A friend took me to a dinner at the home of a Manhattan dowager who turned out to be the agent there for the paintings of Brion Gysin, Burroughs' co-conspirator in magickal displacement of time and space known as the cut-up (slicing pages of a manuscript in half or quarters, then, John Cage-like, rearranging the pieces in such a way that they create in a kind of Flash Gordonesque, Hegelian manner, new messages, some actually predicting future events. I had long been fascinated by Burroughs, whom I asssumed to be an atheist, though his friend, Alan Ginsberg interested him in Buddhism during the reign of the drunken lama, and, himself, had flirted with Scientology early on. When Burroughs left Scientology he wrote now and then pieces about its basic methodology: the clears are the equivalent of RCC cardinals in a Ponzi scheme that has members paying more and more to rise to the top. All this is accomplished by fascinating the cultees by use of a glorified lie detector test, the e-meter operator serving as the functional equivalent of the the priest in the confessional.
It was a memorable evening I must say. Not only Burroughs was there, but John Waters the campy movie director and Fran Lebowitz, at the time a columnist for Andry Warhol's Interview magazine. We were all Burroughs fans to one degree or another, and the hostess had invited another writer who, she said, had wanted to meet Bill Burroughs for years. She was Janet Flanner, the author of the "Paris Letter" in the New Yorker for many years. Looking back on it, I talked too much (those were my drinking years), insulted Lebowitz at one point, and sharply observed the banter between Bill and Janet because the hostess had miscievously paired a couple with greatly mismatched interests (including those in the sexual sphere). Flanner was a charm, though. She'd been everywhere and met everyone and was a veritable encyclopedia of Franco-American arts and letters. Burroughs would say things to her, then glance at others, and he winked a time or two at me. I was thrilled.
After all, he had become a hero to the so-called counter-culture. Burroughs was mentor to Ginsberg and both were leaders in the movement we now call the Beats. (Their West Coast colleagues began to splinter mid-Sixties, with a new group forming in the Santa Monica-Venice area of L.A., the Meats. They included Steve Richman, Doug Blazek, William Wantling, and Charles Bukowski, whom I also knew.) Burroughs was a cult idol, heralded as such by popular music (and especially Punk). He was sought out by David Bowie, Mick Jagger, the artist and fellow junkie, Basquiat, among others. He became the focus of the dinner conversation, too. We knew we were privileged to sit with a pair of legends, so we listened closely.
Burroughs grew increasingly irritable and impatient with Flanner. They did not seem to agree on much of anything. And when he scored points, he winked at others. From so notoriously irascible a person, the winking was disarming to say the least. Finally, Flanner said she had to get her rest, so she excused herself and said goodbye and thanks to the hostess. Burroughs dutifully followed the other two women to the door and when she reached the carpeted landing just outside, Flanner said thanks to Burroughs and suggested they see each other again some time. Bill muttered something polite, but the moment the door shut, growled: "The old bitch!"