Not a member? Sign up now
Why I Will Never Sleep With an On the Road Fanatic
If you burn burn burn, don't call me.
by Kate Hakala
The film adaptation of On the Road opens this week, and while watching the trailer, I thought of a conversation that seems to happen to me every few months.
There I am, standing at the bar with a tattooed, bearded man, beer in hand; and yeah, I'm sort of into him. We talk about traveling, what we'd been doing since college. Then he says it: "Have you read On The Road?"
"Uh, yes. In college. Why?" I answer hesitantly. In my experience, this can only go one way. People with this guy's distinctive body odor (patchouli and cigarettes) don't bring up On The Road without having something really positive to say about it.
And then he pulls it out, word for word, the ubiquitous clipping from the novel, right off the top of his head: "The only people for me are the 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, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
"Yeah. Rings a bell," I reply.
"And you don't think there's just something absolutely... incendiary about that?" he says, positively awash in wanderlust. And in that moment, he becomes someone I would never sleep with.
I will probably never write a timeless, generation-defining chronicle of mid-century restlessness myself. And it's not untrue that you could read me excerpts from On The Road and I'd agree on their artistic merit and literary significance. But a dude who claims On The Road as his all-time favorite book and/or predicates his entire life philosophy on said favorite book is a dude who's not sticking his dick in me.
I understand that it's romantic — this notion of endless wanderlust, searching high and low for the beauty and wonder in new life experience. But it's like that line in "Psycho Killer:" "You're talking a lot, but you're not saying anything." Sal, Dean, and the gang don't speak with people, but rather, past them. They do not understand the nature of experience, only the idea of experience. There's a lack of connection, a neglect of any deeper side to humanity than what you can get on a road trip.
So it's not surprising that all of the men I've met who identify as On The Road fanatics are self-mythologizing commitment-phobes. They don't believe in fidelity, but fall in love fast, and often. They're bleeding hearts, but need to drop that blood on every inch of the earth. What a Kerouac zealot makes for is an unreliable, somewhat egotistical boyfriend, the kind that lets you know he "just fell out of love with you, babe" when you see him out with another woman. When I see a person searching for new territory constantly, it makes me scared that they have no interest in treading the territory within themselves.
A lot of these Kerouac die-hards seem to dwell in self-imposed poverty. They couch-surf; they consider part-time music-video production a career. In the novel, Sal fears he is missing out on the suffering and "real living" that he believes would lead him to happiness. He writes of, "Wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night." Let me stress this once and for all: borrowing others' experiences does not make a person emotionally rich. Fetishizing oppression seemed immature then, in a time when black people were getting the shit kicked out of them for demanding basic human rights, and it seems immature now.