The Wizard of Kansas

Sean Gullette

September, 1997

		"The road to the Western Lands is by definition the most dangerous road in the world, for it is a
	journey beyond Death, beyond the basic God standard of Fear and Danger. It is the most heavily
	guarded road in the world, for it gives access to the gift that supersedes all other gifts:

	--The Western Lands. William S., Burroughs

	Wenn Du dies nicht hast dieses Sterben und Werden, Bist du nur ein tube Gast auf der dunklen Erden.

	When you don't have this dying and becoming, You are only a sad guest on the dark Earth.

	--Goethe. (translation, Burroughs)

	In 1990 I saw a recent photo of him in a newspaper, three-quarters of a century worth of history
	written in his gaunt, lined face. Damn, I thought, looking at the handsome old skeleton, Uncle Bill has
	got some mileage on him. I guess he'll die soon. I promised I would make it down to Lawrence, Kansas
	to see him off. Then I clipped the photo and tacked it up over my desk in a warehouse in Boston,

	Bill Lee, Old Bull, William Hall, The Agent, The Writer, William to friends. Perhaps, as he had claimed,
	he was preserved in junk. Perhaps he was simply making preparations, completing the mythology
	which would carry him forward to whatever was next. The world's most notorious overabuser lived
	on, writing and reading and fishing and drinking and appearing in Nike ads and U2 videos and
	entertaining and enlightening friends and visitors and the world at large, until last week, August 2nd,
	a hot day in Kansas, when he had a heart attack and died, a day later, in the hospital.

	*		*		*		*

	By Friday, Burroughs has finished the period of post-mortem observation that Buddhism requires. He
	is starting out for the Western Lands, the place between death and reincarnation which the Egyptians
	and Tibetans had discovered. That afternoon, my friend Leon and I walk up to the West Side Highway at
	14th street in Manhattan with a sign that reads "Lawrence, Kansas." Above the Hudson, large clouds
	move away across America.

	After four hours of watching traffic, our first ride pulls over, three teenage skater kids in a stolen
	car. They are on their way back to Jersey from the Sunday hardcore matinee at CBGBs, already drunk
	with 40 oz. widemouth bottles of Bud in their laps and a big bag of chips. The kid driving is some sort
	of cyberpunk. The back of his t-shirt reads: " he has heard of Burroughs through the scene. The loose
	wires of the ignition slap against his knees. We cross the George Washington Bridge as the sun is
	setting and the kids drop us off on 95 north. In the next 30 hours I am to learn to hate New Jersey
	with a special hatred.

	Burroughs often spoke of humanity as an age-old battle between the Shits and the Johnsons. The Shits
	are those people who are incapable of minding their own business--"the children who call the narcs on
	their potsmoking parents; evil, frogfaced southern lawmen, fingering their nigger-notches; decent
	church-going women, their faces pinched with hate." The Johnson Family by contrast was the ancient
	invisible brotherhoods of travelers, dopers and thieves. To live outside the law you must be honest.
	No Johnson will pass a burning wreck without trying to give assistance. Johnsons, it is understood,
	know enough about karma to understand that what they do will surely come back to them as the road
	unfolds. A Johnson will pick up a hitchhiker who looks honest if he's going their way. New Jersey is
	nearly Johnson-free. The Shits have themselves established firmly. Nothing short of atomic fire will
	dislodge them now.

	95 South, a river of concrete, steel and bone-deep ignorance. We stand at a gas station, thumbing.
	Some squarejohn citizen wanders over from his minivan, looking at our sign. "Kansas!" He wears an
	idiot grin. "Kansas?" He ignores my reply, walks away mumbling Kansas. Two thirtysomethings in a
	Metro Geo take our picture and then zoom off without a word. Up the road there has been an accident:
	we hear later that an elderly driver had a heart attack in his car. His daughter took the wheel and
	steered them into the guardrail. A State trooper pulls up and orders us off his road; we are glad
	enough to avoid premature arrest and head into the gas station.

	Inside, the clerk at the gas station tells us that if we meet him at the Burger King in town, he'll give
	us a lift to the Vince Lombardi service area. We hike into town, and an hour later, Greg Johnson pulls
	up with his cousin in a late-model Caddy. It's 70s weekend on the radio and the windows are down,
	black clouds gathering over the refineries' eternal flames. There's still no ride like a Caddy
	suspension. Vince Lombardi is a concrete island with highways on all sides. In the front, civilians park
	and head in for Roy Rogers grease and gas and fluorescent light. In the back, three-hundred trucks
	sleep restlessly, the ground vibrating under their 400-horsepower snores. We sit down on a bench
	outside the trucker's entrance with Roy's coffee and wait. "Excuse me sir, you heading West?" for
	five hours. Prostitutes and speed dealers dodge the State Troopers in the dark lanes between the
	semis. Can't see any stars. No-one is going our way.

	We realize that we're on a major North-South axis. No-one going west on Route 80 would stop here. A
	hippy chick and a queer German and a trucker all promise us rides and disappear into the night. The
	Staties come swaggering towards us in their Serious Leather outfits and I continue telling Leon loudly
	about the scene in Reservoir Dogs where Tim the dweeb Roth meets the Staties in the bathroom and
	avoids suspicion by acting like a noisy asshole. They clomp on past glaring and I know they'll be back.

