The Critical Mass

Literature junkies

William Burroughs.

William Burroughs.

While riding the No. 1 bus to downtown the other morning, I heard an out-of-place, yet familiar, clicking noise. I glanced around. A guy in a nearby seat was using a clipper to trim his fingernails. I decided I’d shift to a more-distant seat if he made a move for his toenails.

What is it about people that they think they’re invisible when in public? When I’m sitting in that bus, I can look down, through those big windows, and see right into your car. I know what you’re doing. Eating an egg, sausage and cheese sandwich. Putting on makeup at red lights. Stuff you should have done at home.

I’m not snooping. It’s not snooping if what I’m seeing and hearing is something you’re doing in public. I’m not deliberately trying to listen to your loud cell phone conversations with your parole officer or your unemployed boyfriend. In fact, I try to ignore you.  I do what a half-dozen or so people do on the bus ride. We read. Newspapers, magazines, court summonses. A lot of paperbacks. A year ago, half the people reading books on the bus were reading them electronically. But the pendulum has swung the other way again. It’s been six months since I’ve seen someone with an eReader on the bus.

I’ve been using the last few weeks of bus rides to re-read William Burroughs. Short, brutal sentences. Low-life literature that’s a perfect match for the bus. So last week I’m sitting in the back of the bus when I realize I’m overhearing a couple of guys discussing their experiences with dropping acid. Discussing it with great enthusiasm, and loudly, in the same tone that some guys talk about cars or sports. “Sometimes you’re just gonna have a bad trip, there’s nothing you can do about it….”

So I’m staring at my paperback book, trying to figure this out:

Perhaps the intense discomfort of withdrawal is the transition from plant back to animal, from a painless, sexless, timeless state back to sex and pain and time, from death back to life.

On of the guys notices me. “Is that Burroughs?”

“Yeah. Junky.”

“Cool, I read that last month.”