Charmaine, ink, 21" x 33," $300
From the Journals, Boulder, CO, 1978
I have retired to my room in the cellar where I have a king-sized table, 10' by 4', big enough for painting on one side and writing on the other. Except for the table the room which costs $110 a month is nondescript. No doubt I have catapulted myself into a bizarre place. In a few days there will be eighteen students living in Yeshe House, which is dilapidated with more rooms than I can count. Next door is the Nyingma Institute, another Tibetan Buddhist center, but there is little communication between them. It is as if two Christian missionaries arrived a hundred years ago somewhere in Africa and pitched tents right next to each other but did not speak. Yeshe House is an appendage to the court of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, an incarnate Tibetan Tulku. This court is so large that it is Byzantine. Thus, according to one occupant of Yeshe House, I would need at least six months to obtain an interview with Trungpa-- though Billy Burroughs suggests that I just drop by with a bottle of sake.
Next door in the cellar lives William Burroughs III, author of Speed, Kentucky Ham, and a third novel in progress. It is still uncertain whether Burroughs' course on folklore will be given at the Naropa Institute ( where I am enrolled now as a student of Buddhist art ) and thus his status is in dispute. Billy Burroughs is very much the son of William Burroughs jr. "Terminal Affluence" is how he describes his condition. He reeked of alcohol when he arrived last night with a duffel bag and a six-pack. ( In Yeshe House people seem to drink to excess, a habit very unusual for Buddhists, but it has already been explained to me that since Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, the President of Naropa, drinks-- all the time, claims Burroughs-- drinking is considered okay. ) Burroughs is a thirty-year-old liver transplant, red-faced from too much booze, and he has spent much of his life just wandering around. Allen Ginsberg who got him his job at Naropa is his godfather. Because of his father Billy Burroughs is the intimate of all the original Beatniks, especially Gregory Corso, so that he refers to himself as a member of the second generation of the Beats. But, OOPS! I must cook the lamb stew for the New Year's Eve party tonight.
Billy Burroughs in memoriam
Today Billy Burroughs returned from Dr. Starzel, chief surgeon at the Denver hospital where he had his liver transplant a few months ago. Burroughs was carrying a big bag of six-packs and was beaming because Dr. Starzel told him drinking was okay for the new liver and that he would try to get him some narcotics to offset the influence of the daily steroids which plunge him into depression with thoughts of suicide. The two of us then huddled in the kitchen for a three hour talk. I left Burroughs for my studio to think about the stories he told me about his famous father, especially how he got out of the army by chopping off his little finger at the recruiting station, when there was a knock at the door. It was Charmaine. After a few glasses of wine she confided, "You know, there's a transvestite in Yeshe House." This revelation threw me for a loop because of the eighteen residents I frankly had no idea who it was. She asked me what I thought of transvestites and I replied that they definitely were not my scene. My appearance these days is very much macho with cowboy boots and Levi's, which she likes because her husband, Wild Bill, a Texan like herself ( from whom she has been separated for some months now because of his dogs ), is also a macho writer. I tried to find out who the transvestite was. Finally after much wine and many hours she confessed that it was her ex-roommate Yusuf, a thirty-five-year-old ex-seaman with whom I got drunk recently, a quite delightful and civilized chap who gives no indication if only because of his beard of being a transvestite. I said to Charmaine, "Look, here your husband leaves you because he prefers the dogs and you've been living with a transvestite who gets dressed up in your nightgowns and refuses to have sex with you. I think all this is pretty sick and disgusting." Charmaine answered, "You know, I think you're right. I'm actually the normal type. I don't like these kinky things. There was this philosophy professor who wanted me to whip him a while back and I couldn't really get into it. You're right about the dogs. I actually killed two of the original pack without Wild Bill's knowing and I pleaded with him to get rid of another two but he refused. Then Yusuf joined us in Austin and it ended up with Wild Bill's almost killing Yusuf because Yusuf who is definitely not into sex with women grows insanely jealous whenever anyone touches me." By now I was already stroking her hand and arm and was imagining a violent scene if Yusuf learned of my flirtations with her and I said, "Jeez, Charmaine, you've gotten yourself into quite a triangle." And she replied, "Yeah. And I don't know how to get out of it because though I have left Yusuf's room he is still totally attached to me. I'm sort of his mother and sister." As Charmaine talked I was getting more and more excited by the animal magnetism of her Filipino eyes ( Charmaine is a 26-year-old version of Joan Baez ) and I, not usually known as a rake or roué, suddenly saw myself going to bed with Charmaine. In a few minutes she was in my arms and in another few minutes we were undressed and in the morning when we got up my blanket and thighs were covered with blood.
