On the Road :: Week Four

Welcome to the On the Road read-a-long! We’re reading this book through June and July. You can see the reading schedule and guidelines on the Starting Post Page.

Week Four: Read to Part 2, Chapter 8


We are half way through the book, my friends!

I think I have Dean pegged until he does something like pay Sal’s aunt back for money borrowed (albeit a year and a half later) or decide to go back to Camille when he’s still a continent away and shacking up with Marylou. He is, though, becoming increasingly intense. His philosophical rhetoric is on the uprise and he seems to be consistently on drugs. “Dean ran around putting sugar in his coffee and saying ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!'” Hmmm… would that sugar also be known as – oh, I don’t know – cocaine?

I am increasingly relating to Sal. Not because of his mode of living (though, maybe a younger self would have found this exciting my current self is finding it exhausting), but because of his curiosity and his desire to see how people who are different than he is live their lives. “What I wanted was to take one more magnificent trip to the West Coast and get back in time for the spring semester in school… I only went along for the ride, and to see what else Dean was going to do… “(129, italics mine). ME TOO, SAL. I want to see what Dean is going to do and what is going to happen to him because of it. Also – “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running  from one falling start to another till I drop” (126). I think if that part of my life is over – it just very recently passed. I understand Sal’s desire to see everything and be interested in all of the new experiences that come rushing at him. It is very distracting and incredibly difficult not to become mesmerized by if you are a curious person.

I’m also surprised with Sal’s aunt. Did he paint her to to be not much of a character or was I just assuming she was a boring old lady. She’s actually quite calm, together, and wise. She seems to fully understand what Sal is doing – and somehow understand the necessity as well (if even not really approving). And her quote about men was quite progressive… “My aunt once said the world would never find peace until men fell at their women’s feet and asked for forgiveness” (122). I think I like her.

Maybe if the New York women who are using 50 Shades of Grey to spark their marriage beds into flames had read On the Road instead they would feel melty and feminine instead of buying up all of the twine in the Tri-State area (um, apparently this is really happening, by the way). Nothing against 50 Shades… I only made it to page 100 and then abandoned it in boredom, but he-llloooo on page 132 of my paperback version of OTR Kerouac wrote one of the most sensual sentiments I’ve ever read… “I could hear Dean, blissful and blabbering and frantically rocking. Only a guy who’s spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes; beseeching at the portals of the soft source, mad with a completely physical realization of the origins of life-bliss; blindly seeking to return the way he came… Dean had every right to die the sweet deaths of complete love of his Marylou. I didn’t want to interfere, I just wanted to follow” (132, emphasis mine). Hot damn! I think my computer might explode now. No wonder Kerouac was a gem with the ladies – that man knew the words to say. There is nothing raunchy in that paragraph –  he described the experience so poetically that the ambiance created from his words is 1000 degrees hotter than any romance novel I’ve ever read. Kerouac, I salute you.

Jane and Old Bull… child services anyone? (They make Hemingway and Hadley look like parents of the year!) Jane and her Benzedrine papers, and Old Bull and his… everything. Old Bull was modeled after William S. Burroughs and I’m biased against Burroughs – so I only noticed the bad stuff. Did anyone notice when Old Bull was showing off his gun Jane said, “I hope I’m not around when you try it” (146)? (For those of you who don’t know – Burroughs infamously killed his wife, Joan, using a gun in a game of William Tell). I thought this was an interesting way for Kerouac to acknowledge this (or possibly foreshadow, though I think the book might end before the event happens).

The last page of chapter six was perfection. Bull in the bathroom shooting up, Ed and his lady doing whatever they were doing in the bedroom, Dean rolling tea (reallllly not sure what that means)… and then Sal and Marylou sitting on the porch using aristocratic southern accents with each other. I almost laughed out loud – this scene was brilliant and captured the essence of this part of the story so well. As if it was a normal house where everyone was having some quiet time in the evening, doing their own thing… but the things they were doing were so absurd and strange to be doing in a house all together (though it’s exactly how their time in NoLa had played out). Loved it.

Who’s Reading Along:

** Please don’t forget to come to this blog each Friday and share your thoughts in the comments section of the weekly On the Road discussion (see below for more information).**

Susan E
JacquelineM (@jackiemania)
June @So_Meow
Ashley J.
Jessica M (@crazylilcuban)
Meg @ A Bookish Affair
Melody (Fingers & Prose)
Jessi (@j_addict)

Friendly Reminders:

  • If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know in the comments section. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. 
  • Comments from the previous week’s reading will be closing Thursday afternoon (before the next discussion takes place on Friday). If you would like to be part of the discussion, please remember to comment before then. 
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  • If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list (*NEW GUIDELINE*, in order to get back onthe list, you need to a.) Have missed no more than two weeks of discussion, b.) Let me know you would like to be on the list again, and c.) consistently be part of the discussion for the next two weeks after requesting to be put back on the list.). This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized (and helps me remember who’s completed what read-a-long…there (ahem) might be something fun for different levels of participants at the end of the year! Thanks!

