Listen to Paul’s interview.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. And then the whining school-boy… the lover, sighing… a soldier, full of strange oaths… the justice, in fair round belly… The sixth age shifts into… the pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side… Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Although I’m calling this website “a personal memoir in flux,” it is also my hope that the various sections will be of interest to people, whether they know me or not. “Out on a Lim” shares short observations on day-to-day life. “Limerances” chronicles longer remembrances of things past. “Limoscenes” presents descriptions of the plays I’ve written to date, with production photos. “Images in Limbo” shows pictures of the aging process, of me with family and friends. “Limpets” are the non-human dogs in my life, and “Limitations” are tributes to people who are no longer with us. So here I am, past imperfect, present progressive, future tense. Let me know what you think. — Paul
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.
“Party Time in Academe.” Reprinted from The Wayward Professor by Joel J. Gold. Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1989. Pp. 119-121. The piece appeared originally in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
”…One of our most dashing graduate students, who had earlier rented a Chinese restaurant and ordered a special dinner for about half of the English faculty, now decided to give a ‘Naked Lunch’ party in honor of author William Burroughs, who was visiting the campus. I do not recall seeing the guest of honor that night, but then I seem to have missed a number of other sights as well.
“We were welcomed at the door by our convivial host bearing a tray of pale drinks he informed us were Fallen Angels. A sensible man would have put the glass right back on the tray after the first sip. It carried an overwhelming taste of mothballs and was, I later learned, a deadly combination of four parts of gin to one part crème de menthe.
“The action was already lively when we began to move about. Threading my way among animated students and professors clutching their Fallen Angels, I wandered into the room where masses of food, hot and cold, covered a long trestle table. Amid the platters of spiced shrimps, hot cheese rolls, cherry tomatoes, clam dip, and hot meatballs was a long low centerpiece. It took up most of the length of the table.
“Sipping warily at my Essence of Mothball, I nibbled my way down the table, maneuvering carefully past what might almost have been called the extended limbs of the centerpiece. About halfway through the Swedish meatballs I became aware that the centerpiece did indeed have arms and legs: it was clad in blue jeans, a white tee shirt, Adidas, and tan socks. It was curled up on its side in a fetal position with its head resting against the bowl of fresh fruit. Inspecting the head more closely, I discovered beneath a glaze like that on a breakfast doughnut the face of a young man. Other guests were picking their way thoughtfully around the display and were discussing the possibility that the centerpiece was actually one of our undergraduate students. The glazed expression seemed to confirm the hypothesis.
“By the time I had disposed of my third cheese roll and fourth spiced shrimp, I was positive the centerpiece was breathing. As I dipped some raw cauliflower into the sour cream, the figure arose carefully from its cluttered bed and wandered off to the toilet. It returned a few minutes later sans Adidas and socks. All conversation ceased as it climbed onto the table, curled up comfortably among the hors d’oeuvres, and became comatose. I decided to pass up a fifth shrimp in favor—God help me—of another Fallen Angel. This one seemed to go down more easily, and I could at least assure myself that I was protecting my wool jacket from the inside.
“Out of the corner of my good eye (the other was beginning to fog over) I saw the Glazed Man walking past and then, a few moments later, returning to the place of honor, now without tee shirt. The food, which had been disappearing from the table at a rapid rate, seemed to be lasting longer as professors and students alike were growing more timid about reaching for anything on that table. I finished my third drink at about the time the centerpiece shed its blue jeans and resumed the fetal position clad only in a pair of flowered briefs.
“Even through the haze—internal and external—the symbolism broke through for all us befogged academics—Naked Lunch! The next twenty minutes were going to be crucial. I sloshed into a chair near the trestle table and sipped slowly while I peered intently at the stuffed mushrooms, the avocado dip, and the flowered briefs. A sociable Milton specialist insisted on getting us each another Fallen Angel, singing loudly as he returned, of man’s first disobedience and the fruit. We awaited the final unveiling.
“I blush to admit it, but I never saw the fig leaf drop. I understand that it did, but by then I had been poured into the passenger seat of my automobile and unloaded gently on my doorstep. My wife says I got myself to bed, but I recall no details.