Wild Bill and Charmaine
Today I painted a Buddha. The Buddha has definitely shined his light upon me. My joining the Sangha has dramatically changed my life-- not because I have begun creating Buddhas or because I am taking a course in Tangka painting, but because of Charmaine. I have fallen in love with Charmaine. Today we talked about Billy Burroughs who this morning got down on his knees and pleaded with me to lend him a painting of a Buddha for his room. But he is so irresponsible I refused. I have slept twice with Charmaine now. To what do I compare her hypnotic eyes, her soft silken skin, her exquisite beauty? Charmaine wants both of us to get tattooed Monday in Denver. I shall design the tattoo and Billy has recommended an expert. We shall go in her truck. We shall toss to see who gets the tattoo first. I must confess that I have reservations because Charmaine wants her tattoo on her inner thigh which means that for about two weeks she'll be incommunicado. If Charmaine becomes obsessive about the tattoo, I still cannot refuse because the tattoo will certainly cement our relationship.
I was sitting in the living room of Yeshe House when suddenly an elderly soft-spoken man whom I recognized as William Burroughs entered. He asked if Billy lived here and I guided him to Billy's room. It was noon, and Billy was still asleep in his sleeping bag when I ushered his father in. Billy Burroughs, though he has published two novels, lives very much under his father's shadow, and to contrast the appearances of father and son might be absurd did one not remember that William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, was on heroin for eighteen years. One expects to confront a ghoul. Instead one sees a distinguished-looking gray-haired gentleman. "Eighteen years on junk did the Old Man good," Billy commented the other night. At thirty Billy himself is a wreck. His tattoos, his gold earring, his large cross and Hindu prayer bracelet, his rags, his racking cough and ever-present can of beer, not to forget his tantrums-- all these are quite conventional by contrast to the liver transplant. Billy's ties to Naropa are still vague. One day there is talk of his being fired; on another day he mumbles about resigning. But since only two students have signed up for his course on folklore it makes little difference. Billy usually gets up at noon whereupon his first act of the day is a can of beer and a cigarette. In the labyrinthine court of Naropa where everyone seems to be searching for an outward sign of respectability to compensate for internal chaos Billy is a sore thumb. Billy has walked in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but his liver transplant is merely the latest incident in a lifetime pattern of self-destruction. A high-school dropout at sixteen, an alcoholic at twenty-three, Billy has spent much of his lifetime roaming America as a bum. Billy is the writer as bum just as his father is the writer as junkie. Though his father went to seed he preserved his sense of gentility. Billy has no gentility, only the humor of despair, the air of a ham, and the shadow of death.
