The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

Burroughs was also generous with his time and encouraged Hill to write. And he handed him a list of books, starting with Celine, the author of Journey to the End of Night and the model for writers from Norman Mailer to Kerouac to Ken Kesey.

Burroughs had a modest view of himself as a writer. Writing was a good gig, he told Hill, if you could get someone to pay you. It paid his bills, but his writing was nothing compared to the great ones.

In the summer of 1978, Hill also met Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. He worked as one of Ginsberg's teaching assistants in exchange for tuition in the writing program.

Lee Hill
Lee Hill
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.

Hill soon learned that there was at least one fundamental difference between Burroughs and Ginsberg. While Burroughs's sexual orientation was well-known, he never made any advances on his handsome young protegé.

Ginsberg was another story. Brilliant and formal, the author of the Beat anthem "Howl," he was also a sexual predator who liked teenage boys and young men. Hill quickly developed an empathy for women who endure unwelcome advances from men.

Although Hill managed to set boundaries and become a friend of Ginsberg's, whom he otherwise found to be a genuinely good-hearted man who also mentored him in his writing, Hill was disturbed by a couple of things. One was the parents -- white, liberal Boulder Buddhists -- who practically shoved their sons at Ginsberg to learn at the feet, so to speak, of the great man. The second was the fact that Naropa's administration and faculty ignored Ginsberg's tendency to use his position to coerce male students into sexual liaisons. This same group would have found it scandalous if a male faculty member at the University of Colorado seduced and harassed female students. At Naropa they looked the other way, and the hypocrisy was troubling.

Each of these lessons was shaping him, as was the challenge of matching his wit and intellect against unusual thinkers like Burroughs, Ginsberg and, in 1979, one of the great American writers of the mid-1900s. That spring, Hill married a woman who was a hostess at a restaurant where he worked as a bartender. He was twenty and she was 31, a rebellious, beautiful woman who enchanted him with stories about her life overseas. It was his dream to travel and immerse himself in foreign cultures.

He had become increasingly disenchanted with the Boulder Buddhist community, and decided to get away from it all by taking his new bride to Europe, perhaps stop by the gravesite of the poet Rimbaud. Burroughs suggested that since he was going to France, he ought to drop farther down and see one of his old friends and teachers, Paul Bowles, in Tangier, Morocco.

In the 1920s, composer, writer and painter Bowles had run to Paris, where he'd been befriended by Gertrude Stein. He was a protegé of Aaron Copland and had collaborated with Tennessee Williams as a songwriter. He had visited Morocco in the 1930s and returned to Tangier in 1947, where he wrote his most famous book, The Sheltering Sky, which had been high on Burroughs's reading list. As America's most famous expatriate writer, his home was a pilgrimage for other artists from the Beat writers to Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.

Visiting Bowles in Tangier sounded incredibly romantic. Hill's marriage was already troubled, and he thought the trip might help. And so the Hills had shown up in Tangier where, thanks to Burroughs, Bowles welcomed them into his home.

That time took on a surreal quality. Bowles's own protegé, Mohammed Mrabet, showed up and entertained them with his gift for telling stories. As he wove his exotic tales, Mrabet would smoke hashish while Bowles smoked kif -- a mixture of marijuana and tobacco -- from a long cigarette holder.

Mrabet finished his stories late at night, saying "Life is a dream." Then Bowles urged Hill to listen. There came the sound of yapping and the click of hard nails on brick. "It was jackals running through the streets of Tangier," Hill says.

The telephone rings. Hill answers with one hand, while reaching with the other to turn down the sound -- and somehow maintaining control of the car. It's a friend who's having trouble with her landlord. He groans but assures her that he'll help get the problem resolved.

Hill gets a lot of such calls -- usually without offers to pay, which he probably wouldn't accept anyway. Still, he and Yoo are running their firm on a frayed shoestring, lately having taken several financial hits on cases. "Unfortunately, I seem to attract a lot of intriguing and noisy cases that don't make any money," he says dryly.

Out of the car, he's reminiscing about the past, pointing out where the Boulder Book Store now occupies the space on the mall where Naropa used to be. The spot where he met Burroughs, who died in 1998, has been altered into a staircase. Farther up the street, he notes that the conservative men's clothing store is now a Banana Republic, which sells leather jackets it markets as being like one worn by Jack Kerouac.

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