Moriarty – in real life Neal Cassady – actually was born on the road, “when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City, Utah in 1926.” Mother died when he was 10; raised by his alcoholic tinsmith father in Denver; much of his youth lived on the streets of skid row with his father, or in reform school for various thefts. Stealing cars was an early talent and habit. At 19, out of jail, he and first wife “Marylou” – the real life Luanne Henderson – moved to New York, where he and Kerouac met.
Moriarty/Cassady’s powerful enthusiasm, unconstrained by law or convention, his insatiable sexuality, and wildness attracts Kerouac, though Kerouac himself doesn’t go there. He thinks that maybe he would like to, but Kerouac ultimately has other loyalties, to family and stability.
Life on the road is unpredictable, wild, moment-to-moment. There are times when the money runs out, even for food, and hunger becomes very real. There are also times of reading poetry aloud, and all-night long intense and earnest discussions. And other nights in smoky jazz clubs saying things like “man that cat can blow.” And sex and drugs, various partners and substances. There are moments of ecstasy, and also sadness. At one point Kerouac writes:
“As the river poured down from mid-America by starlight I knew, I knew like mad that everything I had ever known and would ever know was One.”And later:
"And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven.... I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place.”These moments come along with a lot of sadness.
“We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad.”But in the next sentence he says,
“for life is holy and every moment is precious.”Dean represents for Sal a kind of sacred insanity, a spiritual visionary.
About two-thirds through the book, after Sal and Dean have been apart for a year, Sal hits the road again, looking for Dean. When he finds him, Dean is falling apart – but still shining a kind of light. Here’s Dean Moriarty speaking of himself in third person:
“I’m classification three-A, jazz-hounded Moriarty has a sore butt, his wife gives him daily injections of penicillin for his thumb, which produces hives, for he’s allergic. He must take sixty thousand units of Fleming’s juice within a month. He must take one tablet every four hours for this month to combat allergy produced from his juice. He must take codeine aspirin to relieve the pain in his thumb. He must have surgery on his leg for an inflamed cyst. He must rise next Monday at six a.m. to get his teeth cleaned. He must see a foot doctor twice a week for treatment. He must take cough syrup each night. He must blow and snort constantly to clear his nose, which has collapsed just under the bridge where an operation some years ago weakened it. He lost his thumb on his throwing arm. Greatest seventy-yard passer in the history of New Mexico State Reformatory. And yet – and yet, I’ve never felt better and finer and happier with the world and to see little lovely children playing in the sun and I am so glad to see you, my fine gone wonderful Sal, and I know, I know everything will be all right.”Dean/Neal lived with intensity, spontaneity, incredible energy -- a kind of presence and authenticity -- and it was literally more than a body can take. He was falling apart. What do we learn from his example?
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This is part 2 of 4 of "On the Road"
Next: Part 3: Contradictions
Previous: Part 1: Damned Good Questions