I was standing with my art teacher Noedup Rongae at the Nyingma Institute annual soiree when Charmaine arrived. "Darling, how is the party?" she cried. I replied, "Don't miss the cheese mix on the table. Have you met Noedup?" Charmaine was her most ingratiating self. There is about Noedup Rongae, especially when he speaks of Tibet, something profoundly pathetic. Though he fled Tibet in 1959, he still always speaks of Tibet in the present tense as if he were on some sort of temporary holiday rather than in permanent exile. As Charmaine sauntered off to the cheese mix I contemplated how my relationship with her has entered a critical stage. Do I love her? When I am with her I love her, but when she is absent I am uncertain. The other night we went out for Chinese food on the Mall and we talked for five hours. Charmaine said that we are being too rash, that we have jumped into the affair too fast, and that recently I have been ignoring her. This is not true. It is just that we have decided to play it cool in Yeshe House so that in proximity with the others we act as if nothing is going on. Only Yusuf is insanely jealous, has pulled several fits with Charmaine, and follows us in the corridors trying to overhear our conversations. Yesterday Yusuf and I had a long talk about Rudolph Steiner and Rajneesh, but we did not talk about Charmaine. It is obvious that Yusuf's relationship with Charmaine is much more complicated than I had supposed. Thus it was Yusuf who introduced Charmaine to Wild Bill and encouraged the marriage which took place three weeks after the meeting. Charmaine still loves the husband, but as she says with pathos he prefers the dogs to her. It is I who am trying to persuade her to divorce him. It is I who am trying to get her to break off relations with Yusuf, but I don't think I shall succeed. Certainly Yusuf is more important than the husband. I believe there will always be a Yusuf, that even if Charmaine and I build a cabin in the mountains-- she has a fantasy of our elk hunting and of my being her "warrior"-- Yusuf will be there if only for visits. The paradox is that I like Yusuf. That he is a transvestite only adds a certain element of charm to his personality. True, I do not exactly relish his dressing up in Charmaine's nightgowns, but I believe in the motto Live and Let Live. There exists a profound discrepancy between Charmaine's love of the natural and her immersion in a kind of twilight sexual zone. Thus while I was stroking her arm she suggested that I carry on an affair with Martha, my next door neighbor. "Martha likes you," confided Charmaine, "She told me that herself." My carrying on two love affairs simultaneously seemed preposterous and I replied, "Look, I can balance only one ball at a time. What do you think I am, the Stud of Yeshe House?" When Martha first moved in with her howling brat I protested to the House Manager that I wanted Martha out, that it was either Martha or I, but ever since things quieted down Martha has developed a crush on me. Recently Charmaine has taken Martha under her wing, finds her baby-sitters, and has even lassooed her into joining her weightlifting gym. I protested the idea of an affair between Martha and myself especially when Charmaine suggested that we rent a cabin in the mountains this weekend for a menage a trois. I insisted that I didn't want Martha around, that I wasn't interested in Martha, and that the whole idea was only an attempt on Charmaine's part to enter into a lesbian affair with Martha. Charmaine protested. She said that even if she was going to have a lesbian affair it would not be with Martha because she is attracted only to blond blue-eyed Charmaines. This incident about Martha is only the first of several peculiarities about Charmaine, the most egregious being her infatuation with her father, a retired colonel, whose wedding ring she wears. Like the colonel Charmaine is a long-distance runner. If she doesn't run her four miles a day her spirits are down. Would it be too much to suggest that Charmaine, weight-lifter, runner, and Texas tomboy, is a repressed lesbian?
I was making my way up the stairs from the cellar where I had been working on another large Buddha and thinking how the Bhagavad-Gita is really not my cup of tea and that withdrawing my senses tortoise-like I had better leave for another incarnation ( especially in the light of my romance with Charmaine ) when I entered the living room to find it empty despite Billy Burrough's scheduled workshop on folklore. I then walked into Billy's room decorated with walls of photos of Jesus and the Archangel Gabriel as well as a new Buddha by Yours Truly and asked, "When is the show beginning?" Billy who is at work on his second liver mumbled something under his alcohol-drenched breath and we retired to the living room to await the arrival of William Burroughs Jr. and his entourage. What is the father by comparison to the son? Hyperion to a satyr, for to have been a junkie for eighteen years is quite conventional but to be one of only forty liver transplants, to carry around not only another person's liver ( "My wife Virginia," as Billy puts it ) but the skin of a pig is to be a 100% freak. After a month in the company of Billy I am convinced that if he can ever get his act together Pere Burroughs will seem by comparison a ten-Watt bulb.
