T for Tom

On The Road

Posted in Prose, Trying To Get Published by johnsontoms on September 16, 2012

After watching a trailer for the upcoming On The Road, an adaptation from the legendary beat novel of the same title, I am overcome by a feeling that I never got while reading the stories of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty-


I have done these things.


The poetry, the soft lighting, the spirit of the forties, the free-willed Manifest Destiny that shot two vivacious souls across the span of the Midwest, across the Rockies and into the heart of California are remembered with the kind of sepia-toned nostalgia that says “it can’t be done again.”  At least not in that way.  We think that Sal and Dean (real-to-life author Jack Kerouac and friend Neal Cassidy) had some vision of the American Spirit in them that we have never captured sense.  That they were the only true “mad ones” that the novel speaks of, carousing their way into and out of trouble, apartments, truck beds, and women’s arms as they travelled their way into the annals of lore.


But I have done these things.  Why don’t I feel like I am in some ways equal?


On a naked night under the western moon in an open prairie, there with the cactus and running water and sleeking lizards of the cool sand bed, I too have danced with strangers near a burning fire, passing bottles of liquor over our heads and catching the bourbon as it comes pouring out, jumping up and down with our hands flung forward doing the twist to the beat of Ray Charles until the batteries died in our hearts or our stereos, whichever came first.


In the dirtiest homes of the blues I have bought a round for the house and made friends with the bartender, took home a good girl and told her wild things about the hopes I have for humanity before laying her down and committing to the idea that drug-fueled sex and blowjobs resemble something near to love.


I have hitch-hiked hundreds of miles, walked the rims of the Grand Canyon, passed out drunk in the street, and gotten high on life and barbiturates before walking through the thickest crowds of the night.  I have taken acid from a stranger and spent the evening walking through what in my mind was a Technicolor dream, though really was just the university campus.  I have taken MDMA from strangers also and danced in the forests during a 72-hour techno music festival, ending the night by becoming myself a chupacabra and escaping into the thick pines to lay down with my brother the wolf.


But for all these things, I don’t feel like I’ve done it right, or never found that spirit.


It wouldn’t be impossible to say either that Sal or Dean did neither find that spirit as well.  Throughout Dean spoke of his inability to cure his desires and mistakes (often intertwined) and eventually succumbed to them in the south of Mexico after their most harrowing and indulgent ventures.  Still and in spite of this, I feel like they had, if only for a little while, freedom.  The kind of freedom that can’t be found even here in the land of it.  The kind of freedom that transcends duty or politics or theology or nature or society.  Those two mad ones, “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing,” were free at least for a little while from the human condition – the very contrite facet of living that tells us to behave a certain way.  They did it the opposite, and sought to learn everything they could, the greatest education on earth.


But watching the trailer gives it a sort of character I hadn’t envisioned before.  In reading I saw Sal and Dean sitting there cross-legged on the bed of their condemned apartment in Denver, high on opiates talking mad lib about the world’s problems, thinking I could never do this.  But there in the trailer, seeing it on screen, I see the movements of a man exactly as I have before.  I danced that way with crazy women in the streets, and I drove fast cars down hills trying to save gas for the uphill push.


Where is the disconnection?  All I can think of is that we now live with too many penalties.  Smoking a joint can be traced now for weeks with the right test, while before it just meant getting kicked out of the bar, and occasionally cited by the law.  But they could run from the law.  Not paying for a meal meant before getting beat with a broom handle, but now it means being held against your will until the authorities arrive.  Before, asking for a ride meant sticking out your thumb, but now it means I am unfit to work and mingle within common society and therefore a threat to any passersby.  It would be too easy to assume that I just needed a fucking ride.


All the time with these penalties.  Having a drink at 18 means sneaking out of the house to an abandoned barn, getting laid means STDs and unwanted pregnancies.  Hell, even not washing your hands means getting fired.  Everywhere there are rules, cautions, warnings, and penalties.  It’s not so much anymore that doing wrong things will damn you to hell, but that not doing the right things will condemn you just as easily.  And then they wonder why people go crazy at such a young age now.  It’s not that easy to find the right thing to do.


I don’t think  Sal and Dean ever did either.  As I’ve said, Dean eventually laid down for the last time while still on that road to nowhere.  Maybe I’ve got it wrong.


Eventually I decided that I needed to change if I was going to come out of my slump alive.  I still dance naked on a cold winter night, not because I have no other choice as I once did, but because it makes me feel alive.  Those things and places I have been before were escape from the failures I had endured.  Now I call those escapes my successes, and am working to have them again.  But, it requires work.  I’ve learned that I had to work within this world if I am to free myself from it.  A simply penalty to pay for the chance of a lifetime.


Dean never tried that.  He just broke free of the jail cell and tried to outrun it.  Eventually he was caught.  I think maybe they had penalties, too, and we’re just revering the wrong people as heroes.


If nothing else, at least they paved the way.


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