	80 West on the map is just a couple miles from here. If we hike there, all rides are going our way. We
	start out along the access roads by 95, darting across the ramps, the big rigs soaring past, leaving
	huge wakes of air, dust and doppler-noise. Half a mile down, from the cavern beneath the ramp, we
	see the 12-foot high wire-topped fence of a train yard. 95 rises above it, curving out of sight. There
	is no visible way across. Walking the interstate across the 2-mile bridge would be certain suicide or
	arrest. We head back to the benches, the traffic howling by all night.

	At sunup we set out again. In the daylight, we find a way through the fence into the railyard and step
	back 50 years into the days of Kerouac and Neal Cassady hopping freights. Rust, fading red paint, old
	bolts in the dust. A sunburnt Mexican comes out of a shed made of a boxcar and points us the way out
	to the other side. As we trudge down the tracks old Ford comes creeping down and stops. The guard is
	a veteran hand in his sixties, with a blackjack on the dash and a .38 on his hip. It's Federal Property
	we're on. We jump in the back and he gives us a lift past the uniformed punk cops at the yard gate and
	pulls over, pointing the way with his cigar. "I never told you it, but you follow alongside that fence,
	there's a path that leads all the way up through to 17. From there you'll get a lift on down to 80."

	7:30 in the morning, dew evaporating in the tall grass, the path hard and cool through the fields. A
	jackrabbit trots along ahead of us, stops and looks back, and then bolts off. The path leads across a
	burnt out footbridge over a slow, dirty river, and up into another set of tracks. As we start across
	them, a grandmother in white shoes appears from the other side and crosses, nodding good morning.
	We come out into the parking lot of a shopping mall. Still in fucking New Jersey.

	After 4 hours of ass-faced commuters staring at us like we were lepers dressed in pig outfits, a
	Chinese real estate broker takes us one exit up along 80. He says he thought we were selling
	something and that he likes to buy things cheap. We set up at on on-ramp to wait. By definition, no-one
	in Jersey is going anywhere but Jersey. One exit down, and they don't have time to stop. Never mind
	that Bruce, Dylan and Patti Smith all came from here. These people are the end of the line for
	humanity. They cannot evolve because they hate anything new or different unless it's sold to them by
	General Electric or Microsoft. The sun climbs to a hot noon and stops, steady as a microwave. Leon
	passes out in the ditch. He has the ability to sleep anywhere under any conditions. Ants crawl into his
	dreadlocks and find homes. The Benzes and Lexuses and Cherokees climb the ramp and power away,
	the faces of a doomed species peering out through the sealed windows, or averted to the road. I am
	dehydrated, exhausted and hopeless. When I climb up to the interstate I can see the tips of the World
	Trade Centers reflecting the sun. Still fucking Jersey.

	I decide to count 29 more cars up the ramp, for my years, and then do something drastic, but I'm so
	blurry I can't keep track. But right around 29, a big late model Caprice Classic stops right on the ramp
	with such authority I think it must be a cop. But it's just old John Johnson, deliverance in a golf shirt.
	He's a retired banker and bitches in a good-natured way about how his three-kids milk him dry of his
	hard earned savings. He tells us how he met his wife at the 1964 World's Fair: "Just got out of the
	Corps, and the Brass Rail hired all these jarheads to work security for the fair. Well--shaved heads,
	spitshines--this was the sixties and the girls wouldn't even look at us. And they were everywhere. So
	I quit. I met this girl on the fairway and she said she wouldn't go out with me if I was the last man on
	earth. We got married three months later."

	He tells us that the Jersey State Troopers are the local version of the SS; they got so out of hand,
	stop-and-searching and often beating down everyone non-white on their road, that the ACLU
	intervened with the Governor. But they're still deadly. When he lets us off at the truck pull-in area,
	we hide behind the pay toilets. A monster electrical storm is moving in from the West. We're on top of
	a hill under a big tree.

	*		*		*		*

	Now there was a time when the American Truck Driver was about the Freest Man Alive. The
	bloodstream of America, truckers were a tribe of well paid and wild men who lived by a code stricter
	than the law they scorned. In those days, a hitchhiker could walk into a truckstop through the Driver's
	Only door, and loaf up to the counter where Kris Kristofferson--Burt Reynolds was always wrong for
	the role--was finishing up a mug of joe and a piece of pie. "No, son, I ain't going that way," he'd say,
	lighting a Winston off a Jesus Zippo, "going, north, Harr'sburg, but old Re-deemer'll be coming
	through and I'll put you on with him." And off you'd go, crossroading on the iron buffalo. If a driver
	was going your way, dammit, he'd take you along and not accept toll money even if you had it. It was
	understood that there existed a certain kind of connection between the sort of man who'd find himself
	thumbing across America broke and the sort of man who lived in constant motion. And the truckers
	were in a position to be generous.

	But American manifest destiny, that old dirty lie, has always been a mission to conformity,
	centralization, and Company Policy. Today the Independent Operator is Southbound for Extinction City.
	70% of the trucks on the road are owned by The Company--JB Hunt, Roadway, Malone, England, a
	dozen more. The name on the trailer is the same name on the cab--and it ain't the driver's name. The
	drivers are employees--dressed, trained, insured, dispatched and owned by The Company. They may
	still be rednecks, but they ain't truckers. If you walk up to their rig, they roll down the window real

	(Willie Nelson style, 4/4 lonesome with banjo)

	And if you ask 'im for a ride, He'll shake his head and turn away And rolling up the window he'll frown
	and then he'll say

	"I can't take no riders boy, It's Company Policy The way The Man expects it done 'S the way it's
	gonna be

	Don't bother asking why It's nothing to do with me I'm working for the Following Company Policy..."

