My Mother and I Would Like to Know


William S. Burroughs

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 67 in June, 1969, this story appeared in Issue 100 in 1998 after being selected for publication in the retrospective volume Evergreen Review Reader 1967-1973.

The uneasy spring of 1988.

Under the pretext of drug control, suppressive police states have been set up throughout the Western world. The precise programming of thought, feeling, and apparent sensory impressions by the technology outlined in bulletin 2332 enables the police states to maintain a democratic facade from behind which they loudly denounce as criminal perverts and drug addicts anyone who opposes the control machine. Underground armies operate in the large cities, enturbulating the police with false information through anonymous phone calls and letters. Police with drawn guns erupt at the senator's dinner party, a very special dinner party too, that would tie up a sweet thing in surplus planes.

"We been tipped off a nude reefer party is going on here. Take the place apart, boys, and you folks keep your clothes on or I'll blow your filthy guts out."

We put out false alarms on the police short wave directing patrol cars to nonexistent crimes and riots which enables us to strike somewhere else. Squads of false police search and beat the citizenry. False construction workers tear up streets, rupture water mains, cut power connections. Infra-sound installations set off every burglar alarm in the city. Our aim is total chaos.

Loft room, map of the city on the wall. Fifty boys with portable tape recorders record riots from TV. They are dressed in identical grey flannel suits. They strap on the recorders under gabardine topcoats and dust their clothes lightly with tear gas. They hit the rush hour in a flying wedge, riot recordings on full blast, police whistles, screams, breaking glass, crunch of night sticks, tear gas flapping from their clothes. They scatter, put on press cards, and come back to cover the action. Bearded Yippies rush down a street with hammers, breaking every window on both sides, leave a wake of screaming burglar alarms, strip off the beards, reverse collars, and they are fifty clean priests throwing gasoline bombs under every car - WHOOSH a block goes up behind them. In fireman uniforms, arrive with axes and hoses to finish the good work.

In Mexico, South and Central America, guerrilla units are forming an army of liberation to free the United States. In North Africa, from Tangier to Timbuktu, corresponding units prepare to liberate Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Despite disparate aims and personnel of its constituent members, the underground is agreed on basic objectives. We intend to march on the police machine everywhere. We intend to destroy the police machine and all its records. We intend to destroy all dogmatic verbal systems. The family unit and its cancerous expansion into tribes, countries, nations, we will eradicate at its vegetable roots. We don't want to hear any more family talk, mother talk, father talk, cop talk, priest talk, country talk or party talk. To put it country simple, we have heard enough bullshit.

I am on my way from London to Tangier. In North Africa I will contact the wild boy packs that range from the outskirts of Tangier to Timbuktu. Rotation and exchange is a keystone of the underground. I am bringing them modern weapons: laser guns, infrasound installations, Deadly Orgone Radiation. I will learn their specialized skills and transfer wild boy units to the Western cities. We know that the West will invade Africa and South America in an all-out attempt to crush the guerrilla units. Doktor Kurt Unruh von Steiplatz, in his four-volume treatise on the authority sickness, predicts these latter-day crusades. We will be ready to strike in their cities and to resist in the territories we now hold. Meanwhile we watch and train and wait.

I have a thousand faces and a thousand names. I am nobody I am everybody. I am me I am you. I am here there forward back in out. I stay everywhere I stay nowhere. I stay present I stay absent.

Disguise is not a false beard, dyed hair, and plastic surgery. Disguise is clothes and bearing and behavior that leaves no questions unanswered... American tourist with a wife he calls "Mother"... old queen on the make... dirty beatnik... marginal film producer... Every article of my luggage and clothing is carefully planned to create a certain impression. Behind this impression I can operate without interference for a time. Just so long, and long enough. So I walk down Boulevard Pasteur handing out money to guides and shoe-shine boys. And that is only one of the civic things I did. I bought one of those souvenir matchlocks clearly destined to hang over a false fireplace in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I carried it around wrapped in brown paper with the muzzle sticking out. I made inquiries at the Consulate:

"Now Mother and I would like to know."

And "Mother and I would like to know" in American Express and the Minzah pulling wads of money out of my pocket "How much shall I give them?" I asked the vice-consul, for a horde of guides had followed me into the Consulate. "I wonder if you've met my congressman Joe Link?"

Nobody gets through my cover, I assure you. There is no better cover than a nuisance and a bore. When you see my cover you don't look further. You look the other way fast. For use on any foreign assignment there is nothing like the old reliable American tourist cameras and fight meters slung all over him.

"How much shall I give him, Mother?"

