Many years ago, in the dawn of my dispirited youth, after an awful spell in foster care, and while my young mother withered away, I decided I’d had enough dysfunction foisted upon me. So I tossed some essentials into a backpack–we’re talking clothes, music and journals–and took off for parts unknown. After traversing the eastern seaboard for a long stretch, I tried to set some roots down in Philly. Couldn’t do it; the fire within burned, burned, burned too intensely. So I took to the open road yet again, this time westward until landing in the Bay area.
So there I was one night in Berkeley, in the dorm room of an English lit major; her with these cartoonish eyes, disheveled hair and a vague post-coital glow; and me, naked, a cigarette dangling from my lips as I absently strummed away on an acoustic guitar I couldn’t play; Bitches Brew playing softly from a beat-up boombox.
This young woman, this pretty girl, so cool and yet obviously impressed, she turns to me and goes, “Look at you, all jazz and journals and open roads that lead to everywhere and nowhere. You’re so Kerouac that it’s obscene.”
In truth, I was only familiar with Jack Kerouac in an abstract sense, meaning I knew who he was, but A) I’d yet to read him, and B) I’d never heard his name used as an adjective. So I feigned disinterest, offering a slight shrug and subtle nod. And that was when she did it–when she changed my life. She got up, went to her bookshelf and gave me a worn, dogeared copy of On the Road.