	Therefore, the only good news is, whatever rides you get will be with Independent Operators. And lo
	and behold, a truck pulls in, the driver bouncing the rear wheel jig brakes on the customer's trailer to
	keep the wear-n-tear off the brake pads on his own antique Peterbilt, and Eric "Redeemer" Johnson,
	heading for the bushes, says "West? Yep. Jump on in."

	West at 75 mph, bouncing high and hard. Redeemer has his own personal policy: fast, fair and free. At
	27, his style is a throwback to an era of trucking before he could spell. Tight Wranglers flare out
	around a dusty pair of Justin boots. He wears a rodeo t-shirt and an eternal Marlboro propped
	between his knuckles--shit-talking, hard driving, 110% self-made man. He has a fleet of 9 leased
	trucks on the road with handpicked boys driving 'em. He can haul cheaper than JB Hunt and aims to put
	them out of business. He got married a week ago, the second time. They met in a truckstop. She's out
	in California, now, hauling freight on the Portland-LA route. Her wedding dress took a week to make.

	Redeemer slides a tape into the overhead stereo. It is a cheap recording of a woman with a Tennesse
	accent preaching gospel. "Do you really think Jesus has time to wait for you to make up your mind?
	The Lamb of God ain't waiting for no man."

	There is a '90s cliche of the American trucker that's generally no too far from the truth. They all
	wear boots--cowboy, engineer, low riders. They're all Christians. They hate the Department of
	Transportation with a perfect hatred. They own Harleys and ride on their downtime. Their marriage is
	on the rocks--250 days a year on the road will strain the strongest union. The miss their kids and
	express a deep, constant guilt that the job keeps them away from home. They smoke too much and
	drink too much coffee and eat too much greasy food. They have a cooler full of ice, soda and candy
	riding on the floor by their knee. They came to the highway for it's independence, it's camaraderie,
	it's endless push forward--and to escape the life that happens to you when you stay put too long.

	"Bear in the Hammer Lane, right up yer ass." "I hear that." "Alligatoring." "Cause you're a
	faggot." "Bumped him on the head with m' Mag Light." "I'm empty." "Get those 480 rims." "Comin'
	up on y' blind spot."

	"See, I have two families," explains the Redeemer. "I got my regular family, and I got them," his
	hand indicates the trucks sliding away behind us. "Any of those people would do any damn thing in the
	world for me. But there's a catch. If you screw any one of them, they'll know all about it in 24 hours.
	And you'll never drive again."

	I fall deep into REM sleep in the bouncing bed behind the cab, to the clatter of the suspension and the
	sardonic chatter of channel 19. I dream about Burroughs. At one point he says, "His family were in
	very modest circumstances." He's holding a live fish by the gills. When I surface, I can hear the rain
	slapping at the mudflaps. We've driven dead into the storm. The radio is still going, but now it's
	strategy. "Four-wheelers all gettin' off road up there." "Cain't see you, BoHum." "He hit that ditch
	hard." "I'm getting off at the Petro, me." "Easy on that ramp, it hairpins." "Everyone off." The
	rain is coming in solid waves. Visibility is 8 feet: from the windshield to the yellow line on the ground.
	We convoy into the truckstop amid general gleeful hijinks, kids running in from recess. A rookie
	woman driver is parking in a tight spot. The truckers spot her by radio, respectful but glad for a
	chance to help a lady.

	Inside, the Petro driver's area is damp and crowded. Video games, phone card machines. We stand
	next to a silent gay trucker outsides the showers, watching. Redeemer calls his dispatcher. Good news
	for us: they have a load for him in Milton, PA. It's West--all right. Stop for cigarettes. Outside the
	rain has slowed. Rolling again.

	When we get into Milton, night is falling across the sky again. Redeemer points out a container up on a
	hill above the truck yard with a cross hung with Xmas lights on the roof. "Thats my chapel." Inside
	the modern, high-tech truckstop, I call my girlfriend in New York City and she laughs in my face.
	"Milton? At that rate it's going to be three weeks before you get back." I get off the phone quick and
	shake hands with Redeemer, who's going to get his load. He agrees to put our case on the radio so the
	trucks in the yard know we're here and heading West. I buy a turkey sandwich, first real food in a
	day, and wander outside with my sign. The sandwich is delicious. We're in a shallow valley surrounded
	by wet green hills, the dusk cool and soft from the rain. Above the chapel, the sky is a painfully
	beautiful gradient, blue into black. A sweet wordless ache of longing for my own life. Burroughs
	moving in those skies.

	*		*		*		*

	Our next ride is with Courtly, a Jamaican-born driver on a run of bad luck. He hesitates to take us
	both: "I na need no stress now. I got enough on my mind. Gimme any stress an' I drop you right off
	now." But he needs the company, and off we go, climbing the dark hills of Pennsylvania. He doesn't let
	us smoke. Courtly has been screwed by everyone for as far back as he can remember--the Air Force,
	his first trucking company, his so-called partner in this rig, the D.O.T., his sister-in-law who won
	$8.5 million in the New Jersey State Lottery. "They could give this side a the family ten thousand a
	year each and na miss it. But they wan' give it the government for taxes instead. One day they spend
	it all, all gone, no family gwan help them then." His wife spends too much time in church; trucking
	isn't paying off. Maybe he'll go back to school on the GI Bill. But that's just more debt.

