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Charles Bukowski

1920 – 1994

American prolific poet, short story writer and novelist; author of ‘Notes of a Dirty Old Man’, ‘Love Is a Dog from Hell’, and the autobiographical novels, ‘Women’, ‘Hollywood’, and ‘Post Office’.

Generally speaking, you’re free till you’re about four years old. And then… five around, since you go to Grammar School and then you start becoming demanded and […? and orientated and shoved into areas… You lose what individualism you have, if you have enough of course you retain some of it, but most don’t have enough so you become watcher of a game show… or things like that.

And you work to get your job with almost a feeling of goodness, like you’re doing something, and you get married like marriage is a victory, er… you have children like children is a victory, but most things most people do are a total […?]  marriage, birth, children… It’s something they have to do because there’s nothing else to do. There’s no glory in it, there’s no spin, there’s no fire… it’s very very flat. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it.

◊→ Friendly advice to a lot of young men  ⇓

Go to Tibet
Ride a camel.
Read the bible.
Dye your shoes blue.
Grow a beard.
Circle the world in a paper canoe.
Subscribe to The Saturday Evening Post.
Chew on the left side of your mouth only.
Marry a woman with one leg and shave with a straight razor.
And carve your name in her arm.

Brush your teeth with gasoline.
Sleep all day and climb trees at night.
Be a monk and drink buckshot and beer.
Hold your head under water and play the violin.
Do a belly dance before pink candles.
Kill your dog.
Run for mayor.
Live in a barrel.
Break your head with a hatchet.
Plant tulips in the rain.

But don’t write poetry.

♦ “Poetry Readings” ↓ (read by Tom O’Bedlam)

poetry readings have to be some of the saddest damned things ever,
the gathering of the clansmen and clanladies,
week after week, month after month, year after year,
getting old together, reading on to tiny gatherings,
still hoping their genius will be discovered,
making tapes together, discs together,
sweating for applause
they read basically to and for each other,
they can’t find a New York publisher
or one within miles,
but they read on and on
in the poetry holes of America,
never daunted,
never considering the possibility that
their talent might be thin, almost invisible,
they read on and on
before their mothers, their sisters, their husbands,
their wives, their friends, the other poets
and the handful of idiots who have wandered
in from nowhere.

I am ashamed for them,
I am ashamed that they have to bolster each other,
I am ashamed for their lisping egos, their lack of guts.

if these are our creators, please, please give me something else:

a drunken plumber at a bowling alley,
a prelim boy in a four rounder,
a jock guiding his horse through along the rail,
a bartender on last call,
a waitress pouring me a coffee,
a drunk sleeping in a deserted doorway,
a dog munching a dry bone,
an elephant’s fart in a circus tent,
lawa 6 p.m. freeway crush,
the mailman telling a dirty joke

anything
anything but these.

◊  ‘Style’  ↓  [1972]

Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art

Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art

Not many have style
Not many can keep style
I have seen dogs with more style than men,
although not many dogs have style.
Cats have it with abundance.

When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun,
that was style.
Or sometimes people give you style
Joan of Arc had style
John the Baptist
Jesus – Socrates
Caesar – García Lorca.

I have met men in jail with style.
I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail.
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done.
Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,
or you, walking out of the bathroom naked, without seeing me.

↓  The Genius of the Crowd

♦ The Night I was going to Die  ⇓

the night I was going to die
I was sweating on the bed
and I could hear the crickets
and there was a cat fight outside
and I could feel my soul dropping down through the
mattress
and just before it hit the floor I jumped up
I was almost too weak to walk
but I walked around and turned on all the lights
and then I went back to bed
and dropped it down again and
I was up
turning on all the lights
I had a 7-year-old daughter
and I felt sure she wouldn’t want me dead
otherwise it wouldn’t have
mattered
but all that night
nobody phoned
nobody came by with a beer
my girlfriend didn’t phone
all I could hear were the crickets and it was
hot
and I kept working at it
getting up and down
until the first of the sun came through the window
through the bushes
and then I got on the bed
and the soul stayed
inside at last and
I slept.
now people come by
beating on the doors and windows
the phone rings
the phone rings again and again
I get great letters in the mail
hate letters and love letters.
everything is the same again.

◊  The Secret of My Endurance ↓ ( from “Dangling In The Tourne”)

I still get letters in the mail, mostly from cracked-up
men in tiny rooms with factory jobs or no jobs who are
living with whores or no woman at all, no hope, just booze and madness.
Most of their letters are on lined paper
written with an unsharpened pencil or in ink
in tiny handwriting that slants to the left
and the paper is often torn usually halfway up the middle
and they say they like my stuff,
I’ve written from where it’s at, and they recognize that.
truly, I’ve given them a second chance, some recognition of where they’re at.
it’s true, I was there, worse off than most of them.
but I wonder if they realize where their letters arrive?
well, they are dropped into a box
behind a six-foot hedge with a long driveway leading
to a two car garage, rose garden, fruit trees,
animals, a beautiful woman, mortgage about half
paid after a year, a new car,
fireplace and a green rug two-inches thick
with a young boy to write my stuff now,
I keep him in a ten-foot cage with a
typewriter, feed him whiskey and raw whores,
belt him pretty good three or four times a week.
I’m 59 years old now and the critics say my stuff is getting better than ever.
♦→  Roll the Dice ↓

if you’re going to try, go all the way – otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and maybe your mind.

rolldice

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision, mockery, isolation.

isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your endurance, of
how much you really want to do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else you can imagine.

if you’re going to try, go all the way.
there is no other feeling like that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with fire.

do it, do it, do it. do it – all the way, all the way.

you will ride life straight to perfect laughter,
it’s the only good fight there is.

↑  The  Laughing  ♥  Heart  ↓     [→read by Tom Waits←]

◊  Bluebird ↓

◊  Dinosauria, We  ↓

born like this
into this
as the chalk faces smile
as Mrs. Death laughs
as the elevators break
as political landscapes dissolve
as the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
as the oily fish spit out their oily prey
as the sun is masked

we are
born like this
into this
into these carefully mad wars
into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
into bars where people no longer speak to each other
into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings

born into this
into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes

born into this
walking and living through this
dying because of this
muted because of this
castrated
debauched
disinherited
because of this
fooled by this
used by this
pissed on by this
made crazy and sick by this
made violent
made inhuman
by this

the heart is blackened
the fingers reach for the throat
the gun
the knife
the bomb
the fingers reach toward an unresponsive god

the fingers reach for the bottle
the pill
the powder

we are born into this sorrowful deadliness
we are born into a government 60 years in debt
that soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
and the banks will burn
money will be useless
there will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
it will be guns and roving mobs
land will be useless
food will become a diminishing return
nuclear power will be taken over by the many
explosions will continually shake the earth
radiated robot men will stalk each other
the rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground

the sun will not be seen and it will always be night
trees will die
all vegetation will die
radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
the sea will be poisoned
the lakes and rivers will vanish
rain will be the new gold

the rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
the last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases

and the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
the petering out of supplies
the natural effect of general decay

and there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
born out of that.

the sun still hidden there
awaiting the next chapter.

♦  ‘something for the touts, the nuns, the grocery store clerks and you…’ ↓

we have everything and we have nothing
and some men do it in churches
and some men do it by tearing butterflies in half
and some men do it in Palm Springs
laying it into butterblondes with Cadillac souls
Cadillacs and butterflies – nothing and everything,
the face melting down to the last puff in a cellar in Corpus Christi
there’s something for the touts, the nuns, the grocery store clerks and you…
something at 8 a.m., something in the library
something in the river, everything and nothing.
 
in the slaughterhouse it comes running along
the ceiling on a hook, and you swing it– one – two – three
and then you’ve got it,  $200 worth of dead meat
 its bones against your bones – something and nothing.
it’s always early enough to die and it’s always too late,
and the drill of blood in the basin white it tells you nothing at all
and the gravediggers playing poker over 5 a.m. coffee,
waiting for the grass to dismiss the frost…
they tell you nothing at all.
 
we have everything and we have nothing –
days with glass edges and the impossible stink of river moss–worse than shit;
checkerboard days of moves and countermoves,
fagged interest, with as much sense in defeat as in victory;
slow days like mules, humping it slagged and sullen and sun-glazed up a road
where a madman sits waiting among bluejays and wrens netted in and sucked a flakey grey.
 
good days too of wine and shouting, fights in alleys
 fat legs of women striving around your bowels buried in moans,
the signs in bullrings like diamonds hollering Mother Capri,
violets coming out of the ground
telling you to forget the dead armies and the loves that robbed you.
 
days when children say funny and brilliant things
like savages trying to send you a message through their bodies
 while their bodies are still alive enough
to transmit and feel and run up and down
without locks and paychecks and ideals and possessions and beetle-like opinions.
 
days when you can cry all day long in a green room with the door locked,
days when you can laugh at the breadman because his legs are too long,
days of looking at hedges…
and nothing, and nothing. the days of the bosses,
 yellow men with bad breath and big feet,
men who look like frogs, hyenas,
men who walk as if melody had never been invented,
men who think it is intelligent to hire and fire and profit,
men with expensive wives they possess like 60 acres of ground
to be drilled or shown-off or to be walled away from the incompetent,
men who’d kill you because they’re crazy and justify it because it’s the law,
men who stand in front of windows 30 feet wide and see nothing,
men with luxury yachts who can sail around the world and yet never get out of their vest pockets,
men like snails, men like eels, men like slugs, and not as good…
 
and nothing. getting your last paycheck at a harbor, at a factory, at a hospital, at an aircraft plant,
at a penny arcade, at a barbershop, at a job you didn’t want anyway.
income tax, sickness, servility, broken arms, broken heads–
all the stuffing come out like an old pillow.
 
we have everything and we have nothing.
some do it well enough for a while and then give way.
fame gets them or disgust
or age or lack of proper diet or ink across the eyes or children in college
or new cars or broken backs while skiing in Switzerland
or new politics or new wives or just natural change and decay–
the man you knew yesterday hooking for ten rounds
and drinking for three days and three nights by the Sawtooth mountains
now just something under a sheet or a cross or a stone
or under an easy delusion, or packing a bible or a golf bag or a briefcase:
how they go, how they go! — all the ones you thought would never go.
 
days like this. like your day today.
maybe the rain on the window trying to get through to you.
what do you see today?  what is it?  where are you?
the best days are sometimes the first, sometimes the middle and even sometimes the last.
the vacant lots are not bad,
churches in Europe on postcards are not bad.
people in wax museums frozen into their best sterility are not bad,
horrible but not bad.
the cannon, think of the cannon. and toast for breakfast the coffee hot enough
so you know your tongue is still there.
three geraniums outside a window, trying to be red and trying to be pink and trying to be geraniums.
no wonder sometimes the women cry,
no wonder the mules don’t want to go up the hill.
are you in a hotel room in Detroit looking for a cigarette?
one more good day  –  a little bit of it.
and as the nurses come out of the building after their shift, having had enough,
eight nurses with different names and different places to go–walking across the lawn,
some of them want cocoa and a paper, some of them want a hot bath,
some of them want a man, some of them are hardly thinking at all.
enough and not enough.
arcs and pilgrims, oranges gutters, ferns … antibodies, boxes of tissue paper.
 
in the most decent sometimes sun
there is the soft smoke feeling from urns and the canned sound of old battle planes
and if you go inside and run your finger along the window ledge
you’ll find dirt, maybe even earth.
and if you look out the window, there will be the day,
and as you get older you’ll keep looking – keep looking
sucking your tongue in a little
ah ah   no no    maybe
some do it naturally
some obscenely
everywhere.

