~This essay appeared in Kerouac's Dog Magazine (2010).
Sometimes my mother and her fiancé liked to escape the humdrum formula of comatose suburbia to mill around Greenwich Village for a dose of beatnik fashion and avant-garde social color. It was 1962 and I had not yet crossed over the border of my dreams when they invited me to accompany them. All I knew was that the people who lived there wore black and walked around barefoot all the time. “Denizens of the demimonde” they were and maybe some witches lived there as well.
We browsed in a monotonous dawdle in and out of shops hawking smelly hand-crafted leather goods and turquoise and silver jewelry until they decided to purchase their matching wedding rings from a silversmith who offered to engrave the thick American Indian-style bands while u-wait. I plopped down on a window seat next to something grey and furry, its face hidden in its body while sleeping rolled up like a round loaf of bread. Suddenly a tall girl with thick long bangs walked in. She had on a nubby red knitted poncho over a plaid madras skirt and when she kissed the silversmith on the mouth for an embarrassingly long stretch of time, I had to catch my breath because SHE WASN’T WEARING ANY SHOES!
Cafe Bizarre was located down a flight of stairs in a basement, unlike our local soda fountain where you could sip a cherry coke and gaze out the wide windows at the peeling barks of the sycamore trees and across the street to the friendly neighborhood bakery. They thought it might thrill me to go to a real live Greenwich Village coffee house, but the disconcerting brick walls, the narrow doorways hidden by dark velvet curtains, and the painted black ceiling appeared more like a funhouse than a place where you would want to get something to eat. I ordered a hot chocolate and stared down at the tan-colored liquid in its thick brown china mug placed before me. In tortured silence I pretended to wait for it to cool but minutes passed and I was bugged-eyed by then. What if they doped and kidnapped me, these bongo-drum playing, goateed, black turtleneck-wearing zombies?
The idea of being reprimanded for not drinking what I ordered caused me to eventually bring the cup to my lips. I thought, Oh well, so long everybody, and took a sip.
It wasn’t bad. In fact, it tasted very good.
It was dusk when we emerged. Our car was parked a million miles away. My mother wrapped her wonderful arm around me and as she went on about how it was starting to be pot roast weather, I began to notice the words, hung on signs in the windows of stores and apartment buildings, stenciled in white on the street between the crosswalks, in repetitious patterns on the sidewalk, taped as fliers on lampposts, and even pressed in the window of a pizza place, READ NAKED LUNCH.
Asking a grown-up about anything that had the word naked in it was acutely mortifying for someone my age, so I sat quietly in the back seat of our car while the shadows of the city washed over me. By the time the highway signs assured me that home was just a couple of miles away, I had it figured that this was probably a novel about two people who liked to have sex on their lunch hour everyday. After all, and I could now say this with experience, this was an uncensored bunch.
William Burrough’s controversial novel, Naked Lunch, a landmark publication in the history of American literature, was published in Paris in 1959 by Olympia Press. The book was released in America in 1962 by Grove Press.
THE STORY BEHIND THE ESSAY
When William Burrough's controversial novel, a landmark publication in the history of American literature, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first publication in Paris by Olympia Press, I felt compelled to write about an experience I had when the book was released in America in 1962 by Grove Press.
ABOUT DENISE FALCONE
Denise Falcone is a writer who lives in New York City. Her work has appeared in Randomly Accessed Poetics, Why Vandalism?, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, Antique Children, Poet Kitchen, J Journal, The Foliate Oak, 6 Tales, Perhaps I Am Wrong About The World, and others.