Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 20 : Coke Bugs | Summary



The Sailor drinks coffee at a counter. He sees a boy come into the café and recognizes the boy's fidgeting as a sign of "sick junk-wait." The boy thinks he is crawling with bugs. Joe behind the counter says they're "coke bugs," and describes how a woman he knew got "the coke horrors" in Montana while they were traveling. She thought Chinese cops were after her. Joe knew another woman in Chicago who tried to shoot him during her withdrawal from cocaine.

The Sailor offers to get the boy drugs in exchange for his "Time." The boy agrees to the proposition, and the Sailor determines they should avoid Queens Plaza because it is too dangerous, filled with cops and lush workers.


The symptoms of withdrawal are well documented in "Coke Bugs," from murderous rampages to the sensation of crawling skin. These symptoms are specifically associated with cocaine addiction in this chapter. This is a departure from the grotesque portrayals of heroin addiction presented in the narrator's own recounting.

The Sailor has been established as a sinister figure (Chapter 6), but here his sinister demeanor mixes with a sense of isolation that seems pathetic. He asks his young mark for "Time," which reads as a euphemism for sex. However, the word choice implies he wants something like companionship, not just gratification.

Previous scenes with the Sailor happen in Interzone, but the reference to the subway and Queens Plaza place the scene back in New York. He worries about "lush workers"—pickpockets and robbers who prey on passed-out junkies and drunks. New York is no less dangerous than Interzone.

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