New Orleans in Passing: NAKED LUNCH

William S. Burroughs lived in New Orleans from 1948 – 1949, when he was arrested for possession of drugs, elected to not stand trial, and moved with his wife (who he would later shoot in the head) and young son to Mexico City. Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road famously includes a visit to “Old Bull Lee,” a world-weary gentleman junky in New Orleans who represents Burroughs, but the following passage from Burroughs’ Naked Lunch strikes me as much more appropriate in the post-BP spill, Cancer Alley age. Like the “In Passing” excerpt from Blood Meridian, the characters in this excerpt breeze in and out of New Orleans onto adventures afar, but the harrowing description of the city and its surroundings sticks to the reader like bad humidity.


Came at last to Houston where I know a druggist. I haven’t been there in five years but he looks up and makes me with one quick look and just nods and says: “Wait over at the counter …”

So I sit down and drink a cup of coffee and after a while he comes and sits beside me and says, “What do you want?”

“A quart of PG and a hundred nembies.”

He nods. “Come back in half an hour.”

So when I come back he hands me a package and says, “That’s fifteen dollars … Be careful.”

Shooting PG is a terrible hassle, you have to burn out the alcohol first, then freeze out the camphor and draw this brown liquid off with a dropper—have to shoot it in the vein or you get an abscess, and usually end up with an abscess no matter where you shoot it. Best deal is to drink it with goof balls … So we pour it in a Pernod bottle and start for New Orleans past iridescent lakes and orange gas flares, and swamps and garbage heaps, alligators crawling around in broken bottles and tin cans, neon arabesques of motels, marooned pimps scream obscenities at passing cars from islands of rubbish …

New Orleans is a dead museum. We walk around Exchange Place breathing PG and find The Man right away. It’s a small place and the fuzz always knows who is pushing so he figures what the hell does it matter and sells to anybody. We stock up on H and backtrack for Mexico.

Back through Lake Charles and the dead slot-machine country, south end of Texas, nigger-killing sheriffs look us over and check the car papers. Something falls off you when you cross the border into Mexico, and suddenly the landscape hits you straight with nothing between you and it, desert and mountains and vultures; little wheeling specks and others so close you can hear wings cut the air (a dry husking sound), and when they spot something they pour out of the blue sky, that shattering bloody blue sky of Mexico, down in a black funnel … Drove all night, came at dawn to a warm misty place, barking dogs and the sound of running water.