When I first heard that the university wanted to establish new Friday-night programming as an alternative to the bars for the students, I thought it was a good idea. Instead of spending the night slamming down shots and beer, students could attend cultural events and edify themselves intellectually. I got a phone call from the head librarian, inviting me to the reading. “We’re going to have Lord Byron,” she said.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was ecstatic. “My God,” I said, “the man had been dead since 1824; this is going to be awesome.” We’ll bring students in droves from everywhere. There won’t be enough room in the library; if we’re going to bring the guy back from the dead, we should probably reserve the football stadium, have a parade, shot off fireworks. Who wouldn’t turn out to see the resurrection of a dead, white guy to read his poetry? Hell, our students would probably give up alcohol, sex, and drugs entirely after seeing something like that. They might even shave their heads, dress up in robes and join a commune.
Then, the lady on the phone told me that “Byron wasn’t really coming,” but that of bunch of us tweed jacket types were going to read his poetry in different languages.
I was disappointed, but I said I would check my schedule.
About that time I ran into Dr. Chandrashakar, the Director of the Honors Program, he was behind this whole thing. So, I asked him about this Byron-business. I said, “This sounds like a great idea, but don’t we want to do something a little more contemporary? How about a few pages from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? I pulled out my copy and read a few lines:
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”
He wasn’t impressed. I said we need something with fire, something that moves and speaks to these crazy times!
I could tell I was pissing him off, and that he didn’t have time to hear it. So, I made up a lame excuse about it being a Friday night, and that most likely I would have to go shopping, cook dinner, clean the house. By the time we finished our conversation, Chandrashakar had a wild look in his eyes and his hands were around my throat.
He had lost it! Gone off the deep end! The poor bastard had been in too many meetings, and he had snapped like a rubber band.
As he strangled me, he said firmly, “You vill be there! I don’t vant to hear this bloody nonsense about your having a life. You vill be there! You don’t know the bloody shit I have to put up with. These goddamn parents vant us to babysit their kids who can’t hold their booze. Vhen I vas an undergrad, drunk off my ass, I didn’t have anyone there holding my hands as I drove the big vhite bus. Now, ve’ve got to do something, or ve’re going to get our asses sued. So, if I have to trash a bloody evening reading Byron to a bunch of kids who can’t bloody read him themselves, you vill be there, too.”
Luckily, I didn’t lose pass out.
So, there you have it. The Godfather of the Honors Program had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. You don’t want to mess with Chandrashakar. Rumor has it he came from the mean streets of Madras, and moved up to running a hijacking operation of the trucks running black and white television sets between Hyderabad and Delhi. During one job, a director from Bollywood spotted him and said he was a natural. He got a contract, and ten years later he’s teaching theater.
You can’t be fooled by the guy, though. Women are crazy about him; he has one of those sexy James Bond accents and can turn on the charm when he wants too. But when the door shuts, he becomes a total thug. In the Theater Department he got the reputation as a nasty perpetrator, which is exactly why the university sent him over to the Honors Program to clear out the punks that weren’t bringing in their portion of the take. He carries a big stick and is a real bad ass. He has his own theme music that would put Isaac Hays to shame. He’ll squash you like a bug if you get out of line. But rumor has it that if you play ball, if you behave, he will take you into the “Goody Room” over at Honors House.
So, I agreed to read. What could I do? However, to preserve some semblance of dignity, I said I would read a short selection from William Burroughs’ advice to young people before reading the Bryon poem in a language that will sound like gibberish to most. As a matter of fact, I said this was exactly what I was going to do. No one heard me, though. Chandrashakar was gone, but I said it, and I try not to lie to myself.
In any case, here it is.
William S. Burroughs – Words of Advice For Young People
People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young people.
Well here are a few simple admonitions for young and old.
Never interfere in a boy-and-girl fight.
Beware of whores who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. These are by far the most expensive whores that money can buy. What they mean is they want more money. Much more.
If you’re doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch, get it in writing. Because his word isn’t worth shit. Not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal.
If you, after being in the presence of another, feel as if you have lost a quart of plasma, avoid that presence. We don’t like to speak of vampires, because it’s bad for our PR, but you will find them. Interdependence is the key word: take a little, leave a little. But because of the inherent vampiric tendency, they always take more than they leave.
Avoid fuck-ups. We all know the type. Anything they have anything to do with, no matter how good it sounds, turns into a disaster.
Do not offer sympathy to the mentally ill. It’s a bottomless pit. Tell them firmly: I am not paid to listen to this drivel. You are a terminal boob.
Now some of you may encounter the Devil’s Bargain, if you get that far. Any old soul is worth saving, at least to a priest, but not every soul is worth buying. So you can take the offer as a compliment.