William Burroughs, 1989 – Part 2

William Burroughs audio (see yesterday) continues

WSB: Cambridge Mass 1938 – that was the year of the big hurricane – Kells Elvins and your reporter were writing a shipwreck story based on the sinking of the Titanic . The Titanic was supposed to be sink-proof. It was all divided up into segments, you know, so if you have a leak here, the other compartments will keep the thing afloat. But the iceberg just sliced right through all the compartments, like a can opener. The ship went down in three hours with twelve hundred passengers. The Captain went down with the ship on this occasion.It was the maiden voyage, there were a number of rich and fancy people on board, and, I think it was Mr Astor, he and his valet put on full dress suits and said, “We’re going down like gentlemen” – Imagine a frame of mind like that! – going down “like gentlemen” – glug!, glug!, glug!  So along came Colonel Clinch Smith, who was right on the deck when the Titanic went down, got clear, and latched on to a chicken-coop and survived.
And that’s the name of the game

John Jacob Astor IV (1894-1912)

In our story, “Twilight’s Last Gleamings”, the Ships’ Captain puts on women’s clothes  – “Twilights Last Gleamings” and rushes into the first lifeboat. And also in this lifeboat is the ships’ doctor. There is precedence for this I quote from a contemporary chronicle: “Somewhere in the shadow of the Titanic disaster slinks a cur in human shape, today the most despicable human being in all the world. In that grim midnight hour he found himself hemmed in by the band of heroes whose watchword rang out across the deep – ‘Women and children first.’ What did he do? He scuttled to the stateroom deck put on a women’s skirt, a women’s hat and a women’s vale and, picking his crafty way, he filled a seat in one of the lifeboats and saved his skin. His identity is not yet known, though it will in good time. This man still lives – surely he was born, and saved, to set for men a new standard by with to measure infamy and shame”. You get to thinking about it, you wonder if they don’t yet know his identity how they know about this at all. Something really funny there.
Anyway, this story commemorates the first appearance of Dr Benway written in collaboration with Kells Elvins

“Twilight’s Last Gleamings”
“SS America off Jersey coast … ladies and gentleman there is no cause for alarm we have a minor problem in the boiler room but everything is now under … sound effects of a nuclear blast. Explosion splits the boat.
A paretic named Perkins screams from his shattered wheelchair, “You pithy assed son of a bitch…” Second class passenger Barbara Cannon lay naked in a first class stateroom.
Stewart Hudson stepped to a porthole, “Put on your clothes honey there’s been an accident.” Dr Benway, Ships Doctor, drunkenly added two inched to a six-inch incision with one stroke of his scalpel. “Perhaps the appendix is already out doctor…” the nurse said peering dubiously over his shoulder. “I saw a little scar.” “The appendix out… I’m taking the appendix out what do you think I’m doing here.” “Perhaps the appendix is on the left side doctor, that happens sometimes, you know.””Stop breathing down my neck, I’m coming to that. Don’t you think I know where anappendix is? I studied appendectomy in nineteen-oh-four at Harvard” He lifted the abdominal wall and searched along the incision dropping ashes from his cigarette… thrust a red fist at her. “And get me a new scalpel this one’s got no edge to it.” The doctor flattened against the wall a bloody scalpel clutched in one hand. The patient slid off the operating table spilling intestines across the floor. “Sew her up I can’t be expected to work under such conditions.” He swept instruments,cocaine and morphine into his satchel and tilted out of the operating room.

Mike Dweyer, a politician from Clayton, Missouri rushed into the First Class Lounge where the orchestra, coked, junked and pilled to the gills, wallowed in their instruments. “Play The Star Spangled Banner“, he bellowed. “You trying to corn somebody, Jack?”. Mike crossed to the jukebox and selected The Star Spangled Banner With Fats Terminal at the Electric Organ and shoved home a handful of quarters….By the dawn’s early light … Dr Benway pushed through a crowed rail and boarded the first lifeboat. “You all alright? He said seating himself amongst the women, “I’m the doctor.” Oh say can you see... Captain Cramer putting the finishing touches to heavy makeup? Now a green cloche hat and fox stole. Rather Sadie Thomson he decides, slipping a .32 automatic into his handbag. O’er the ramparts we watched… Radio Operator Finch mixed a bicarbonate of soda and belched into his hand. SS America… SOS – URP – Goddamned captain’s a brown artist. SOS – Off Jersey Coast. Might smell us – SOS – Son-of-a-bitching crew – SOS Comrade Finch – Comrade’s a pig’s ass – SOS – URP-URP..The Captain stepped into the Radio Room and shot Finch in the back of the head. He shoved the body aside and smashed the apparatus with a chair By the twilights last gleamings the Captain stiff-arms an old lady and fills the first lifeboat.The boat is lowered jerkily by male passengers. Dr Benway casts off. The Captain pats his bulging suitcase and absently looks back at the ship. Obviously he cleaned out to sea. Our flag was still there…

