I was 18 years old in 1962. I had dropped out of college, and had started to work full-time as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson Company. Being young, energetic and ambitious, I was also free-lancing in my spare time with various Manila newspapers. I frequently wrote and sold “human interest” stories, and I also had a weekly column reviewing books and movies. I had a special arrangement with a bookstore, the Philippine Education Company, to borrow any new book I wanted from the store, to read and possibly to review, but I had to return the book in pristine condition or else I had to pay for it. That was how I happened to acquire a hardback copy of the 1962 Grove Press edition of Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.
Back in those days, at J. Walter Thompson Company, we were paid every two weeks in cash, the money handed to us in plain brown envelopes. The ad agency was located within the Mary Bachrach Building, behind the Manila Hotel, a short fifteen-minute walk across Luneta Park to Ermita, the heart of the tourist area, with its vast array of restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges, many of them featuring live music. One of these places was a tiny jazz club called “The Snake Pit” on A. Mabini Street. It was where many of us frequently found ourselves, especially on paydays.
As fate would have it, on one such occasion, I was carrying with me a brand new borrowed copy of Naked Lunch. I must have been feeling quite grand and expansive that night, because I remember buying our group endless rounds of San Miguel beer and, of course, paying for the drinks with the cash from my plain brown envelope. When it finally came time to leave, at two or three in the morning, I stumbled out of the bar, trying to find a taxi. Next thing I knew, three burly men were shoving me into the back of a jitney, and the vehicle was speeding away to points unknown. The men must have been inside “The Snake Pit” earlier…must have seen me paying for all those drinks with my wads of pesos.
Inside the jitney, I held on tightly to my copy of Naked Lunch as the men took my watch, my high school ring, my wallet and, of course, the brown envelope containing what was left of my pay. They even took my clothes, stripping me down to my bare feet, leaving me only my shorts. And then one of the thugs snatched the book away from me. It now seems ludicrous, but I cried and begged them not to take the book because it wasn’t mine, because I had to return it or else I would have to pay for it. Either these men were not avid readers of Dadaist fiction, or else they took pity on me, but when they finally tossed me out of the jitney, somewhere near Pasay City, they also threw the book after me.
And so I walked home in my underwear, clutching my precious hardback copy of Naked Lunch. The jacket of the book had been slightly torn, so I decided to buy the book for myself. I don’t remember now if I actually reviewed the book or not. Years later, when I met William Burroughs in Lawrence and told him this story, he chuckled and said that it would have been a better story if the men had taken my shorts as well.