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And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks, Page 2

William S. Burroughs

  When the eggs came back they were all right. The waitress slammed them down in front of Phil. He began calmly eating the eggs.

  “Okay,” I said after I’d finished my breakfast. “Tomorrow you go down to Broadway like I told you and get yourself straightened out. I guarantee we can get a ship within the week. We’ll be out on the open sea before Allen even finds out.”

  “Good,” said Phillip. “I want to get out as soon as possible.”

  “There’s no telling where our ship’ll be going,” I told him.

  “I don’t care, although I’d like France.”

  “So would I,” I said, “but you’ve been to France.”

  “I was there with my mother when I was fourteen, with an English governess hanging around. The Latin Quarter’s what I want to see.”

  “The Latin Quarter’s in Paris,” I said, “and all we have is a strip of the Normandy peninsula. I don’t think we’ll see Paris this time.”

  “There might be a breakthrough to Paris at any event. However, the main thing is to get out of America.”

  I said, “You’re giving Ramsay Allen a broad berth.”

  “I hope so,” he said.

  “Lots of time to write poetry at sea,” I added.

  “That’s another thing.”

  “Why can’t you write poetry and work out your New Vision in New York?”

  Phillip smiled. “Because Al’s around, and he’s a dead weight on all my ideas. I’ve got some new ideas. He belongs to an ancient generation.”

  “Ah,” I said, “you betray a lack of gratitude for your old and venerable teacher.”

  Phillip gave me a sly undersmile.

  Janie said, “Both of you are talking crap. You want to make some money, don’t you? When you get back we can all go to Florida or New Orleans or someplace for the winter. Never mind the poetry.”

  We had cigarettes but no matches. Phil called out to the waitress, “I say, have you a match, miss?”

  The waitress said, “No.”

  Phillip said, “Then get some,” in his clear, calm tone.

  The waitress got a wooden box of matches from under the counter and threw it at him. It lit in my empty egg plate and knocked some french fries out on the counter. Phillip picked up the box and lighted all our cigarettes. Then he threw the box back so it lit on the counter near her.

  She jumped at the sound and said, “Oh! I shouldn’t have given them to you.”

  Phillip smiled at her.

  I said, “She must be having her period.”

  At this a short, stocky male waiter came up to me and said, “Are you a wise guy?”

  “Sure,” I said. It looked like there would be a fight.

  Then Janie said, “That bitch started it all. Why don’t you get yourself a new waitress?”

  The waiter gave us all a dirty look and walked away.

  “Let’s get out of here,” Janie said. She paid the check and we walked out.

  We walked back to Washington Square and sat on a bench in the shade. I got tired of that so I sat down on the grass and started chewing a twig. I was thinking about the books I would bring for this trip and what a time Phil and I would have in some foreign port. Phil and Janie were talking about his girl Barbara Bennington—“Babs” to her friends—and what her reaction would be to this news of his sudden departure.

  Then a little old man came staggering by, drunk and muttering to himself. He stopped in front of our bench and started staring at me. We paid him absolutely no attention, so he began to get sore. He had an alcoholic twitch and every time he twitched he snarled. He twitched and said “Aah” at me, and walked away.

  Phil and Janie went on talking and suddenly the little drunkard was back staring at me.

  “Who are you?” he wanted to know.

  I twitched and said “Aah!”

  “Go home,” Phil told him, and the little drunkard got scared and went away, twitching and snarling at benches and trees.

  We sat there awhile and then decided to go home. Phil said he was going straight home to start packing. He lived in a family hotel just around the corner from Janie’s apartment, where he had a little two-room suite with private bath.

  As we were turning the corner we met James Cathcart, a student at the NYU School of Business, and he went on with Phillip to help him with his packing. Phillip was telling him to keep mum. Although Cath-cart was a pretty good friend of his, Phil was taking every precaution in order that the news wouldn’t leak out to Ramsay Allen.

