When Burroughs Autographed My Ass
Did I ever tell you about the time Burroughs autographed my ass? Memorable, I must say, truly an indelible impression. It started in Lima, Ohio where Lenny Bruce played and, as he said, was “held over for spite” since there was nothing there but stars stars stars and waitresses walking sore-footed in cheap Florsheim shoes – a new pair for every year they’ve served a burger to the fallen gods of the highway.
I was driving cross-country with Dolores, a.k.a. the Twister, as beautiful and explosive a pack-age as you’d ever care to tangle with. We knew we could pass through Lawrence, Kansas if we could stand more corn without one of us burying the hatchet in the other at a red light. “Law-rence, Morrision, is home to William Burroughs, Inc. and I don’t want to pass up the chance to meet the man as we drive across this vast nothingness,” Dolores said. There followed the usual debate about bothering the natives but we soon Scotched&Whiskeyed that, Twister herself being second cousin to the Cajun god of Imposition.
A call to the offices of Burroughs, Inc revealed that Inc. was Inc. as far as his gatekeeper was concerned. No fat chance for peasants bearing mere rubles. Tributes, it seemed, had to be piled high and this particular Cerberus had greedy fists that we couldn’t satisfy. Our dismay was short-lived. We decided to regroup and have coffee at the Sinking Torpedo. We’d just ordered when the lights went out. The goldfish began to get nervous and one of the waitresses grunted hard as she hit her groin on the counter. But soon everything was copasetic again and when I looked up Willie Lee himself was sipping something sweet at the next table.
“Fucking teeth not what I bargained for,” he mumbled. Twister veritably leapt at his feet and tried to kiss his hand. She cut a beautiful figure, all curves and long, black hair, but Burroughs looked at her just like the D.A. looked at the Buyer grovelling distastefully at his feet. He turned away with a pained expression which is when he met my eye. I saw the glint and then his crook-ed smile.
We followed his cloud of dust back to his ranch and I loaded some shotguns for him. He sent the Twister to fetch some spray paint and boards so he could “make some dammed art like god intended an old man to do. Shoot some beauty into the sons-a-bitches,” he chuckled. We watched Twister head back to his place and he growled, “I’ll bet you’ve wanted to play William Tell with that one more than once. Like to see where you end up in a few years. My advice is to keep your passports up-to-date and read up on extradition treaties.”
Burroughs picked up a can of gold spray paint. “Like an autograph, Morrison?” he offered, shaking the can with surprising vigor. “Bet this’ll stay with you longer than she will.”
“Well,” I said, “don’t have anything to write on—“ Then, just like a satellite was hooked straight to my brain, I understood.
And that’s how I got Burroughs’ autograph. Steady hand and it looks just like a tattoo across my left cheek. Twister tried to bite it off at first but she had to admit she was just jealous – as if someone like her could be “just jealous” – and now she digs it special.
Cantina of Memory
Morrison’s eating fiery salsa picante splashed over last night’s dreams, waiting for Dolores and a plate of chili rancheros at the Cantina of Memory. Samba on the juke, futbol on the glass eye, carne on the grill. Nice scene, when in come stage left the strung-out skinhead, jaw muscles bulging from grinding his teeth. He strides in high-jive you can smell from a mile off. Seems like they’re popping up like Jack-in-the-Boxes these days, always one around looking for trouble. So what’s it going to be today, Morrison muses, will he go over-easy or scrambled? He looks pretty wired: I’m betting he draws scrambled.
Morrison watches him flash some cheap jewelry with hustler’s élan in a young Mexican labor-er’s face. Beautiful copper skin, black eyes full of time, patient, naïve, missing home, disoriented. With aggressive needle fingers, the junky gestures in a machine gun riff, pointing his imaginary rod right at him. “Pancho – you got a girlfriend? For ten bucks you can have this diamond bracelet. Listen, for twenty you can have all of this. Come on, hombre, you can’t lose.”
But Morrison’s sees his shaky hands, the tattoo between his eyes: a skeleton Carny Man in top hat, his face unbelieving as he falls from the high wire. Nice miniature. Before it happens, the junky feels it coming. Morrison watches the sleight flinch cross his face like a shadow just as El Patron calls him over. Little matter of an old unpaid bill initialed on a greasy napkin.