♦→ “The man with the beautiful eyes”  [directed by Jonathan Hodgson in 1999]

when we were kids there was a strange house
all the shades were always drawn and we never heard voices in there
and the yard was full of bamboo and we liked to play in the bamboo
pretend we were Tarzan (although there was no Jane).
and there was a fish pond a large one, full of the fattest goldfish you ever saw and they were tame.
they came to the surface of the water and took pieces of bread from our hands.

Our parents had told us: “never go near that house.”
so, of course, we went.
we wondered if anybody lived there.
weeks went by and we never saw anybody.

then one day we heard a voice from the house
“YOU GOD DAMNED WHORE!” it was a man’s voice.

then the screen door of the house was flung open and the man walked out.

he was holding a fifth of whiskey in his right hand.
he was about 30.
he had a cigar in his mouth, needed a shave.
his hair was wild and uncombed
and he was barefoot in undershirt and pants.
but his eyes were bright – they blazed with brightness and he said,
“hey, little gentlemen, having a good time, I hope?”

then he gave a little laugh and walked back into the house.

we left – went back to my parents’ yard and thought about it.

our parents, we decided, had wanted us to stay away from there
because they never wanted us to see a man like that,
a strong natural man with beautiful eyes.

our parents were ashamed that they were not like that man,
that’s why they wanted us to stay away.

but we went back to that house and the bamboo and the tame goldfish.
we went back many times for many weeks but we never saw or heard the man again.

the shades were down as always and it was quiet.

then one day as we came back from school we saw the house.

it had burned down, there was nothing left,
just a smouldering twisted black foundation
and we went to the fish pond and there was no water in it
and the fat orange goldfish were dead there, drying out.

we went back to my parents’ yard and talked about it
and decided that our parents had burned their house down,
had killed them, had killed the goldfish because it was all too beautiful,
even the bamboo forest had burned.

they had been afraid of the man with the beautiful eyes.

and we were afraid then that all throughout our lives things like that would happen,
that nobody wanted anybody to be strong and beautiful like that,
that others would never allow it, and that many people would have to die.

◊  ‘Nirvana’  ↓ [poem read by Tom Waits] ←

Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana revolves around a young man traveling to an undetermined destination, questioning his purpose in the world. Along the young man’s aimless journey, he encounters a moment in time at a charming diner. In just that moment something is awakened inside of him, but even with a sense of purpose, sadness follows. “Nirvana” is a melancholy postcard from memories long past.

not much chance, completely cut loose from purpose,
he was a young man riding a bus through North Carolina
on the way to somewhere  and it began to snow
and the bus stopped at a little cafe in the hills and the passengers entered.
he sat at the counter with the others,
he ordered and the food arrived.
the meal was particularly good  and the coffee.
the waitress was unlike the women he’d known.
she was unaffected,  there was a natural humor which came from her.
the fry cook said crazy things and the dishwasher, in back, laughed, a good clean pleasant laugh.

the young man watched the snow through the windows.
he wanted to stay in that cafe forever.
the curious feeling swam through him
that everything was beautiful there, that it would always stay beautiful there.
Then the bus driver told the passengers that it was time to board.
the young man thought, “I’ll just sit here … I’ll just stay here,”
but then he rose and followed the others onto the bus.
he found his seat and looked at the cafe through the bus window.
then the bus moved off, down a curve, downward, out of the hills.
the young man looked straight foreward.
he heard the other passengers speaking of other things, or they were reading or trying to sleep.
they had not noticed the magic.
the young man put his head to one side, closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
there was nothing else to do – just to listen to the sound of the engine,
the sound of the tires in the snow.

¤  South of No North   [Stories of the buried life . . .]

Index of stories

  1. Loneliness
  2. Bop Bop against That Curtain
  3. You and Your Beer and How Great You Are
  4. A Couple of Winos
  5. Maja Thurup
  6. The Killers
  7. A Man
  8. Stop Staring at My Tits, Mister
  9. Dr. Nazi
  10. Guts
  11. All the Assholes in the World and Mine

1. LONELINESS ⇐

Edna was walking down the street with her bag of groceries when she passed the automobile. There was a sign in the side window: ‘WOMAN WANTED’. She stopped. There was a large piece of cardboard in the window with some material pasted on it. Most of it was typewritten. Edna couldn’t read it from where she stood on the sidewalk. She could only see the large letters: ‘WOMAN WANTED’. It was an expensive new car. Edna stepped forward on the grass to read the typewritten portion:

“Man age 49. Divorced. Wants to meet woman for marriage. Should be 35 to 44. Like television and motion pictures. Good food. I am a cost accountant, reliably employed. Money in bank. I like women to be on the fat side.”

Edna was 37 and on the fat side. There was a phone number. There were also three photos of the gentleman in search of a woman. He looked quite staid in a suit and necktie. Also he looked dull and a little cruel. And made of wood, thought Edna, made of wood. Edna walked off, smiling a bit. She also had a feeling of repulsion. By the time she reached her apartment she had forgotten about him. It was some hours later, sitting in the bathtub, that she thought about him again and this time she thought how truly lonely he must be to do such a thing: ‘WOMAN WANTED’. She thought of him coming home, finding the gas and phone bills in the mailbox, undressing, taking a bath, the TV on. Then the evening paper. Then into the kitchen to cook. Standing there in his shorts, staring down at the frying pan. Taking his food and walking to a table, eating it. Drinking his coffee. Then more TV And maybe a lonely can of beer before bed. There were millions of men like that all over America. Edna got out of the tub, toweled, dressed and left her apartment. The car was still there. She took down the man’s name, Joe Lighthill, and the phone number. She read the typewritten section again. “Motion pictures.” What an odd term to use. People said “movies” now. ‘Woman Wanted’. The sign was very bold. He was original there. When Edna got home she had three cups of coffee before dialing the number. The phone rang four times.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Mr. Lighthill?”

“Yes?”

“I saw your ad. Your ad on the car.”

“Oh, yes.”

“My name’s Edna.”

“How you doing, Edna?”

“Oh, I’m all right. It’s been so hot. This weather’s too much.”

“Yes, it makes it difficult to live.”

“Well, Mr. Lighthill . . .”

“Just call me Joe.”

“Well, Joe, hahaha, I feel like a fool. You know what I’m calling about?”

“You saw my sign?”

“I mean, hahaha, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you get a woman?”

“I guess not, Edna. Tell me, where are they?”

“Women?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, everywhere, you know.”

“Where? Tell me. Where?”

“Well, church, you know. There are women in church.”

“I don’t like church.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, why don’t you come over, Edna?”

“You mean over there?”

“Yes. I have a nice place. We can have a drink, talk. No pressure.”

“It’s late.”

“It’s not that late. Listen you saw my sign. You must be interested.”

“Well . . .”

“You’re scared, that’s all. You’re just scared.”

“No, I’m not scared.”

“Then come on over, Edna.”

“Well . . .”

“Come on.”

“All right. I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.”

It was on the top floor of a modern apartment complex. Apt. 17. The swimming pool below threw back the lights. Edna knocked. The door opened and there was Mr. Lighthill. Balding in front; hawknosed with the nostril hairs sticking out; the shirt open at the neck.

“Come on in, Edna . . .”

She walked in and the door closed behind her. She had on her blue knit dress. She was stockingless, in sandals, and smoking a cigarette.

“Sit down. I’ll get you a drink.”

It was a nice place. Everything in blue and green and very clean. She heard Mr. Lighthill humming as he mixed the drinks, hmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmmm . . . He seemed relaxed and it helped her. Mr. Lighthill — Joe — came out with the drinks. He handed Edna hers and then sat in a chair across the room from her.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s been hot, hot as hell. I’ve got air-conditioning, though.”

“I noticed. It’s very nice.”

“Drink your drink.”

“Oh, yes.”

Edna had a sip. It was a good drink, a bit strong but it tasted nice. She watched Joe tilt his head as he drank. He appeared to have heavy wrinkles around his neck. And his pants were much too loose. They appeared sizes too large. It gave his legs a funny look.

“That’s a nice dress, Edna.”

“You like it?”

“Oh yes. You’re plump too. It fits you snug, real snug.”

Edna didn’t say anything. Neither did Joe. They just sat looking at each other and sipping their drinks. Why doesn’t he talk? thought Edna. ‘It’s up to him to talk. There is something wooden about him. She finished her drink.

“Let me get you another,” said Joe.

“No, I really should be going.”

“Oh, come on,” he said, “let me get you another drink. We need something to loosen us up.”

“All right, but after this one, I’m going.”

Joe went into the kitchen with the glasses. He wasn’t humming anymore. He came out, handed Edna her drink and sat back down in his chair across the room from her. This drink was stronger.

“You know,” he said, “I do well on the sex quizzes.” Edna sipped at her drink and didn’t answer. “How do you do on the sex quizzes?” Joe asked.

“I’ve never taken any.”

“You should, you know, so you’ll find out who you are and what you are.”

“Do you think those things are valid? I’ve seen them in the newspaper. I haven’t taken them but I’ve seen them,” said Edna.

“Of course they’re valid.”

“Maybe I’m no good at sex,” said Edna, “maybe that’s why I’m alone.” She took a long drink from her glass.

“Each of us is, finally, alone,” said Joe.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, no matter how well it’s going sexually or love-wise or both, the day arrives when it’s over.”

“That’s sad,” said Edna.

“Of course. So the day arrives when it’s over. Either there is a split or the whole thing resolves into a truce: two people living together without feeling anything. I believe that being alone is better.”

“Did you divorce your wife, Joe?”

“No, she divorced me.”

“What went wrong?”

“Sexual orgies.”

“Sexual orgies?”

“You know, a sexual orgy is the loneliest place in the world. Those orgies — I felt a sense of desperation — those cocks sliding in and out — excuse me …”

“It’s all right.”

“Those cocks sliding in and out, legs locked, fingers working, mouths, everybody clutching and sweating and determined to do it — somehow.”

“I don’t know much about those things, Joe,” Edna said. “I believe that without love, sex is nothing. Things can only be meaningful when some feeling exists between the participants.”

“You mean people have to like each other?”

“It helps.”

“Suppose they get tired of each other? Suppose they have to stay together? Economics? Children? All that?”

“Orgies won’t do it.”

“What does it?”

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe the swap.”

“The swap?”

