enter the gerbil

        Strange Sex We Have Known

My first encounter with “Dr. Benway” (whom I was later to know as the master scribe and film buff extraordinaire, William S. Burroughs) was on the sleepy sands of St. Tropez in the south of France in the summer of ’47. I had been suffering from—or rather, complaining of—a certain lesion, a rather persistent lesion, on the hinder fleshy part of my left calf, just below the knee. It wasn’t painful, but it was irritating in a psychological way, and I was keen to deal and have done with it. An acquaintance of mine, Allen Ginsberg—who later achieved international poetic renown (Howl, Kaddish, etc.)—was staying at the same hotel, and when I showed him the lesion, he said: “Doc Benway will put that to rights in double quick order!” (little did I realize at this point in time that it was simply another joke at my expense by the mischievous Al Ginsberg) and he set up a meet at Benway’s beach house.
    Dr. Benway was (and is to this very day) a most remarkable personage.
    “Your lesion,” he observed in his dry and singular tone, “has the mark of genitalia,” and he poised a finger near it, just so, not quite touching. I glanced down and noted, with some surprise, that it did indeed resemble a tiny vage, with its puckered pouting lips half-parted and moistly glistening—but I was reluctant to admit as much to the formidable Benway. “You must be mad,” I exclaimed instead with a show of indignation, and instinctively drew back; but the fantastic Benway continued as though not having heard: “Naturally it would follow that the treatment of choice would be to … fuck it away.” And before I could protest, he raised a finger of caution: “But an extremely small sexual member would be required—perhaps that of a gerbil—and by damnable good fortune, hee-hee, I happen to have just such a specimen here in this very lab. …” He gestured towards a shoddy complex of small cages nearby, and continued: “You entertain no superstitious qualms, I take it, towards bestiality?
    I informed this “Doctor Benway” in no uncertain terms that I did indeed entertain such qualms, and would not consider being “fucked in the lesion” by a gerbil, nor any other member of his devilish menagerie! I had failed, however, to reckon on the man’s powers of persuasion, which border on the veritably hypnotic.
    “Similar case a few years back,” he went on, unperturbed, “man-of-the cloth developed stigmata in both hands and both feet, each of the blessed wounds being in the shape of a female cunt, not unlike your own, only larger—so that when the populace filed by in holy reverence to view the miraculous visitation, they found his worship—his coarse mandrill-root pulsating in gross distention—going at it into both hand-wounds like a maddened warthog. They could not restrain him—he finally broke his own back trying to fuck the lesion in his left metatarsus.…”
    I must admit to being somewhat taken aback by the sheer grossness of this account, but it did put me in mind, a few years later, of a story so bandied about that I dare say it carries no “kiss-and-tell” onus at this late point in time—namely, that curious tale of how LBJ was “caught in the act” (if one may coin) on the Kennedy death-plane from Dallas, trying to force his rude animal-member into the mortal wound of the young President. I recounted the bizarre incident to Benway, but it was apparently old hat to him.
    “Hee-hee,” he chuckled, nodding sagely, though more through politesse, if my guess is any good, than through your true humorous enjoyment, “yes, a classic case of … neck-ro-philia, was it not?”
    I’m not too keen on puns myself, but I let it pass; after all, a man of Benway’s stature (Ginsberg had shown me a lot of weird microfilmed diplomas, citations, credentials, depositions, endorsements, etc.) was not to be challenged unduly.
    “Very well, Benway,” I said, “if that is your view—”
    “It is not only my view,” he quipped in his inimitable fashion (cross between Ben Johnson and W. C. Fields), “it is also my gol-dang pur-view! Hee-hee-hee.…”
    Needless to say, Benway’s “treatment of choice” proved to be less than useless—and, in fact, I very nearly succumbed to a damnable case of the pesky “gerbil-clap.”
    I was intrigued, however, by the emphasis he placed on what was later to become his infamous “view-syndrome,” and when I pointed this out he was good enough to address himself to that very issue.
    — William S. Burroughs and Terry Southern, National Lampoon, Strange Sex, February 1974, Vol. 1, No. 47, reprinted in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995, edited by Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman, Grove Press, 2002, pp. 211-213

Also Elsewhere:
Terry Southern, Grooving in Chi, Esquire, November 1968.
Terry Southern: Ultrahip, an interview conducted by Lee Hill in person at Southern’s home in Connecticut and by mail during 1993 and 1994.