A dehydrated and emaciated William Burroughs Jr. who lives only two blocks from Yeshe House soon entered the room. Billy is a goldmine of stories about his father. He describes a scene in the hospital when he was in a coma and was visited by Pere Burroughs and Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche who began to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead over his comatose body. Pere Burroughs was so enraged that he seized the book out of Trungpa's hand and hurled it across the room. According to Gregory Corso who got the opinion from Trungpa's doctor, Trungpa will not live long unless he stops drinking ( or becomes the 41st liver transplant ). In fact, the Buddhist hierarchy at Naropa seems to be engaged in an elaborate cover-up concerning Trungpa who is surrounded at all times by Vajraguards. One cannot get near Trungpa unless one is wearing a suit or the Vajraguards will start playing bouncer. Thus it was strange that there recently circulated in Yeshe House a privately printed essay by Trungpa on drinking the gist of which was that Trungpa needs alcohol to bring him down from the empyrean heights of meditation in order to relate to his students. As soon as the occupants of Yeshe House had read the essay there was a mass exodus to Liquormart where they all purchased enough alcohol to get massively soused that night.
Since the heat was off in Yeshe House Billy and his father scampered outside to fetch some twigs to start a fire in the fireplace. Twenty minutes went by and still no one had arrived. Billy and I were trading small-talk about Lilly, the dolphin man, who made his appearance in Boulder this week ( William Burroughs expressed total skepticism about dolphins having anything important to say even if one could get to communicate with them ) when the first and only student entered trailed by William Burroughs' gay errand-boy. By this time Billy, inebriated, fidgety, unprepared, realized that the seminar would be a disaster unless someone came to his rescue. The student took notes but there was little said about folklore. Billy told yarns about winos and hopping freight cars. William Burroughs attributed the lack of indigenous folklore in America to the lack of a peasantry. I spiced things up by telling a few stories about UFOs and suggested that UFOs have become our folklore. When long pauses of silence threatened to unhinge Billy, I interjected stories about Africa and Greece. At one point Billy whined, "Why don't we all just get drunk and forget about this? I can't see myself getting paid for this anyway." At the conclusion of the fiasco a student entered with a copy of Naked Lunch for Burroughs to autograph. Certainly William Burroughs is no literary bon-vivant or raconteur. Yet if William Burroughs has written himself out and now largely supports himself by journalism, there still lurks about him the glitter of fame. There still exists the paragraph about him in someone's History of American Literature. There still remains the ever-present entourage.
Eve dropped by. She is a Jewess of about thirty, bitchy, cosmopolitan, a former occupant of Yeshe House who created great antagonism during her residence. But Eve and I hit it off well and have gotten together twice now for supper outside Yeshe House. One night when we all got drunk Eve went to bed with Yusuf and afterwards she characterized him as impotent. Yusuf is my key to an understanding of Charmaine, but I hesitate to bring her up because of his insane jealousy. At first I thought Yusuf would be violent when he learned of my romance with Charmaine, but Charmaine insisted that at the worst he would give me only an anti-Charmaine lecture. I would welcome such a lecture if only to get some insight into her behavior. A few days ago when Charmaine took me out to dinner on my birthday I realized that our relationship had reached a critical stage. Afterwards in bed she announced that she wanted me to be her father. I told her I didn't want to be her father, that the idea was absurd, that I was quite satisfied being her lover. Charmaine then stated that we were to have no more sex because we are to have now only courtship. "What do you mean by courtship?" I asked, "This sounds medieval." Charmaine was elusive and insisted that she wanted a period of courtship before deciding about marriage. Tonight while kissing her passionately she pulled away saying, "You're going to rape me!" I replied, "That's ridiculous." She looked at me and said, "You're not supposed to kiss me like that during courtship." I asked, "What do you mean by courtship?" She answered,"Dating." I threw up my hands. "But you live upstairs!"
Charmaine was angry and had every right to be angry. We were sitting on her bed and her reprimands came thick and fast. The fact that I was leaving for the weekend to go with Eve to the mountains in order to avoid Yeshe House's beer blast in no way satisfied her. Charmaine detests Eve. "Are you serious," she asked, "Do you really love me? How can you talk about marriage and then slip off with Eve to the mountains?" I told Charmaine I realized I was a cad but that if she really didn't want me to go I would remain for the party. I felt claustrophobic and had to get out of Boulder, even if only with Eve for whom I felt no sexual desire. "You're not telling the truth!" she cried, "You're seeing Eve more than me!" I told her it was not true, that Eve and I only occasionally had tea or supper together, that my interest in Eve was exclusively intellectual. I repeated that if she wanted me to remain for the party I would cancel my excursion with Eve. "No. Go with Eve! I want you to go. I want you to get her out of your system." There was a knock at Charmaine's door. It was Eve to pick me up. My clothes were in disarray and as I got up to go Charmaine blurted out, "Have fun!"
