From Kerouac’s Richmond Hill journals (the area I grew up in Queens):
MONDAY AUG. 23 – Told my mother today she ought to go live down South with the family instead of spending all her time slaving in shoe factories in order to earn just enough money to spend on the system of expenses that is our society. In Russia they slave for the state, here they slave for Expenses. There’s no difference anywhere … people just go rushing off to meaningless jobs day after day, you see them coughing in the subways at dawn, and they never rest, they never relax, they never enjoy life, all they do is ‘Meet Expenses’ – beyond food, they squander their souls on things like ‘rent’, ‘decent clothes’, ‘gas & electricity’, ‘insurance,’ and a million-and-one ‘decent’ appurtenances. Even the birth of a child involves months and months of ‘pay-money.’ Everything ‘costs money’ now. My mother and the whole human race are behaving now like peasants who have just come out of the fields and are just so dreadful tickled because they can buy baubles and doodads in stores. The other night she came home with several dollars worth of junk for Nin’s baby – even the sweet child is measured in ‘hourly wages’ now. The whole system is incredibly – I don’t know what incredibly. Insane! And when I told her these things, you might have thought I was blaspheming God Almighty!
Well, those are my sentiments… As for me, the basis of my life is going to be a farm somewhere where I’ll grow some of my own food, and if need be, all of it. Someday I won’t do nothing but sit under a tree while my crops are growing (after the proper labor, of course) – and drink home-made wine, and write novels to edify my soul, and play with my kids, and relax, and enjoy life, and goof off, and thumb my nose at the coughing wretches. I tell you they deserve nothing but scorn for this. And the next thing you know, of course, they’ll all be marching off to some annihilating war which their vicious leaders will start to keep up appearances (decent honor) and ‘meet expenses.’ After all, what would happen to the precious system-of-expenses if our exports met with Russian competition. Shit on the Russians, shit on the Americans, shit on them all. I’m going to live life my own ‘lazy-no-good’ way, that’s what I’m going to do.
Kerouac got it, and then promptly did nothing about it: he never lived it, he just sat in bars drinking, knowing what he was supposed to do and not doing it. And hence he died miserable – famous and talented and miserable, having drunk himself to death. He never got the farm that would have probably saved him – he never lived out what he instinctually knew was the best life for him. We intend to live it.
Kerouac is one of the great dividing figures in American thought. I was speaking to a very literate friend who hated On the Road - “I just couldn’t help thinking,” she said, “when they had had all these adventures and they were done, what did they have?” That would have been her reaction to watching Kerouac sitting under the tree – “He’s going to have nothing if he keeps on sitting under that tree.” And that’s more or less my precise reaction to people who slave away their entire lives for “expenses” – they do it, day after day, and in the end, what do they have? Different types of people, I suppose, mutually mystified at each other.