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The Adding Machine, Page 2

William S. Burroughs

  ‘Kid, I got a pinch of something here make you forget about that old dead dog...’

  That’s how it started. Then he fell into the hands of a sinister hypnotist who plied him with injections of marijuana.

  ‘Kill, kill, kill’. The words turned relentlessly in his brain, and he walked up to a young cop and said ‘If you don’t lock me up I shall kill you,’ The cop sapped him without a word. But a wise old detective in the precinct takes a like to the boy, sets him straight and gets him off the snow. It was a hard fight but he made it. He now works in a hardware store in Ottawa, Illinois ... the porch noise, home from work... ‘And if any kind stranger ever offers me some pills that will drive all my blues away, I will simply call a policeman.’

  A story about four jolly murderers was conceived in the Hotel La Fonda on a rare trip to Santa Fe when I was feeling guilty about masturbating twice in one day. A middle-aged couple, very brash and jolly; the man says, ‘Sure and I’d kill my own grandmother for just a little kale .. .’

  ‘We have regular rates of course,’ the woman observed tartly.

  I formed a romantic attachment for one of the boys at Los Alamos and kept a diary of this affair that was to put me off writing for many years. Even now I blush to remember its contents. During the Easter vacation of my second year I persuaded my family to let me stay in St. Louis, so my things were packed and sent to me from the school and I used to turn cold thinking maybe the boys are reading it aloud to each other.

  When the box finally arrived I pried it open and threw everything out until I found the diary and destroyed it forthwith, without a glance at the appalling pages. This still happens from time to time. I will write something I think is good at the time and looking at it later I say, my God, tear it into very small pieces and put it into somebody else’s garbage can. I wonder how many writers have had similar experiences. An anthology of such writing would be interesting.

  Fact is, I had gotten a real sickener — as Paul Lund, an English gangster I knew in Tangier, would put it...’A young thief thinks he has a license to steal and then he gets a real sickener like five years maybe.’

  This lasted longer. The act of writing had become embarrassing, disgusting, and above all false. It was not the sex in the diary that embarrassed me, it was the terrible falsity of the emotions expressed. I guess Lord Cheshire and Reggie were too much for me — for years after that, the sight of my words written on apage hit me like the sharp smell of carrion when you turn over a dead dog with a stick, and this continued until 1938. I had written myself an eight-year sentence.

  Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1938 ... I was doing graduate work in anthropology at Harvard and at the same time Kells Elvins, an old school friend from John Burroughs, was doing graduate work in Psychology. We shared a small frame house on a quiet tree-lined street beyond the Commodore Hotel He had many talks about writing and started a detective story in the Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler line. This picture of a ship captain putting on women’s clothes and rushing into the first lifeboat was suddenly there for both of us. We read all the material we could find in Widener’s Library on the Titanic, and a book based on the Morro Castle disaster called The Left-handed Passenger.

  On a screened porch we started work on a story called Twilight’s Last Gleamings which was later used almost verbatim in Nova Express. I was trying to contact Kells to see if he had the original manuscript and to tell him that I was using the story under both our names when his mother wrote me that he had died in 1961.

  I see now that the curse of the diary was broken temporarily by the act of collaboration. We acted out every scene and often got on laughing jags. I hadn’t laughed like that since my first tea-high at eighteen when I rolled around the floor and pissed all over myself. I remember the rejection note from Esquire: ‘Too screwy and not effectively so for us.’

  I liked to feel that manuscript in my hands and read it over with slow shameless chuckles. The words seemed to come through us, not out of us. I have a recurrent writer’s dream of picking up a book and starting to read. I can never bring back. more than a few sentences; still, I know that one day the book itself will hover over the typewriter as I copy the words already written there.

  After that I lost interest again and the years from 1938 to 1943 were almost entirely unproductive. In 1943 I met Kerouac and Ginsberg. Kerouac and I collaborated on a novel based on the Carr-Kammerer case, which we decided not to publish, and again I lost interest in writing.

