Burroughs at the Automat

That last night
Benny met William Burroughs
who was still dead,
though in the dream
very much alive,
in a Horn and Hardart Automat
somewhere,
to the best of his knowledge,
in Canada.

Benny got there on a train,
crowded,  oxygen depleted,
go to the bathroom
and lose your seat.

He was traveling with his girlfriend
who wasn’t sure she was his girlfriend.

He wasn’t sure either,
and wondered that
if she was his girlfriend
what did he find attractive about her?

The train snaked along the Atlantic Coast,
and when it arrived at the station,
in the disgorge of passengers
his maybe girlfriend abandoned him.

He felt a loss, but asked himself
a loss of what?

Hungry,  he wandered the area alone
where he found snow and ice piles
from an earlier season,
and bald patches where flowers
poked out of the mud
through the winter rubble.

Hungry,
he found the automat;
dark interior,
tables filled with the disenfranchised;
the polished chrome and sparkling glass doors
glistened from spotlights.

Benny handed the cashier a couple of bills,
asked for change,
and with the nickels
he chose the blue plate mac ’n cheese special,
french fries, peach pie:
dropping his nickels into the slot,
turning the porcelain knob,
lifting the glass door,
retrieving his hot dinner.

He poured fresh coffee
into a large mug
and looked for a vacant seat.

He found a small table occupied by a single man;
old, reedy,
wearing a crumpled suit and tie that was out of fashion
even in the 1950’s,

looking like part of the decor,
only danker.

He wore a cheap gray stingy-brimmed fedora,
a black crow’s feather sticking out of the band.

Benny asked him if he could sit at his table,
and he replied: Welcome my friend,
introducing himself as William Burroughs.

I’m Benny,
and the old man responded:
Yes, I know you.

Benny asked Burroughs:
what are you up to these days?

The geezer begins to explain his latest project:
I’m teaching this young girl how to drive.
She lives in the neighborhood
where all the adults work at jobs.

He drags out the word all as if he were
pulling toffee.

She has an appointment for her driving test,
but has no one to teach her.
I told her that I do not own a car
,
nor do I have a valid drivers license.

She told me that doesn’t matter.
She has a car.
All she needs
is an adult in the passenger’s seat,
to make it all look legal,
she can figure out the rest.
She assures me that it should be pretty easy.

Benny asked Burroughs if it has been easy.
Hell no!
It’s been a dreadful experience.
The damn girl hasn’t a clue
how to even start the car,
let alone shift it into gear.

She talks constantly
and does not pay attention to he road.

Benny had to ask: then why do you do it?

Because I have nothing better to do with my time,
and even though she scares the bejesus out of me,
I find the experience fascinating.

Benny laughs.

Burroughs laughs,
then he slips into other stories.

He complains about the rats in the city
and how, unlike Kansas where he used to live,
he can’t take out his pistol and shoot them here.

He complains about Ginsberg’s ceaseless self-promotion
and Kerouac’s conservative politics.

But they’re  both dead, Benny sez.

We’re all dead my good fellow,
though most of us just don’t realize it.

Burroughs complained about some other shit,
but Benny stopped listening,
thinking about whether he is dead
or alive.

With no easy answer
he finishes his pie,
takes the last sips of coffee,
and tells Burroughs he has to move on.

Burroughs  extends his hand
and tells Benny
that he has enjoyed talking with him.

Then Burroughs asks him what his business is here,
and Benny replies: I don’t know.

Burroughs snickers and sez:
that’s the best kind of business to have in this dump.

5 thoughts on “Burroughs at the Automat

  1. Wow. That poem is amazing. It’s like a short story or novella. And so visual and visceral. I really like it. And your old alter ego, Benny, is back!

    Like

  2. Pretty good, Dave. Nice story. True? I though Benny was going to be one of those people who goes to automat and takes a bottle of ketchup from the table and pours it in a cup and adds hot water and has a bowl of tomato soup for free. Have heard that was often lunch for those who couldn’t afford otherwise.

    Like

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