“What I do remember vividly is just how sick I was. All that night and all the next day I cursed those Fallen Angels with a ferocity that would have made Milton proud. I added a few unkind words for my host as well. When the epic hangover lasted until mid-afternoon two days later, I wrote him a curt note indicating my low opinion of a man who would poison his friends—to say nothing of his professors—under the guise of conviviality. I did not mention the glazed centerpiece because I was no longer certain that I had actually seen it.
“Later, however, when my head and stomach had returned to their accustomed sizes and functions, and I no longer felt a compelling urge to accept the first offer of euthanasia I could find, I sought out others I thought I could recall at the party. We shared our blurred and somewhat incoherent memories. Evidently, it had all happened pretty much as I remembered. There had been a young man couched among the plates of food. He had risen occasionally to divest himself of some article of clothing. There had been a final revelation—a naked lunch!
“In retrospect, now that I was no longer in fear of immediate dissolution, I felt rather proud of having been there. It was like those fabulous parties Scott and Zelda used to give. People are always interested when I tell them that I attended the famous Naked Lunch party, and they are fascinated when I describe the periodic disrobing of the glazed figure on the table. In the retelling, I always stay to the end, and what my auditors like best is my detailed description of the shedding of the final garment. I mention the huzzahs, the glasses being smashed, the young man hoisted on shoulders. Envy clouds their faces, and they go away wishing they had been privileged to be a part of that wild party scene.
“I do believe I have learned how those novelists do it.”
I was riding high in 1977, coming off, as it were, from the “success” of my first play, Conpersonas. Marshall Fine, the Arts Editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, had somehow convinced the editor that the local paper should cover the invitational performance of the K.U. production of the play at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Marshall filed stories and photographs every day about what the cast and crew were doing that week in the nation’s capital, and so we were all minor celebrities upon our return to Lawrence.
At that time, I was living in Grant Goodman’s house at 934 Pamela Lane, house-sitting for him while he was off teaching in the Netherlands. The house has five bedrooms, much too big for one person, so I took in a roommate. Charlie Williams was a student at K.U., a short, stocky, blond, blue-eyed, sweet-tempered kid from Texas. I don’t remember now how I met him, but he was a fun roommate, always ready for new adventures.
I also don’t remember now how I met James Grauerholz, most likely through the K.U. English Department, because James wrote poetry at that time. In any case, James turned out to be a good friend of William Burroughs, and when I heard that Burroughs was coming to visit Lawrence, to check out the scene to see if this was a place he would eventually want to live in, I asked James if I could give an evening cocktail party for Burroughs. James gave the go-ahead signal…and that’s how The Naked Lunch Party came into being.
I remember having formally invited 70-75 people to the event, mostly friends and colleagues from the English, Theatre, and History departments, and a sprinkling of other assorted cronies. But word got around that William Burroughs was going to be at the party, so there were lots of gatecrashers. I have no idea how many people were actually in attendance, perhaps over a hundred.
Right from the beginning, because of the notoriety of the “novel” by Burroughs, I knew I wanted to have an attractive young man as a centerpiece on the buffet table. Charlie Williams was willing to be the centerpiece, but I needed him to be the bartender. When I found the recipe for a cocktail called “Fallen Angels” in the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, Charlie decided he wanted to dress up as a “fallen angel,” barefoot and bare-chested, with strap-on wings and a bowtie, looking like a beatific Chippendale outcast from heaven.
The food, as I recall, was mostly prepared by Mrs. Mildred Tryon, a devout Catholic housewife who lived at 1334 Pennsylvania in East Lawrence. I never had any trouble finding her house, because she had a big statue of Our Lady of Fatima on her front lawn, arms outstretched in friendly greeting. Mrs. Tryon catered many of my parties in the 70s and 80s , and people loved her fancy finger sandwiches, no doubt inspired by the BVM Herself.
Joel Gold in his humorous essay about the party, which first appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and later anthologized in his book The Wayward Professor, says he wasn’t sure if William Burroughs was actually at the party. He was. As a matter of fact, Burroughs and James Grauerholz were the first guests to arrive. But when Burroughs learned that Marshall Fine of the Lawrence Journal-World was going to try to interview him at the party, he escaped to the backyard and stayed there for quite a while until he heard about the disrobing centerpiece on the buffet table inside the house.
