Regaining the Lost

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My friend and I decided to take a road trip to New York. We made bets that our car wouldn't make it past New Mexico. It broke down somewhere between Phoenix and Tucson. Greyhound took us the rest of the way.

When we finally arrived in New York, we spent our perspiring nights turning on the sweating wood floors of my I-banker friend's loft and our days watching his "Sex and the City" DVDs.

This was our failed version of "On The Road" madness.

"On The Road" is Jack Kerouac's semiautobiographical account of his obsession with his friend Neal Cassidy. The narrative is told in the first person, following the cross-country travels of the protagonist, Sam Paradise, as he tries to figure out the energy and spirit of the mystical wild hero of the novel, Dean Moriety.

The novel works mostly as a story about Dean Moriety as he tries to ingest the spirit of a wild American underbelly: women, jazz, oakies, hobos, the West and Mexico.

I never actually read the book until just recently. I was told it was overrated, and there was no reason to pick it up. Well, in foreign countries, libraries only carry books in English that were originally written in English.

Needless to say, I've been forced into some kind of generous estimation of American fiction that borders on perverted patriotism. Against my friend's advice I decided that maybe Kerouac could romance me with his "spontaneous prose" and celebrated colloquial U.S. city slang.

But these fairy tales don't really work out. First, the autobiography is an unfeasible model. It sounds like slumming. I've been on Greyhound buses full of ex-convicts and crying brown babies. I'm from a migrant worker boarder town-you can't sell me the myth of Mexico, even with their whores. I'm not a sucker.

Today, the Sam Paradises and Dean Morietys are the con man's victims. They're the kids you read about in the papers who get arrested by Mexico's "federales" and lost in the nonexistent paperwork of Mexican bureaucracy. They're the people who get raped in the backs of taxi cabs and wake up with a weird scar and a missing kidney.

Secondly, America is settled, which doesn't really follow Kerouac's American adventure.

While on our U.S. tour, we paid attention to the gaps along the way: White Castle burgers, Texas shit holes and our unofficial Memphis tour guide who called himself "little nigger Kevin." But there wasn't anything for us to "dig." The West is gentrified, the South no less tame and the unknown merely unwitnessed strip mall commerce centers.

But the cityscape cannot be blamed for the big city doldrums. Commerce has beaten the madness out of the Y-generation. Romance is a set of packaged flowers and a $20-per-package meal before a drive to the latest Vin Diesel adventure (well, maybe we'll throw in some necking).

Friendship no longer involves blood pacts but something that more closely resembles game theory or comparative advantage. We've discarded our rambling madness. Both Dean and Sam Paradise are the welfare children the government trains in technology schools to wean off the dole.

But no, this is not lamenting the loss of the wild man. It's not a reintroduction to the road less traveled. It's not a call to arms nor even a recommendation.

We can't resurrect our hippy fathers. We're all too versed in the road of excess. Let the modern urban hippies frolic in their annihilation.

Our hero is not the jazz man counting time nor comparable siren frenzy, unlike Kerouac's. No, we follow the lead of a much less inventive, bumbling and stumbling Daedalus. Doubtful of instinct and uncertain of talents, he waits in contemplative, fidgety silence. His virtue is in sustaining and quietly enduring boredom.

This is the challenge of the modern man-how long can he keep his legs crossed. A room full of narrators and no dramatic leads. Everyone taking notes to other kids' boring television stories. Maybe we get drunk on weekends.

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