Friday, August 31, 2007

William Burroughs; Old Bull Hubbard Meets The Mild Boys

by Bart Bull

There had been copies of William Burroughs' most recent book, Armies of the Red Night, in the window of Moe's Books and piled on the display table downstairs, all marked down to the remaindered-by-the-pound price of three bucks a pop. Now, today, under the circumstances, they were $14.95 first editions, two stacks of them just within the reach of Burroughs' left hand, the one with the little finger that ends just past the first joint. Both of his hands were red with the declining circulation of age, and the right one held a Bic, one of the real cheap clear ones with a black cap.

"Look," said a guy waiting in line with books to be signed, "he uses a Bic."

The guy with him looked to confirm it and half of the rest of the line did too. Burroughs put his Bic down for a moment between customers and turned to steal a sip from his cafe au lait. The coffee had spilled from the cup into the saucer, and from the saucer onto the table, where it had gathered into a series of puddles precisely the color of Burroughs' shirt and tie. He hunched to sip his coffee without dripping it onto his pants and then he turned back to face the next in line. Two dozen sets of eyes followed every move.

The next fellow in line presented Burroughs with a collection of hardbacks and paperbacks and chapbooks that stacked a foot-and-a-half high. "I feel like a total ass," he said. Burroughs withheld comment. He signed methodically, metronomically, the tip of his Bic enunciating each letter in William S. Burroughs. The head of the fellow with the stack of books bobbed in time with Burroughs' pen. So did the head of the guy behind him, and the girl behind him, the one with the braces and the Elvis Costello glasses and the plaid skirt and the little skulls stencil-painted onto her stockings.

The line moved to the beat of Burroughs' Bic, slowly, steadily, with pauses from book to book, from customer to customer. Most of them were pretty young, sophomores or thereabouts. You should be able to pick up autographed copies of Burroughs' work at used bookstores all over Berkeley at the end of the spring quarter. One of them got up the nerve to address Burroughs directly. "Did you really marry a White Russian countess?"

"She wasn't a White Russian countess," he said. "And I never had a trust fund, and Kerouac was writing fiction." He had the voice of a bank branch manager, preoccupied with his sinuses, who has been asked to explain Federal Deposit Insurance at three minutes to six on a Friday.

"What do you think his most under-rated text was?"

"Huh?" Burroughs' voice suggested that it was now two minutes to six.

"What do you think Kerouac's most under-rated text was?" The kid actually said "text." "Tristessa?"

"Vanity of Duluoz,"
he says.


"Vanity of Duluoz." Burroughs is prominently featured in it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this