  I can remember only one attempt between 1943 and 1949. I was living in Algiers, Louisiana, across the river from New Orleans. I was on heroin at the time and went over to New Orleans every day to score. One day I woke up sick and went across the river, and when I got back I tried to recapture the painful over-sensitivity of junk sickness, the oil slick on the river, the hastily-parked car.

  Next set is Mexico City 1948-1950 where I started writing Junky. Once again we had trouble with the middle-class Mexican neighbors, who suspected me to be a dope fiend, and and the children screamed at me in the street: ‘Vicioso.’ We lived in a two-story house behind Sears Roebuck, off Insurgentes. I was attending Mexico City College on the G.I. Bill, studying Mayan and Aztec history and Mayan language. The Mexico City College boys hung out in a bar called the Bounty where I once shot a mouse with a .22 pistol in Mexico I always carried some sort of gun.

  This was during the reign of Presidente Aleman, and the mordida was king. A vast pyramid of bribes reached from the cop on the beat to the Presidente. .. ‘Your paper very bad Meester.’ And for every real cop there were two or three professional brothers of cops with huge badges in their pockets and .45s stuck down into the inside holsters as I have seen only in Mexico. These holsters clip on the belt with the holster part inside the pants and so were easier to conceal with the coat buttoned. Many times I have been woken up by some friend from Mexico City College at the door with two or more cops who have caught him with some weed or a gun. He is taking up a collection to buy them off.

  On this set an unpublished novel called Queer was also written. I remember the editor of Ace Books who published Junky said he would go to jail if he ever published Queer. I have been looking through it. Charles-Henri Ford’s and Parker Tyler’s The Young and Evil is shocking by contrast. Thanks to Allen Ginsberg and Carl Solomon, Junky was published in 1953. I was in South America at the time and the account of this trip became The Yage Letters, These were typed out from handwritten notes in offices where you use a typewriter for so much per hour in Bogotà and Lima.

  Late 1953 I spent in New York sharing an apartment with Allen Ginsberg. At this time I first met Gregory Corso. In January of 1954 I went to Tangier and settled in a male brothel at no. 1 Calle de los Arcos kept by the famous Tony Dutch. I was on junk and did very little writing at the time. There were, however, a few fragments that were later used in Naked Lunch. Understandably there was some neighbor trouble: ‘You like beeg one Meester?’ And Tony constantly moaned, ‘My house is so watched at by the Arabics.’

  In 1955 I moved to the Villa Muniria at the corner of Cook Street and Magellanes. It was owned by a Belgian at the time and Paul Lund, a gangster from Birmingham, was also staying there. I saw quite a lot of him and used some of his stories in Naked Lunch. Later that year I moved into a house in the Casbah owned by Jim Wylie where there was no neighbor trouble since I sat around all day shooting junk and once dripped blood all over Paul Bowles’ first edition of One Arm by Tennessee Williams.

  In 1956 I went to London and took the apomorphine cure with Doctor John Dent. Naked Lunch would never have been written without Doctor Dent’s treatment. The cure completed, I spent the summer with Alan Ansen in Venice. It was during this summer that A.J.’s Annual Party took shape and the gondola scene was written. Some of the Border City material was also written at this time and the concept of Freelandt evolved. Here too I disgraced myself by getting drunk at Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo.

  I left Venice in late August and went to Tripoli, arriving in
time for the Suez Crisis and a general strike. The American Consulate wasn’t at all helpful and still less so in Algiers, where I got stuck on my way back to Tangier with all planes booked solid for three weeks and had to wire home for money and left by train without the necessary permits against advice of the Consulate. I was in Algiers for about a week during the war and used to eat lunch in a milk bar that was later bombed. There are a number of references to this incident in later writings.

  Back in Tangier in September of 1956, I settled in a room on the garden at the Villa Muniria. For the first time in my life I began writing full-time and the material from which Naked Lunch was later abstracted and a good deal of the material that went into The Soft Machine and The Ticket that Exploded was produced at this time. Often I would take a notebook to dinner with me and make notes while I ate. During this period I was making mahjoun every day.