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28 thoughts on “On the Road :: Week Four

  1. I feel you on Dean still being a wild card. He’s not really that nice to anyone but when he and Sal are riding in the car with Sal’s aunt, he has enough brains to sort of temper himself and actually make polite conversation with Sal’s aunt about his job and other things that non-manic people usually talk about. It’s a total 180. This had me wondering if Dean’s craziness isn’t sort of a big show, although I don’t think that he was really doing any drugs while he was with Sal and Sal’s Aunt, which could be the reason for him actually seeming normal.

    I liked the parts when they were in and around DC, mostly because that’s my hometown. I kind of laughed about when they got a ticket in Virginia. Virginia cops are known for being tough even in the present day ;)

    And I had to laugh when you compared Jane and Old Bull’s parenting skills to the illustrious skills of Hadley and Ernest’s. Jane and Old Bull are nuts. I haven’t read anything by Burroughs before but from what I know about him, he was sort of a couple fries short of a happy meal…

    • Hmmm… I hadn’t thought of Dean’s behavior as being a show – but I suppose that’s entirely possible. I’ll be watching now that you mentioned it.

      Burroughs is a very respected writer – and I think terrible people can be good at other things (not that I necessarily think Burroughs is terrible…) – but he and I definitely differ morally; like on the fact that I think women should exist and he didn’t.

      Interesting to know about Virginia! I didn’t catch that because I’m now familiar. I had a fun time reading about Denver because that’s where I’m from. And last week Jackie had the experience of camping in PA where Sal met the “ghost man” – that’s something wonderful about this book, them going to so many places that it feels familiar to many of the readers!

    • Meg, your “happy meal” reference to Burroughs is especially fitting and delightful since Naked Lunch is his maniacal masterpiece! :)

  2. I feel like this section of reading sort of makes up for all the lack of friend interaction Sal had earlier in the book. I enjoyed the beginning with all the traveling and experiences but now it’s mostly about catching up with friends, being a bit crazy and doing drugs.

    I found Rollo Greb in chapter 4 pretty interesting. Sal described him as that he “didn’t give a damn about anything” then quickly after that he said “he could hardly get a word out, he was so excited about life.” These seemed contradictory to me. I understand looking like he doesn’t care but then saying he’s excited about life, doesn’t that mean he cares about life? Maybe I’m just reading too far into it.

    Another quote I enjoyed was a long one at the end of chapter 4, “I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I suddenly realized it was only the tea that we were smoking; Dean had bought some in New York. It made me think that everything was about to arrive- the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.” It was interesting to me that a tea could make everything seem decided, especially since Sal is one to decide on a whim where to go next or how to spend a day, or his money.

    I’m not a fan of all the lady swapping, like Sal will be with Marylou in San Fran, and then Dean will maintain both relationships while in San Fran. I understand sex is important, but they don’t seem to consider what the women want.

    • I think Rollo Greb didn’t let things bother him, but he got excited about things (so didn’t get down but allowed himself to get excited).

      About the women: I feel like Dean is the one who doesn’t seem to care what the women want (just tells them what’s going to happen), but Sal seems to be a little more real about it. He recognized that Marylou wanted to be with Dean, so he realized that option was off the table – even though he wanted it. And he couldn’t perform with Marylou when it was on Dean’s command, but told her he wanted her in SF, when it was about them wanting each other not what Dean was trying to play out. Thoughts?

      • Yes you make very good points about the women. It’s nice to see that someone, Sal, has some respect for them. It’s probably because he was at least partially raised by his aunt which makes sense since she’s very women’s rights.

          • Thanks; yeah it’s pretty obvious to me that they’re doing drugs most of the time. It actually helps once I realize this because now so much more makes sense, I just chalk it up to the drugs.

  3. I didn’t enjoy this portion as much because Dean is so stressful to me! It probably doesn’t help that I’ve had a huge houseful of different people for the last 2 weeks…my guests are clean and kind and it’s still stressful at a certain point. :) Many of the things he says run in circles: “Now dammit, look here, all of you, we all must admit that everything is fine and there’s no need in the world to worry, and in fact we should realize what it would mean to us to UNDERSTAND that we’re not REALLY worried about ANYTHING. Am I right?” He’s too all-over-the-place for me. That being said, there were a lot of wonderful bits that made me really love Kerouac’s writing even more.

    On my p122: “[My aunt] knew Dean had something to be ashamed of, and me too, by virtue of my being with Dean, and Dean and I accepted this sadly.” Later, when they were going to all the crazy parties, Lucille made a similar comment. Sal said, “she sensed the madness they put in me.” and she commented “No, it’s sad and I don’t like it.” These bits really contrast with the manic excitement filling much of the page and put the situation into perspective (as do all the drugs mentioned – geez!)

    I loved this description: “His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light.” Wow.

    I’ve never read Burroughs, and this intro doesn’t make me all too keen to try. I did like that he “had a sentimental streak about the old days in America, especially 1910″; his rants about things not being made like they used to be, or like they should be is still so common a sentiment. He does sound eccentric, to say the least.

    I have a soft spot for Marylou. She’s wired differently than I am, but she does seem to want to protect Dean in many ways, and let him be himself. I find that endearing…though I do wonder if that’s because I’m seeing her through Sal’s eyes?