	A tractor-trailer rig had crashed when the rain came through the hills, leaving a driver dead, and the
	radio falls quiet for a time, as we make a long detour around the closed-off stretch of 80. When the
	chill of death clears, the good old boys flat out ignore Courtly's accented awkward radiospeak on the
	radio: they talking about Harley parts. Fuck 'em. We philosphize on through the night. At four we pull
	into Youngstown, Ohio and fall into a booth at the restaurant counter, laughing our ass off.

	Ohio menu: chicken-fried chicken and stacks of buckwheat pancakes, oh, yum. My eyes are bigger than
	my stomach. The waitress, Ruth Ann, decides to try one of the Gauloises that Leon has brought on the
	trip to save money--a friend of mine brought a carton back from Paris and we warn her they're too
	nasty to smoke unless you're broke. But she just says, "hmm, different," as if different meant good.
	Maybe we finally made it out of Jersey. Ohio: Neil Young, Chrissy Hynde. All right.

	80 is 100 yards away, pointing West like a straight and mighty arrow, and Ruth Ann assures us that
	the local cops are softies--we can hitch from right in front of the truckstop. She even uses the PA
	system to ask drivers to take us. But the sun rises over the on-ramp, high, dry and blazing and moves
	steadily West without us. The trucks cross the overpass and plough on down the ramp, nodding curtly.
	The four-wheelers ain't buying it. A State Trooper pulls up on the ramp and sits there, getting
	comfortable. We limp back to the truck stop. I'm beginning to feel sleepless sunstroke delirium set in
	as we set up on the benches by the drivers entrance. "Heading West?" Company policy.

	At four o'clock that afternoon, Tom Upchurch comes out and looks at our sign. Yes, he's heading West.
	Well, maybe just a few miles up the road. His rig is a late-model Peterbilt, expensive, smooth-riding,
	comfortable, and he has the hands of a born driver. He loaded at Ben & Jerry's in Vermont and is
	headed to Utah with a rolling refrigerator benediction of Rocky Road for those Mormons. His
	bookshelves are stocked with dozens of books with titles like "The Meaning of Prayer," the "The
	Trial of Jesus." I hit the bed with grateful passion, rocked to sleep like a baby, and wake up to the
	most beautiful afternoon I can ever remember seeing. This is God's Country: slanting light across the
	cornfields of Indiana, farmhouses with their front porches to the highway and their silos facing the
	plains, the sky huge and clear, conveying gigantic clouds with slow grace. When we stop at a high
	plains Taco Bell, handsome Mennonites josh around in the bathroom. They all look like male models.

	God, I feel weird. What have I been hearing while I slept? What spirit crept down through the
	aerodynamically canted dormer windows of the cabin's high ceiling? Leon falls in the bed and I catch
	up with Tom. He is an unmarried, born-again Christian baby-boomer, native Oklahoman, nomadic
	scholar of the scripture, and two-time felon. The first time, after Korea, was for drugs. He got out
	and cleaned up his hand, started a business. When it began to falter, he made a second mistake that
	changed his life forever. The check was for $45. He got five years in Maximum Security Prison. You
	could hardly blame him for reaching for Christ. "In prison, you see the human spirit laid bare. There
	were some people who were clearly in the hands of the Devil, far beyond...rehabilitation. They lived to
	burn all His creation. It was all they wanted." I see the fear in Tom, the desperation of his faith. This
	is clearly no time for my usual Harvard atheist tricknology. Anyway, it's his truck.

	We ride a while in silence, watching the fields change. And then Tom puts in a tape, and with its first
	chords, the wind of the plains blows in the window and through the seven holes in my face and dances
	down the cobwebbed corridors of my soul, pushing open doors long locked. It is Dylan, in his most
	deeply felt moment of Christianity, from Slow Train Coming:


	They, ask me how I feel And if my love is real And how I know I'll make, it through

	And they, look at me and frown, They'd like to drive me from this town, They don't want me around:
	Because I believe in You.

	(and then, building, a chorus of women's voice helping him along...)

	I believe in You, even through the tears and the laughter I believe in You, even though we be apart I
	believe in You, even on the morning after.

	Oh--though the earth may shake me, no, Though my friends forsake me, no Even that could make me go

	And I, walk out on my own A thousand miles from home But I don't feel alone Because I believe in You.

	The sky turns from lonesome to full above us as the earth moves below, and I travel West, my ass 10
	feet in the air, my heart a mile up and soaring. He plays all of Slow Train, and then puts in The Beatles
	White Album--you remember it all from when it blew your mind at 13, before you got so damn
	smart--and by the end of "Her Majesty's A Pretty Nice Girl" I am higher than Woodstock and God
	feels close enough.

	So we ride on with Tom, all the way through to a truckstop outside Chicago, where we sleep
	exhausted and glad on the floorboards of the truck, legs curled around seat posts, backs aching, and
	wake up to the road and the Scripture and the great battle between God and the Devil which He in his
	wisdom permits, to Test us here and to learn who will be True and who False.