“You know, when two couples know each other quite well and switch partners. Feelings, at least, have a chance. For example, say I’ve always liked Mike’s wife. I’ve liked her for months. I’ve watched her walk across the room. I like her movements. Her movements have made me curious. I wonder, you know, what goes with those movements. I’ve seen her angry, I’ve seen her drunk, I’ve seen her sober. And then, the swap. You’re in the bedroom with her, at last you’re knowing her. There’s a chance for something real. Of course, Mike has your wife in the other room. Good luck, Mike, you think, and I hope you’re as good a lover as I am.”

“And it works all right?”

“Well, I dunno . . . Swaps can cause difficulties . . . afterwards. It all has to be talked out . . . very well talked out ahead of time. And then maybe people don’t know enough, no matter how much they talk . . .”

“Do you know enough, Joe?”

“Well, these swaps … I think it might be good for some . . . maybe good for many. I guess it wouldn’t work for me. I’m toomuch of a prude.” Joe finished his drink. Edna set the remainder of hers down and stood up.

“Listen Joe, I have to be going …” Joe walked across the room toward her. He looked like an elephant in those pants. She saw his big ears. Then he grabbed her and was kissing her. His bad breath came through all the drinks. He had a very sour smell. Part of his mouth was not making contact. He was strong but his strength was not pure, it begged. She pulled her head away and still he held her. WOMAN WANTED. “Joe, let me go! You’re moving too fast, Joe! Let go!”

“Why did you come here, bitch?” He tried to kiss her again and succeeded. It was horrible. Edna brought her knee up. She got him good. He grabbed and fell to the rug. .”God, god … why’d you have to do that? You tried to kill me . . .” He rolled on the floor. His behind, she thought, he had such an ugly behind. She left him rolling on the rug and ran down the stairway. The air was clean outside. She heard people talking, she heard their T.V. sets. It wasn’t a long walk to her apartment. She felt the need of another bath, got out of her blue knit dress and scrubbed herself. Then she got out of the tub, toweled herself dry and set her hair in pink curlers. She decided not to see him again.

2.  BOP BOP AGAINST THAT CURTAIN

We talked about women, peeked up their legs as they got out of cars, and we looked into windows at night hoping to see somebody fucking but we never saw anybody. One time we did watch a couple in bed and the guy was mauling his woman and we thought now we’re going to see it, but she said, “No, I don’t want to do it tonight!” Then she turned her back on him. He lit a cigarette and we went in search of a new window.

“Son of a bitch, no woman of mine would turn away from me!”

“Me neither. What kind of a man was that?”

There were three of us, me, Baldy, and Jimmy. Our big day was Sunday. On Sunday we met at Baldy’s house and took the streetcar down to Main Street. Carfare was seven cents. There were two burlesque houses in those days, the Follies and the Burbank. We were in love with the strippers at the Burbank and the jokes were a little better so we went to the Burbank. We had tried the dirty movie house but the pictures weren’t really dirty and the plots were all the same. A couple of guys would get some little innocent girl drunk and before she got over her hangover she’d find herself in a house of prostitution with a line of sailors and hunchbacks beating on her door. Besides in those places the bums slept night and day, pissed on the floor, drank wine, and rolled each other. The stink of piss and wine and murder was unbearable. We went to the Burbank.

“You boys going to a burlesque today?” Baldy’s grampa would ask.

“Hell no, sir, we’ve got things to do.”

We went. We went each Sunday. We went early in the morning, long before the show and we walked up and down Main Street looking into the empty bars where the B-girls sat in the doorways with their skirts up, kicking their ankles in the sunlight that drifted into the dark bar. The girls looked good. But we knew. We had heard. A guy went in for a drink and they charged his ass off, both for his drink and the girl’s. But the girl’s drink would be watered. You’d get a feel or two and that was it. If you showed any money the barkeep would see it and along would come the mickey and you were out over the bar and your money was gone. We knew. After our walk along Main Street we’d go into the hotdog place and get our eight cent hotdog and our big nickel mug of rootbeer. We were lifting weights and our muscles bulged and we wore our sleeves rolled high and we each had a pack of cigarettes in our breast pocket. We even had tried a Charles Atlas course. Dynamic Tension, but lifting weights seemed the more rugged and obvious way.

While we ate our hotdog and drank our huge mug of rootbeer we played the pinball machine, a penny a game. We got to know that pinball machine very well. When you made a perfect score you got a free game. We had to make perfect scores, we didn’t have that kind of money. Franky Roosevelt was in, things were getting better but it was still the depression and none of our fathers were working. Where we got our small amount of pocket money was a mystery except that we did have a sharp eye for anything that was not cemented to the ground. We didn’t steal, we shared. And we invented. Having little or no money we invented little games to pass the time — one of them being to walk to the beach and back. This was usually done on a summer day and our parents never complained when we arrived home too late for dinner. Nor did they care about the high glistening blisters on the bottoms of our feet. It was when they saw how we had worn out our heels and the soles of our shoes that we began to hear it. We were sent to the five and dime store where heels and soles and glue were at the ready and at a reasonable price.

The situation was the same when we played tackle football in the streets. There weren’t any public funds for playgrounds. We were so tough we played tackle football in the streets all through football season, through basketball and baseball seasons and on through the next football season. When you get tackled on asphalt, things happen. Skin rips, bones bruise, there’s blood, but you get up like nothing was wrong. Our parents never minded the scabs and the blood and the bruises; the terrible and unforgivable sin was to rip a hole in one of the knees of your pants. Because there were only two pairs of pants to each boy: his everyday pants and his Sunday pants, and you could never rip a hole in the knee of one of your two pairs of pants because that showed that you were poor and an asshole and that your parents were poor and assholes too. So you learned to tackle a guy without falling on either knee. And the guy being tackled learned how to be tackled without falling on either knee.

When we had fights we’d fight for hours and our parents wouldn’t save us. I guess it was because we pretended to be so tough and never asked for mercy, they were waiting for us to ask for mercy. But we hated our parents so we couldn’t and because we hated them they hated us, and they’d walk out on their porches and glance casually over at us in the midst of a terrible endless fight. They’d just yawn and pick up a throw-away advertisement and walk back inside. I fought a guy who later ended up very high in the United States Navy. I fought him one day from 8:30 in the morning until after sundown. Nobody stopped us although we were in plain sight of his front lawn, under two huge pepper trees with the sparrows shitting on us all day. It was a grim fight, it was to the finish. He was bigger, a little older and heavier, but I was crazier. We quit by common consent — I don’t know how this works, you have to experience it to understand it, but after two people beat on each other eight or nine hours a strange kind of brotherhood emerges. The next day my body was entirely blue. I couldn’t speak out of my lips or move any part of myself without pain. I was on the bed getting ready to die and my mother came in with the shirt I’d worn during the fight. She held it in front of my face over the bed and she said,

Look, you got bloodspots on this shirt! Bloodspots!”

“Sorry!”

“I’ll never get them out! NEVER!!”

“They’re his bloodspots.”

“It doesn’t matter! It’s blood! It doesn’t come out!” Sundays were our day, our quiet, easy day. We went to the Burbank. There was always a bad movie first. A very old movie, and you looked and waited. You were thinking of the girls. The three or four guys in the orchestra pit, they played loud, maybe they didn’t play too good but they played loud, and those strippers finally came out and grabbed the curtain, the edge of the curtain, and they grabbed that curtain like it was a man and shook their bodies and went bop bop bop against that curtain. Then they swung out and started to strip. If you had enough money there was even a bag of popcorn; if you didn’t to hell with it. Before the next act there was an intermission. A little man got up and said,

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will let me have your kind attention . . .” He was selling peep-rings. In the glass of each ring, if you held it to the light there was a most wonderful picture. This was promised you! Each ring was only 50 cents, a lifetime possession for just 50 cents, made available only to the patrons of the Burbank and not sold anywhere else.

“Just hold it up to the light and you will see! And, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind attention. Now the ushers will pass down the aisles among you.” Two ragass bums would proceed down the aisles smelling of muscatel, each carrying a bag of peep-rings. I never saw anybody purchase one of the rings. I imagine, though, if you had held one up to the light the picture in the glass would have been a naked woman. The band began again and the curtains opened and there was the chorus line, most of them former strippers gone old, heavy with mascara and rouge and lipstick, false eyelashes. They did their damnbest to stay with the music but they were always a little behind. But they carried on; I thought they were very brave. Then came the male singer. It was very difficult to like the male singer. He sang too loud about love gone wrong. He didn’t know how to sing and when he finished he spread his arms, and bowed his head to the tiniest ripple of applause. Then came the comedian. Oh, he was good! He came out in an old brown overcoat, hat pulled down over his eyes, slouching and walking like a bum, a bum with nothing to do and no place to go. A girl would walk by on the stage and his eyes would follow her. Then he’d turn to the audience and say, out of his toothless mouth,

“Well, I’ll be god damned!” Another girl would walk out on the stage and he’d walk up to her, put his face close to hers and say,

“I’m an old man, I’m past 44 but when the bed breaks down I finish on the floor.” That did it. How we laughed! The young guys and the old guys, how we laughed. And there was the suitcase routine. He’s trying to help some girl pack her suitcase. The clothes keep popping out. “I can’t get it in!”

“Here let me help you!”

“It popped out again!”

“Wait! I’ll stand on it!”

“What? Oh no, you’re not going to stand on it!” They went on and on with the suitcase routine. Oh, he was funny! Finally the first three or four strippers came out again. We each had our favorite stripper and we each were in love. Baldy had chosen a thin French girl with asthma and dark pouches under her eyes. Jimmy liked the Tiger Woman (properly The Tigress). I pointed out to Jimmy the Tiger Woman definitely had one breast larger than the other. Mine was Rosalie. Rosalie had a large ass and she shook it and shook it and sang funny little songs, and as she walked about stripping she talked to herself and giggled. She was the only one who really enjoyed her work. I was in love with Rosalie. I often thought of writing her and telling her how great she was but somehow I never got around to it. One afternoon we were waiting for the streetcar after the show and there was the Tiger Woman waiting for the streetcar too. She was dressed in a tight-fitting green dress and we stood there looking at her.

“It’s your girl, Jimmy, it’s the Tiger Woman.”

“Boy, she’s got it! Look at her!”

“I’m going to talk to her,” said Baldy. “It’s Jimmy’s girl.”

“I don’t want to talk to her,” said Jimmy.

“I’m going to talk to her,” said Baldy. He put a cigarette in his mouth, lit it, and walked up to her. “Hi ya, baby!” he grinned at her. The Tiger Woman didn’t answer. She just stared straight ahead waiting for the streetcar. “I know who you are. I saw you strip today. You’ve got it, baby, you’ve really got it!” The Tiger Woman didn’t answer. “You really shake it, my god, you really shake it!” The Tiger Woman stared straight ahead. Baldy stood there grinning like an idiot at her. “I’d like to put it to you. I’d like to fuck you, baby!” We walked up and pulled Baldy away. We walked him down the street.

“You asshole, you have no right to talk to her that way!”

“Well, she gets up and shakes it, she gets up in front of men and shakes it!”