    • Love Old Bull Lee’s rant about how they don’t make things to last (but alas, he is holding a piece of rotted wood to make his “shelf that will last a thousand years”). Ah Jack Kerouac, telling us all we need to know about Old Bull Lee in that one sentence.

    • Wow – you got through the reading with 2 weeks of house guests! That would be hard for me… I have to concentrate on this or I lose things (the narrative is so fast!).

      I’m also impressed with Kerouac’s writing – though having to work hard sometimes to differentiate between it and his characters (of whom I do not love all).

  4. I love the ” beseeching at the portals of the soft source” passage too. It also says to me that Sal/Jack is not only searching for a mother but The Mother. I feel that it has not only qualities of someone to care and comfort but spiritual overtones. I think this is also echoed in the quote you included about Jack’s aunt: My aunt once said the world would never find peace until men fell at their women’s feet and asked for forgiveness.

    • Jackie! Which tea should we roll, and which papers would offer the most pleasing piquant? It’s been years since I was offered a rolled anything, but these crazies have me up for it! ;)

      • I will stick to the camellia sinensis plant :) :) :) Jack liked it some, too. Chinese :) My favorite too. From The Dharma Bums:

        ‘Yeah man, you know to me a mountain is a Buddha. Think of the patience, hundreds of thousands of years just sitting there bein perfectly perfectly silent and like praying for all living creatures in that silence and just waiting for us to stop all our frettin and foolin.’ Japhy got out the tea, Chinese tea, and sprinkled some in a tin pot, and had the fire going meanwhile, a small one to begin with, the sun was still on us, and stuck a long stick tight down under a few big rocks and made himself something to hang the teapot on and pretty soon the water was boiling and he poured it out steaming into the tin pot and we had cups of tea with our tin cups. I myself’d gotten the water from the stream, which was cold and pure like snow and the crystal-lidded eyes of heaven. Therefore, the tea was by far the most pure and thirstquenching tea I ever drank in all my life, it made you want to drink more and more, it actually quenched your thirst and of course it swam around hot in your belly.

        ‘Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea,’ said Japhy. ‘Remember that book I told you about the first sip is joy the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.’

  5. I really enjoyed this section with Sal travelling with his friends. Finally, he gets to spend time with Dean, finally Dean gets to meet Ole Bull, and we readers are along for the ride. The drugs, the craziness, a different part of the country, and Galatea waiting at Ole Bull’s for Big Ed….I’m fascinated, but would rather read about visiting Ole Bull and Jane than do it :)

  6. I’m really amazed at how everyone’s page references are right in sync with my First Edition facsimile! As if publishers hold this work in such high regard, they make a point of sticking to the original “format.” It can’t just be coincidence…

    The many, many city and town references really do make On the Road relatable for just about any reader. (My daughter who lives in Richmond and works in Fredericksburg is about to move to New Orleans for law school. Crazy!, as Dean would say.) As a Virginian I found it interesting that “Testament” seems to be the only fabricated name in the book. Wonder why. I think he liked the sound of it and the stiflingly conservative mindset it conveyed. Would YOU want to live in Testament?? ;)

    And get this! As I enjoyed the last part of last week’s read ON AN ACTUAL ROAD (DAY) TRIP– we were leaving Richmond heading for the 3-hour ride home when I read “When we got through Richmond we began forgetting about it, and soon everything was okay.” I was happy dancing in my seat! THEN NPR’s Birdland Jazz Club came on and I was Ah!-ing and Yes! Yes! Yes!-ing and digging it as if I was Dean!!

    I loved it when Dean was glad to FINALLY have a chance to talk “alone” with Sal, and talked all night. And I love Dean’s spiritual side…so many existential references and observations! “Oh, the things–I’ve thought and thought.” “Troubles, you see, is the generalization-word for what God exists in. The thing is not to get hung-up.” Thanks, Sensei Dean. I needed that this week! His exuberance, though oftentimes unsettling, can also be so darned inspiring! Even Bull and Dunkel have their enlightened moments…and of course, Sal: “…all the golden land’s ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see…”

    • Isn’t it a little strange that several people are having these weird coincidences with the reading??? This is the first book that’s happened with – it’s almost creepy, but it’s incredibly fitting at the same time. I wonder what Jack Kerouac would make of our conversations? (I’m pretty sure Dean wouldn’t be able to sit still long enough to read them.)

  7. Oh, and P. S.: Burroughs “William Tell” tragedy is SO upsetting I can’t even let myself think about it.

  8. I’m sorry I’m late with my comments this week – I’m out of town for the holiday, and posting from my phone, so I’ll be brief. Dean still exhausts me, but I loved Old Bull Lee and his manic household. Well, I loved reading about it, but I don’t know how I would handle it if I were actually living through it. I agree about the ending of this reading section – even though when you actually break it down into parts, it seems sad, what with Bull shooting up in the bathroom and everyone else scattered around the house, but it just felt so “them” to me, that I couldn’t help but be charmed by it all. Oh look at all the lovely friends, what a blast they’re all having together.

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