	In daylight, it turns out that everything fits into this scenario for Tom, you name it. On the Inspired
	by Jesus Team are Tom; the guy who wrote "The Road Less Traveled;" exorcists; Billy Graham;
	Martin Luther King.  Working directly for the devil: the UN; David Koresh; the ATF; the Masons; etc.
	etc. He puts on some Steely Dan and he is pretty nonplussed when I tell him that the band is named
	after a dildo in Burrough's Naked Lunch. The conversation is lively, but by the time we hit the
	outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa and Tom's ice cream cooler goes on the fritz, we're ready enough take
	a left off 80 to the south get our ass to KC.

	At the side of the road, I ask Leon,"do you think we should have told him that the funeral we're going
	to is for an inveterate junky queer who hated all Christians on sight and humorously proposed--" I'm
	cracking up laughing now, "downright genocidal efforts against all the 'decent church-going folks' we
	could round up..." "No," sez Leon, "that was a good ride."

	*		*		*		*

	I call Joe Johnson, my contact at the Lawrence Journal. He tells me that the semi-public services for
	Burroughs are being held tonight at the Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence at 7 PM. It's 11:30 and
	we're 200 miles from Kansas City, 40 from there to Lawrence. With excellent luck we could make it.
	We hit the truckstop and put out our sign.

	Their license plates should say "Iowa: the New Jersey of the Midwest." In ten minutes the Shit
	Manager of the Circle K comes our and orders us off his land. No time for gunslinging--we hoof down to
	the on-ramp, and after an hour there decide the time is right to try the interstate, a four-lane wide
	stretch of Route 35 with heavy traffic blowing past at a deafening 75 mph. We turn our faces to the
	gale and stick our sign up high. For hours, corn-fed sunshine blondes smile devastation at us and pass
	in a blur or doppler noise. Apparently no-one is buying the old "wild afternoon in a motel room with a
	sunburnt perfect stranger from the side of the highway." No-one's even slowing own.

	At five o'clock we're still in Des Moines. We're not going to make it in time. We hike up a hill towards
	a Travel Inn and wind-up clanking Budweisers to Burroughs at the bar of an super-air-conditioned
	restaurant which is intensively styled as a tribute to the American Farmer. A German exchange
	student is being rude in that eternal German way to her Iowan hosts at a table nearby. "I said to dem,
	ah wow, it's even on the map, see: Iowa!" On the TV the fucking Yankees are getting ready to play.
	Shit. Some funeral. Our money is almost gone.

	Back out to 35, walking south with patient depression. Incredibly, a car pulls over. The driver is a
	native about my age, with spitshined boots and army fatigues in the back seat. He tells us that
	"Iowans are not very adventurous. You're lucky I came along." Turns out he is some species of Iowan
	hipster who goes to college at UI where the famous Iowa Writer's Workshop is based. By the time he
	tells us the name of every poet, writer, and indie rock band that's ever come through town, we're at
	the exit where he gets off. As we climb out, he tells us a he's a Lieutenant in the Army and gives us
	his 800 number.

	We look around. We are truly in the middle of nowhere. The road runs away dead straight to the
	horizon north and south. The crickets or locusts or whatever they are start up, the sound spreading
	around us up to a densely layered drone so loud we practically have to yell above them. A spent
	syringe is lying in the weeds. Night is falling. It is laughably hard to imagine any of the dwindling
	stream of cars coming out of the dusk pulling over for a skinny sunburnt faggot in a white t-shirt and
	a negro dwarf with dreadlocks. These people saw "In Cold Blood," with Eric Roberts in CBS. They
	know all about what can happen. I curse each passing car, one by one, in a chant that slows as it grows

	I'm asleep on my feet when I hear a yell and turn to see Leon running towards a semi pulled over 100
	yards up. Sixty seconds later we're traveling south at 90 miles an hour, yelling over the growl of a
	rebuilt 1984 Peterbilt engine into the ear of Gary Johnson, a big, dopey, friendly indy trucker from
	Michigan way up on the Canadian border. where you can see those northern lights sometimes. Not all
	the time, though. Gary looks a little like Hulk Hogan and talks and drives like an aggressive drunk, but
	he tells us he gave up drinking because "that shit makes me mean. Not my old lady, though. It just
	makes her loopy. Huh-huh-huh." He's put 1.6 million miles on this truck since he inherited it from his
	dad. The truck is a honeybeast--hardwood dashboard with two dozen brass-fitted dials, hood ornament
	a horizontal rod of chrome, and the engine's song a powerful dirge for the steelyards old Detroit.

	The truck plunges south down the highway to Kansas City, like a needle injecting us into the arteries
	of Burrough's country. Gary drops us off in the bowels of KC, on the Kansas side of town, one of those
	cities where the highways criss-cross through a broad depression in the earth on one side of town.
	Looking up the hill at the sprawl of reconditioned factories and government buildings, I can feel his
	presence, a man who plumbed the meaning of the land itself, conjured the spirits and stories out of the
	old, old earth.

	We walk the lonely streets, underpasses, and vacant lots of dirty old Kansas City for hours,
	surrounded by black ghosts, crackheads, mothers with children wandering homeless. A group of fat
	white kids sit in front of a gas staion joking with two cops. All the girls makes jokes about sex. All the
	guys makes jokes about violence--"'Eh...wetback...Mi casa es tu casa?' Bam. Bam Bam." He swings
	his nightstick. It feels like a sad, hard, town that has lost everything. Eventually we find an
	observatory at the top of a hill and lie down to sleep in the grass, the lights of the river and the ciy
	spread out for miles. During the night it turns cold and I wander down to the convention hotel below
	us, sneak into the basement, and warm myself in a laundry room behind a row of dryers before going
	back up the hill. When we wake up hours later, we see the city in daylight the first time.