“She’s just trying to make a living.”

“She’s hot, she’s red hot, she wants it!”

“You’re crazy.”

We walked him down the street. Not long after that I began to lose interest in those Sundays on Main Street. I suppose the Follies and the Burbank are still there. Of course, the Tiger Woman and the stripper with asthma, and Rosalie, my Rosalie are long gone. Probably dead. Rosalie’s big shaking ass is probably dead. And when I’m in my neighborhood, I drive past the house I used to live in and there are strangers living there. Those Sundays were good, though, most of those Sundays were good, a tiny light in the dark depression days when our fathers walked the front porches, jobless and impotent and glanced at us beating the shit out of each other, then went inside and stared at the walls, afraid to play the radio because of the electric bill.

3.  YOU AND YOUR BEER AND HOW GREAT YOU ARE

Jack came through the door and found the pack of cigarettes on the mantle. Ann was on the couch reading a copy of Cosmopolitan. Jack lit up, sat down in a chair. It was ten minutes to midnight.

“Charley told you not to smoke,” said Ann, looking up from the magazine.

“I deserve it. It was a rough one tonight.”

“Did you win?”

“Split decision but I got it. Benson was a tough boy, lots of guts. Charley says Parvinelli is next. We get over Parvinelli, we get the champ.” Jack got up, went to the kitchen, came back with a bottle of beer.

“Charley told me to keep you off the beer,” Ann put the magazine down.

“‘Charley told me, Charley told me’ . . . I’m tired of that. I won my fight. I won 16 straight, I got a right to a beer and a cigarette.”

“You’re supposed to stay in shape.”

“It doesn’t matter. I can whip any of them.”

“You’re so great, I keep hearing it when you get drunk, you’re so great. I get sick of it.”

“I am great. 16 straight, 15 k.o.’s. Who’s better?” Ann didn’t answer. Jack took his bottle of beer and his cigarette into the bathroom.

“You didn’t even kiss me hello. The first thing you did was go to your bottle of beer. You’re so great, all right. You’re a great beer-drinker.” Jack didn’t answer. Five minutes later he stood in the bathroom door, his pants and shorts down around his shoes.

“Jesus Christ, Ann, can’t you even keep a roll of toilet paper in here?”

“Sorry.” She went to the closet and got him the roll. Jack finished his business and walked out. Then he finished his beer and got another one.

“Here you are living with the best light-heavy in the world and all you do is complain. Lots of girls would love to have me but all you do is sit around and bitch.”

“I know you’re good. Jack, maybe the best, but you don’t know how boring it is to sit around and listen to you say over and over again how great you are.”

“Oh, you’re bored with it, are you?”

“Yes, god damn it, you and your beer and how great you are.”

“Name a better light-heavy. You don’t even come to my fights.”

“There are other things besides fighting. Jack.”

“What? Like laying around on your ass and reading Cosmopolitan?”

“I like to improve my mind.”

“You ought to. There’s a lot of work to be done there.”

“I tell you there are other things besides fighting.”

“What? Name them.”

“Well, art, music, painting, things like that.”

“Are you any good at them?”

“No, but I appreciate them.”

“Shit, I’d rather be best at what I’m doing.”

“Good, better, best . . . God, can’t you appreciate people for what they are?”

“For what they are? What are most of them? Snails, blood-suckers, dandies, finks, pimps, servants . . .”

“You’re always looking down on everybody. None of your friends are good enough. You’re so damned great!”

“That’s right, baby.” Jack walked into the kitchen and came out with another beer.

“You and your god damned beer!”

“It’s my right. They sell it. I buy it.”

“Charley said . . .”

“Fuck Charley!”

“You’re so god damned great!”

“That’s right. At least Pattie knew it. She admitted it. She was proud of it. She knew it took something. All you do is bitch.”

“Well, why don’t you go back to Pattie? What are you doing with me?”

“That’s just what I’m thinking.”

“Well, we’re not married, I can leave any time.”

“That’s one break we’ve got. Shit, I come in here dead-ass tired after a tough ten rounder and you’re not even glad I took it. All you do is complain about me.”

“Listen. Jack, there are other things besides fighting. When I met you, I admired you for what you were.”

“I was a fighter. There aren’t any other things besides fighting. That’s what I am — a fighter. That’s my tile, and I’m good at it. The best. I notice you always go for those second raters . . . like Toby Jorgenson.”

“Toby’s very funny. He’s got a sense of humor, a real sense of humor. I like Toby.”

“His record is 9, 5, and one. I can take him when I’m dead drunk.”

“And god knows you’re dead drunk often enough. How do you think I feel at parties when you’re laying on the floor passed out, or lolling around the room telling everybody, ‘I’M GREAT, I’M GREAT, I’M GREAT!’ Don’t you think that makes me feel like an ass?”

“Maybe you are an ass. If you like Toby so much, why don’t you go with him?”

“Oh, I just said I liked him, I thought he was funny,that doesn’t mean I want to go to bed with him.”

“Well, you go to bed with me and you say I’m boring. I don’t know what the hell you want.” Ann didn’t answer. Jack got up, walked over to the couch, lifted Ann’s head and kissed her, walked back and sat down again.

“Listen, let me tell you about this fight with Benson. Even you would have been proud of me. He decks me in the first round, a sneak right. I get up and hold him off the rest of the round. He plants me again in the second. I barely get up at 8. I hold him out again. The next few rounds I spend getting my legs back. I take the 6th, 7th, 8th, deck him once in the 9th and twice in the 10th. I don’t call that a split. They called it a split. Well, it’s 45 grand, you get that, kid? 45 grand. I’m great, you can’t deny I’m great, can you?” Ann didn’t answer.

“Come on, tell me I’m great.”

“All right, you’re great.”

“Well, that’s more like it.” Jack walked over and kissed her again.

“I feel so good. Boxing is a work of art, it really is. It takes guts to be a great artist and it takes guts to be a great fighter.”

“All right. Jack.”

“‘All right, Jack,’ is that all you can say? Pattie used to be happy when I won. We were both happy all night. Can’t you share it when I do something good? Hell, are you in love with me or are you in love with the losers, the half-asses? I think you’d be happier if I came in here a loser.”

“I want you to win. Jack, it’s only that you put so much emphasis on what you do . . .”

“Hell, it’s my living, it’s my life. I’m proud of being best. It’s like flying, it’s like flying off into the sky and whipping the sun,”

“What are you going to do when you can’t fight anymore?”

“Hell, we’ll have enough money to do whatever we want.”

“Except get along, maybe.”

“Maybe I can learn to read Cosmopolitan,improve my mind.”

“Well, there’s room for improvement.”

“Fuck you.”

“What?”

“Fuck you.”

“Well, that’s something you haven’t done in a while.”

“Some guys like to fuck hitching women, I don’t.”

“I suppose Pattie didn’t bitch?”

“All women bitch, you’re the champ.”

“Well, why don’t you go back to Pattie?”

“You’re here now. I can only house one whore at a time.”

“Whore?”

“Whore.” Ann got up and went to the closet, got out her suitcase and began putting her clothes in there. Jack went to the kitchen and got another bottle of beer. Ann was crying and angry. Jack sat down with his beer and took a good drain. He needed a whiskey, he needed a bottle of whiskey. And a good cigar.

“I can come pick up the rest of my stuff when you’re not around.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll have it sent to you.” She stopped at the doorway.

“Well, I guess this is it,” she said.

“I suppose it is,” Jack answered. She closed the door and was gone. Standard procedure. Jack finished the beer and went over to the telephone. He dialed Pattie’s number. She answered.

“Pattie?” “Oh, Jack, how are you?”

“I won the big one tonight. A split. All I got to do is get over Parvinelli and I got the champ.”

“You’ll whip both of them, Jack. I know you can do it.”

“What are you doing tonight, Pattie?”

“It’s 1:00 a.m. Jack. Have you been drinking?”

“A few. I’m celebrating.”

“How about Ann?”

“We split. I only play one woman at a time, you know that Pattie.”

“Jack . . .”

“What?”

“I’m with a guy.”

“A guy?”

“Toby Jorgenson. He’s in the bedroom . . .”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. Jack, I loved you … maybe I still do.”

“Oh, shit, you women really throw that word around …”

“I’m sorry. Jack.”

“It’s o.k.” He hung up. Then he went to the closet for his coat. He put it on, finished the beer, went down the elevator to his car. He drove straight up Normandie at 65 m.p.h., pulled into the liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard. He got out and walked in. He got a six-pack of Michelob, a pack of Alka-Seltzers. Then at the counter he asked the clerk for a fifth of Jack Daniels. While the clerk was tabbing them up a drunk walked up with two six-packs of Coors.

“Hey, man!” he said to Jack, “ain’t you Jack Backenweld, the fighter?”

“I am,” answered Jack.

“Man, I saw that fight tonight. Jack, you’re all guts. You’re really great!”

“Thanks, man,” he told the drunk, and then he took his sack of goods and walked to his car. He sat there, took the cap off the Daniels and had a good slug. Then he backed out, ran west down Hollywood, took a left at Normandie and noticed a well-built teenage girl staggering down the street. He stopped his car, lifted the fifth out of the bag and showed it to her.

“Want a ride?” Jack was surprised when she got in.

“I’ll help you drink that, mister, but no fringe benefits.”

“Hell, no” said Jack. He drove down Normandie at 35 m.p.h., a self-respecting citizen and third ranked light-heavy in the world. For a moment he felt like telling her who she was riding with but he changed his mind and reached over and squeezed one of her knees.

“You got a cigarette, mister?” she asked. He flicked one out with his hand, pushed in the dash lighter. It jumped out and he lit her up.

4.  A COUPLE OF WINOS

I was in my 20’s and although I was drinking heavily and not eating, I was still strong. I mean, physically, and that’s some luck for you when not much else is going right. My mind was in riot against my lot and life, and the only way I could calm it was to drink and drink and drink. I was walking up the road, it was dusty and dirty and hot, and I believe the state was California, but I’m no longer sure. It was desert land. I was walking along the road, my stockings hard and rotted and stinking, the nails were coming up through the soles of my shoes and into my feet and I had to keep cardboard in my shoes — cardboard, newspaper, anything that I could find. The nails worked through that, and you either got some more or you turned the stuff around, or upside down, or reshaped it. The truck stopped alongside of me. I ignored it and kept walking. The truck started up again and the guy rode along beside me.

“Kid,” the guy said, ” you want a job?”

“Who’ve I got to kill?’ I asked.

“Nobody,” said the guy, “come on, get in.”

I went around to the other side and when I got there the door was open. I stepped up on the running board, slid in, pulled the door shut and leaned back in the leather seat. I was out of the sun.

“You wanna suck me,” said the guy, “you get five bucks.”

I put the right hand hard into his gut, got the left somewhere in between the ear and the neck, came back with the right to the mouth and the truck ran off the road. I grabbed the wheel and steered it back. Then I cut the motor and braked. I climbed out and continued to walk along the road. About five minutes later the truck was running along next to me again.

