Over the evening traffic, the sun is slowly strangled into an orange globe. The dying sun stares like a single flaming eye as the gray runs off the freeways, rooftops, and storefronts to encircle it. Then it expires, leaving a legacy of an hour’s light.
But the city seems to have waylaid the gentle sun for plunder. The day is dead, but its stores of illumination are in the hands of its assassin. Los Angeles proceeds to light itself. The wires are connected, the switches are thrown, and strings of fragile bulbs chase the black wake of might into the comers and across the yards. Down the avenue, a string of blue lights surrounds a shoe store, and a glittering market is capped by a Hashing red arrow.
Julian left an hour ago. He passed the Hashing arrow and melted into the lights. He left when he heard the police were on his trail again. As was usual with him, he left with a soliloquy. He rumpled his hair, veiled his eyes in mimicry of what he considered to be a tragic stance, and spoke, gazing into the avenue. “Well, David,” he said, standing on the doorstep in a rumpled sportscoat, “I’ve got to split. They’re on me again. Yapping at my heels, giving me no peace. I’m a hounded man, David. I think I’ll go to Paris and show my manuscripts to Sartre.” Then he left, past the market piled with cornflakes and beef stew in cans. Julian doesn’t have any manuscripts and never did.
Julian wasn’t born Julian. He was born Charles V. Lemon, son of wealthy fruit growers in the San Joaquin Valley. The house of his youth had three stories, all painted white, three cars in the garage, and a backyard of orange groves. It was five miles outside of Bing, a town with two banks and a packing shed. The former are owned by Basil Lemon, Julian’s father, and the latter by Basil Lemon and Stanley Rathmore, who owns whatever parts of Bing the elder Lemon doesn’t. Julian lived there, getting drunk on Fridays and Saturdays and flirting with Mexican girls, until he was eighteen and went on to Stanford University. His father sent him to Stanford to acquire the breeding and contacts necessary to carry on his name and position. After three years, Julian disappeared from Stanford and showed up at my house.
He came at four o’clock in the morning with a French girl. They had met at our rally in the park.
He had been smoking dope all day and was ready to stick square pegs in round holes. She explained in broken English that she had been in America all summer, didn’t like it, and was leaving in three days. Julian responded by taking her on a guided tour. He drove her to the mountains, discoursing throughout the journey on the existential character of American life. She was French, and he was sure she must know Sartre. When he reached a large clump of trees he stopped and said, “These are the mountains.”
“Ah,” she said, brightening as he slowed from his discourse to the announcement, “ze mountains.” He beamed and began driving· to the beach. Along the way, he continued his discourse, at times breaking into halting French. She couldn’t understand his French. At the beach he stopped. “This is the beach,” he said. She brightened again. “Ah,” she said, “ze beach.” Then he drove her to San Francisco and showed her the sights, which were all closed for the night. They stood in front of each of his favorite hangouts, and he explained in rapid English what happened in each one when it was open. She nodded a lot. They reached my house at four in the morning and fell asleep in the living room. Two weeks later, he announced to me that they were going to be married.
“She understands me,” he said. At the time, Julian was calling himself Alexander Molokov. He sniffed some white powder out of a packet he kept in his perennial sportscoat and continued. He spoke with inspiration. “She’s my mysterious lady. She’s absolutely quiet, but she takes it all in. All of my encrusted soul and mad entangled life is in her hands. She knows like a secret witch.” He said all of that in one breath, never moving his face or lips. He talked with his hands and wrapped the words in a thick mumble. He then turned to her and ran his hand along her cheek. “N’est-ce pas?”
She had been intent on watching my goldfish, three of which were sleeping at the bottom of the tank and the fourth was floating belly up on the surface. With the touch of his hand, her eyes snapped to him and then to me. “Oui. Yes. We are going to be married.” Then she smiled a big smile at the room in general. “You see, Harris. My god, what a woman. She understands. At last.” He then went on to explain how they would settle in the area and start a discotheque called the Vincent Van Gogh Memorial Vision Factory. They would live in the back room, where Julian would write his novel and entertain his friends. Three weeks later Julian was drafted.
He and Sylvie, his bride to be, fled to Paris with the money he had made selling marijuana to defense workers in Sunnyvale. He presented himself to her father and announced their intention to marry. He was dressed in a dirty shirt and quoted William Burroughs to her father throughout his introductory speech. Her father promptly had him arrested and Sylvie committed to an asylum. Basil Lemon flew to Paris and bailed his son out, and Alexander Molokov, who had just changed his name to Julian Burroughs, became Private Charles Lemon, U.S.A.