  Janie and I went upstairs and took a shower together. Then we sat down in the front room to talk. I was sitting on the rocking chair facing her and she was sitting on the couch with a towel on, native style. I kept staring at the towel and finally it began to annoy me, so I got up and pulled the towel off her and went back to the rocking chair.

  She said, “What are you going to do out at sea?” and I said, “Don’t worry about the future.”



  I GOT UP SUNDAY AROUND TWO O’CLOCK, SWEPT UP the broken cocktail glasses, went down to the corner and ate breakfast and bought a Racing Form. I went back to my room and read the papers I had there. Then I looked through the Racing Form and didn’t find any horses that I liked.

  About four o’clock Danny Borman dropped in. Danny is a defense worker who looks like George Raft, except that he is tall.

  It seemed things were not going well with him the past two weeks, because he couldn’t get on a contracting job, where all the overtime is, and didn’t want to tie himself down somewhere else. Finally he said, “Will, I’d like to ask a favor of you.”

  “Yeah,” I said, “what?”

  “I’d like to borrow your sap.”

  I’d been expecting a touch, so I said, “Sure, Danny, glad to oblige.”

  I went over to the bureau and fished my blackjack out from under a pile of shirts. I was thinking what a contrast this guy was to Phillip and Al, who will never lift a finger to get money for themselves so long as they can mooch off somebody else. I wiped it off carefully with a silk handkerchief and handed it to him.

  “Watch yourself,” I said.

  He said, “You know me. I’m always careful.”

  He said he was going uptown and I said I’d walk out with him, since I was planning to drop in on Al.

  At the door he said, “After you.”

  And I said, “Please, I am at home here,” which I thought was pretty high tone, and he walked out first. Danny was a stickler for etiquette and knew Emily Post from cover to cover.

  We rode up to 42nd Street together, and he got off there. I got off at 50th Street and walked over to Al’s place, which was on 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth, right over a nightclub.

  Al had the best room in the house. It was on the second floor in back overlooking the yard. There was a picture over the fireplace, an underwater picture of a young guy in bathing trunks with a finger against his cheek, looking hammy and pensive, all done in mauve and light blue and pink. There was a long easy chair in the room, the only comfortable chair in the whole house.

  There were two people sitting in the long chair and four people sitting on the bed, so I walked over to the high window overlooking the yard and started talking to Hugh Maddox.

  Agnes O’Rourke was there, and Della. Agnes was sitting in the easy chair and Della was sitting on the arm of the chair. Della is an experienced lesbian at twenty, with two or three soul-searing affairs behind her and four suicide attempts.

  On the bed were Jane Bole and Tom Sullivan. These two live together somewhere in the East Forties and make a round of visits every afternoon. Al was trying to get himself off their route.

  Al was also sitting on the bed with Bunny, a girl from a good Boston family who says she is a kleptomaniac. Bunny was very much in love with Al.

  Chris Rivers, who never takes a bath nor brushes his teeth nor cleans out his room, was sitting in a straight chair showing his teeth covered in green scum with a silly grin as he l
ooked from one person to another.

  I asked Hugh what was new and he said the FBI was looking for him.

  “Yeah?” I said. “What for?”

  “It must be about the draft. That’s the only thing I can think of. They were asking about me down at Pier 32. Nobody knows my address down there.”

  “Well what is your draft status?”

  “I don’t know exactly. You see, I gave them an address care of somebody else and this girl moved after that, and when they came to my new address the janitor thought that they were from the finance company and told them he never heard of me. Then I moved out of that place without leaving a forwarding address because I owed a month’s rent.”

  “What was your original classification?”

  “It was 3-A, but my wife and I are divorced since then. That’s two years ago.”

  Hugh is a longshoreman, about thirty, and Irish. He has one of the small rooms on the top floor next to Rivers. He comes from a rich family but doesn’t keep in touch with them anymore.

  “Well what are you going to do?”

