On the Sidewalk

Brooklyn streets are the eager vessel of pirate bounty. Untold and unexpected plunder can be found marooned on the shores of her city stoops. Discarded books catch my eye; they tell tales of the pulse and soul of the city: Modernists, beats, philosophers.

On the sidewalk, Jack Kerouac On the Road recently fell to my possession. Penguin Books 1976 edition. I delight in old, secondhand books such as this. Someone else poured through these pages adding their scuffs, marks, and handwriting. “Michael Kelly Boone,” “Marvin Starkman” inscribes page 1. The paper calls out to add “Richard Rose” and send it sailing back to the stoops… if I were one to let go of such things.

Jack Kerouac “epitomized to the world what became known as ‘the Beat generation’ and made Kerouac one of the most controversial and best-known writers of his time” (1). Influence by the likes of Charlie Parker and the Jazz movement he developed stream of consciousness writing, he called “spontaneous prose” (2) and his method was typing “rapidly on a continuous scroll of telegraph-paper to avoid having to break his chain of thought at the end of each sheet of paper” (3).

My reaction to his work has been identical to my experience with Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. A contorted ideology in beautiful flowing words. Leave it to modern Christianity to think they’ve discovered something new, ripped out of yesterday’s secular movements. But then I detect another familiar spirit in Kerouac’s theme: Mark Twain and his restless characters. In Twain, I want to hop a raft down the Mississippi. In Kerouac, a rail-car to San Francisco. Adventure, spontaneity, a touch of danger – these things strike a chime in a boy’s soul. But lest we forget to hearken back even farther to a man called Adam and his adventure when clear thinking, good sense, and godliness failed to accompany the ride.

I set sail this post with a passage I found particularly telling of the ideology, style, the good, the bad of On The Road:

She was a nice little girl, simple and true, and tremendously frightened of sex. I told her it was beautiful. I wanted to prove this to her. She let me prove it, but I was too impatient and proved nothing. She sighed in the dark. “What do you want out of life?” I asked, and I used to ask that all the time of girls.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Just wait on tables and try to get along.” She yawned. I put my hand over her mouth and told her not to yawn. I tried to tell her how excited I was about life and the things we could do together; saying that, and planning to leave Denver in two days. She turned away wearily. We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad. We made vague plans to meet in Frisco.”

1. Introduction, On the Road by Jack Kerouac
2. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Kerouac#Style
3. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_Generation#The_Times_Square_Underworld

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2 Responses to On the Sidewalk

  1. Grace says:

    I must say that I am jealous you find all this great stuff on the sidewalk…

  2. bchallies says:

    Non-Christian life is horrible, horrible, horrible! It broke me and threw me into the gutter…Hooray for our Savior, for meaning, for beauty….

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