WEEKLY V. VALE EDITORIAL Published Monday Mornings
HOW I MET WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS (Part Two)
I forgot to mention that in that same June 1969 EVERGREEN REVIEW was a Burroughs story titled “My Mother and I Would Like to Know.” It begins: “I am on my way from London to Tangier. American tourist with wife he calls “Mother” . . . in North Africa I will contact the wild boy packs. I am bringing them modern weapons” (shades of Rimbaud!) “We intend to march on the police everywhere.” The first paragraph continued: “The precise programming of thought, feeling and apparent sensory impressions by the technology outlined in bulletin 2332 enables the police states to maintain a democratic facade from behind which they loudly denounce as criminal perverts and drug addicts anyone who opposes the Control Machine. Underground armies operate in the large cities, enturbulating the police with false information through anonymous phone calls and letters…We put out false alarms on the police short wave directing patrol cars to nonexistent crimes and riots which enables us to strike somewhere else… False construction workers tear up streets, rupture water mains, cut power connections…” (No wonder I did the RE/Search PRANKS! book years later!)
Later in this story I found such quotes as “We intend to destroy all dogmatic verbal systems” — which I put on a rare Burroughs T-shirt I conceptually designed. The next paragraph dropped the phrase “authority sickness” — and volumes could and have been written about this syndrome alone. The hated chain Borders is finally going out of business, and on the first day of their going-out-of-business-forever sale I entered the last remaining branch at the Stonestown mall. First I discovered that the sale discount was mostly a mere 10% — NOTHING, by today’s standards. Next I noticed a huge interweaving line of “suckers” lined up with books in their hands — it looked like the average line for a Disneyland ride, filled with bovine-faced suburbanites. Amazed, I began shooting a small tracking video of this mammoth line when suddenly a short stout martinet ran up and shrieked at me, with amazingly heart-felt indignation, “You CAN’T shoot video in here!” My first thought was to immediately kill her, but I restrained myself: “Lady, don’t you know you’re getting FIRED in a week? YOU don’t own this flabby fat-ass gy-normous store.” My anger was based on the knowledge that Borders had driven some 5,000 mom-and-pop bookstores out of business all across the United States, circa 1995. My guess is that nobody under 30 ever knew this, including this little brainwashed robo-tart.
I had managed to videotape the entire line (Fuck you, corporate whore!). When I replayed the video, sure enough, there wasn’t an interestingly-dressed man or woman in the entire cow queue — not one! I suppose all the “smart” people know enough to wait ’til the last two days, when everything’s 90% off, or at least “Every book in the store $1.99″). Now what was I doing there? I’d gone to Trader Joe’s next door but, seeing the “Going Out of Business” sign popped in to gloat and smile at another “Too Big to Fail” national corporation biting the dust. (Maybe I should be surprised Borders didn’t get a taxpayer-funded $170 billion “bailout” like A.I.G. Insurance, Goldman Sachs, and other corporate lobbyists. For those not in the book business, be aware that when Borders went under, it ripped off thousands of small book publishers like yours truly. And you wonder why I hate almost all corporations?!
But back to the core topic: Willliam S. Burroughs. By some strange coincidence, the ATLANTIC MONTHLY also published Burroughs in their June 1969 issue: a long, illustrated version of “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz.” The first paragraph noted: “Success in any line is a question of being ON SET… The sets are the medium in which the characters live that inexorably mold their actions. When a character is no longer on set, he is finished.” Yes — all the world’s a stage… but does the stage influence the actions that cumulatively form the character? Well, Buckminster Fuller once said, “Don’t try to change man . . . change environment.” Burroughs the playwright elliptically tells the story of the criminal milieu around Dutch Schultz, aka Arthur Flegenheimer, and graphically evokes the era when “morphine, heroin, and cocaine were sold across the counter in any drugstore.” Meanwhile, Dutch has built up “a private army of more than a hundred expert guns … a phantom army moving in the darkness of underexposed film, tracing telephone calls, slipping through doors with skeleton keys on their errands of death.” This is Burroughsian poetic-gangster-noir at its finest: “The Shrew’s eyes light up inside like a cat’s, and his hair stands on end. His gun quivering like a dowser’s wand, every bullet finding its mark.” And, as I was to find out later, Burroughs himself was a respectable shootist… [To Be Continued. Part 3 will appear next Monday]