For a moment all you hear is the disc repeating idiotically on the juke box. Someone draws his .44 and shoots it quiet. Loud and clear, echoing silence and the metallic taste of cold menace lin-ger in the air after the gun shot. “You gonna pay it now, right Diablo,” says El Patron, his paw like a hairy cleaver on a cold shoulder. A slow nod of acceptance. The staccato conversations of the Mexican workers start up again as engines drift past slow on the street. Diablo and the man go into the kitchen.
Morrison mops up with the tortilla, chewing on the paradox left at the next table. Some picked at apple pie, rank water in chipped glasses, drops of blood on the dirty linoleum, an unbroken C-note – they didn’t wait for the change. Morrison isn’t just curious. For him, it’s a distraction. Be-cause he has his own damn mystery to forget.
Morrison never could get any explanation about what happened to Dolores. She never showed. She’d called when she was leaving the clinic in Tijuana, saying she was going to cross Texas on the way to Baton Rouge. In the big Lincoln. She’d agreed to meet here. Then, nothing. Big hat, no cattle. For Morrison, it was the same feeling as the night at the Oxford Hotel on the Isthmus of Cra. Abandoned. Couldn’t stop shivering till the sun came up – but no fever. He remembers it better than ever, just can’t seem to change it. So Morrison swears by every plate of Rosie’s chili rancheros that he’ll lay off next time. Do some time at the ashram, yoga, stand on his head till the sun comes up again. The hammer of cold hard reality would hit soon enough. All Morrison wants is to hold it off as long as he can.
Morrison and Big Jim and Robert Ray headed out for the county fair after a beer-drinking romp in the woods. They had a nice buzz on, and a good humor too, and the pine forests all around the two-lane always brought Morrison some kind of inner peace. Maybe it was the scent in the air from the woods, maybe it was the fabled freedom of the road, maybe it was––
But before he knew it this massive eighty-point buck came hauling ass out of the woods trying to pass the Ford to cross over. Big Jim caught him good at seventy and Robert Ray almost went out the window from the impact. “What the fuck,” Robert Ray mumbled with that laconic genius of his as he picked up his hat.
“Hit a buck. Big fucker,” Big Jim told him.
Morrison watched the buck actually limp a few steps towards the woods as Big Jim pulled the car back under control.
“Better go back,” Robert Ray said. “Why waste him. I got four kids and Mary-Jane eats for two.”
He was right of course. That was a lot of meat to leave to the buzzards. Big Jim swung the Ford around in a pleasing rack-and-pinion arc and they went back for their road kill.
The buck was down not far off the road. No visible wounds. Kind of peaceful expression. Morrison turned to Robert Ray to see if he agreed but Robert Ray already had the deer in a head lock and was dragging it towards the car. He was dead weight but eventually they got the carcass in the back. Big Jim rolled one up and they headed into the sunset feeling pretty pleased with themselves. They would do some good trade for that buck at the fair.
Morrison was enjoying that brief moment when things feel just right and time slows down when something nearly kicked in the back of his seat. His first thought was of a fat guy kneeing his back on an airplane as he was finally nodding off. Boom! Right in the small of the back. But he didn’t dally long on that track because the prodigal buck was back, alive and kicking. His heart jumped to his throat as he glanced over at Robert Ray and saw him calmly open his army knife, clamp it between his teeth, and disappear into the sunset with the bucking bronco. Big Jim was riding the swerving car to a stop, whooping it up like he was a rodeo star.
From the back of the car came a strange melange of sounds: vicious grunting, glass shattering, sobs, a kind of muffled barking, panting that was almost intimate, then a long low growl that couldn’t have come from either man or beast. Morrison was afraid of what they’d find as Big Jim massaged the car at last onto the shoulder and they jumped out. Robert Ray emerged from the car, holding a bloody paw like a club. He flashed his crooked, furry grin. “That buck was tough,” he growled. “But Robert Ray was tougher.” Haw haw haw, he laughed, clapping his hands. “Al-ways wanted to tell that one.” He was happy: he’d fought and won.
Big Jim put the pedal to the floor and they shot off down the pine alleys, the wheels out of line and the radiator leaking. “Let’s get to that fair,” he said. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
Michael Grotsky is rumored to come from a long line of international agents and globe-trotting magicians. Following the family tradition, he has lived in many places, and traveled extensively for both work and pleasure – though he has still not found the difference between the two.
He currently lives in Montreal where he is completing his first collection of short stories, Spinning the Sensualist, which will appear in 2020. He has written fiction and non-fiction for various literary reviews, including the Berkeley Fiction Review and the Berkeley Poetry Review.