Morning at Jack's



Rushing out the door after an unfruitful attempt at sleep, I loaded up my beater-truck and headed to Jack Kerouac's house in College Park. David Burnett is doing a shoot for [national publication name omitted at the photographer's request] of the current writer in residence, Brandi Reissenweber. Reissenweber's husband Chris is in town from Chicago. I arrive with half of a pasty sausage, egg and cheese biscuit hanging out of my mouth. My blue sunglasses are crooked, but they are aptly aligned with my slanted fedora. Am I drunk? I dunno. I feel drunk. Endorphins are pumping and I'm like a kid on Christmas: After years of driving, walking, riding, gliding, staggering by ... I'm actually going to see the inside of Jack's house.

The clean-faced guy wearing a salmon-colored shirt and black horn-rimmed glasses is standing by the front door with coffee in hand. I stumble toward him and swat the biscuit chunks out of my beard, "Mornin'," I say.

"Good morning," the man -- later introduced as Chris -- replies.

"I got a tip that there's a photo shoot this morning. I wanted to stop by and meet the writer in residence and see the place. I know we're not supposed to bother the writer, but I figured since someone else is I'd tag along."

He laughs through his reply, "Yeah, they're inside doing the shoot now."

"Is it cool if I go in?"

"Let me check."

He peaks his head inside and asks if it is OK for me to join them. I sneak through the door and introduce myself with a tiny point-and-shoot camera in my hand, "Good morning. I'm Issac from the National Geographic here to do a photo shoot."

The photographer, standing behind a tripod that's a notch taller than him, laughs and pats himself down looking for his credentials, "Oh man ... I thought I was at the wrong place for a second there."

"Actually, I'm from the Orlando Weekly. We did a piece in this week's issue about Kerouac's original manuscript to Dharma Bums going on display at the Orange County Regional Historic Center and I want to explore the idea of doing a feature piece on the house, the writer and the handover of the manuscript."

"Well come on in."

I introduced myself to Brandi Reissenweber and David Burnett and took my position out of the field of view. The photographer's cameras are amazing. He's using plunger-controlled Speedgraphic cameras with Quickload film along with his Canon digital camera. Brandi sits on the edge of the couch with a notebook in her lap. David asks her to lift her chin and look out the window.

The house is decorated in '50s d├ęcor. The walls are dotted with expressionist paintings. There's a note next to the rotary phone asking writers to be mindful of the utilities they are using, "If you're going out of town, please set the temperature to 85-degrees in summer and 65-degrees in winter."

We talk about photography between shots. David says something moving and insightful: "Imagine really concentrating on capturing that second. Counting life by the second and trying to choose which of those seconds you wish to capture. You only have 86,400 to choose from." He scribes he and his wife's blog into my notepad: "We use it as a learning tool for the both of us."

When David leaves I excuse myself and thank Brandi and Chris for their hospitality. They ask me to stay and "go for the grand tour." We walk to the back of the house where Kerouac and his mother stayed in the late 1950s. Brandi shows me the room where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums and I get goosebumps. There's a large collection of memorabilia in various shrine-like shelves throughout the small apartment.

We sit down and talk about all things writerly. I ask the couple if they take turns in their adventures. They tell me they haven't really had to take turns. Brandi and Chris seem to get these wonderful gigs -- like staying in Orlando rent-free for three-months at the Kerouac house -- at alternating times. Chris is in radio and television production, so his gigs are a bit more sporadic than Brandi's. I'm especially curious as to how their relationship handles being separated because my better half and I are about to endure a similar situation.

Brandi tells me that she's doing a public reading on the house on August 19 at 8 p.m. I assure them I will be there.

After a couple hours of chatting, I excuse myself and thank them for hanging out. They give me an almond-cranberry muffin, which I stuff into my face as I walk back to my beater-truck. The biscuit crumbs are shoved aside by the new Otis Spunkmeyer muffin bits. I think about how this will come together for an article.


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