A few days ago Yusuf spoke to me about Eve's Dark Side which I have never seen. As Eve rode the car out of Boulder she spoke of how she was tormented. "People who are tormented are different from people who suffer," she said. There is about Eve a quality that in the subsequent two days increasingly alienated me from her so that in order to keep my distance in her house I retired repeatedly to my room to read and finished two books by Rajneesh. Eve is like a blast of bad breath. A hip chick who has been through numerous guru trips she munches macrobiotic grains and exotic vegetables but is constantly burping. Physically she repels me, but I find her role of spiritual snob intriguing. The thirty mile drive to her house in the mountains was strained and upon our arrival Eve's act made me wish I had never left Charmaine. Raised as an orthodox Jewess in France, Eve converted to Roman Catholicism, then spent several years in a mental hospital, and now calls herself a Kabbalist. Despite her earlier apostasy she played Chassidic melodies on a flute in front of the fire while I fell into reveries. She carried on a monologue that lasted until midnight. "Here I am pushing mops, cleaning houses, unable to write because I have no money. Sure my mother bought the car and paid the tuition for the Boulder School of Massage. But I can't write because I have no time, and I'm frustrated, tearing my heart out, neurotic. I want to write my autobiography, the story of a Jewish lesbian who converted to Roman Catholicism after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary......"
Today I saw Trungpa. I do not deny that I have been harsh on Trungpa. The $350,000 house he has just purchased, the many scandalous incidents concerning his Vajraguards, the fulsome adulation that surrounds him and which has all the earmarks of a cult, the Byzantine court in which he lives, the contrast between his alcoholism and his spiritual position, his monarchism and aping of English gentility, the endless tales of his sexual promiscuity-- all this and much more have influenced my attitude towards him so that Yusuf has even warned me to be careful of the Vajraguards because of my gossip. When I entered the auditorium at Naropa this afternoon little did I expect to see someone so elegant and unscarred by a decade of self-indulgence. Yusuf had told me that Trungpa resembles an over-stuffed panda. This was not true. Aside from his limp from an accident Trungpa was refined and impressive. He entered followed by numerous Vajraguards and by members of the Hierarchy. The audience stood up in respect while he mounted the stage and took his place next to a vase of red and white carnations. The audience then sat down. Trungpa asked for questions. What is Trungpa doing? After six weeks at Naropa I still do not know.
Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche
What I do know is that I am in the midst of a drama. With the sudden arrival late last night of Charmaine's long-lost husband Wild Bill life in Yeshe House has taken on the qualities of theater. When I entered the living room Billy Burroughs said jestingly, "Wild Bill just arrived and he's looking for you with a gun." Charmaine was at work and Wild Bill was on the phone speaking to her. With a great sigh of relief I realized that with Wild Bill's arrival I had become irrelevant. It is not I who will now suffer but Yusuf. But will Yusuf spring back? Is he, as Eve insists, a psychopath? Wild Bill has arrived to rescue Charmaine from Yusuf. I am out of the picture. I am merely a spectator. If there are no wounds or pain, yet I am a cauldron of emotion and have given vent to a creative outburst of woodcuts, Buddhas, drawings, paintings, an explosion that sizzles and burns. Yusuf wants only one thing: for Charmaine to marry him, to rescue him from his life of aimlessness, bohemian indulgence, and twilight sexual loneliness. For six years Yusuf has followed Charmaine about the country. Yusuf the Shadow haunts her. Together they have carried on a liaison which just in terms of geography has the qualities of a grand romance. Yusuf and Charmaine are two familiar figures in the corridors of perversion. And now Wild Bill has joined them.