	10 minutes later, we're standing at the main Kansas City on-ramp to 70 West, 40 miles from
	Lawrence, watching the cars go by. For some reason, on this particular morning, the people of KC are
	in a jovial mood, smiling and waving and mouthing what are presumably words of encouragement at us
	through the glass. We smile back, mouthing obscenities. This goes on for four hours. A beat-up Dodge
	goes by three lanes over, the kid in the passenger seat yelling & gesturing at us incomprehensibly. A
	hour later they come back by in another direction, yelling some more. We run across the street and in
	a few minutes they pull up at the light: "Jump in quick."

	*		*		*		*

	The kid in the passenger seat is a wiry, amped-up 21 year old named Paul. Deke, the driver, is
	low-key and quieter. "Do you guys  have a driver's license?" he asks us. They ask if we mind running
	some errands with them before we head out to Lawrence, and we set out into the dusty country north
	of the city, past one-room farmhouses with sleepy cattle standing in the backyard and ugly modern
	bungalow-style developments place arbitrarily on the brown hillsides.

	Like kids all over the country, these two obviously spend their time riding around in this car, listening
	to Tool and Future Sound of London CD's, smoking weed, talking about life, and cracking each other up.
	Paul is on a roll, filling us in on the Kansas lifestyle with a junky's ironic detachment. We pull into one
	of the developments and park while Deke goes in to buy a sack of weed and pick up his CD case.While
	he's gone, Paul turns around to face us. I see his lateral jaw muscle working overtime while he fires
	questions and jokes, and ask him what he's on. "Tweak," he says. "You guys tweak?"

	Tweak, aka crank, is crystal methedrine, and half the kids in the Plains States are jacked up on this
	evil shit to escape being bored out of their minds. It's cheap, it lasts for days, and anyone can mix it
	up in a kitchen sink, but the main manufacturing center is in Independence, Missouri. Independence is
	also home to a large Christian group who believe literally that Jesus is going to return to
	Independence, Missouri. Property adjacent to the church is at a huge premium; apparently the folks
	expect Jesus to stop right on over to the nearest house for after-dinner drinks. Maybe they'll offer
	him a line of crystal, too.

	We politely decline. Aside from being broke, the idea of staying up for the next 28 hours on speed
	after four days with 8 hours of sleep total is somehow terrifying. Paul tells us he's homeless, living
	in motels, but says he has plenty of money--he shows us a roll of twenties and asks if we need any.
	Last night he came out of his motel room, tweaking extreme paranoid, and there were six state
	troopers in the hallway. "The second I walked out, they all looked at each other and then took off in
	different directions, like, OK, plan C, go, go go...I was freaking out..." Paul tells us he's ready to give
	up this shit. He's had enough. But everyone he knows also wants to tweak, so it's hard. After a while,
	Deke comes back out. "Sorry," he says, "my mom beeped me. She's like, I need to talk to you. She
	just wanted to bullshit. I couldn't get her to hang up."

	We hit the road again, and twenty minutes later we pull into a split-level Motel Six. A pile of luggage
	is sitting on the curb. "She's gonna be fucking pissed," says Paul. "Why?" says Deke. We all pile out
	and see a pretty girl leaning over the balcony with a expression that could cut rocks on her face. As
	she comes down the stairs, wearing flared corduroys and a white t-shirt knotted in the front, I see
	that's she's at least twice as tweaked out at Paul. Must have been a long night. We lie on the hood and
	leave them alone to argue. Burrough's Advice for Young People #1: Never interfere in a Boy-Girl
	fight. Deke has heard of Burroughs. He puts on "The Priest, They Called Him," by Burroughs and Kurt
	Cobain, a savage, lonely piece for guitar and voices. Paul comes stomping over, gets in the car and
	slams the door. "Let's go," he says. When we get in, he says, "damn. Miss Missouri Showed Me."
	But when we pull away he makes us stop and goes running back.

	After lengthy negotiations, Linda gets in the car and we head off towards Lawrence. The kids kiss and
	make-up in the front seat. Then, somewhere along the way, she suddenly says, "turn right here."
	"What?" says Deke, and turns right. "I want to go over to Bob's," she says. Paul says shit , under
	his breath and turns to look out the window. We pull into a little development of one-story houses and
	stop in front of one with a Harley chassis sitting in the driveway on blocks. Linda gets out, we help
	her drag her worldly possessions onto Bob's front porch, and drive on.

	After a few minutes, Paul says, "Fuck. OK. Moment over. Move on," and takes the bag of weed from
	Deke's lap and starts to roll a joint, which we smoke on the highway with all the windows rolled up,
	the car hot and cloudy. Then we do a few bowl hits to be sure and by the time we see the water tower
	where the road enters Lawrence, Kansas, we are having a grand old time, blasting Stereolab out the
	windows. "Just four guys, working on impulse," says Paul. "Yeah," says Deke. I ask him if he knows
	where Burroughs lived, and he says yeah.