“Kid,” said the guy, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean you were a homo. I mean, though, you kind of half-look like a homo. Is there anything wrong with being a homo?”

“I guess if you’re a homo there’s not.”

“Come on,” said the guy, “get in. I got a real honest job for you. You can make some money, get on your feet.”

I climbed in again. We drove off.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “you got a real tough face, but look at your hands. You got ladies’ hands.”

“Don’t worry about my hands,” I said.

“Well, it’s a tough job. Loadin’ ties. You ever loaded ties?

“No.”

“It’s hard work.”

“I’ve done hard work all my life.”

“O.k.,” said the guy, “o.k.”

We drove along not talking, the truck rocking back and forth. There was nothing but dust, dust and desert. The guy didn’t have much of a face, he didn’t have much of anything. But sometimes small people who stay in the same place for a long time achieve minor prestige and power. He had the truck and he was hiring. Sometimes you have to go along with that. We drove along and there was an old guy walking along the road. He must have been in his mid-forties. That’s old for the road. This Mr. Burkhart, he’d told me his name, slowed his truck and asked the old guy.

“Hey, buddy,you want to make a couple of bucks?”

“Oh, yes sir!” said the old guy.

“Move over. Let him in,” said Mr. Burkhart.

The old guy got in and he really stank — of booze and sweat and agony and death. We drove on until we came to a small group of buildings. We got out with Burkhart and walked into a store. There was a guy in a green sunshade with a bunch of rubber bands around his left wrist. He was bald but his arms were covered with sickly long blond hair.

“Hello, Mr. Burkhart,” he said, “I see you found yourself a couple more winos.”

“Here’s the list, Jesse,” said Mr. Burkhart, and Jesse walked about filling orders. It took some time. Then he was finished.

“Anything else, Mr. Burkhart? A couple cheap bottles of wine?”

“No wine for me,” I said.

“O.k.,” said the old guy, “I’ll take both bottles.”

“It’ll come off your pay,” Burkhart told the old guy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the old guy, “take it off my pay.”

“You sure you don’t want a bottle?” Burkhart asked me.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll take a bottle.”

We had a tent and that night we drank the wine and the old guy told me his troubles. He’d lost his wife. He still loved his wife. He thought about her all the time. A great woman. He used to teach mathematics. But he’d lost his wife. Never a woman like her. Blah blah blah. Christ, when we woke up the old guy was sick and I wasn’t feeling much better and the sun was up and out and we went to do our job: stacking railroad ties. You had to stack them into ricks. The bottom stacking was easy. But as we got higher we had to count. “One, two, three,” I’d count and then we’d let her go. The old guy had a bandanna tied around his head and the booze poured out of his head and into the bandanna and the bandanna got soaked and dark. Every now and then a sliver from one of the railroad ties would knife through the rotten glove and into my hand. Ordinarily the pain would have been unbearable and I would have quit but fatigue dulled the senses, really properly dulled them. I just got angry when it happened — like I wanted to kill somebody, but when I looked around there was only sand and cliffs and the overn dry bright yellow sun and no place to go. Every now and then the railroad company would rip up the old ties and replace them with new ones. They left the old ties laying beside the tracks. There wasn’t much wrong with the old ties but the railroad left them laying around and Burkhart had guys like us stack them into ricks which he toted off in his truck and sold. I guess they had a lot of uses. On some of the ranches you’d see them stuck in the ground and strung with barbed wire and used as fences. I suppose there were other uses too. I wasn’t much interested. It was like any other impossible job, you got tired and you wanted to quit and then you got more tired and forgot to quit, and the minutes didn’t move, you lived forever inside of one minute, no hope, no out, trapped, too dumb to quit and nowhere to go if you did quit.

“Kid, I lost my wife. She was such a wonderful woman. I keep thinking of her. A good woman is the greatest thing on earth.”

“Yeh.”

“If we only had a little wine.”

“We don’t have any wine. We gotta wait until tonight.”

“I wonder if anybody understands winos?”

“Just other winos.”

“Do you think those slivers in our hands will creep into our hearts?”

“No chance; we’ve never been lucky.”

Two Indians came by and watched us. They watched us a long time. When the old guy and I sat down on a tie for a smoke one of the Indians walked over.

“You guys are doing it all wrong,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’re working at the height of the desert heat. What you do is get up early in the morning and get your work done while it’s cool.”

“You’re right,” I said, “thanks.”

The Indian was right. I decided we’d get up early. But we never made it. The old guy was always too sick from the night’s drinking and I could never get him up on time.

“Five minutes more,” he’d say, “just five minutes more.” Finally, one day, the old man gave out. He couldn’t lift another tie. He kept apologizing about it.

“It’s all right, Pops.” We got back to the tent and waited for evening. Pops layed there talking. He kept talking about his ex-wife. I heard about his ex-wife all through the day and into the evening. Then Burkhart arrived.

“Jesus Christ, you guys didn’t do much today. You figure to live off the fat of the land?”

“We’re through, Burkhart,” I said, “we’re waiting to get paid.”

“I got a good mind not to pay you guys.”

“If you got a good mind,” I said, “you’ll pay.”

“Please, Mr. Burkhart,” said the old guy, “please, please, we worked so god damned hard, honest we did!”

“Burkhart knows what we’ve done,” I said, “he’s got a count of the ricks and so have I.”

“72 ricks,” said Burkhart.

“90 ricks,” I said.

“76 ricks,” said Burkhart.

“90 ricks,” I said.

“80 ricks,” said Burkhart.

“Sold,” I said. Burkhart got out his pencil and paper and charged us for wine and food, transport and lodging. Pops and I each came up with $18 for five day’s work. We took it. And got a free ride back to town. Free? Burkhart had fucked us from every angle. But we couldn’t holler law because when you didn’t have any money the law stopped working.

“By god,” said the old guy, “I’m really going to get drunk. I’m going to get good and drunk. Aren’t you, kid?”

“I don’t think so.”

We went into the only bar in town and sat down and Pops ordered a wine and I ordered a beer. The old guy started in on his ex- wife again and I moved down to the other end of the bar. A Mexican girl came down the stairway and sat down next to me. Why were they always coming down stairways like that, like in the movies? I even felt like I was in a movie. I bought her a beer.

She said,”My name is Sherri,” and I said, “That’s isn’t Mexican,” and she said, “It doesn’t have to be,” and I said, “You’re right.” And it was five dollars upstairs and she washed me off first, and then later. She washed me off out of a little white bowl that had painted baby chickens chasing each other around the bowl. She made the same money in ten minutes that I had made in a day with some hours thrown in. Monetarily speaking, it seemed sure as shit you were better off having a pussy than a cock. When I came down the stairway the old guy already had his head down on the bar; it had gotten to him. We hadn’t eaten that day and he had no resistance. There was a dollar and some change by his head. For a moment I thought of taking him with me but I couldn’t take care of myself. I walked outside. It was cool and I walked north. I felt bad about leaving Pops there for the small town vultures. Then I wondered if the old guy’s wife ever thought about him. I decided that she didn’t, or if she did, it was hardly in the same way he thought about her. The whole earth crawled with sad hurt people like him. I needed a place to sleep. The bed I had been in with the Mexican girl had been the first I had been in for three weeks. Some nights earlier I had found that when it got cold the slivers in my hand began to throb. I could feel where each one was. It began to get cold. I can’t say that I hated the world of men and women, but I felt a certain disgust that separated me from the craftsmen and tradesmen and liars and lovers, and now decades later I feel that same disgust. Of course, this is only one man’s story or one man’s view of reality. If you’ll keep reading maybe the next story will be happier. I hope so.

5.  MAJA THURUP

It had gotten extensive press coverage and T.V. coverage and the lady was to write a book about it. The lady’s name was Hester Adams, twice divorced, two children. She was 35 and one guessed that it was her last fling. The wrinkles were appearing, the breasts had been sagging for some time, the ankles and calves were thickening, there were signs of a belly. America had been taught that beauty only resided in youth, especially in the female. But Hester Adams had the dark beauty of frustration and upcoming loss; it crawled all over her, the upcoming loss, and it gave her a sexual something, like a desperate and fading woman sitting in a bar full of men. Hester had looked around, seen few signs of help from the American male, and had gotten onto a plane for South America. She had entered the jungle with her camera, her portable typewriter, her thickening ankles and her white skin and had gotten herself a cannibal, a black cannibal: Maja Thurup.
Maja Thurup had a good look to his face. His face appeared to be written over with one thousand hangovers and one thousand tragedies. And it was true — he had had one thousand hangovers, but the tragedies all came from the same root: Maja Thurup was overhung, vastly overhung. No girl in the village would accept him. He had torn two girls to death with his instrument. One had been entered from the front, the other from the rear. No matter. Maja was a lonely man and he drank and brooded over his loneliness until Hester Adams had come with guide and white skin and camera. After formal introductions and a few drinks by the fire, Hester had entered Maja’s hut and taken all Maja Thurup could muster and had asked for more. It was a miracle for both of them and they were married in a three-day tribal ceremony, during which captured enemy tribesmen were roasted and consumed amid dancing, incantation, and drunkenness.
It was after the ceremony, after the hangovers had cleared away that trouble began. The medicine man, having noted that Hester did not partake of the flesh of the roasted enemy tribesmen (garnished with pineapple, olives, and nuts) announced to one and all that this was not a white goddess, but one of the daughters of the evil god Ritikan. (Centuries ago Ritikan had been expelled from the tribal heaven for his refusal to eat anything but vegetables, fruits, and nuts.) This announcement caused dissension in the tribe and two friends of Maja Thurup were promptly murdered for suggesting that Hester’s handling of Maja’s overhang was a miracle in itself and the fact that she didn’t ingest other forms of human meat could be forgiven — temporarily, at least. Hester and Maja fled to America, to North Hollywood to be precise, where Hester began proceedings to have Maja Thurup become an American citizen. A former schoolteacher, Hester began instructing Maja in the use of clothing, the English language, California beer and wines, television, and foods purchased at the nearby Safeway market. Maja not only looked at television, he appeared on it along with Hester and they declared their love publicly. Then they went back to their North Hollywood apartment and made love. Afterwards Maja sat in the middle of the rug with his English grammar books, drinking beer and wine, and singing native chants and playing the bongo. Hester worked on her book about Maja and Hester. A major publisher was waiting. All Hester had to do was get it down. One morning I was in bed about 8:00 a.m. The day before I had lost $40 at Santa Anita, my savings account at California Federal was getting dangerously low, and I hadn’t written a decent story in a month. The phone rang. I woke up, gagged, coughed, picked it up.
 
“Chinaski?”
“Yeah?”
“This is Dan Hudson.”
Dan ran the magazine Flare out of Chicago. He paid well. He was the editor and publisher.
“Hello, Dan, mother.”
“Look, I’ve got just the thing for you.”
“Sure, Dan. What is it?”
“I want you to interview this bitch who married the cannibal. Make the sex BIG. Mix love with horror, you know?”
“I know. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
“There’s $500 in it for you if you beat the March 27 deadline.”
“Dan, for $500,1 can make Burt Reynolds into a lesbian.”
 
