One of Kesey’s earliest short stories
Typescript entitled "The Street in the Forest"
1493 3/4 Allison [Ave.], Los Angeles 26: [n.d., ca. 1955].
30pp. with minor pencil corrections, with pages 1-22, another set of pages 15-20 of a slightly different iteration (of these page 19 appears twice), and an unrelated page 23, seemingly from a different story. 4to. One of Kesey’s earliest short stories. Fine Dodgson, Rick. It's All a Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013. Item #324384
Beginning after his sophomore year at the University of Oregon, Kesey spent his summers in Los Angeles, trying to break into Hollywood as an actor, and later as a screenwriter. Starting in July 1955 he stayed in the Angelino Heights neighborhood and unsuccessfully tried to get himself cast in a role. He "read, wrote a lot, tanned himself in the hot July sun, and tried various lotions and potions to stop his hair falling out." (Dodgson, p. 47) In three straight summers he failed to secure any work, though he was encouraged in his screenwriting. In August 1957 he returned, frustrated, to Oregon, where he stayed until the fall of 1958, when he started a graduate program at Stanford with Wallace Stegner.
"The Street in the Forest" is about a wrestling team on the road in California, and their use of wheat oil – "a sexual stimulant" – to get the edge on their opponents. After days of competition, they walk around San Francisco sexually stimulated, break their strict training regimen, and end up getting drunk, for the first time ever. It's told from the point of view of Denny, a sophomore wrestler in the 178 lb. weight class, which was Kesey's weight class. Because of these autobiographical details, it's likely that this was written during Kesey's first summer in Los Angeles, and the return address puts it squarely in Angelino Heights. He hadn't yet taken any formal writing courses, but he had a regular column in the University newspaper, and during the spring of 1955 he became enamored with John Steinbeck, reading Tortilla Flats, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden, all in a row. He'd also become enamored with the acting of James Dean and Marlon Brando.
According to Dodgson, his only short story known to have been completed during this time is entitled "Boom-Boom at the Beach", but if it's collected, it doesn't appear under that title among Kesey's papers at the University of Oregon. Treating his wrestling experience, and the awful clarity sometimes given through intoxication, this is likely one of his earliest short stories, and a presage of the themes that would preoccupy the work that would come. Unrecorded.
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