Based on a performance I saw at the Sala Tú – Resistencia Artística in Madrid, August 2016
An American-style bar and grill in Madrid, rock records and maybe some stuffed deer on the wall, a guitar behind the bar. Two young men in plaid shirts are sweeping up. It’s the end of long day. The customers have left, they’ve turned up the Charlie Parker, soaring, irregular wails on the trumpet, cool and bluesy, then Bob Marley. The hyper one calls himself Dean Moriarty. The other one, more boyish, but also more prone to fits of pragmatism, calls himself Sal Paradise.
They have a game to pass the time, a game in which they pretend to be Sal and Dean from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. They exuberantly recite whole passages of the novel, improvising at times, describing hitchhiking a ride with a transvestites, a car crash in the early morning hours and then climbing out of the wreck to behold a glistening mythical Denver laid about below them. Then Sal get’s mad when Dean steals his line, and they stop playing. They argue, then Dean switches the music, trying to get Sal to play again, and now they are in New York City, an underground nightclub, rubbing elbows with high-rollers and down-on-their- lucks, thugs and melancholic homosexuals, they order in English and pretend to throw back four shots in a row. Dean, after a sharp intake of breath following the fourth “shot,” tells Sal that he wants him to sleep with his (Dean’s) girlfriend Mari Lou. Sal is reluctant, but the imaginary alcohol (and what stronger kind is there?) begins to do its work, dissolving his misgivings and fueling the spirit of adventure. He concedes, and now they’re acting like they’re in a hotel room. Dean hands him the guitar, a nice smooth hourglass shape to represent the body Mari Lou, and they both start kissing it. Suddenly Sal freaks out, again breaks character, horribly aware that he is pretending to make out with a guitar.
Excerpt (my translation)
“I’m not playing anymore,” says Sal.
“But dude,” says Dean, “this is intense, you are thinking about leaving your life and starting a journey full of obstacles and profound experiences, a trip to the unimaginable SAN FRANCISCO!”
“Listen to Me,” says Sal.
Dean continues: “You’re thinking about getting about signing up on an old cargo ship set to sail around the world, feeding the coal fires in exchange for food, but what you really want is to keep GOING, a constant coming and going all across the SAVAGE AMERICAN CONTINENT! Eating apple pie, nailing Mexican peasant girls —Ay, no manches, buey!–jotting it all down in your little notebooks, preparing the work that will define your ENTIRE FUCKING GENERATION, and suddenly you say uhhh, I’m not playing anymore?”
“….It’s that, I’ve been looking around, and you know how it is when you wake up, thinking about something, and suddenly, it’s three in the morning, and you’re still thinking about the same thing, that in fact you haven’t stopped thinking about, that in a way it’s been the only thing you’ve been thinking about all day, then, well it’s important. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?”
Dean shrugs his shoulders.
“Dude we’re going on a trip,” says Sal.
“Yeah, Denver. We’re going to Denver!”
“No,wait, I mean, we, WE are going. You and me. On a trip. To another country. That’s why we’re still working here, saving, so that we can go on a trip. The two of on. Our life on the open road.”
“All right, all right,” says Dean, “we said we would when we had the opportunity.”
“Here it is! says Sal, excited, and he hands Dean the paper. “It’s everything. Everything I’ve been planning the last few weeks. Look: this is how much a trip to Italy costs, this is what it costs if we buy it this week, and you say, wow that’s quite a difference, and that’s because this company has a deal. And why to Milan? Well it is the cheapest destination. Once we’re there we can buy a ticket for national travel. There are eight different classes of travel, we need to talk but from what I’ve researched the best one for us would be the 7th: Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkey dude, imagine how wild. The thing is that the trip would cost about 400 euros one-way, and we would be able to catch ferries between all of the Greek islands, with some exceptions, it’s super great. it’s really great. And look, here’s the itinerary, lodging, some pictures of some places that we might want to visit, so you, this, there it is. And I’ve planned the whole thing assuming that we’ve both saved the same amount but if you haven’t I can loan it to you or whatever and you can pay me back, the thing is that we both have to go, the two of us, what I’m trying to say is that money should not be an issue here. Anyway the special expires tomorrow, so after work we’ll bring our passports, do the paperwork, and in two weeks we will be in Italy. But we have to decide now, if we let it go by the special offer won’t be valid and we’ll be back to where we started.”
“Okay, okay. You’ve done a good job,” sighs Dean, after a prolonged silence. “A really good job.But can I ask you? Do you think that now is really the time. I mean we’ve had a long day, we’ve both worked hard, we’re both tired, and i just don’t think now is the moment to talk about this. Can’t we talk about something more interesting right now?”
“But I already explained to you…and we’ve already waited so long,” pleads Sal.
“Fine you want to talk about it now. Fine. When I’m talking about our OPPORTUNITY, I wasn’t referring to this. This does not seem like our OPPORTUNITY. This is not exactly our OPPORTUNITY. This not our OPPORTUNITY in any way whatsoever. This is one of those travel packages for lonely old ladies! I thought we had set some of the terms, I thought we had understood each other well enough. When I’m talking about our OPPORTUNITY, I’m talking about the absolute present.”
“The abysmal present?,” scoffs Sal, incredulous. “That moment in which a window opens in the heavens and a fleet of fighter planes or avenging angels descend and…?”
“And you bring me a special offer from a travel agent with a complete itinerary and, like, a packing list–‘comfortable clothing, hiking boots, sunglasses and/or a hat, mosquito repellent, a small handheld flashlight…’I thought we were talking about something grander than this. And that is what I mean when I say, can’t we talk about something more interesting right now.”
“If I bring you this,” Sal replies, “it’s because it was what was available given that we are limited by certain factors.”
“Let me ask you,” says Dean. “Do you think that our OPPORTUNITY and a special offer are the same thing? Do you think that ‘special offer’ is in any way an interesting phrase?
“You know what these are?” says Sal, now incensed. “These are specific plans. Look, I mean, it’s just a little push to get going, and then once we are on our way, we’ll see what happens. Who knows? It’s a base. And then we can improvise on top of it. I want to take a trip. I want to do it. For real.”
“You are terribly confused,” responds Deans. “In the moment in which we define our base, our life project, we began our journey. The moment in which we started playing here, pretending, we began our journey. Every night, when we cross the fucking continent of American at 60 mph, we are beginning our journey.”
“It’s not true!” exclaims Sal. “I mean, it’s not real! You are talking about things that aren’t really happening. Our life’s plan was not to stay here talking and then make out with a guitar! Yes, we said we would live in the present, but in first person. We said we’d finish school and then we’d go. And we finished school and we said we’d finish college and then we’d go. And we finished college and then we said, we’re ready, we’re on the brink of starting our life, let’s get to work, let’s save up a little, and then let’s go, let’s travel the world, and we’ve saved up and…we haven’t done anything.”
“What do you mean we haven’t done anything?”
“I mean,” says Sal, struggling to find the words, “we haven’t visited any places”
“We haven’t seen visited any places? Okay, now I understand. You want to visit places, you want to go to a ton of places, taking photos in front of statues, buying pens in the museum gift shops, all that shit? And the Mexican peasant girls?”
“You’re an idiot.”
“You don’t want to travel,” says Dean“You want to tour. You want…to move from places to place. There’s a big difference, you know. You want to go to the places where everyone else has already gone so that you can say, ehh ehh, look here, this is the Cathedral of Who Knows Who…
“You’ve gone way overboard”
“I want to be a bohemian NOW! I want to embark on a voyage of personal discovery NOW! I want to be Dean Moriarty and I want to be him NOW NOW NOW!”