Dan gave me the address and phone number. I got up, threw water on my face, had two Alka-Seltzers, opened a bottle of beer and phoned Hester Adams. I told her that I wanted to publicize her relationship with Maja Thurup as one of the great love stories of the 20th century. For the readers of Flare magazine. I assured her that it would help Maja obtain his American citizenship. She agreed to an interview at 1:00 p.m. It was a walk-up apartment on the third floor. She opened the door. Maja was sitting on the floor with his bongo drinking a fifth of medium priced port from the bottle. He was barefooted, dressed in tight jeans, and in a white t-shirt with black zebra-stripes. Hester was dressed in an identical outfit. She brought me a bottle of beer, I picked up a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table and began the interview.
 
“You first met Maja when?” Hester gave me a date. She also gave me the exact time and place. “When did you first begin to have love feelings for Maja? What exactly were the circumstances which tripped them off?”
“Well,” said Hester, “it was . . .”
“She love me when I give her the thing,” said Maja from the rug. “He has learned English quite quickly, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, he’s brilliant.”
Maja picked up his bottle and drained off a good slug. “I put this thing in her, she say, ‘Oh my god oh my god oh my god!’ Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Maja is marvelously built,” she said. “She eat too,” said Maja, “she eat good. Deep throat, ha, ha, ha!”
“I loved Maja from the beginning,” said Hester, “it was his eyes, his face … so tragic. And the way he walked. He walks, well, he walks something like a tiger.”
“Fuck,” said Maja, “we fuck we fucky fuck fuck fuck. I am getting tired.” Maja took another drink. He looked at me. “You fuck her. I am tired. She big hungry tunnel.”
“Maja has a genuine sense of humor,” said Hester, “that’s another thing that has endeared him to me.”
“Only thing dear you to me,” said Maja, “is my telephone pole piss-shooter.”
“Maja has been drinking since this morning,” said Hester, “you’ll have to excuse him.”
“Perhaps I’d better come back when he’s feeling better.”
“I think you should.”
Hester gave me an appointment at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon the next day. It was just as well. I needed photographs. I knew a down-and-out photographer, one Sam Jacoby who was good and would do the work cheap. I took him back there with me. It was a sunny afternoon with only a thin layer of smog. We walked up and I rang. There was no answer. I rang again. Maja answered the door.
“Hester not in,” he said, “she gone to grocery store.”
“We had an appointment for 2:00 o’clock. I’d like to come in and wait.” We walked in and sat down. “I play drums for you,” said Maja. He played the drums and sang some jungle chants. He was quite good. He was working on another bottle of port wine. He was still in his zebra-striped t-shirt and jeans.
“Fuck fuck fuck,” he said, “that’s all she want. She make me mad.”
“You miss the jungle, Maja?”
“You just ain’t just shittin’ upstream, daddy.”
“But she loves you, Maja.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” Maja played us another drum solo. Even drunk he was good.
When Maja finished Sam said to me, “You think she might have a beer in the refrigerator?”
“She might.”
“My nerves are bad. I need a beer.”
“Go ahead. Get two. I’ll buy her some more. I should have brought some.” Sam got up and walked into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door open.
“I’m writing an article about you and Hester,” I said to Maja. “Big-hole woman. Never fill. Like volcano.” I heard Sam vomiting in the kitchen. He was a heavy drinker. I knew he was hungover. But he was still one of the best photographers around. Then it was quiet. Sam came walking out. He sat down. He didn’t have a beer with him.
“I play drums again,” said Maja. He played the drums again. He was still good. Though not as good as the preceding time. The wine was getting to him. “Let’s get out of here,” Sam said to me.
“I have to wait for Hester,” I said.
“Man, let’s go,” said Sam. “
You guys want some wine?” asked Maja. I got up and walked into the kitchen for a beer. Sam followed me. I moved toward the refrigerator.
“Please don’t open that door!” he said.
Sam walked over to the sink and vomited again. I looked at the refrigerator door. I didn’t open it. When Sam finished, I said, “O.k., let’s go.”
We walked into the front room where Maja still sat by his bongo.
“I play drum once more,” he said.
“No, thanks, Maja.”
We walked out and down the stairway and out to the street. We got into my car. I drove off. I didn’t know what to say. Sam didn’t say anything. We were in the business district. I drove into a gas station and told the attendant to fill it up with regular. Sam got out of the car and walked to the telephone booth to call the police. I saw Sam come out of the phone booth. I paid for the gas. I hadn’t gotten my interview. I was out $500. I waited as Sam walked toward the car.

6.  THE KILLERS

Harry had just gotten off the freight and was walking down Alameda toward Pedro’s for a nickel cup of coffee. It was early morning but he remembered they used to open at 5 a.m. You could sit in Pedro’s for a couple of hours for a nickel. You could do some thinking. You could remember where you’d gone wrong, or where you’d gone right. They were open. The Mexican girl who gave him his coffee looked at him as if he were a human being. The poor knew life. A good girl. Well, a good enough girl. They all meant trouble. Everything meant trouble. He remembered a statement he’d heard somewhere: the Definition of Life is Trouble. Harry sat down at one of the old tables. The coffee was good. Thirty- eight years old and he was finished. He sipped at the coffee and remembered where he had gone wrong — or right. He’d simply gotten tired — of the insurance game, of the small offices and high glass partitions, the clients; he’d simply gotten tired of cheating on his wife, of squeezing secretaries in the elevator and in the halls; he’d gotten tired of Christmas parties and New Year’s parties and birthdays, and payments on new cars and furniture payments — light, gas, water — the whole bleeding complex of necessities. He’d gotten tired and quit, that’s all. The divorce came soon enough and the drinking came soon enough, and suddenly he was out of it. He had nothing, and he found out that having nothing was difficult too. It was another type of burden. If only there were some gentler road in between. It seemed a man only had two choices — get in on the hustle or be a bum. As Harry looked up a man sat down across from him, also with a nickel cup of coffee. He appeared to be in his early forties. And was dressed as poorly as Harry. The man rolled a cigarette, then looked at Harry as he lit it.

“How’s it going?”

“That’s some question,” said Harry.

“Yeah, I guess it is.” They sat drinking their coffee. “A man wonders how he gets down here.”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “By the way, if it matters, my name’s William.”

“I’m called Harry.”

“You can call me Bill.”

“Thanks.”

“You got the look on your face like you’ve reached the end of something.”

“I’m just tired of the bum, bone-tired.”

“You want to get back into society, Harry?”

“No, not that. But I’d like to get out of this.”

“There’s suicide.”

“I know.”

“Listen,” said Bill, “what we need is a little cash the easy way so we can get a breather.”

“Sure, but how?”

“Well, there’s some risk involved.”

“Like what?”

“I used to do some house burglaring. It’s not bad. I could use a good partner.”

“O.k., I’m just about ready to try anything. I’m sick of watery beans, week-old doughnuts, the mission, the God-lectures, the snoring…”

“Our problem is how to get where we can operate,” said Bill. “I got a couple of bucks.”

“All right, meet me about midnight. Got a pencil?”

“No.”

“Wait. I’ll borrow one.” Bill came back with a stub of pencil. He took a napkin and wrote on it. “You take the Beverly Hills bus and ask the driver to let you off here. Then walk two blocks north. I’ll be there waiting. You gonna make it?”

“I’ll be there.”

“You got a wife, kids?” asked Bill.

“Used to have,” Harry answered. It was cold that night. Harry got off the bus and walked the two blocks north. It was dark, very dark. Bill was standing smoking a rolled cigarette. He wasn’t standing in the open but was back against a large bush.

“Hello, Bill.”

“Hello; Harry. You ready to start your new lucrative career?”

“I am.”

“All right. I’ve been casing these places. I think I’ve got us a good one. Isolated. It stinks of money. You scared?”

“No. I’m not scared.”

“Fine. Be cool and follow me.” Harry followed Bill along the sidewalk for a block and a half, then Bill cut between two shrubs and onto a large lawn. They walked to the back of the house, a large two storey affair. Bill stopped at the rear window. He sliced the screen with a knife, then stood still and listened. It was like a graveyard. Bill unhooked the screen and lifted it off. He stood there working at the window. Bill worked at it for some time and Harry began to think: Jesus. I’m with an amateur. I’m with some kind of nut. Then the window opened and Bill climbed in. Harry could see his ass wiggling in. This is ridiculous, he thought. Do men do this?

“Come on,” Bill said softly from inside. Harry climbed in. It did stink of money and furniture polish.

“Jesus. Bill. I’m scared now. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“Don’t talk so loud. You want to get away from those watery beans, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then be a man.” Harry stood while Bill slowly opened drawers and put things in his pockets. They appeared to be in a dining room. Bill was stuffing spoons and knives and forks into his pockets. How can we get anything for that? thought Harry. Bill kept putting the silverware into his coat pockets. Then he dropped a knife. The floor was hard, without a rug, and the sound was definite and loud.

“Who’s there?” Bill and Harry didn’t answer. “I said, who’s there?”

“What is it, Seymour?” said a girl’s voice.

“I thought I heard something. Something woke me up.”

“Oh go to sleep.”

“No. I heard something.” Harry heard the sound of a bed and then the sound of a man walking. The man came through the door and was in the dining room with them. He was in his pajamas, a young man of about 26 or 27 with a goatee and long hair. “All right, you pricks, what are you doing in my house?” Bill turned toward Harry.

“Get into that bedroom. There might be a phone there. See that she doesn’t use it. I’ll take care of this one.” Harry walked toward the bedroom, found the entrance, walked in, saw a young blonde about 23, long hair, in a fancy nightgown, her breasts loose. There was a telephone by the night stand and she wasn’t using it. She flung the back of her hand to her mouth. She was sitting up in bed.

“Don’t scream,” said Harry, “or I’ll kill you.” He stood there looking down at her, thinking of his own wife, but never a wife like that. Harry began to sweat, he felt dizzy and they stared at each other. Harry sat down on the bed.

“Leave my wife alone or I’ll kill you!” said the young man. Bill had just walked him in. He had an arm lock on him and his knife was poking into the middle of the young man’s back.

“Nobody’s going to hurt your wife, man. Just tell us where your stinking money is and we’ll leave.”

“I told you all I’ve got is what’s in my wallet.” Bill tightened the arm lock and drove the knife in a bit. The young man winced.

“The jewelry,” said Bill, “take me to the jewelry.”

“It’s upstairs …”

“All right. Take me there!” Harry watched Bill walk him out. Harry kept staring at the girl and she stared back. Blue eyes, and the irises were large with fear.

“Don’t scream,” he told her, “or I’ll kill you, so help me I’ll kill you!” Her lips began to tremble. They were the palest pink and then his mouth was upon hers. He was bewhiskered and foul, rancid, and she was white, soft white, delicate, trembling. He held her head in his hands. He pulled his head away and looked into her eyes.

