Wow! It's taken us four years to travel along with Sal Paradise across the country and back. Along the way, we've seen a lot of interesting things and done a lot of introspection about life, both in the 1940s and all the way to today. This is the last post in this particular string of literary wandering, but upcoming are more trips for you, and eventually, we'll also come back to Jack Kerouac. So take a look at the map. Also, be sure to check out the Google Earth kmz tour that has now been uploaded. Click here, or click on the link to the left under "Maps."
"I had to panhandle two bits for the bus. I finally hit a Greek minister who was standing around the corner. He gave me the quarter with a nervous lookaway. I rushed immediately to the bus.
"When I got home I ate everything in the icebox. My aunt got up and looked at me. 'Poor little Salvatore,' she said in Italian. 'You're thin, you're thin. Where have you been all this time?' I had on two shirts and two sweaters; my canvas bag had torn cottonfield pants and the tattered remnants of my huarache shoes in it. My aunt and I decided to buy a new electric refrigerator with the money I had sent her from California; it was to be the first one in the family. She went to bed, and late at night I couldn't sleep and just smoked in bed. My half-finished manuscript was on the desk. It was October, home, and work again. The first cold winds rattled the windowpane, and I had made it just in time."
Back in Paterson, New Jersey
Coming home after being away is always an adjustment, at least to me. At the time of this writing, I am 46 years old, but going home is always fraught with peril. I fit very easily into my old family functions, and dysfunctions, and even after 25+ years out of my mom's house, I sometimes find that it is difficult for me to don those roles again. Why does my mom treat me like the teenager she used to when I visit the kitchen, hovering over everything I do there? Why is it we talk so easily over the phone, but when I get home getting her to talk to me about something serious is like pulling teeth? My wife comments on the weird relationship I have with my mother. Over the past three years, my sister has been living with my mom, and now those two have come to some sort living arrangement that makes interlopers like my wife and I even more uneasy sometimes because of unknown boundaries and rules that they've worked out for themselves.
I don't want to give the impression that I don't feel welcome at my house. I do. But I also keenly aware that "my" house, where I grew up, isn't my house anymore. So even though I'm at home, I'm not really at home.
I compare and contrast this with Sal's experience. He comes home, and his aunt welcomes him with words of concern. She also talks as if he hasn't been gone for months, but has been gone for a day and has maybe gotten himself into some trouble. I'm sure Sal, after traveling for days with little money and wondering if he is going to get home, is happy for some loving care. I think, however, that it will be difficult to answer his aunt. Sal's world has expanded so exponentially that there is no way that he's going to be able to adequately convey his experiences to this kindly, uncomplicated woman who is worried about how skinny he looks.
My experience with my mom is similar. I find that there are "safe" topics that I can discuss with her. The weather. The doings of our neighbors. The animals. What my sisters and extended family members have been up to. She usually picks out whether I feel down and tells me platitudes that she's built up over the years: "You have to stop and smell the roses," or "It's time to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and put your best foot forward." But my mom has a high school education and does not understand a lot of my reality since I left home. I can give her generalities about the difficulties of being a PhD looking for a job, or what life in Albuquerque is like, or discuss vaguely the things that I find interesting, but I can't fully connect with her on these things. It creates a bit of a gulf between us. My wife, on the other hand, has a very accomplished family. Her father and one sister is a PhD, her brother is in information technology in health care, another sister is an MBA, lawyer and CFO, and another sister is a highly accomplished artist. Her mother is also very accomplished as well. My wife can bring up anything with them and have good discussions with them on practically any topic. I would like to have this kind of relationship with my mom, but my overeducation precludes it, though I value what my mom gives me as she is.
So Sal is now back home, his life stretching before him, a manuscript of a book waiting for his attention, and a kindly aunt taking care of him. Before long, the itch to travel will overtake him again, and he will meet up with Dean Moriarty and once again make a cross-country trip. It's hard to resist the lure of adventure and the road, especially when you have a devil-may-care friend.
I will close this string of reflections on the first trip of On the Road with my gratitude to everybody who has read from this blog. There have been few comments but many visitors, and I hope it has been enjoyable for you. I will start on a new book and a new set of reflections shortly. I will probably also come back to Kerouac sometime in the future, because he made three trips that are chronicled in On the Road, and I've only mapped out the first one. So look for more Kerouac eventually. Comments are welcome, if you wish to make any, about anything you see in this blog.
If you want to know more about On the Road or Jack Kerouac
30 Writing Tips by Jack Kerouac
Haiku by Jack Kerouac
On the Road online
On the Road Symbolism, Imagery and Allegory
Penguin Reading Guides: On the Road
Youtube: Kerouac interviewed by Fernanda Pivano
Youtube: Kerouac interviewed on the Steve Allen Show
Wikiquote: On the Road quotes
Next up: Wherever another book takes us