  Between 1956 and 1958 I saw a number of visitors in Tangier. Jack Kerouac was there in 1957, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in the same year. Alan Ansen made several trips to Tangier and helped me type the manuscript. In 1957 I made a trip to Scandinavia and wrote some of the Freelandt section for Naked Lunch in a cubicle room in Copenhagen.

  In 1958 I moved to Paris and took up residence at no. 9, rue Git-le-coeur on the recommendation of Allen Ginsberg who was living there with Peter Orlovsky. I had a suitcase full of manuscripts with me, but Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press had rejected the first version of Naked Lunch. Other rejections from American publishers followed, and I was again losing interest in writing.

  It was Allen Ginsberg who insisted that I send some short extracts to The Chicago Review which was then edited by Irving Rosenthal. The Big Table issue followed. One morning in room 15 at 9 rue Git-le-coeur I received a visit from Sinclair Beiles, whom I had known previously in Tangier. He was working for Girodias, who, after seeing the Big Table issue, now wanted to publish Naked Lunch. He wanted a complete manuscript in two weeks. With the help of Brion Gysin and Sinclair the manuscript was finished in two weeks and a month later the book was published,

  In the summer of 1959 Brion Gysin showed me the use of cut-ups. Minutes to Go and Exterminator! followed Brion Gysin also demonstrated the use of cut-ups on the tape recorder and my subsequent experiments with tape recorders, carried out in Paris, London, Tangier, New York, all date from that summer.

  In the fall of 1959 I moved to London and stayed in the Empress Hotel at 25 Lillie Road, which was to be my headquarters for the next year and a half. By the spring and summer of 1961, I was back in Tangier in my old garden room at the Villa Muniria, and it was here that I first started making photo-montages. This happened after a bad trip on DMT, which is described in The Night Before Thinking... the sensation of being in a white-hot safe. The following day, a sudden cool grey mist came in from the sea and covered the waterfront and I spread some photos out on the bed with a grey silk dressing-gown from Gibraltar along with several other objects and I photographed the ensemble. During that summer I made many of these montages in different ways and combinations. Ian Sommerville arrived during the summer and took over the technical aspect of the montages. Also present were: Tim Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Ansen, Paul Bowles, Michael Portman and Gregory Corso... the psychedelic summer.

  In the fall of 1961 I spent a month in New York, where I started Nova Express. When I returned to England, my work with photo-montages and tape-recorders continued and in early 1962 I moved to an apartment sublet from Marion Boyars at 52 Lancaster Terrace in London, which I shared with Michael Portman. In a basement apartment I shared with Ian Sommerville I prepared a show with his assistance. I also wrote some poems for David Bud’s exhibition of sculpture in Paris.

  In the summer of 1962, Ian and I went to Tangier where after some house-hunting we unwisely rented an Arab house at 4 calle Larachi. My son Billy arrived during the summer. Esquire took some photos of the house and of Billy and myself which were later used as an article.

  We did not start to have real neighbor trouble until after the Kennedy assassination, but the trouble became acute after New Year’s of 1964. I had just returned from a television appearance in London with Alex Trocchi in which we were interviewed by Dan Farsons. Arriving in England for this show, I was stopped and searched by Customs. I think the word had been passed along by some snotty Vice-Consul in the American Consulate in Tangier. When I got back, we were under continual harrassment from the neighbors and I had no money to move. I started keeping a diary and decorating files with photos; later I started keeping scrapbooks.

  Early in May my first substantial payment came through from Grove Press and I moved into 16 rue Delacroix, the Loteria Building. The work with scrapbooks continued and Antony Balch arrived during the summer to shoot some of the scenes from Cut-Ups. In December, I returned to America by boat and arriving at Customs got the ‘right-this-way’ treatment. Two narcs and three Customs agents spent three solid hours pawing through my books and papers and photos, reading them and commenting.

  I stayed in New York from 1964 until September 1965, at the Hotel Chelsea and in a loft at 210 Centre Street There Brion and I assembled The Third Mind. Antony Balch came over from London to shoot more scenes for Cut- Ups and I did a lot of scrapbook work. Brion frequently remonstrated with me to leave these experiments and write some straight narrative.