“You whore,” he said, “you god damned whore!” He kissed her again, harder. They fell back on the bed together. He was kicking his shoes off, holding her down. Then he was working his pants, getting them off, and all the time holding and kissing her. “You whore, you god damned whore . . .”

“Oh No! Jesus Christ, No! Not my wife, you bastards!” Harry had not heard them enter. The young man let out a scream. Then Harry heard a gurgle. He pulled out and looked around. The young man was on the floor with his throat cut; the blood spurted rhythmically out on the floor.

“You’ve killed him!” said Harry.

“He was screaming.”

“You didn’t have to kill him.”

“You didn’t have to rape his wife.”

“I haven’t raped her and you’ve killed him.” Then she began to scream. Harry put his hand over her mouth.

“What are we going to do?” he asked.

“We’re going to kill her too. She’s a witness.”

“I can’t kill her,” said Harry.

“I’ll kill her,” said Bill.

“But we shouldn’t waste her.”

“Go ahead then, get her.”

“Stick something in her mouth.”

“I’ll take care of it,” said Bill. He got a scarf out of the drawer, stuck it in her mouth. Then he ripped the pillow slip into shreds and bound the scarf in.

“Go ahead,” said Bill. The girl didn’t resist. She seemed to be in a state of shock. When Harry got off. Bill got on. Harry watched. This was it. This was the way it worked all over the world. When a conquering army came in, they took the women. They were the conquering army. Bill climbed off. “Shit, that sure was good.”

“Listen, Bill, let’s not kill her.”

“She’ll tell. She’s a witness.”

“If we spare her life, she won’t tell. It’ll be worth it to her.”

“She’ll tell. I know human nature. She’ll tell later.”

“Why shouldn’t she tell on people who do what we do?”

“That’s what I mean,” said Bill, “why let her?”

“Let’s ask her. Let’s talk to her. Let’s ask her what she thinks.”

“I know what she thinks. I’m going to kill her.”

“Please don’t, Bill. Let’s show some decency.”

“Show some decency? Now? It’s too late. If you’d only been man enough to keep your stupid pecker out of there …”

“Don’t kill her. Bill, I can’t. .. stand it.. .”

“Turn your back.”

“Bill, please . . .”

“I said, turn your god damned back!” Harry turned away. There didn’t seem to be a sound. Minutes passed.

“Bill, did you do it?”

“I did it. Turn around and look.”

“I don’t want to. Let’s go. Let’s get out of here.” They went out the same window they had entered. The night was colder than ever. They went down the dark side of the house and out through the hedge.

“Bill?”

“Yeah?”

“I feel o.k. now, like it never happened.”

“It happened.” They walked back toward the bus stop. The night stops were far between, they’d probably have to wait an hour. They stood at the bus stop and checked each other for blood and, strangely, they didn’t find any. So they rolled and lit two cigarettes. Then Bill suddenly spit his out.

“God damn it. Oh, god damn it all!”

“What’s the matter, Bill?”

“We forgot to get his wallet!”

“Oh fuck,” said Harry.

7.  A MAN

George was lying in his trailer, flat on his back, watching a small portable T.V. His dinner dishes were undone, his breakfast dishes were undone, he needed a shave, and ash from his rolled cigarettes dropped onto his undershirt. Some of the ash was still burning. Sometimes the burning ash missed the undershirt and hit his skin, then he cursed, brushing it away. There was a knock on the trailer door. He got slowly to his feet and answered the door. It was Constance. She had a fifth of unopened whiskey in a bag.

“George, I left that son of a bitch, I couldn’t stand that son of a bitch anymore.”

“Sit down.” George opened the fifth, got two glasses, filled each a third with whiskey, two thirds with water. He sat down on the bed with Constance. She took a cigarette out of her purse and lit it. She was drunk and her hands trembled. “I took his damn money too. I took his damn money and split while he was at work. You don’t know how I’ve suffered with that son of a bitch.”

“Lemme have a smoke,” said George. She handed it to him and as she leaned near, George put his arm around her, pulled her over and kissed her.

“You son of a bitch,” she said, “I missed you.”

“I miss those good legs of yours , Connie. I’ve really missed those good legs.”

“You still like ‘em?” “I get hot just looking.”

“I could never make it with a college guy,” said Connie. “They’re too soft, they’re milktoast. And he kept his house clean. George , it was like having a maid. He did it all. The place was spotless. You could eat beef stew right off the crapper. He was antisceptic, that’s what he was.”

“Drink up, you’ll feel better.”

“And he couldn’t make love.”

“You mean he couldn’t get it up?”

“Oh he got it up, he got it up all the time. But he didn’t know how to make a woman happy, you know. He didn’t know what to do. All that money, all that education, he was useless.”

“I wish I had a college education.”

“You don’t need one. You have everything you need, George.”

“I’m just a flunkey. All the shit jobs.”

“I said you have everything you need, George. You know how to make a woman happy.”

“Yeh?”

“Yes. And you know what else? His mother came around! His mother! Two or three times a week. And she’d sit there looking at me, pretending to like me but all the time she was treating me like I was a whore. Like I was a big bad whore stealing her son away from her! Her precious Wallace! Christ! What a mess!”

“He claimed he loved me. And I’d say, ‘Look at my pussy, Walter!’ And he wouldn’t look at my pussy. He said, ‘I don’t want to look at that thing.’ That thing! That’s what he called it! You’re not afraid of my pussy, are you, George?”

“It’s never bit me yet.” “But you’ve bit it, you’ve nibbled it, haven’t you George?”

“I suppose I have.”

“And you’ve licked it , sucked it?”

“I suppose so.”

“You know damn well, George, what you’ve done.”

“How much money did you get?”

“Six hundred dollars.”

“I don’t like people who rob other people, Connie.”

“That’s why you’re a fucking dishwasher. You’re honest. But he’s such an ass, George. And he can afford the money, and I’ve earned it… him and his mother and his love, his mother-love, his clean little wash bowls and toilets and disposal bags and breath chasers and after shave lotions and his little hard-ons and his precious love-making. All for himself, you understand, all for himself! You know what a woman wants, George.”

“Thanks for the whiskey, Connie. Lemme have another cigarette.” George filled them up again. “I missed your legs, Connie. I’ve really missed those legs. I like the way you wear those high heels. They drive me crazy. These modern women don’t know what they’re missing. The high heel shapes the calf, the thigh, the ass; it puts rhythm into the walk. It really turns me on!”

“You talk like a poet, George. Sometimes you talk like that. You are one hell of a dishwasher.”

“You know what I’d really like to do?” “What?”

“I’d like to whip you with my belt on the legs, the ass, the thighs. I’d like to make you quiver and cry and then when you’re quivering and crying I’d slam it into you pure love.”

“I don’t want that, George. You’ve never talked like that to me before. You’ve always done right with me.”

“Pull your dress up higher.”

“What?”

“Pull your dress up higher, I want to see more of your legs.”

“You like my legs, don’t you, George?”

“Let the light shine on them!” Constance hiked her dress.

“God christ shit,” said George.

“You like my legs?”

“I love your legs!” Then George reached across the bed and slapped Constance hard across the face. Her cigarette flipped out of her mouth.

“What’d you do that for?”

“You fucked Walter! You fucked Walter!”

“So what the hell?”

“So pull your dress up higher!”

“No!”

“Do what I say!” George slapped again, harder. Constance hiked her skirt. “Just up to the panties!” shouted George. “I don’t quite want to see the panties!”

“Christ, George, what’s gone wrong with you?”

“You fucked Walter!”

“George, I swear, you’ve gone crazy. I want to leave. Let me out of here, George!”

“Don’t move or I’ll kill you!”

“You’d kill me?”

“I swear it!”

George got up and poured himself a shot of straight whiskey, drank it, and sat down next to Constance. He took the cigarette and held it against her wrist. She screamed. HE held it there, firmly, then pulled it away.

“I’m a man , baby, understand that?”

“I know you’re a man , George.”

“Here, look at my muscles!” George sat up and flexed both of his arms. “Beautiful, eh ,baby? Look at that muscle! Feel it! Feel it!” Constance felt one of the arms, then the other.

“Yes, you have a beautiful body, George.”

“I’m a man. I’m a dishwasher but I’m a man, a real man.”

“I know it, George.”

“I’m not the milkshit you left.”

“I know it.”

“And I can sing, too. You ought to hear my voice.” Constance sat there. George began to sing. He sang “Old man River.” Then he sang “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” He sang “The St. Louis Blues.” He sang “God Bless America,” stopping several times and laughing. Then he sat down next to Constance.

He said, “Connie, you have beautiful legs.”

He asked for another cigarette. He smoked it, drank two more drinks, then put his head down on Connie’s legs, against the stockings, in her lap, and he said, “Connie, I guess I’m no good, I guess I’m crazy, I’m sorry I hit you, I’m sorry I burned you with that cigarette.”

Constance sat there. She ran her fingers through George’s hair, stroking him, soothing him. Soon he was asleep. She waited a while longer. Then she lifted his head and placed it on the pillow, lifted his legs and straightened them out on the bed. She stood up, walked to the fifth, poured a jolt of good whiskey in to her glass, added a touch of water and drank it sown. She walked to the trailer door, pulled it open, stepped out, closed it. She walked through the backyard, opened the fence gate, walked up the alley under the one o’clock moon. The sky was clear of clouds. he same skyful of clouds was up there. She got out on the boulevard and walked east and reached the entrance of The Blue Mirror. She walked in, and there was Walter sitting alone and drunk at the end of the bar. She walked up and sat down next to him.

“Missed me, baby?” she asked.

Walter looked up. He recognized her. He didn’t answer. He looked at the bartender and the bartender walked toward them They all knew each other.

8.  STOP STARING AT MY TITS, MISTER

Big Bart was the meanest man in the West. He had the fastest gun in the West and he’d fucked a larger variety of women in the West than anybody else. He wasn’t fond of bathing or bullshit or coming out second best. He was also boss of a wagon train going West, and there wasn’t a man his age who had killed more Indians or fucked more women or killed more white men. Big Bart was great and he knew it and everybody knew it. Even his farts were exceptional, louder than the dinner gong, and he was well-hung. Big Bart’s gig was to get the wagons through safely, score on the ladies, kill a few men and then head back for another wagon load. He had a black beard, a dirty bunghole, and radiant yellow teeth. He had just hammered hell out of Billy Joe’s young wife while he made Billy Joe watch. He made Billy Joe’s wife talk to Billy Joe while he was at it. He made her say,

“Ah, Billy Joe, all this turkeyneck stuck into me from snatch to throat, I can hardly breathe! Billy Joe, save me! No, Billy Joe, don’t save me!” After Big Bart climaxed he made Billy Joe wash his parts and then they all went out to a big dinner of hamhocks and limas with biscuits. The next day they came across this lone wagon running all by itself through the prairie. Some skinny kid of about sixteen with a bad case of acne was at the reins. Big Bart rode over.

“Say, kid,” he said. The kid didn’t answer. “I’m talkin’ to ya, kid . . .”

“Kiss my ass,” said the kid.

“I’m Big Bart,” said Big Bart.

