Autumn — Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland. Most addicts who commit crime in order to buy drugs do not choose violent crime, but rather opt for burglary. Don Gately is a 27-year-old narcotics addict with a preference for Demerol and Talwin, and also “more or less a professional burglar.” He has a surprisingly upbeat disposition. One day he decides to break into a house without realizing the owner is still home, lying in bed with a cold. Gately’s associate confirms that the safe in the house can be opened easily, and because Gately is desperately craving a fix of narcotics, he decided to go ahead with the burglary despite the owner being home.
As we will come to see, Gately is one of the main characters in the book. Although the first time we are introduced to him is when he is burgling someone’s house, this decision is presented in a somewhat sympathetic light. It is clear that Gately doesn’t want to harm anyone, but rather just wants to some money in order to buy drugs. While we may not condone Gately’s actions, he is not presented as ruthless or evil.
The homeowner, Guillaume DuPlessis, begs Gately not to gag him because his illness means he can only breathe through his mouth. In exchange, he tries to offer Gately tips about where to find valuable items in the house. However, unfortunately due to his cold DuPlessis’s words do not even sound “human” to Gately. Gately balls up a kitchen cloth and tapes it inside DuPlessis’ mouth. DuPlessis is in fact “the right-hand man to the most infamous anti-O.N.A.N. organizer north of the Great Concavity.” He has moved to Boston to act as a liaison between Québec separatists and Albertan right-wing extremists, who are aligned only in their militant resentment of the Great Concavity.
O.N.A.N. stands for the Organization of North American Nations; as will become clear later in the novel, it is a super-nation comprised of Canada, the US, and Mexico, and was formed largely as an excuse for the US to “gift” the highly toxic Great Concavity to Canada. Secessionists like DuPlessis want to both break up O.N.A.N. and separate Quebec from the rest of Canada. DuPlessis’s identity is thus another small, seemingly arbitrary detail that becomes important much later.
After Gately and his associate leave, DuPlessis remains bound for hours, slowly suffocating from a combination of nasal congestion and the towel taped over his face. Eventually DuPlessis dies. The chapter ends with a list of technological innovations originating in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.
The end of this chapter begins to indicate more heavily that the world of the novel is a dystopia: although it may be full of technological innovations, it is also rife with strange, disturbing events and political turmoil.