	The main drag of Lawrence is Massachusetts Street, welcoming and quite cosmopolitan in an
	unpretentious Kansas way. Kansas University has transformed Lawrence from a quiet, pretty little
	burg into a hip, prosperous pretty, college town of 70,000. We pass Abercrombie and Fitch, the Gap,
	and a cinema showing Ulee's Gold, which turns out to be Liberty Hall, where the Burroughs memorial
	was held. The strip is packed with boutiques and restaurants, but a block over to the West I see the
	pleasant, shaded sidestreets, big Victorian houses set in stands of old trees, public parks green and
	trim. It's like a stage set for the American Dream. All the streets are named after States of the
	Union, in order of federation. To the East, the town is unfinished, vacant lots with bulldozers working.
	We continue through into a neighborhood of smaller houses, all with front porches on the street. The
	mood is clearly neighborly but private. Its a real nice town.

	At the far end of town, we turn onto a quiet street called Leander, and Deke slows down long enough
	for us to catch a glimpse of a tidy little barn-red house, ensconced in shade trees. A beat-up Datsun
	sits at the back of the driveway. "That's Burroughs' house," says Deke, driving on.

	We're all hungry so we pull over at a warehouse sized restaurant and sit down for a huge meal of
	Mexican food and pitchers of beer. When I ask for a glass of water, the waitress brings huge mug full
	of water, ice and lemon, with a straw, like they do in Texas. We try a beer called Fat Tire, and after
	four days on the road it's the best thing I've ever tasted. "That is a fat tire," says Deke, draining
	his. Leon and I start talking about Burroughs. Deke says he's read a few thing by him, Interzone and
	Nova Express. It's news to Paul that Burroughs was a drug legend. He is starting to crash hard and has
	become brooding silent, but we all lift our glasses for a toast to Bill. It feels solemn, suddenly, now
	that we're here. I would have liked to meet him. Hard to believe he's gone.

	I go to the bathroom for a piss. Passing the mirror, I stop to examine a road-rashed stranger. Sunburn
	fiery across my nose and cheekbones; hair greasy and matted and sticking straight up; a scratchy
	beard halfway in place, the white t-shirt stained and filthy. I strip to the waist and take a sink shower
	with the pink soap from the dispenser. In the past five days, my body has metamorphosed from the
	skinny-fat-boy build of a sedentary New York writer to a bum's wiry bonerack.

	I feel like a million bucks when I get back to the table, but the mood has changed with Paul's
	metabolism, which is beginning to avenge itself on him for the past few days of abuse. He is turning
	sullen and paranoid and thinks everyone is making fun of his depraved condition. We're all ready to
	leave, when to my surprise and gratitude, he takes out his roll of 20s and dispatches the check.

	We decide to spend our last money on a twelve-pack and stop at the liquor store to buy it, since the
	Deke is underage and Paul has lost his ID. Deke says he wants to skate a bit and we drive back across
	town in silence. Along the way, Deke turns sharply into the driveway of a big house and we wait in the
	car while he walks up to the porch and knocks and looks in a few windows. "No-one's here," he says.
	"This is where James Grauerholtz lives. He was sort of William S. Burrough's secretary." I'm
	beginning to wonder how small this town really is. Deke seems to know everyone.

	We pull down a dirt road and into a wide grassy park along the bank of a medium-sized river. A dense
	line of trees hang down over the opposite bank. A bunch of kids are hanging out, skating a double
	half-pipe built at the water's edge. Paul stays in the car, and we follow Deke down a path alongside
	the river and sit on a fallen tree. We open beers and watch the river, running muddy and deep. Deke
	takes out a beautiful little glass pipe with whorls of sand in it, and we all have hits. It's very still and
	quiet. "The old writer lived in a boxcar by the river. This was fill land that had once been a dump
	heap, but it was not used anymore..."

	There is something about 19-year-old Deke's presence which I had partly perceived through the
	facade of a normal Nintendo generation skater-pothead: the peculiar grace of an old soul in a young
	body. Now as the weed hits, it comes suddenly into focus.

	Deke begins talking in a low, even voice. "The first person to smoke out of this pipe was William. I
	just got it. I went by his house last week and smoked him out and we had dinner. We had catfish. He
	said was a little tired. He used to drive into Kansas City every Thursday to eat at this old restaurant.
	But he didn't go." He stops and looks at the ground. "I just can't believe he's dead. The first few days
	really sucked. Somehow I always thought he'd outlive me." His eyes are narrowed to slits.

	"Listen," I say. I'm having a hard time putting the words together. "When someone like him dies, it's
	not just an ordinary funeral. A person like that don't just vanish. Burroughs was tapped into some shit
	that most people never see. People all over the world read those books. What he thought is literally
	alive in the consciousness of all those people. It's like a gigantic brain, linked together, and he's alive
	in that." Deke looks at me. I don't know if I'm making any sense, but he nods briefly. "Beside, he
	spent years preparing for his own death. Like a Pharoah or something. He had it all worked out."

	An older black man comes down the path and asks us if he can buy a joint. Deke looks at him. "Do you
	need a joint real bad?" he asks. The man nods. Deke takes him a ways down the path and then comes
	back. "I gave him a bud," he says. "He could have been a narc. I'm not going to get busted going, can I
	have like, six bucks."

	Leon asks him if he's in school. "Nah. I dropped out of school when I was 14. I never really got into
	school." He has been educating himself, reading and talking to people. Burroughs was one of his
	teachers. He tells us a little more about how they met. I realize that Burroughs must have been one
	person who recognized Deke for what he was. They had hung out together for a few years. They'd
	smoke a little bud, go fishing and cook the catch, drink a vodka and coke. They'd talk a lot. One time
	Kurt Cobain came by and they all hung out. Burroughs was real funny, wise.