Last week Billy Burroughs twice tried to commit suicide. The entire scene after the first attempt by knife-- the crowds of observers, the appearance of Pere Burroughs and his secretary James, the gamut and intensity of emotion, the raw and extreme passions-- was Dostoevskian in style. My relationship with Pere Burroughs had already attained not to complexity-- that would be too grandiose a word-- but to content. Before the first suicide attempt I had accompanied Wild Bill to Burroughs' apartment. The two writers had been corresponding. When Burroughs' secretary left Wild Bill took out some pot and we then got stoned. I said very little while Wild Bill discussed the problems of getting his book published. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Allen Ginsberg announcing his arrival. I could see that Burroughs did not want us present and when he began to fidget with long pauses of silence I diplomatically suggested our departure. Until this point Burroughs' attitude towards me was one of indifference. He was all eyes for Wild Bill's extraordinary physique. It was only at the door when I mentioned Trungpa's birthday party last week that Burroughs' attitude towards me changed. A gleam passed over his face and he said, "Trungpa has great power. You sense it when you first meet him." Has Burroughs also been mesmerized by Trungpa? I doubt it. He is too intelligent not to realize that except for his role as a meditation master Trungpa is sheer bull. Yesterday I went to the University to hear Trungpa speak. Trungpa, stone drunk, sipping continuously from a carafe of Sake, catapulted into some stratospheric level, sat beneath the Naropa banners and flags and carried on with his mumbo jumbo. It was disgraceful. It was cheap. Even though admission was only a buck it was a rip-off. P.T. Barnum was correct: a sucker is born every second.
Ever since Wild Bill's arrival things have not been the same in Yeshe House. For me his visit was a blessing in disguise. Charmaine had become nasty, so much so that to see her was unpleasant. Now Charmaine has become jealous of my relationship with Wild Bill and she has begun to tack insulting letters on my door. For several days now Wild Bill has spent the evenings in my studio so that Charmaine complains about neglect. The bitch! She hasn't said a nice word to me in weeks. The Big Boss, the Texas Tomboy, Madame Redneck-- she's on the warpath now. If Wild Bill wants her he can have her. I told him the whole story about our romance and his attitude is Live and Let Live.
I now go three times a week with Wild Bill to the Boulder Athletic Club to lift weights. To enter the Club with its grunts and groans and pungent odor of sweat is to be transported to the dimension of the GROSS. By and large the habitués do not speak to one another because they are preoccupied lifting and studying their images in the mirrors. It would be an error of judgment to expect literary chitchat, to discuss Pere Burroughs or Allen Ginsberg, in this Temple of Narcissus. Just as a temple has its high priests, its attendants, its communicants, so the Iron Room has its own distinctive pecking order, a hierarchy of muscle men mesmerized by a fantasy of strength and power. The muscle men, their bodies glistening and muscles bulging, are the biggest lions in the Iron Jungle, and the biggest of them all is Wild Bill.
When Wild Bill enters the gym the lesser aficionados only gawk. Though he seldom speaks in the gym he always emits a rudimentary grunt of a greeting to the larger hulks. Then Wild Bill, his rippling skin glistening beneath the ice-bright lights, attaches a leather corslet around his waist and begins his workout. Bench presses of 250 pounds, squats to make one's eyes pop, curls worthy of the Farnese Hercules--as Wild Bill increases the momentum of his workout moans of pain fill the chamber.
Once in the gym I asked a hulk why he pumped iron and he replied, "Some guys like to go out and kick other guys with their boots. I lift weights." What ritual catharsis does Wild Bill undergo? The consummation of what fantasy does he see in the mirrors around him? Wild Bill sweats. Drops of sweat. Puddles of sweat. The groans and the shrieks grow louder and louder. To close one's eyes is to imagine being in some dungeon filled with skinhead torturers. Suddenly Wild Bill stops. He flexes his biceps and stares into the mirror. Across the Iron Room comes Charmaine.
"Hey, Wild Bill, you're gaining on your shoulders. What have you been eating today?"
"Liver and yogurt."
A group surrounds Wild Bill. For the first time in weeks intense conversation fills the Iron Room as Wild Bill reveals his diet. Every day Wild Bill consumes three pounds of liver and onions, twelve eggs, two chickens, a pound of raisons, two gallons of yogurt.