A Clockwork Orange — In Cotati?

It’s no secret that there are plenty of famous and not-so-famous writers living in the North Bay. But several years ago, I was taken aback to learn that Anthony Burgess, the famed writer of the 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange and numerous other works actually resided at the intersection of Rohnert Park and Cotati, in the former Sonoma Grove Trailer Park — or at least someone purporting himself to be the Anthony Burgess.

Anthony Burgess

The way Burgess came to my attention had been through braggart-like conversations with various friends over a two year period between 1995 and 1996. People would say things like “I had dinner with Anthony Burgess in Cotati last night” or “I smoked a joint with Anthony Burgess, the writer, last night.  An English professor at Sonoma State University even professed to having stayed out all night walking the streets of Cotati with the esteemed Mr. Burgess, whom the professor said had “retired” to Sonoma Grove.

At the time, I was working as a columnist with the Pacific Sun newspaper in Marin County. I decided it would be worth a drive north to do an interview with the famous author. I picked up a Sonoma County phone book and looked him up.  He was there with a local number, living in Cotati.

I called the number and got him on the phone. Was he the author of A Clockwork Orange? “Yes.”  Would he be willing to meet with me for an interview in the Pacific Sun?  “Sure.”  We set up a meeting for the following afternoon at The Tradewinds, a colorful local bar and music venue, on Old Redwood Highway in downtown Cotati.

There wasn’t much time before our meeting, and I wanted to be up on his work.  So I drove to Borders Books in San Rafael to buy a copy of his most famous book. I settled in to a chair to read it, but was surprised to see a publishers’ inscription in the book’s first pages that read “Anthony Burgess was one of the most prolific authors of the 20th Century. He died in 1993.”

I immediately sensed a problem, but decided to keep the interview appointment anyway.

The next afternoon, I drove to Cotati and entered The Tradewinds where Anthony was waiting at a small table. He was at least thirty years younger than the man I had expected to meet, who had been born in 1917.  And he didn’t have a trace of the English accent that I had expected having spent his life in England.

 Anthony’s teeth were also in a state of disarray, indicating either poor oral hygiene or the possible abuse of methamphetamines.

The Tradewinds Bar in Cotati

As our interview got underway, we were interrupted by the bartender (who apparently knew Anthony as a co-worker), who asked Anthony to get up and bring ice into his bar station. In addition to his illustrious writing career, Anthony was also the bar-back at The Tradewinds.

When he returned, we got down to business. Anthony said that he indeed was the writer of A Clockwork Orange, and dozens of other works, which he wrote in his trailer in Sonoma Grove, but that he never received any money or royalties for.  What happened, he explained, was that he typed out the pages of the book and then put them in a drawer in his trailer. At night, he said, someone came in and stole his work – and published it under his name.

“I never received any money for it,” he insisted. “All of the money went to the other Anthony.”

Anthony went on to say that the film version of A Clockwork Orange, directed in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick, and starring Malcolm MacDowell in the title role of the ultra-violent sociopath Alex, was actually a documentary about his life – and that he starred in it. “They just followed me around with cameras and filmed what was happening,” Anthony said.

The bartender was soon motioning for Anthony to clear glasses and bottles off of a nearby table, and I sensed that our interview was coming to an end. But first, I had to know – what did he make of the inscription in the book, the one that said that he had actually died in 1993?

“That was the other Anthony!” he exclaimed. “He stole all of my writing and I never got a penny.”

Interview done, I proceeded back to the office to file the story.

I have been in the Tradwinds in the years since, but have yet to run into Anthony.  But I know that if I did, the experience would likely be as queer as a Clockwork Orange, a cockney phrase that means very queer indeed.

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