Thursday, December 18, 2008

"I hoped at one time to become Commissioner of Sewers for St. Louis County. "

Check out this treatment of Burroughs recalling how his aversion to politics kept him out of the shit:

"The Sultan of Sewers," by William Burroughs

This piece was written to Harper's Magazine in response to the question, "When did you stop wanting to be President?"

When did I stop wanting to be President? At birth, certainly, and perhaps before. In this life or any previous incarnations I have been able to check out, I NEVER wanted to be President. This innate decision was confirmed when I became literate and saw the President pawing babies and spouting bullshit.
I attended Los Alamos Ranch School, where they later made the atom bomb. And bombs bursting in air over Hiroshima gave proof through the night that our flag was already there. There was the Teapot Dome Scandal under President Harding, and I remember the unspeakable Gaston Means. Scion of an aristocratic Southern family, infamous private eye and go-between in this miasma of graft, I remember him walking into a hotel room full of bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking lobbyists and fixers with a suitcase he puts in the middle of the table. "Fill it up, boys, then we can talk business."

I do not mean to imply that my youthful idealism was repelled by this spectacle. I had by then learned to take a broad, general view of things. My political ambitions were simply of a humbler and less conspicuous caliber: I hoped at one time to become Commissioner of Sewers for St. Louis County. Three hundred dollars a month with every possibility of getting one's slimey little paws deep into a slush fund. And to this end I attended a softball game, where such sinecures were assigned to the deserving and the fortunate. And everybody I met said "Now, I'm old so-and-so runnin' for such-and-such, and anything you do for me I'll appreciate."

My boyish dreams fanned by this heady atmosphere and three mint juleps, I saw myself already in possession of the coveted post which called for a token appearance twice a week to sign a few letters at the old courthouse. While I'm there, might as well put it on the Sheriff for some of the marijuana he has confiscated, and he'd better play ball or I will route a sewer through his front yard. And then across the street to the courthouse cafe for a coffee with other lazy worthless bastards in the same line of business as we wallow in corruption like contented crocodiles.

I never wanted to be a frontman like Harding or Nixon, taking the rap, shaking hands, and making speeches all day. Who in his right mind would want a job like that? As Commissioner of Sewers, I would not be called upon to pet babies, make speeches, shake hands, or have lunch with the Queen. In fact, the fewer voters who knew of my existence, the better. Let Kings and Presidents keep the limelight; I prefer a whiff of coal gas as the sewers rupture for miles around. I have made a deal on the piping which has bought me a 300 thousand dollar home. Although there is talk in the press of sex cults and drug orgies, carried out in the stink of what made them possible, fluttering from the roof of my ranch-style house, over my mint and marijuana, Old Glory floats lazily in the tainted breeze.

But there were sullen mutters of revolt from the peasantry: "My teenage daughters are threatened by this immorality! Is this the American way of life?"

I thought so, and I didn't want it changed.

Sitting in my garden, smoking the sheriff's reefer, coal gas on the wind sweet in my nostrils as the smell of oil to an oilman, or the smell of bullshit to a cattle baron. I sure did a sweet thing on those pipes, and I'm covered too. What I got on the governor wouldn't look good on the front page, would it now? And I have my special police to deal with vandalism and sabotage. All handsome youths, languid and vicious as reptiles. Described in the press as no more than minions, lackeys, and bodyguards to his majesty the Sultan of Sewers.

The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts. Then I met the guvernatorial candidate, and he looked at me as if trying to focus my image through a telescope, and said in effect, "Anything I do for you I'll depreciate."

And I felt the dream slipping away from me, receding into the past. Dim, jerky, far away, the discreet gold letters on a glass door:

William S. Burroughs, Commissioner of Sanitation
Somehow, I had not intersected. I was not one of them. Perhaps I was simply the wrong shape. Some of my classmates, plump, cynical, unathletic boys with narrow shoulders and broad hips made the grade and went on to banner headlines concerning two million dollars of the taxpayers' money, and a nonexistent bridge or highway, I forget which. It was a long time ago, and I have never aspired to political office since. The Sultan of Sewers lies buried in a distant, 1930s softball game.

1 comment:

James said...

This totally made me day.