It happens in every shipwreck something folks don’t like to talk about. People keep trying to get in the lifeboats that are already full and someonehas to cut their fingers off with a butcher knife. In our story a paralyzed paretic named Perkins (paralyzed from the waist down anyway) is the instrument of destiny. Someone gives him the knife and tells him what he has to do.By the rockets red glare … A cry goes up from the tilting deck. Bodies hurtle around the boat. A hand reaches out and closes on the boat side. Spring-like Perkins brings down the knife. The hand slips away finger stubs fall into the boat. “That’ a boy comrade don’t let them swamp us.” The crew pull on the oars and Perkins works feverishly cutting on all sides. His false teeth fly out with the speed of a snapping snake, he snaps them back into is mouth. “Bastards, sons-of-bitches, bastards, sons-of-bitches…” Oh say, does that spangled banner yet wave… Barbara Cannon showed your reporter her souvenirs of the disaster. A lifebelt autographed by the crew and a severed human finger. “I dunno” she said, “I feel so bad about this old finger.” The land of the free and home of the brave.

Federal Medical Center (Federal Narcotics Hospital), Lexington, Kentucky, “United States Narcotic Farm”

This folkloric text is from the Federal Narcotics Hospital at Lexington, Kentucky. There is an exclusve wing at Lexington reserved for the “Do-rights” who are considered good rehabilitation prospects. They get better rooms and more medication and a much slower withdrawal. A “Do-right” always shows up with letters from his employer, clergyman, congressman, you know, the type (that) falls all over himself to light the bosses’ cigarette. The doctor walks into the ward. “Rather warm in here”. As one man, the “Do-rights” break out in a sweat and rush around opening windows – “A bit cold in here, isn’t it?”. Immediately the “Do-rights” see their breath in yhe air, and snatch blankets, and bundle themselves up to a chorus of chattering teeth. Front office brown-nose fink to the bone. “Doctor, when I die, I want to be buried right in the same coffin with you. You’re the finest, most decent, the most deeply humane man I’ve ever known:, “I’m puttin’ you down for additional medication, son”. “Thank you, doctor. Pushers should receive the death penalty”.

Such staff are “Do-rights” made. It’s the old army game – “from here to eternity” – get there firsted with the brownest nose. While, down in the dim grey wards and dayrooms, where the “Do-wrongs” hawk and spit and shiver and vomit, “Fuckin’ croaker wouldn’t give me a goofball. He asked me what the American flag means to me and I tell him, “Soak it in heroin, doc, and I’ll suck it”. He tells me I got the wrong attitude. I should see the Chaplain and get straight with Jesus”. And then, with the tears streaming down their lousy fink faces, the “Do-rights” leap up, as one man, and bellow out The Star Spangled Banner”

More folklore. Daddy Long Legs looked like Uncle Sam on stilts and he ran this osteopathic clinic outside East St. Louis and took in a few junky patients. For two notes a week you could nod out in green lawn chairs and look at the oaks and grass stretching down to a little lake in the sun. And the nurse moves around with a silver tray feeding in the junk in. We called her Mother wouldn’t you? So Benway needed after a rumble in Dallas involving this aphrodisiac ointment and Doc goofed on either and mixed in too much Spanish fly and burnt the prick of the police commissioner. So they come to Daddy Long Legs to cool off and we find him cool and casual in a dark room of potted rubber plants and a silver tray where he likes to see a week in advance. The nurse showed us to a room with rose wallpaper and we had this bell where any hour of the day or night just ring and Mother charges in with a loaded hypo. One day we were sittin’ out on the lawn chairs with lap robes all day leaves turning sun cold on the lake. Doc picks up a piece of grass. “Junk turns you on vegetable. It’s green, see. Now a green fix should last a long time.” So we check out of the clinic and rent a house and Doc starts cooking up this green junk and the basement is full of tanks smell like a compost heap of junkies. So finally he draws off this heavy green fluid and loads it into a hypo big as a bicycle pump. “Now we must find a worthy vessel,” he says. So he flushed out this old goofball artist and tells him that it is pure Chinese H from the Ling Dynasty. And Doc shoots the whole pint of green right into the main line. The yellow jacket turns fibrous grey green and withers up like an old turnip. “And I say I’m getting out of here me,” Doc says. “An unworthy vessel obviously, I withdraw from the case!”

