MY ON-THE-SIDE reading these days has been Carolyn Cassady’s Off the Road, her harrowing account of a life spent with madman Neal Cassady, the worldly inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s Off the Road, as well as Cody Pomeray in Visions of Cody. Neal Cassady, the “archetypal American male,” whose honey on the East Coast calls his wife Carolyn on the West Coast to inform of her pregnancy (and the accompanying shock, for only she, Carolyn, should have been the one to carry his potent seed). This street urchin of skid row slums, pool houses, bus stations and bus station toilets, penning pretentious letters, skulking around bedding teenage girls and hunting for used cars while knocking up multiple women and plundering poet Allen Ginsberg on the side (and listening to the ball game on the radio — dirty Neal was obsessed). Neal Cassady apparently had sex with anything that moved, making him a wise choice of material for the sagacious Kerouac, himself then just an upstart wannabe Thomas Wolfe trying to break into a heavily gay literary establishment where you had to sleep around to get anywhere (Capote, Vidal), and here come the beatniks roaring in with their Mexican prostitutes, zen, yab-yum, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Somewhere along the lines there is a schism though as Kerouac turns to the Buddha (“the root of suffering is desire”) which overlaps with his French Canadian Catholic upbringing to cast away sin, and the Cassadys are deep into Hinduism and, well, they just can’t see eye to eye. I am reminded too much of my high school days, all these would-be men and women of the world sitting at diners at the edge of the universe contemplating such big things over steaming cups of black coffee with no particular place to go. I feel as if I went to school with Neal, that maybe he was a year or two older, maybe class of ’96 or ’97, and maybe he was in my chemistry class too, and never showed up for class except to take the final exam (which he miraculously aced), or if he did show up, he had his hoodie pulled up and was listening to The Bends on his Walkman. Such are the Neal Cassadys of the world. They are always there alongside you for the wild ride. Until one day they are not.