Do you remember when you were in high school and spring came and the flowers bloomed with an impossible flamboyance and you sat in the back of the library, your body as sensitive and symbolic as the palm of a hand, and, when you were supposed to be drafting an essay for Expository Writing due in thirty minutes, you were instead reading these words--
I first met Dean not long after my wife and I had split up--
and when you got to these words--
I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty--
you went right back to those first words again and went all the way through, and then later, you were reading those same words, all of them, and they meant nothing, as though they were instructions for a gadget you'd never owned?
The copy of On the Road I read four times my junior year of high school was singularly anodyne: pink, white, and cerulean-striped, like a faded French flag (and with the same ideals, no less). But it had a laminated cover and prairie-sized margins; it was a book for reading. The copy I got later, after I had already out-grown the book, was the Penguin Beat Classics version (introduction by Ann Charters) with Kerouac and Neal Cassady grinning and boyish and a little in love on the cover. Although I hated the paper and the font and the margins, I knew the cover was just right; this love is why boys read On the Road.
The copy I have now is borrowed. It's a small Signet paperback, a "back-pocket" book. The title is hand-written, the dangerous teaser--The riotous odyssey of two American drop-outs, by the drop-out who started it all...--sloppily scrawled beneath. CraZy! The illustration is childishly flat and reductive. A heterosexual couple kneels barefoot on the hood of a flat-tired convertible, a jug of wine perilously close to the edge of the car. The lovers' faces are lost in her hair, their pelvises flush against each other. Strangely, or conveniently, the girl's long hair is the same yellow as the rest of the book's cover; but so are her (and his) feet, his arms, and the part of his neck we can see around her grip. If we imagine them making out, then the whole thing can only be considered kitsch; but it we think of them desperately, greedily, holding onto each other--not kissing but praying; each is the other's saint--the picture makes a little more sense.
I still can't do more than skim it; there's a lot of boring stuff in On the Road that my adolescent porousness didn't strain out. But it's been fun skimming, nevertheless.
Anyway, it's spring: time to head out somewhere. I don't know if it's true that the ice cream gets creamier and the pie slices get bigger as you head west on 70. When I did it all I discovered is that the nights do get lonelier and the dawns do come slower. In the spirit of adventure--the real young man's fancy, before even love--I'll be revisiting my favorite travel books this month.