivety, but in a last attempt to throw off the mask, as if by saying “I’m drunk”, the others could say “I get drunk too, but I don’t have the courage to say it”.

Kerouac understood everything and he stayed there like a fallen angel watching his longtime enemy (this is Kerouac who had written: “I don’t want to talk against things, I want to talk for things. I want to talk for the crucifix, for Mohammed, for Buddha, for Lao-Tae, for Suzuki”); until he asked me in a whisper: “What am I doing here?”.

Then they made him get up because they had to prepare the room for the publicity presentation.  When I said good-bye (the editor had forbidden me to introduce him, despite the fact that I was the one who had introduced him in Italy), Kerouac asked me not to leave him alone, to at least go with him to the party that followed the presentation in the bookstore. I had to tell him that I hadn’t been invited. I have never forgotten his look: I left him there, between the editor and the bureaucrat, and before I left, when I turned back to look at him, I saw him on the point of surrendering once again to the effects of the sedative.

[…]

Fernanda Pivano, "Jack Kerouac a Milano, 1966" in Amici Scrittori, Mondadori, Milan, 1996, pp. 141-149. Translated by Irene Panzani and Kate Collins.
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