As I recall, the disrobing centerpiece was a law student I had met at some other party, who said he would “do it” for $20 but only if he could wear some kind of a mask, so people wouldn’t recognize him, and only if no photographs were taken of him in the nude. The “glazed look” on the boy, which Joel Gold describes in his essay, is actually a translucent mask which I bought for 99 cents from a store called Fun and Games in downtown Lawrence. I later used the same sort of masks for the two models in the poster for my play Homerica.
Meanwhile, back at the party, the plan was for the centerpiece to start discarding various pieces of clothing, every half hour on the half hour, and that he would be THE NAKED LUNCH in his full frontal glory at the stroke of midnight. This did, in fact, happen. It was really quite funny, to see all the faculty wives gathered within spitting distance around the centerpiece as the bewitching hour approached.
Joel Gold was right about the “Fallen Angels” being absolutely lethal. For anyone who’s interested, here’s the recipe that Charlie Williams was supposed to have used:
Juice of 1 Lime or ½ Lemon
1 ½ oz. Gin
I dash Bitters
½ tsp. Crème de Menthe (White)
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry
After the first couple of guests were served, I think Charlie abandoned the recipe altogether. He had nearly a hundred people waiting impatiently to be served. At one point, I saw him simply pouring everything unceremoniously into an old bucket, but no one seemed to mind…until the morning after. Speaking of which, the morning after, I found three or four mismatched women’s shoes around the house and in the backyard. I kept them around for a couple of months, dreaming of Barefoot Contessas, but no one called to claim them.
William Burroughs eventually moved to Lawrence in 1981. He bought a house at 1100 E. 19th St., and lived there until he died in 1997. Although William and I saw each other frequently in Lawrence in subsequent years, we never talked about The Naked Lunch Party. But James Grauerholz tells me the party helped to convince William that Lawrence might be a fun town to settle in.
These days, on television, I mostly watch only MSNBC because, as per their slogan, it’s “The Place for Politics.” But, since noon of yesterday, the station has been featuring Michael Jackson non-stop. His many fans should be thrilled that, somewhere from the great beyond, Michael’s countenance has now morphed into “The Face for Politics.”
As the whole world watches what’s going on in the streets of Iran after their election, the talking heads on TV keep referencing the bloody Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 in China. No one seems to remember the peaceful People Power Revolution of 1986 in Manila, which toppled the regime of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
Imelda is a he, not a she. The first thing the puppy did in the house was to chew up my Italian shoes, and so I decided to name him after Imelda Marcos. He figures prominently in my play FIGURES IN CLAY. Here are three excerpts from the play.
DAVID: I bought a dog today.
CLARK: (startled) What?
DAVID: A dog.
ERIC: What kind did you get?
DAVID: I wanted a chow…cinnamon, like the kind my father used to raise…but the woman at the pet shop said chows are temperamental. If it’s a fuzz ball you want, she said, then you should get a keeshond….She said the breed was developed originally in Holland to guard the barges.
CLARK: (sarcastically) Why, yes, of course. There are a lot of canals and barges in Kansas.
CLARK: Did you show Dr. Beatrice the pictures of Imelda?
DAVID: Just like a proud papa.
CLARK: The one of him at the Halloween party is a scream. Liberace would kill for that coat.
DAVID: Liberace is dead.
CLARK: Such a pretty puppy. He looks like a fox, all silver and gray.
And in the final moments of the play…
DAVID: (To Dr. Beatrice) People don’t change, but animals do. What’s new? Well, for one thing, Imelda has taken to staying up with me, at night, when I have trouble sleeping. Usually, I make myself a drink or two, turn on the TV or put on some music, and always, Imelda just sits there and watches me patiently with those sad and quizzical eyes he has, however long it takes before sleep is possible. When this happens, Imelda jumps up on the bed and the last thing I remember, always, is of him wildly licking my face and neck, the shoulders too, all the bare skin I am unable to hide under the sheet and blanket. At first I
thought it was funny….I thought perhaps the dog was beginning to develop a taste for the nicotine and liquor on my body. And then it occurred to me that maybe he’s doing it for other reasons. Maybe he disapproves of the drinking and the smoking, and the insane licking is a kind of absolution, his own peculiar way of washing away my many impurities, of cleansing me for posterity. And so I drift off to sleep each night feeling neither Chinese nor Philippine nor American, but quite Egyptian. As in ancient times, like an Egyptian pharaoh being embalmed, except there is no dying. Not yet. These days, one merely waits. The waiting is all.
