When you hear the nameWilliam Burroughs”, you probably don’t think of marshmallows. Or Triscuits, or cat food. In a 2009 article from The New Yorker, titled “Grocery Shopping with William S. Burroughs”, there is a picture of a shopping list penned by the author of Naked Lunch, and all of those items appear, along with Coca-cola, and frozen buttermilk waffles.

The article was written because someone was trying to sell William Burroughs’ grocery list online for $500.

You probably think of films such as “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray” when you hear the name "John Waters". But Waters is also an avid reader of the true-crime genre, and I am told he has a vial containing some of the dirt from John Wayne Gacy’s crawlspace.

I thought, at first, that seemed a little silly, even as a fellow true-crime buff. Then I remembered the eight-hour drive I made just to gaze at the crumbling remains of the Leopold and Loeb homes.

We are more alike than we know. People who say that usually mean that everyone needs to be loved, but not everyone does. Love isn’t the common denominator.

As a child, I was molested by a relative, and the way I coped with that was by taking on the guilt. I thought of myself as a terrible person who had done a terrible thing. Or at least, I had caused someone to do a terrible thing, and I became obsessed, from a young age, with other terrible people.

It is not an uncommon strategy; it comes, as so many things do, from the need to have, or keep, or regain control. It is Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, taking a bite from the left side of the mushroom, then taking a bite from the right.

Still, all these years later, and even with that understanding, the things that interest me run to some dark places. I remember reading once about a married couple who murdered a young girl. They dismembered her with a power saw, in the basement of their home.

How could they do that, people ask, and you know what they mean. In court, the husband explained, we put up tarps and made a tent around the body. The saw repeatedly jammed in the flesh. Each time I had a piece finished, my wife would reach under the tarp, and take it over to the sink.

One reporter who covered the case said it was like he was describing a dockside fish cleaning.

It’s unsatisfying, and it isn’t what people mean, but that is the answer. That’s how they were able to do it. They did it as if performing the most mundane, and ordinary of tasks. They did it by taking a bite from the left, and a bite from the right, until they were the size they needed to be.

The night before he was executed, for his last meal, John Wayne Gacy requested a bucket of KFC, french fries, a dozen deep-fried shrimp, and a pound of strawberries.

In July of 1934, FBI agents shot and killed John Dillinger outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Women dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood.

What would we do, what would our last supper be. We want to know and to wonder, and we keep the blood-dipped handkerchiefs, like primitives who eat the enemies they’ve vanquished. 

William Burroughs’ shopping list is not so different than most. To the naked eye, at least, the dirt under Gacy’s house is no different than any other.

Still, John Waters has it. I still drove eight hours to visit the site of a 1924 crime, and someone still had an idea William Burroughs’ shopping list might fetch 500 smackers.

What binds us isn’t love, but we are more alike than we know. We will grow and we will shrink until we’re the size we need to be.

It shifts beneath our feet until we learn to stand our ground, and for everyone, it ends with a little dirt.

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