  “I’m going down and see them. No use trying to get away from those guys. I may get three years out of this.”

  “Oh just explain to them it’s all a mistake.”

  “It’s not so simple as that. Jesus, I don’t know what the fuck’s going to happen.”

  “What you need is a lawyer.”

  “Yeah, and pay him with what?”

  The conversation was taking a turn I didn’t quite like.

  Someone stood up and said he had to go. Al jumped up and said, “Well if you must,” and everybody laughed. Jane Bole dragged Tom Sullivan to his feet and said, “Come along dear.”

  They all left except Hugh, Bunny sulking because Al hadn’t asked her to stay.

  On the way out, Chris Rivers sidled up to me and borrowed a quarter. He could never work himself up to ask anyone for more than fifty cents.

  Hugh stayed about ten minutes, looking gloomy and rehashing his problem.

  Al said, “Well I guess it will turn out all right.”

  Hugh said he didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen. “And don’t say anything about this to Mrs. Frascati. I owe her a month’s rent.” Then he left to keep a date with his girlfriend.

  “Thank God,” said Al. “A little peace at last. Why, those people woke me up at twelve o’clock and they’ve been here ever since.”

  I sat down in the easy chair and Al sat on the bed.

  “Now I want to tell you about the amazing thing that happened last night.”

  “Yes,” I said, rubbing my hands together.

  “Well, when we got up on the roof, Phillip rushed over to the edge like he was going to jump off, and I got worried and yelled at him, but he stopped suddenly and dropped a glass down. I went over and stood on the edge with him and said ‘What’s the matter?’ and started to put my arm around him. Then Phil turned around and kissed me very passionately, on the mouth, and dragged me down with him on the roof.”

  I said, “It looks like you’re getting there, after four years. Well go on—what happened then?”

  “He kissed me several times, then suddenly he pushed me away and got up.”

  So I said, “Yeah, well what happened then?”

  “Well, then Phil said ‘Let’s jump off the roof together, shall we?’ And I said ‘What’s the point in that?’ and he said ‘Don’t you understand? After this we have to ... it’s the only thing left. Either that or go away.’”

  So I asked Al, “What did he mean by that? Go away where?”

  “I don’t know. Anywhere, I guess.”

  “Well Al, you should have said at that point, ‘Okay dearie, let’s fly to Newark tonight.’”

  Al was very serious about all this, although it seemed pretty ridiculous to me. I’d been hearing about it since I met him.

  Al said, “Well, I didn’t have money, for one thing.”

  I jumped up. “Oh you didn’t have money, hey? Do you expect to have money sitting on your ass? Go to work in a shipyard. Hold up a store. Here you’ve been waiting four years for this opening, and now—”

  “Well, I’m not sure I want to.”

  “You’re not sure you want to what?”

  “Go somewhere with him now. I’m afraid there would be a reaction and I wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

  I went over to the fireplace and banged my hand on the mantelpiece.

  “So you want to wait. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—waiting till you’re dead. Do you know what I think? I think this whole Phillip complex is like the Christian heaven, an illusion born of a need, floating around in some nebulous misty Platonic nowhere, always just around the corner like prosperity, but never here and now. You’re afraid to go away with him, you’re afraid to put it to a test because you know it won’t work.”

  Al flinched and shut his eyes and said, “No, no, it’s not true!”

  I sat down in the chair and said, “But seriously, Al. If you did go somewhere you might succeed in making him. After all, that’s what you’ve been after these four years.”

  “No, you don’t understand at all. That isn’t what I really want.”

  I jumped up again, sneering. “Oh, so this is a case of Platonic love, hey? Nothing so coarse as physical contact, hey?”

  “No,” said Al, “I do want to sleep with him. But I want his affection more than anything. And I want it to be permanent.”

  “God give me patience,” I said. “Patience I need.” I tore at my hair and a little tuft of it came out. I made a mental note to go to 28th Street and buy some Buno hair tonic. It’s got Spanish fly in it and there’s nothing like it to stop falling hair.