In real life, on his tenth birthday, Imelda was diagnosed with cancer. After five months, his quality of life went rapidly downhill, and Dr. Tom Liebl of the Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital suggested that “it was time.” On 13 October 1997, he told me to bring Imelda to the hospital at 7:45 PM, fifteen minutes before closing time. And so I spent the day with Imelda, doing all the things that he liked best. And at 7:45 PM, I brought him to the hospital. Dr. Liebl asked if I would like to come in and cradle Imelda in my arms while he administered the injection. I asked him how long the whole process would take. He said no more than a couple of minutes, but that sometimes the first injection doesn’t work, and then a second injection would have to be administered. I started to cry. I couldn’t do it. I handed Imelda to Dr. Liebl, and fled from the hospital. To this day, I feel truly guilty that I wasn’t there to cradle Imelda in my arms, to comfort him in that strange and unfamiliar room, to be with him during his final moments in this world.
FIGURES IN CLAY was written seven years before Imelda was put to sleep. And I am still here, still waiting my turn.
“He takes with Him Memories of Ourselves” by Paul Stephen Lim. Reprinted from Dreamtime: Remembering Ed Ruhe: 1923-1989, edited by Robert Day and Fred Whitehead. Published in 1993 by The O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, MD 21620.
I remember taking Ed Ruhe’s “Novels into Films” class in the fall semester of 1969 (with people like Chuck Sack and Jim Pearce) and how, years later, Ed often said that it was the most extraordinary group of people he had ever taught. What really made the group extraordinary, of course, was Ed himself, with his boundless enthusiasm and passion for the visual in print, the literary on film.
I remember innumerable afternoons and evenings spent around the large and cluttered dining room table in Ed’s apartment, talking both small talk and Big Talk. Whatever the subject of conversation, whether it be an essay on cannibals by Montaigne, or an obscure movie by Kurosawa, Ed would reach back at some point and pull out some dusty book from those inexhaustible shelves to further the discussion.
I remember trips to Kansas City with Ed to dine at some new Italian restaurant, to hear Kathleen Battle, to see the Alvin Ailey Dancers, to marvel at the latest foreign film at the Bijou, to browse through the bookstores and record stores at Westport.
I remember sharing with Ed a rare 1958 Maria Callas recording of “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson and Delilah, which she had suppressed because she had been unhappy with her rendering of three or four notes, and Ed’s playing the said recording over and over, trying to determine exactly which three or four notes had displeased the diva, until we both gave up because it was nearly midnight, and much too late to call Jim Seaver and ask him for his opinion.
I remember the parties at Ed’s apartment, not only the lively ones, but also the deadly ones. One, where an out-of-town friend of Ed’s decided to show over 200 slides of tombstones he had photographed in Europe, and how the guests slipped away quietly until there was no one left, but still the show went on. Another, in which Ed listened quietly to the interminable chit-chat about the significance of I-forget-which-novel by I-forget-whom, with the discussion ending when Ed finally said, with great impatience, “Only time will tell, and we won’t be there to hear that discussion.”
On a more personal level, I remember bringing early drafts of my plays Conpersonas and Chambers to Ed’s office and subjecting him to the agony of listening to me reading all the parts, and the heated discussions we had afterwards because he said my plays were “too complex.” Years later, the reviewers in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere said the same thing, and when Ed saw how depressed I was, he took me aside one day and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being too complex. It just means you’ll never be rich.”
I remember the last movie I brought to Ed’s apartment, to watch on the new VCR I had convinced him to buy. The film was Pedro Almodovar’s The Law of Desire. I’d seen it before, but wanted to view it again with Ed, to see if the movie would strike him the same way. It did. Toward the end of The Law of Desire, there’s a scene where the flamboyant transexual heroine goes to the hospital to visit her brother, a victim of amnesia. The woman brings with her a faded photograph of two little boys at the beach, a photograph of the two of them when they were still young and happy. She thrusts the photograph in her brother’s face and begs him to remember. “You must remember,” she pleads, “because if you don’t remember, then I do not exist.”
Ed Ruhe was a great teacher. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t miss him, not only because he had a tremendous capacity for friendship, but also because he had a phenomenal memory. He’s gone, and he takes with him bits of ourselves which only he knew and remembered, memories of ourselves that now no longer exist.