Actually, I’ve been reading a lot of these doctor books lately and Benway sort of shines as a model of competence.. and responsibility in terms of what’s actually going on in hospitals. Well here’s a sort of typical doctor, this is one of the better of the lot, Mike Todd So, anyway, he has fallen for a young nurse, he has proposed and she has accepted. Then she comes down with bone cancer and they have to take off the left leg.Scalpels crossed, it hasn’t spread. Does he still want her? She tells him take five days and think it over. He does. With bleak clarity he see the years to come. Oh yes he can he see where his own interests are involved. He’s striding towards surgery a big man on campus now It takes guts to practice surgery,” he says, and it sure does.Striding towards surgery though the patient is clearly terminal. He would operate on a mummy. And she is shamming along on her new prosthetic. “Will you shake the lead out?’I’m doing the best I can, darling.” Why don’t you go back to your crutches?” he thinks irritably. Aloud, he says, “Why don’t you jet propel on your stinking farts.” Admittedly his words were somewhat unkind. But cancer does stink. Of course it is not her fault that she is in this disgusting condition – or is it? His mother always said, “Son in this life everyone always gets exactly what they want and exactly what they deserve.” People tend to believe it so long as they are getting what they think they deserve. Incongruously, Mike thinks of an old joke the eternal traveling salesman protagonist of the eternal dirty joke.Salesman spots an attractive woman in the club car. As fate would have it she is in the lower bunk just opposite his upper bunk. And he is givin’ her the eye. She takes off her wig, she pops out a glass eye, she spits out her false teeth, she unhooks her wooden legs, looks up at him pertly and says, “Is there anything that you want?” “You know what I want, take it off and throw it up here..” He starts laughing, you see, and she demands to know why, and finally he tells her, and she hits him with her prosthetic requiring five stitches. Yeah, he’s been thinking it over darling and…

It is Colonel Bradfield’s job to investigate the practical potentials of ESP, sorcery, witchcraft, the lot. He doesn’t give a shit for natural laws or what is and isn’t possible all he cares about are results. “Bring me the one’s who work. “What ya bring this old beast in here for?” A withered old man dressed only in a loincloth stiff with yellow piss stains stinking like a snake cave in spring sits down in a leather arm chair. Fumigating the chair will be inadequate the Colonel decides. “He’s a natural, chief, he can throw an operative curse.” –  “I don’t doubt he can kill by proximity.” -“He’s got a good track record, chief.” –  “Sure, sure and eighty years in the making.” So how’d he get that way? To be a magician you’ve got to be inhuman in some way. Easiest is to eat your own shit and eat it steady. You eat in and shit it out and eat it in again it gets eviler and dirtier a stink that nobody can smell and live. But who am I to be critical? Trouble is it just isn’t practical. “But, chief, no trace, no way it can be traced to us.” – “The hell there isn’t. You think the islanders are into this shit up to the ass. They can make up the evidence. We all do it. No way to trace it big deal. Eighty shit-eating years to turn out an old human centipede that can throw out a curse if you hold him steady on target. I can train an agent in hours with untraceable poisons and toxins, electronic devices to produce arhythmical heart beats.” – “But, chief, we can’t just throw a thing like this away? and, indeed, where can we throw it? – it’s radioactive.” – “Get it out of here for starters and take the chair out with it!”

