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On the Road Again

Neal Cassady, right
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December 11, 2022

by Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

In last week's article I wrote about San Miguel as a community outside of the box. In it I invoked Neal Cassady, a major bohemian in both the conformist 50s and the non-conformist 60s, who visited here. In the piece I recounted that Cassady came to his end here on a winter's night in 1968. I claimed that this occurred when, after a night of drinking with his buddy and fellow bohemian Jack Kerouac, he lied down to sleep in the brush alongside the railroad tracks outside of town. I further asserted, on the authority of Jack London, that hypothermia is a pleasant way to go.

A couple of hours after publishing the piece, I got an email from a reader, Kurth:

Kerouac never visited SMA. There still might be a survivor or two from the last night poker game here with Cassady before he set off to Comonfort. I knew two of the players who've since passed, Irv Kaczmarek and Jim Hawkins, but there might be a survivor or two still around on the planet somewhere.

I wrote back, thanking Kurth for the correction, asking for permission to publish his email, and also:

So, it was after a poker game?
But why Comonfort?

He responded, granting permission, and answering:

So it was after a poker game?....yep
But why Comonfort?...closest town ? ....He grew up on the tracks ? ....He had met a señorita from there ?... He bought some speed on Canal on his way and he was just walkin' ?

Like Paul Bunyon, Cassady was mythological, an American folk hero. You can see that in the items in Kurth's second reply. What says "America" as much as poker, trains, señoritas and moving along to the next town? Ok, maybe not señoritas.

He was acting out that cowboy song, "Don't Fence Me In". Even his use of amphetamines fits the mold; a red-blooded American boy speeding through life not wanting to miss a thing, embracing it all.

Even before his untimely demise, Cassady's legend had acquired biblical proportions. The man was religious in the ideals he embodied. But then, by definition, ideals are, or were, religious.

The leaders of the Enlightenment rejected religion, but only in part. They threw away the idea of a Transcendent Being, but kept religion's transcendental ideals in a new guise, grounded now in Secular Humanism. A lot of righteous atheists were taking control of society.

Apart from dogma and Sunday school beliefs, religion is the conviction that there are things bigger than our personal lives. This is a faith in incorruptible principles that make life worth living, ideals that are worth dying for.

The second wave of secularization started in the early 1900s and brought us to where we are today, without much use for ideals at all. Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Loyalty, Patria and their like are for suckers. "In God we trust" has been replaced by "Get rich or die trying." We are assured that all values are relative. Anything goes. Nothing is sacred. And, as we see from the recent Balenciaga fashion ad with its images of bondage and pedophilia, nothing is taboo.


Roger Scruton
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Sir Roger Scruton discusses all this in a talk I have listened to twice already. Perhaps the most interesting point he makes is the comparison he makes between the sex and religion. He contends that religion, like sex, is a deep-seated urge. How the urge manifests is the issue.

Ideally, it is best to have sex with someone you love, in a long term, committed relationship, what we used to call a husband and wife in a marriage. Making love is better when hearts and minds participate in the act. This is best for any children involved, for society in general and because love makes things easier. So too, the religious urge is better nurtured with morality, ritual and community. Without such fertile soil it is a plant that grows crookedly.

Scruton points to a simulacrum of the religious frame of mind, in the zealousness of various social movements: veganism, animal liberation, anti-oil and others. All of these have a strong distaste for heresy (contrary opinions) and a desire for conformity. Scruton observes that our modern cults of celebrity are distortions of religion's cults of saints. He laments that we have erased the sacred, chased away the Divine shadow, from its rightful place in city (architecture) body (pornography), mind and feelings.

"You, who are on the road, must have a code, that you can live by."
- Crosby, Stills and Nash

Kerouac's On the Road, was about Cassady. The man had a code. So did my Vermont buddy Chris, whom I wrote about last week as the Cassady figure in my life.

Chris, like Cassady, was larger than life; independent, fearless and full of life in ways that I still struggle to imagine, let alone live up to. And maybe that is the religious impulse at its best, to know that there is a noble path, a Goodness, Truth and Beauty, that we can never reach, and to go on reaching for it anyway. I'm happy to be among the faithful, those who are still trying. Hallelujah. Amen.

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Dr. David presents Lokkal, the social network, the prettiest, most-efficient way to see San Miguel online. Our Wall shows it all. Join and add your point of view.

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