  Returning to England in September 1965, Brion and I were searched at the airport. After going through Customs and Immigration, an official walked out after us .. . and once again agents pawed through my papers. ‘What do you cart these about for?’ one said, holding up some Magic Markers/flash forward to being caught by a black subway guard, writing AH POOK IS HERE on the subway wall...’ You a grown man, writing on the wall!’ New York City, April 30, 1972 .. .

  We were limited to a stay in England of one month. Obviously, the American Narcotics Department had passed the word along. Lord Goodman, Michael Portman’s solicitor and Chairman of the Arts Council, straightened out this passport difficulty. I settled in at the Hotel Rushmore at 11 Trebovir Road, Earl’s Court. A number of tape-recorder experiments, described in The Invisible Generation, were carried out here with Ian Sommerville, who had a sound studio placed at his disposal by Paul McCartney.

  By 1967, when I had moved into 8 Duke Street, Saint James’s, I had such an overrun on tape-recorders, cameras and scrapbooks that I couldn’t look at them, and started writing straight narrative and essays which later found their way into The Wild Boys and The Job. I made several trips to Tangier, to rework The Ticket that Exploded, and returned to Morocco and Marrakesh, where I started a first draft of The Wild Boys. In 1968, January through April, I was at Saint Hill in England, studying Scientology. In 1968, I covered the Democratic Convention in Chicago for Esquire.

  My Own Business

  Brion Gysin, Stewart Gordon, and I were sitting in front of a little Spanish café in Tangier when this middle-aged Spaniard walked by, and we all gasped: ‘My God, that’s a harmless-looking person!’ I’d noticed him around town, and spotted him as a real which is nothing special, just minds his own business of staying alive and thinks that what other people do is other people’s business.

  The old hop-smoking rod-riding underworld had a name for it:’ a member of the Johnson family.’ Wouldn’t rush to the law if he smelled hop in the hall, doesn’t care what fags in the back room are doing, stands by his word. Good man to do business with. They are found in all walks of life. The cop who slipped me a joint in a New Orleans jail, for instance. Or when I was pushing junk in New York back in 1948, the hotel clerk who stopped me in the lobby: ‘I don’t know how to say this, but there is something wrong about the people who come to your room.’ (Something wrong is putting it softly: ratty junkies with no socks, dressed in three boosted suits puffing out, carrying radios torn from the living car, trailing wires like entrails. ‘This isn’t a hock shop!’ I scream. ‘Get this shit out of here!’ Regaining my composure I say severely, ‘You are lowering the entire tone of my e
stablishment.’) ‘So I just wanted to warn you to be careful and tell those people to watch what they say over the phone ... if someone else had been at the switchboard...’

  And a hotel clerk in Tunis; I handed him some money to put in the safe. He put the money away and looked at me: ‘You do not need a receipt Monsieur.’ I looked at him and saw that he was a Johnson, and knew that I didn’t need a receipt.

  Yes, this world would be a pretty easy and pleasant place to live in if everybody could just mind his own business and let others do the same. But a wise old black faggot said to me years ago: ‘Some people are shits, darling.’ I was never able to forget it.

  Mexican druggist throwing a script back at me: ‘We do not serve dope fiends.’ It’s like Mr. Anslinger said: ‘The laws must express society’s disapproval of the addict.’

  Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite, and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a distinction between a hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don’t cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone and are only dangerous when molested, like the Brown Recluse. Others cause minor trouble, like barroom fights and bank robberies. To put it country simple, Anslinger was an obligate shit; Dillinger, Jesse James and Billy the Kid were just sons of bitches.

  This right virus has been around for a long time, and perhaps its most devoted ally has been the Christian Church: from the Inquisition to the Conquistadores, from the American Indian Wars to Hiroshima, they are RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT. If the Christian Church has given the virus a nice long home, it has also sustained a number of evictions in the past forty years.