I can sidle up to any old bag, she nods and smiles it's all so familiar "must be that cute man we met on the plane over from Gibraltar Captain Clark welcomes you aboard and he says: 'Now what's this form? I don't read Arabic.' Then he turns to me and says 'Mother I need help.' And I show him how to fill out the form and after that he would come up to me on the street this cute man so helpless bobbing up everywhere."

"What's he saying, Mother?"

"I think he wants money."

"They all do." He turns to an army of beggars, guides, shoe-shine boys, and whores of all sexes and makes an ineffectual gesture.

"Go away! Scram off!"

"One dirhem Meester."

"One cigarette."

"You want beeg one Meester?"

And the old settlers pass on the other side. No they don't get through my cover. And I have a lot of special numbers for emergency use... Character with wild eyes that spin in little circles believes trepanning is the last answer pull you into a garage and try to do the job with an electric drill straight away.

"Now if you'll kindly take a seat here."

"Say what is this?"

"All over ina minute and you'll be out of that rigid cranium."

So word goes out stay away from that one. You need him like a hole in the head. I have deadly old-style bores who are translating the Koran into Provençal or constructing a new cosmology based on "brain breathing." And the animal lover with exotic pets. The CIA man looks down with moist suspicious brow at the animal in his lap. It is a large ocelat its claws pricking into his flesh, and every time he tries to shove it away the animal growls and digs in. I won't be seeing that Bay of Pigs again.

So I give myself a week on the build-up and make contact. Colonel Bradly knows the wild boys better than any man in Africa. In fact he has given his whole life to youth and, it would seem, gotten something back. There is talk of the devil's bargain and in fact he is indecently young looking for a man of sixty odd. As the Colonel puts it with engaging candor:

"The world is not my home you understand here on young people."

We have lunch on the terrace of his mountain house. A heavily wooded garden with pools and paths stretches down to a cliff over the sea. Lunch is turbot in cream sauce, grouse, wild asparagus, peaches in wine. Quite a change from the grey cafeteria food I have been subjected to in Western cities where I pass myself off a one of the faceless apathetic citizens searched and questioned by the police on every corner, set upon by brazen muggers, stumbling home to my burglarized apartment to find the narcotics squad going through my medicine chest again. We are served by a lithe young Malay with bright red gums. Colonel Bradly jabs a fork at him.

"Had a job getting that dish through immigration. The Consulate wasn't at all helpful." After lunch we settle down to discuss my assignment.

"The wild boys are an overflow from North African cities that started in 1969. The uneasy Spring of 1969 in Marrakech. Spring in Marrakech is always uneasy each day a little hotter knowing what Marrakech can be in August. That Spring gasoline gangs prowled the rubbish heaps, alleys, and squares of the city dousing just anybody with gasoline and setting that person on fire. They rush in anywhere nice young couple sitting in their chintzy middle-class living room when hello yes hello the gas boys rush in douse them head to foot with a pump fire extinguisher full of gasoline, and I got some good pictures from a closet where I had prudently taken refuge. Shot of the boy who lit the match he let the rank and file slosh his couple then he lit a Swan match face young pure pitiless as the cleansing fire brought the match close enough to catch the fumes. Then he lit a Player with the same match sucked the smoke in and smiled he was listening to the screams and I thought my God what a cigarette ad: Clam bake on a beach the BOY there with a match. He is looking at two girls in bikinis. As he lights the match they lean forward with a LUCKYSTRIKE CHESTERFIEIDOLDGOLDCAMELPLAYER in the bim and give a pert little salute. The BOY turned out to be the hottest property in advertising. Enigmatic smile on the delicate young face. Just what is the BOY looking at? We had set out to sell cigarettes or whatever else we were paid to sell. The BOY was too hot to handle. Temples were erected to the BOY and there were posters of his face seventy feet high and all the teenagers began acting like the BOY looking at you with a dreamy look, lips parted over the Wheaties. They all bought BOY shirts and BOY knives running around like wolf packs, burning looting killing it spread everywhere all that summer in Marrakech the city would light up at night human torches flickering on walls, trees, fountains all very romantic you could map the dangerous areas sitting on your balcony under the stars sipping a Scotch. I looked across the square and watched a tourist burning in blue fire they had gasoline that burned in all colors by them... (He turned on the projector and stepped to the edge of the balcony)... Just look at them out there all those little figures dissolving in light. Rather like fairy land isn't it except for the smell of gasoline and burning flesh.

"Well they called in a strong man Colonel Arachnid Ben Driss who cruised the city in trucks rounded up the gas boys took them outside the walls shaved their heads and machine-gunned them. Survivors went underground or took to the deserts and the mountains where they evolved different ways of life and modes of combat."