|Old Bull Lee
A Voice From the Reality-based Community
Notes from a Study of Things Themselves
Old Bull Lee is a fictional character.
He appears in Jack Kerouac's 1956 novel On The Road.
It would take me all night to tell about Old Bull Lee; let's just say now, he was a teacher, and it may be said that he had every right to teach because he spent all his time learning; and the things he learned were what he considered to be and called "the facts of life," which he learned, not only out of necessity but because he wanted to. He dragged his long, thin body around the entire United States and most of Europe and North Africa in his time, only to see what was going on.... [T]here are pictures of him with the international cocaine set of the thirties--gangs with wild hair, leaning on one another, there are other pictures of him in a Panama hat, surveying the streets of Algiers.... He was an exterminator in Chicago, a bartender in New York, a summons-server in Newark. In Paris he sat at cafe tables, watching the sullen French faces go by. In Athens he looked up from his ouzo at what he called the ugliest people in the world. In Istanbul he threaded his way through crowds of opium addicts and rug-sellers, looking for the facts. In Chicago he planned to hold up a Turkish bath, hesitated just for two minutes too long for a drink, and, wound up with two dollars and had to make a run for it. He did all these things merely for the experience....
Bull had a sentimental streak about the old days in America, especially 1910, when you could get morphine in a drugstore without prescription and Chinese smoked opium in their evening windows and the country was wild and brawling and free, with abundance and any kind of freedom for everyone.... He spent all his time talking and teaching others. Jane sat at his feet; so did I; so did Dean; and so had Carlo Marx. We'd all learned from him. He was a gray, nondescript-looking fellow you wouldn't notice on the street unless you looked closer and saw his mad, bony skull with its strange youthfulness--a Kansas minister with exotic, phenomenal fires and mysteries. He had studied anthropology, read everything; and now he was settling to his life's work, which was the study of things themselves in the streets of life and the night.
Old Bull Lee is said to resemble William S. Burroughs (1914 - 1997), Kerouac's friend and fellow novelist.
Old Bull Lee is the inspiration for this web site.