The Beats order lunch

A documentary captures the last meeting of Bowles, Burroughs and Ginsberg.

By Craig Offman

Published May 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

In the fall of 1995, film director Jennifer Baichwal traveled to New York to meet with Paul Bowles, the author of "The Sheltering Sky," who was making his first trip to the United States in three decades. Baichwal, whose movie about Bowles, "Let It Come Down," drew warm reviews on its opening in New York last week, happened to catch a crucial moment of American literary history: the last meeting of three great Beat writers.

Bowles, who is a composer as well as a novelist, had come from Tangiers to attend a festival of his music at Lincoln Center. His old pal William Burroughs flew in from his home in Lawrence, Kan., to join Bowles in his room in the Mayflower Hotel for lunch. Unexpectedly, Allen Ginsberg showed up, too.

Poet and performing artist John Giorno also came along. After the four exchanged some gossip, the discussion inevitably turned to food. Baichwal briefly joined the negotiations, which she captured for her film:

Ginsberg: So what's for lunch? Are we going to lunch?

Burroughs: I'd like something like a sandwich.

Baichwal: I don't know anything about lunch.

Bowles: What about it? Nothing's set up now.

Burroughs [squirming, obviously disconcerted at the fact that nothing specific has been planned]: Huh!

Bowles: Things can be sent up.

Burroughs: Sent up? [He looks relieved.] Certainly! A hotel with room service.

Ginsberg: Should we do something about it?

Burroughs: Well, I want  a club sandwich. Do you eat a full lunch, Paul?

Bowles: Full? No.

[They all fall to studying the menu and deciding. John Giorno takes charge of ordering.]

Burroughs: What did Paul order?

Giorno: A chicken sandwich.

Bowles: Oh, I hope they don't bring it on white bread! That's a bore.

Burroughs: They'll probably bring it on white bread unless it was specified otherwise.

Bowles: Well, they might bring it on toast, they might bring it on whole wheat ...

Burroughs: Yes, that's true, they might.

This was to be the last time the group got together; Burroughs and Ginsberg both died in 1997.

Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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