My friends and I used to joke that Jack Kerouac might get evicted from a residency at the Kerouac House. He became an embittered reactionary his last few years on the planet. His drunken belligerence is well-documented and probably wouldn’t be welcomed in most homes.

Fifty years ago Kerouac published On the Road while living in his mother’s modest College Park house and writing Dharma Bums. On the Road could be called the bible of ’60s counterculture, and The Dharma Bums may be the master plan for contemporary backpacking. The Kerouac House shouldn’t be confused with the posh Kerouac Lofts in Denver. Kerouac probably wouldn’t get a chance to get evicted from there.

The 50th anniversary is being observed through October at the UCF Library and the Kerouac House with a variety of events. As far as I know, the celebrations could be rated PG; there’s no mention of Benzedrine-fueled circle jerks with a who’s who in Beat literati history. (It might be like mentioning syphilis on Columbus Day.) The myth of Kerouac is conveniently unburdened by Kerouac’s reaction to it.

From what I’ve read, Kerouac would be happy with some of these parochial omissions; he was known to be consumed with Catholic guilt. The celebrations have taken on an almost wholesome quality that glosses over Jack’s dark side. Such is the case with the centerpiece Kerouac exhibit at UCF Library with an emphasis on his Orlando stay.

I walked through the library’s exhibit with Carole Hinshaw, the head reference librarian who helped put the exhibit together. She showed me the deed to Kerouac’s house in Kingswood Manor (yes, it is part of the display). He bought the place in 1961 after he made a little money. She told me how Kerouac first pulled into the old Winter Park Greyhound station in December 1956.

The exhibit may be engaging for the uninitiated or the beat trivia nerd, but not for seekers of genuine grit. Though the facts weren’t altered, Hinshaw pointed out that some artistic license was taken. For example, someone from the theater department loaned the exhibit an old Underwood typewriter that looks a lot like Jack’s. I would rather see the real thing.

It seems to be a common urge to sanitize history in retrospectives, making the excitement level approach that of watching a Civil War re-enactment. I had that feeling like I was going through my old baseball card collection. I found it interesting to look at familiar artifacts, but I was left nonplused. What drew me as a young person to the Beats? It was the whole feeling of living outside of conventional society. That story should be told. The glossing over of history may make it more palatable for larger audiences, but maybe the audiences are the ones that should adapt.

There are several presentations by college professors and other Kerouac enthusiasts planned. I can’t speak for the content of the upcoming presentations. I am not interested in being disturbed. The truth is much more interesting. If I want to get disturbed, I can call tech support or drive on I-4.

Kerouac might be surprised that his books are part of the curriculum on many college campuses and high schools. He also might be elated that he had gained much more acceptance by the literary community after his death. It’s funny how someone can become respectable over time. I’ve lived to see the Beatles become accepted by the masses, after being labeled godless drug-users by some; now you can hear the Beatles at the dentist’s office. I’ve lived to see John Waters embraced by the general public. I saw Iggy Pop on The Today Show. And what about the new Hogan line of clothing? It pays homage to Kerouac’s Salvation Army wardrobe with work boots, army bags, bomber jackets and other utilitarian wear at designer prices. WWKD? Who knows?

If your Kerouac knowledge is lacking or could use an upgrade, there will be plenty of chances to talk to some people in the know. Please ask them questions.


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