  “Now listen,” I said. “I’m going to say it again and I’m going to say it slow: Phillip isn’t queer. He might sleep with you, which I doubt altogether, but anything permanent is impossible. Unless of course it’s just friendship you want.”

  I walked over to the window and stood with my hands clasped behind me like a captain on the bridge of a battleship.

  Al said, “I want him to love me.”

  I turned around and took a toothpick out of my shirt pocket and started digging at a cavity. “You’re nuts,” I said.

  “I know he’ll come around to my way of thinking in time,” Al said.

  I pointed my toothpick at his chest. “Get yourself some scratch and he’ll come around tonight.”

  Al said, “No, that isn’t the way I want it.”

  “What you want is impossible.”

  “I don’t see why it should be.”

  I said, “Well of course he isn’t influenced by money at all, you’ve noticed that, haven’t you?”

  “Well, he is, but he shouldn’t be. I don’t want to admit that he is.”

  I said, “Facts, man, it’s time to face facts.” I took on a bourgeois père de famille tone. “Why don’t you make something of yourself, something he’d be proud of and look up to. Look at you, you look like a bum!”

  He had on an English tweed suit looking like it had been slept in for years, a cheap Sixth Avenue shirt, and a frayed Sulka tie. He looked like a Bowery character.

  I went on, “Now I have it from reliable sources that there is at the present time a tremendous shortage of drugs in this country owing to the war. Marijuana is selling for fifty cents a stick whereas before the war it was ten cents a stick. Why don’t we cash in on this situation, get some seed, and start a marijuana farm?”

  “Well,” he said, “now, that sounds good to me.”

  “You can buy the seed in bird stores. We can sow it out in the country somewhere and come back in a couple of months and harvest our crop. Later on when we build up a bankroll, we can buy our own farm.”

  We talked over this idea for some time. Al said he would go down and get some seed next day.

  We went out to eat at Hamburger Mary’s and he started rehashing the Phillip question. What did it mean when Phillip said this and should he call him up tonight or
just go downtown without calling, was Phillip really in love with Barbara and if so should he do anything to break it up. So I ate my food and said, yes, why not, no, go ahead, and stopped listening to him. Like I say, I’d heard all this for years.

  After dinner I said good night and walked down to the bar where I worked as a bartender.

  The place where I worked is called the Continental Café. It is open all the way across the front in summer, with doors that fold back. There are tables where you can sit and look at the sidewalk if you want to. There are several waitress / hostesses who will let you buy drinks for them. Inside is the usual chromium, red leather, and incandescent lights.

  As I walked down the bar I noticed a fag, a couple of whores with two Broadway Sams, and the usual sprinkle of servicemen. Three plainclothes dicks were drinking scotch at the far end of the bar.

  I took off my coat and transferred everything from it to my pants pocket. I found an apron with a long string so I could loop it around and tie it in front. Then I stepped behind the bar and said hello to Jimmy, the other bartender, who was already there.

  These three dicks said “Hello, kid” when they saw me. They had Jimmy waiting on them hand and foot, asking for scotch and cigars and lemon peel in their drinks and more soda and more ice.

  I went up to the other end of the bar and waited on two sailors. The jukebox was playing “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” and one sailor said, “Hey Jack, how come that machine never plays what I want?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “People are always complaining about it.”

  I could hear the detectives at the other end of the bar handing Jimmy a lot of horseshit about how he was a swell guy and so was the boss a swell guy and he ought to treat the boss right. These three were always in the place, sopping up free drinks because the boss thought they would help him out in case of trouble.

  One of the sailors asked me where all the women were in this town, and I said they were in Brooklyn, hundreds of them on every corner. Then I started to tell them how to get there and they were so dumb they didn’t understand me, but they left anyway. I took their glasses off the bar and sloshed them through dirty water and they were washed.