Thursday, February 05, 2009

William Seward Burroughs February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997

222 Bowery - New York - 2000
William S. Burroughs' residence (The Bunker) during the late Seventies and early Eighties

My love for reading was killed, stepped-upon, decimated by the time I entered the fourth grade. I took me nearly thirteen years to re-ignite the passion, and I owe it all to Old Bull Lee passing away in 1997. I was unfamiliar with Burroughs and the rest of the "Beats"; certainly I had heard of On the Road and had heard comments about dirty beatniks and the like. A poorly-placed TV commercial during the late summer of 1997 compelled me to switch channels. A picture of a man in a suit and fedora flashed across the screen with the words WILLIAM BURROUGHS 1914-1997 (Wikipedia / A piece I penned in 2000 about Burroughs and his second wife Joan). I paused, after all, I am a sucker for suits and anyone that compliments the ensemble with a fedora has my full attention (albeit briefly...). As the reporter recounted Mr. Burroughs' career, travels and gang of miscreant co-conspirators the desire to read was re-awakened.

I admit, I acted cowardly and reached for the safer bet (Jack Kerouac) first, but after reading On the Road I knew that I had only licked the tip of a very important iceberg. Next I purchased Burroughs' most famous tome Naked Lunch and it completely altered my pre-conceptions of "literature". For several years during high school, and the two years following, I was writing quite a bit. I had been exposed to, and reveled in 'zine-culture and was manufacturing my own magazines at a rate of five or six per year. Though I was writing I carried a prejudice against anything lengthier than an essay or short story. The overall overwhelming notion that a novel must be linear was my primary reason for avoiding such an endeavor altogether (even then I was poorly equipped to stay on subject for 300pages). In Burroughs I found a complete and successful deviation from the concept of a linear story, further, I found a complete rejection of all "rules" regarding writing in general.

This discovery pushed me to try my hand at more involved writing. Longer, more verbose, and ultimately more fulfilling (to me that is) projects were now my goal. Burroughs' work heavily influenced my first novella (at times, embarrassingly, influenced very heavily). When I finished Silence I felt like I had finally accomplished a feat I considered impossible until that warm and uncomfortable summer in 1997.

I've only participated in one pilgrimage in my life, on my first (as well as my latest) trip to New York I made a point of having my photograph taken in front of The Bunker, where Burroughs lived and worked after returning from exile overseas.

FULL CIRCLE: 222 Bowery - New York - 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I have always been an advocate of life-experimentation. My adult years have been peppered with attempts to alter the general lifestyle/environment surrounding me. At times for the better, at times for the worse, but the "value" of these experiments is at best a secondary consideration. As the old sages once taught, "the point of a journey is not to arrive."

I was affected in a great many ways by my last stint in New York. Eleven days is a long time for someone who adapts rapidly and unconsciously. I became very comfortable with the idea that I never had to drive anywhere unless I absolutely insisted. New York's mass transit system is the meat of many legends and it lives up to its mythology brilliantly, even today. I felt awash in sights and sounds that normally I would have missed altogether in the confines of a Taxi Cab or in a car. I repeatedly took what one of Saul Bellow's characters (Ravelstein) called a "Humanity Bath." As much as a social misanthrope as I am, this should not be confused with pure misanthropy. I prefer an anonymous cohabitation, yet I still gain many insights amongst the masses.

Upon my return, as a result of the aforementioned need to alter my personal patterns indiscriminately, and financial accommodations, I decided that beginning in January I would begin to take the mass transit system to and from work (and wherever else LA's limited system can take me...including the Central Library!). I have been faithfully riding the rails since then. On occasion I must rely on my car to perform the tasks of the day but I have been able to remain steadfast in my use of the Bus and Subway system.

Los Angeles is notorious (thank you Blondie) for treating Public Transportation with disdain, treating it like the vile step-child one must only suffer in reparation for some other distance and uncorrelated sin. I was explaining this to a friend from Brooklyn recently; if you take Public Trans. in LA it is assumed that someone you have fucked up in the game of life. Seeming to make my case by kismet, my lovely and talented landlord announced last week, "I am SO proud of you for taking public transportation! I mean you have a job, you have a car (that runs), you have no DUIs, I'm proud of you!"

She, as ever, put it more succinctly than I could (she's a Ninja like that...).

My routes have varied slightly as I have become more accustomed to the timetable. Initially I was walking the full mile and a half to the Orange line in Sherman Oaks and taking that to the North Hollywood train station. However, hangovers and late nights make such a trek at 7AM painful to say the least. I began taking the Sepulveda on the corner near my house, but I found that although there are two busses that run an identical route (as far as my venture is concerned) that one is unerringly more frequent than the other. Luckily, both share a stop on Van Owen so I am able to get in a sturdy (substantially shorter) constitutional on the morning and still catch a bus down to the Orange Line.

Re-visiting my surroundings via a lively morning stroll has been priceless. There are so many things one cannot possibly observe from a car, I have missed these things and now I feel I must glut myself until it all becomes mundane and pedestrian. I also feel like the sinking paranoia I usually experience in crowds has slowly been evaporating in favor of a more utilitarian outlook of participation rather than separation. The crown achievements have been a great financial savings (I have doubled the amount of miles a tank of gas will allot me), and the precious and so evasive ability to read for one solid hour in the morning and in the evening.

Last Friday I participated in my first drunk on public transportation experiment. I attended a work-party for a dear friend's wife, open bar, music industry, carnival games (including ring-toss, the water-gun game where one blows up a balloon, and a Hot Dog on a Stick vendor), and a wee puff on the side had me seeing double and just on the cusp of spins. I pulled myself together and realized I had to split or I'd miss my only opportunities to ride home. I made my way from the party, traversed the mile to the station and summarily dropped into a drunken nap on the subway benches. Propped sloppily against my valise I assured myself that surely a large train whooshing into the tunnel would awaken me. I was correct...this time. Though I remained skeptical that things would actually work out in my favor, the last red line train emerged from the darkness, and I was off again to North Hollywood.

Upon arriving, I further convinced myself that my luck was not strong enough to actually catch the last orange line bus. Wrong again...As I emerged from the station, I spied the last bus idling at the station. Though I should have broken into a sprint, my alcohol addled perception convinced me that it was a poor idea. I walked steadily and the bus, waiting to complete its final run, sat idling until a few minutes after I'd located a seat and slumped back down on my assorted notes, letters and paperback book. I shared the bus with a few chaps, most looked as if they were taking advantage of not having to drive, just like I was.

It was a pleasant silent ride. Though I may have been able to catch a final Sepulveda bus, a friend, waiting for me at the homestead, insisted on picking my drunken ass up.

Mission accomplished.

NOTE: My apologies to all who have been waiting for an assessment of my last trip to NYC. I feel like I have entire novels worth of notes, but I do intend to condense and post a synopsis here. Preferably before I return to New York! My last article has been turned into the editor, I am without company for a week and in spite of several letters I NEED to complete, perhaps I will get that synopsis done this week. Perhaps...