Ah, to be a Beat. That was Kashner's dream growing up in the New York suburbs of the 1970s. He got his wish -- kinda. ''When I Was Cool'' is a meandering yet entertaining (in other words, quite Beatish) chronicle of his days at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, a strange-as-it-sounds writing program run by Allen Ginsberg. First assignment? Finishing a Ginsberg poem about performing oral sex on Neal Cassady. His homework? Babysitting William Burroughs' pot-growing son. Kashner's unvarnished take on these lit heroes simultaneously deconstructs and exalts their lives and work. His season of naked lunching was no picnic, but it produced a memoir worth some howling.