Kim has never doubted the existence of God so the possibility of an afterlife. He feels that immortality is the only goal worth striving for. He knows it is not something he will automatically get for believing in a dogma like Christianity or Islam. It is something you have to work and fight for like everything in this life or another. The most precarious,short sighted and arbitrary immortality blueprint was drafted by the ancient Egyptians.First you have to get yourself mummified and that is very expensive making immortality the monopoly of the truly rich. And you also need a reservation in an accredited necropolis. So all the new rich is trying to crack a good necropolis you see like a good country club. The whole society revolves around death. Extraordinary – all of their art was funerary. And then your continued existence in The Western Lands – that’s Egyptian Paradise – is entirely contingent on the continued existence and welfare of your mummy. That is why they had their mummies protected by potent curses and hid good. And also you had to know the right names. Page after page in The Egyptian Book of the Dead you shall not pass until you pronounce my name.Harry is plain Gl horrors. He’s got enough vitality to survive his physical death. That’s known as the first bit. He won’t get far he’s got no mummy, he’s got no names, he’s got nothing. So what happens to a bum like that a nameless mummiless asshole?  The demons will swarm all over him at the first checkpoint. He will be dismembered and thrown into a flaming pit where his soul will be utterly consumed and destroyed forever while others with sound mummies and the right names to drop in the right places sail through to The Western Lands. However, there are some second-class souls who just barely squeeze through. Their mummies is not in a good sanitary condition. These creeps are relegated to flophouse accommodations just beyond the last checkpoint where they can smell the charnel house disposal ovens from their skimpy balconies. “You see that sign…” the bartender snarls, “Maggoty mummies will not be served here.” Well might as well face facts my mummies going down hill – cheap job to begin with? God, maggots is crawling all over it. The way that demon guard sniffed at me this morning. Transient hotels. So here you are in a luxury condominium deep in The Western Lands. You got no security. Some disgruntled former employee sneaks into your tomb and throws acid in your mummies face or sloshes gasoline all over it and burns the shit out of it. Ugh… someone is fucking with my mummy. And, brother you are fucked. Mummies are sitting ducks – no matter who you are or what can happen to your mummy is a Pharaoh’s nightmare. The dreaded mummy-bashers! Grave robbers, scavengers, floods, earthquakes, fires, explosions! My God, the worst thing can happen to a mummy. Mummies, all mummies is strong pacifists – no nukes is good nukes to a mummy!

Consider the impasse of a One-God universe. He’s all knowing, all powerful, he can’t go anywhere since he’s already everywhere, can’t do anything since the act of doing something presupposes opposition. His universe is irrevocably thermodynamic, having no friction by definition. So he has to create friction, war, fear, and death to keep his dying show on the road. Sooner or later, “Look boss we don’t have enough energy left to fry an elderly women in a fleabag hotel fire.” Well, we’ll have to start faking it. Joe looks after him sourly and mixes a bicarbonate of soda. “Sure, start faking it, and leave the details to Joe.” Look, from a real disaster you get a bit of energy – sacrifice, heroism, grief, heroism, and, above all, violent death. Life in all its rich variety. So from one energy surplus you can underwrite the next one. But if the first one is a fake you can’t underwrite a shithouse. Try and explain to Almighty God where his One-God universe is heading. Asshole doesn’t know what buttons to push or what happens when you push them. Urp, Abandon ship, goddammit, every man for himself. Like The Great Gatsby, Kim believes in the green light the orgiastic future.He believes in a magical universe, unpredictable, spontaneous, alive. A universe where anything is possible. A universe of many gods often in conflict. So the paradox of an all-knowing all-powerful god, who, nonetheless, permits suffering, evil and death, does not arise. “You got a famine here, Osiris, what happened?” – “Well you can’t win them all. Hustling myself” – Can’t you give us immortality?” -“I can give you an extension, maybe. Take you as far as the first trick… You’ll have to make it from there on your own. Most of them don’t. Figure about one in a million. And, biologically speaking, that’s very good odds”.
I think we might all believe in a magical universe because that’s about the only thing that could save spaceship earth at this point. A miracle. Thank you.

[Burroughs returns for an encore]

An old number …(“Doctor Benway: – “The lavatory has been locked for three hours solid I think they’re using it for an operating room. Nurse: “I can’t find her pulse doctor.” Dr Benway: “Cardiac arrest Goddamit it.” He looks around and picks up a toilet plunger. He advances on the patient.”Make an incision Dr Limph,” he says to his bald assistant, “I’m going to massage the heart.” Dr Benway washes the suction cup by swishing it around in the toilet bowl. Nurse: “Shouldn’t it be sterilized doctor?” “Very likely but there’s no time.” He sits on the suction cup like a cane seat watching his assistant make the incision. “You young squirts couldn’t lance a pimple without an electric vibrating scalpel with automatic drain and suture. All the skill is going out of surgery, all the know how and make do. Ever tell you about the time I performed an appendectomy with a rusty sardine can? And once I was caught short without instrument one and removed an intrauterine tumor with my teeth. The was in the Upper Effendi and besides the wench is dead.” Dr Limph: “The incision is ready doctor.” Dr Benway forces the cup into incision and works it up and down. Blood spurts all over the nurse, the doctors and the wall. The cup makes a horrible sucking sound. “I think she’s gone doctor.””Well it’s all in a days work.” He walks across the room to a medicine cabinet. “Some fucking drug addict has cut my cocaine with Saniflush. Nurse – send the boy out to fill this RX on the double!”

Thank you. Thank you.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighteen-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]

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