During his basic training at Ford Ord, Julian receded into soldierdom. His hair was decimated and he had a shirt with “LEMON” in big letters over the pocket. For eight days he was squad commander until the sergeant found him reading Naked Lunch to his squad while they stood information. He was sent from Fort Ord to Hawaii for photography school. Once in Hawaii, he began to feel more like himself, whoever that was.
Julian rented an apartment in Honolulu and was soon established. In two weeks he was surrounded by a gang of Hawaiian cohorts. In the daytime he spliced film at the base, and in the evening he peddled dope and listened to music in his little house. It wasn’t a bad life. He sat around at night making rapid philosophic pronouncements to his henchmen. He had even begun to forget he was in the army. Then he met the Mafia. Three of them arrived at his house one night and flattened his nose. They left with a warning, that if he peddled any more dope on their island, he was a dead man. The next day, Julian applied for a psychological discharge on the ground of extreme fear.
“If I don’t leave this island, they’ll kill me,” he said.
“Who’ll kill you?” the psychiatrist asked.
“The people who are after me.”
“Who are they?”
Julian thought for a moment. “It’s a long story,” he said. “I don’t know who they are. They just
Appear at night and beat me. I think they’re Russian agents. I did some underground work for the Czechs when I was younger. Worked under the code name Molokov-Alexander Molokov. I must have secrets they want. Look at my bruises.” With this, he pulled his shirt out and showed a purple splotch on his ribs. The psychiatrist was looking out the window at the palm tree and tapping his pencil on the desk.
Julian was given two weeks’ leave to pull himself together. He took the first plane to San Francisco, burned his uniform, and hitchhiked to Salt Lake City. In Salt Lake he got a job as a night watchman in a concrete pipe factory. He rented a room in the Hotel Buford. After being there two months, he heard a knock on the door. He opened it and there silhouetted in the afternoon sun was Basil Lemon. He had two policemen with him. “Son.” he said, “you’ve got to go back to the army.”
“I’ll give you a choice,” Basil Lemon said, poking some of his extra flesh into his pants. “You can fly back with me or go with these gentlemen.” He pointed to the policemen. One had a billy in his hand and the other’s gun was drawn. The sun Hashed off the barrel into Julian’s eyes.
‘Well Dad-” Julian looked around the room and saw there was no escaping. That afternoon Basil Lemon and his son flew to San Francisco. At the airport, Julian excused himself from his father and went to the bathroom. In two hours he was in Palo Alto, where he lived for six months with Bertha, his two-hundred-pound lover.
Julian was in fine shape, living with Bertha who fed and kept him, until he decided to go to the demonstration in Oakland. He was arrested driving the wrong way down a one-way street, and the police found his habitual pocketful of marijuana. He was taken to the station house and booked.
The desk sergeant looked up. In front of him was a disheveled-looking twenty-two-year-old in an old sportscoat. “What’s your name?”
“Where were you born?”
“Father’s name and occupation?”
“William Burroughs, writer.”
“Is he alive?”
“Where does he live?”
“I haven’t seen him in years. I think he’s shooting smack in Tangiers.”
The sergeant looked up at Julian from his papers. Julian looked back without moving his face.
“Sadie Golmquist Burroughs. She died in 1949 in Mexico City.”
“How’d she die?”
“My father was drunk and decided to shoot a wine glass off her head. He put a forty-five bullet in the middle of her face.” Julian lowered his eyes in memory of his departed mother, lying on the floor with her face strewn over the rug. He let a tear run down his cheek.
The arresting officer was standing against the wall and pushed his hat back on his head. The desk sergeant reread the form and looked at Julian. He just sat with his arms on his desk and stared. Julian didn’t move. Finally the policeman spoke. “You were born in Mexico City, huh?”
“Yes. I was premature. They planned to have me in Omaha.”
They took Julian to a cell, where he promptly took off his clothes. We bailed him out the next day, and he hid in Bertha’s cellar until we had left for Los Angeles.
And now Julian is on his way to Paris. He walked out and faded into the bulbs and shadows.
I am sitting in Los Angeles thinking that Julian had to leave. There was no room for him here. I even hope Sartre likes his manuscripts.
The newsboys are out with the late edition. They are on the street comers shouting at cars.
Blue Bonnet won the fourth race. The mayor has decided to build a new freeway, and the president gave a medal to a kid who had his legs shot off.