	We spill our beers empty for him, and head back up the path. On the way to the car, Deke stops us
	again. "Listen," he says. "If you want to go out to the house and look at the fish for a minute, OK. But
	don't take anyone with you, all right. I mean it. I don't want anyone..." He trails off. We assure him
	that we would never be disrespectful, but he makes us promise several times more before he is at
	ease again. "Burroughs," he says, kicking a rock across the parking lot.

	Paul is really feeling lousy now, has to find a room for the night and figure out what happened to
	Linda, and they need to head back to KC. They drop us off at the bottom of Massaschusetts Street, and
	we all shake hands good-bye.

	*		*		*		*

	We sit in front of a coffee shop, and in a minute a friendly guy named Jet pulls up on a mountain bike;
	five minutes later we're walking out to his house up toward the campus for our first showers since
	New York. The water runs away around my feet in swirls of brown. Jethrol has some food and we help
	cook a dinner of corn, peppers and potatoes, and eat it on the screen-in front porch of his house,
	Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite drifting out from the stereo inside.

	That night we all go out on the strip and get drunk, and sleep soundly all night on Jet's porch. He has
	an early flight to Chicago and when we wake up the house is locked and he's gone. Leon heads into town
	for coffee, and I lie there for a while on my back, watching the trees move against the sky.

	There are some rare moments which justify all the sweat and nonsense of living; those moments when
	the objects in front of you and the space around you crystallize and you become briefly, effortlessly
	aware of where you've been and who you have become. At these times you can look at a closed box
	and see what is inside it, or look back over your shoulder and see down the corridor of time and
	understand what meant what and why. While these moments last we are immortal. And this is why
	some of us spend our lives pursuing them--in drugs; in long journeys; in the search for God or human
	love; in writing and art. Burroughs was a seeker like that. He tried everything. I hope he found what
	he was looking for.

	Jet's bike is sitting unlocked on the porch. Without thinking, I take it and ride out to Burroughs' place.

	When I pull up to the little house in the trees, a woman is on the porch, locking up. A car is in the
	driveway, three young girls I sitting in it, waiting for the woman to finish. She sees me and calls me
	over with some suspicion. I offer my condolences and tell her I hitched down from New York to pay my
	respects, hoping she won't kick me off the land. She is a big woman with a handsome, strong face and
	clear blue eyes, and she takes a long look at me. Then she says, "well, come take a look at the fish."

	In the yard of the house, two little ponds have been dug into the earth and lined with concrete. There is
	a flash of bright orange, fat, quick Poi fish move through the vegetation, circling. We sit down on two
	chairs in the back yard. Her name is Mary; they were friends.

	"I'm just a provincial, really," she says, squinting against the morning sun. "And he was, you know,
	Harvard and all that. But I had the keys to a great fishing lake out here. I met him one day. He says:
	'I've heard of you; you're famous. You've got those keys.'" She laughs. "He was big and strong, you
	know. He doesn't look it in pictures. I said to him, 'They never told me you were big and strong.' He
	was all, like--" she sweetly acts out Burroughs, proud and flattered.

	They began to fish together regularly. Just last week they went hunting. "Oh, we had a great time. He
	was lucid and funny and frail." She looks up at the house. "He was nicer than me. I'm a little tough. He
	was very courteous, elegant, polite. We had some fine dinners here."

	"They way Allen Ginsburg died, he was just so impressed. He said, 'Allen died the way he
	lived--reaching out to people, talking right to them from his big heart.' He was so moved by that,
	really." Six months later it was Bill's turn. They had really loved each other, Bill and Allen.

	"When I saw him in the hospital, lying there, he looked big and strong again. He looked like he had
	dropped ten years--his big nose pointing up. Going down there I was like--" she strikes her chest,
	hard, with a closed fist. "But when I walked into the room," she opens the fist, "it just vanished. And
	I was instantly at peace. I have been since then. He wasn't really gone, yet." She sat up with him for
	the five hour Buddhist observation period. Then she got up and left to help with the preparations.

	"I came out here yesterday," she says, pointing at my chair, " and there was a little kid sitting
	there, crying." She laughs wistfully. Deke? Who knows. An old man surrounded by many young
	friends. We sit there for a while longer, but the kids are waiting in the car. One the way out front she
	goes up onto the porch to give me a "memory object. They're important, aren't they?"

	I wait at the door of the house, my eyes adjusting to the dim, neat room. The shades are drawn.
	Obviously a writer's workspace: stacks of books on a sideboard by the door--gun catalogues, recent
	novels, a few journals and magazines. A desk in the middle of the space is bare. Nothing on the walls
	but a delicate strip of green-and-brown patterned paper running around near the ceiling. At a table in
	the back of the room, by the kitchen, a wheel chair faces a straight-backed wooden one. There's a nice
	old manual typewriter on a shelf. I can feel the stillness of thought in this room, but no aura of death.
	Just a quietness: the owner is away on business. Mary comes out with one of the hard green candies
	that the Allen Ginsburg Foundation sent and the program from the memorial service. On the back of the
	xeroxed page is the text of Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

	"...Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

	I walk her to the car. Sitting in the front seat is the most beautiful seven or eight year old girl I have
	ever seen, blonde curls down her back, and those sharp blue eyes. She says to me, "did you know that
	Fletch, his cat, was nice to me? He was mean to almost everyone else." I say bye and thank you and get back on the bike.

	(c) 1997 Sean Gullette New York City