“Kiss my ass, Big Bart,” said the kid.

“What’s your name, son?”

“They call me ‘The Kid.’ “

“Look, Kid, there’s no way a man can make it through this here Indian territory with a lone wagon.

“I intend to,” said the Kid.

“O.k., it’s your balls. Kid,” said Big Bart, and he made to ride off when the flaps of the wagon opened and out came this little filly with 40- inch breasts and a fine big ass and eyes like the sky after a good rain. She put her eyes upon Big Bart and his turkeyneck quivered against the saddle horn.

“For your own good. Kid, you’re a comin’ with us.”

“Fuck on”, old man,” said The Kid, “I don’t take no motherfuckin’ advice from an old man in dirty underwear.”

“I’ve killed men for blinkin’ their eyes,” said Big Bart. The Kid just spit on the ground. Then reached up and scratched his crotch.

“Old man, you bore me. Now lose yourself from my sight or I’ll assist you in resembling a hunk of swiss cheese.”

“Kid,” said the girl, leaning over him, one of her breasts flopping out and giving the sunlight a hard-on, “Kid, I think the man’s right. We got no chance against those motherfucking Indians alone. Now don’t be an asshole. Tell the man we’ll join up.”

“We’ll join up,” said The Kid.

“What’s your girl’s name?” asked Big Bart.

“Honeydew,” said The Kid.

“And stop staring at my tits, mister,” said Honeydew, “or I’ll belt the shit out of you.”

Things went well for a while. There was a skirmish with the Indians at Blueball Canyon. 37 Indians killed, one captured. No American casualties. Big Bart bungholed the captured Indian and then hired him on as cook. There was another skirmish at Clap Canyon, 37 Indians killed, one captured. No American casualties. Big Bart bungholed . . . It was obvious that Big Bart had hotrocks for Honeydew. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her. That ass, mostly it was that ass. He fell off his horse watching one time and one of the two Indian cooks laughed. That left only one Indian cook. One day Big Bart sent The Kid out with a hunting party to score on some buffalo. Big Bart waited until they rode off and then he made for The Kid’s wagon. He leaped up onto the seat and pushed the flaps back and walked in. Honeydew was crouched in the center of the wagon masturbating.

“Jesus, baby,” said Big Bart, “don’t waste it!”

“Get the hell out of here,” said Honeydew, withdrawing her finger and pointing it at Big Bart, “get the hell out of here and let me do my thing!”

“Your man ain’t takin’ care of you, Honeydew!”

“He’s takin’ care of me, asshole, it’s just that I don’t get enough. It’s just that after my period I get hot.”

“Listen, baby . . .

“Fuck off!”

“Listen, baby, lookee . . .” And he pulled out the jackhammer. It was purple and flipped back and forth like the weight in a grandfather’s clock. Driblets of spittle fell to the floor. Honeydew couldn’t keep her eyes off that instrument. At last she said,

“You’re not going to stick that god damned thing into me!”

“Say it like you mean it, Honydew.”

“YOU’RE NOT GOING TO STICK THAT GOD DAMNED THING INTO ME!”

“But why? Why? Look at it!”

“I am looking at it!”

“But why don’t you want it?”

“Because I’m in love with The Kid.”

“Love?” said Big Bart laughing. “Love? That’s a fairytale for idiots! Look at this god damned scythe! That can beat love anytime!”

“I love The Kid, Big Bart.”

“And there’s my tongue,” said Big Bart, “the best tongue in the West!” He stuck it out and made it do gymnastics.

“I love The Kid,” said Honeydew.

“Well, fuck you,” said Big Bart, and he ran forward and threw himself upon Honeydew. It was dog’s work getting that thing in and when he did, Honeydew screamed. He gave it about seven slices and then he felt himself being roughly pulled off. IT WAS THE KID. BACK FROM THE HUNTING PARTY.

“We got your buffalo, motherfucker. Now if you’ll pull up your pants and step outside we’ll settle the rest.”

“I’ve got the fastest gun in the West,” said Big Bart.

“I’ll blow a hole in you so big your asshole will look like a pore in your skin,” said The Kid.

“Come on, let’s get it done. I’m hungry for dinner. This hunting buffalo works up the appetite . . .”

The men sat around the campfire watching. There was a definite vibration in the air. The women stayed in the wagons, praying, masturbating, and drinking gin. Big Bart had 34 notches in his gun, and a bad memory. The Kid didn’t have any notches in his gun. But he had confidence such as the others had seldom seen before. Big Bart seemed the more nervous of the two. He took a sip of whiskey, draining half the flask, then walked up to The Kid.

“Look, Kid . . .”

“Yeah, motherfucka . . .?”

“I mean, why you lost your cool?”

“I’m gonna blow your balls off, old man!”

“What for?”

“You were messin’ with my woman, old man!”

“Listen Kid, don’t you see? The female plays one man against the other. We’re just falling for her game.”

“I don’t want to hear your shit, dad! Now back off and draw! You’ve had it!”

“Kid . . .”

“Back off and draw!”

The men at the campfire stiffened. A slight wind blew from the West smelling of horseshit. Somebody coughed. The women crouched in the wagons, drinking gin, praying, and masturbating. Twilight was moving in. Big Bart and The Kid were 30 paces apart.

“Draw, you chickenshit,” said The Kid, “draw, you chickenshit woman molester!” Quietly through the flaps of a wagon a woman appeared with a rifle. It was Honeydew. She put the rifle to her shoulder and squinted down the barrel. “Come on, you tinhorn rapist,” said The Kid, “DRAW!”

Big Bart’s hand flicked toward his holster. A shot rang through the twilight. Honeydew lowered her smoking rifle and went back into the covered wagon. The Kid was dead on the ground, a hole in his forehead. Big Bart put his unused gun back in his holster and strode toward the wagon. The moon was up.

09.  DR. NAZI

Now, I’m a man of many problems and I suppose that most of them are self-created. I mean with the female, and gambling, and feeling hostile toward groups of people, and the larger the group, the greater the hostility. I’m called negative and gloomy, sullen. I keep remembering the female who screamed at me: “You’re so god damned negative! Life can be beautiful!” I suppose it can, and especially with a little less screaming. But I want to tell you about my doctor. I don’t go to shrinks. Shrinks are worthless and too contented. But a good doctor is often disgusted and/or mad, and therefore far more entertaining.

I went to Dr. Kiepenheuer’s office because it was closest. My hands were breaking out with little white blisters — a sign, I felt, either of my actual anxiety or possible cancer. I wore working-man’s gloves so people wouldn’t stare. And I burned through the gloves while smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I walked into the doctor’s place. I had the first appointment. Being a man of anxiety I was thirty minutes early, musing about cancer. I walked across the sitting room and looked into the office. Here was the nurse- receptionist squatted on the floor in her tight white uniform, her dress pulled almost up to her hips, gross and thunderous thighs showing through tightly-pulled nylon. I forgot all about the cancer. She hadn’t heard me and I stared at her unveiled legs and thighs, measured the delicious rump with my eyes. She was wiping water from the floor, the toilet had overrun and she was cursing, she was passionate, she was pink and brown and living and unveiled and I stared. She looked up.

“Yes?”

“Go ahead,” I said, “don’t let me disturb you.”

“It’s the toilet,” she said, “it keeps running over.” She kept wiping and I kept looking over the top of Life magazine. She finally stood up. I walked to the couch and sat down. She went through her appointment book. “Are you Mr. Chinaski?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you take your gloves off? It’s warm in here.”

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.”

“Dr. Kiepenheuer will be in soon.”

“It’s all right. I can wait.”

“What’s your problem?”

“Cancer.”

“Cancer?”

“Yes.” The nurse vanished and I read Life and then I read another copy of Life and then I read Sports Illustrated and then I sat staring at paintings of seascapes and landscapes and piped-in music came from somewhere. Then, suddenly, all the lights blinked off, then on again, and I wondered if there would be any way to rape the nurse and get away with it when the doctor walked in. I ignored him and he ignored me, so that went off even. He called me into his office. He was sitting on a stool and he looked at me. He had a yellow face and yellow hair and his eyes were lusterless. He was dying. He was about 42. I eyed him and gave him six months.

“What’s with the gloves?” he asked.

“I’m a sensitive man. Doctor.”

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“Then I should tell you that I was once a Nazi.”

“That’s all right.”

“You don’t mind that I was once a Nazi?”

“No, I don’t mind.”

“I was captured. They rode us through France in a boxcar with the doors open and the people stood along the way and threw stink bombs and rocks and all sorts of rubbish at us — fishbones, dead plants, excreta, everything imaginable.”

Then the doctor sat and told me about his wife. She was trying to skin him. A real bitch. Trying to get all his money. The house. The garden. The garden house. The gardener too, probably, if she hadn’t already. And the car. And alimony. Plus a large chunk of cash. Horrible woman. He’d worked so hard. Fifty patients a day at ten dollars a head. Almost impossible to survive. And that woman. Women. Yes, women. He broke down the word for me. I forget if it was woman or female or what it was, but he broke it down into Latin and he broke it down from there to show what the root was — in Latin: women were basically insane. As he talked about the insanity of women I began to feel pleased with the doctor. My head nodded in agreement.

Suddenly he ordered me to the scales, weighed me, then he listened to my heart and to my chest. He roughly removed my gloves, washed my hands in some kind of shit and opened the blisters with a razor, still talking about the rancor and vengeance that all women carried in their hearts. It was glandular. Women were directed by their glands, men by their hearts. That’s why only the men suffered. He told me to bathe my hands regularly and to throw the god damned gloves away. He talked a little more about women and his wife and then I left.

My next problem was dizzy spells. But I only got them when I was standing in line. I began to get very terrified of standing in line. It was unbearable. I realized that in America and probably everyplace else it came down to standing in line. We did it everywhere. Driver’s license: three or four lines. The racetrack: lines. The movies: lines. The market: lines. I hated lines. I felt there should be a way to avoid them. Then the answer came to me. Have more clerks. Yes, that was the answer. Two clerks for every person. Three clerks. Let the clerks stand in line. I knew that lines were killing me. I couldn’t accept them, but everybody else did. Everybody else was normal. Life was beautiful for them. They could stand in line without feeling pain. They could stand in line forever. They even liked to stand in line. They chatted and grinned and smiled and flirted with each other. They had nothing else to do. They could think of nothing else to do. And I had to look at their ears and mouths and necks and legs and asses and nostrils, all that. I could feel death-rays oozing from their bodies like smog, and listening to their conversations I felt like screaming “Jesus Christ, somebody help me! Do I have to suffer like this just to buy a pound of hamburger and a loaf of rye bread?” The dizziness would come, and I’d spread my legs to keep from falling down; the supermarket would whirl, and the faces of the supermarket clerks with their gold and brown mustaches and their clever happy eyes, all of them going to be supermarket managers someday, with their white scrubbed contented faces, buying homes in Arcadia and nightly mounting their pale blond grateful wives.

I made an appointment with the doctor again. I was given the first appointment. I arrived half an hour early and the toilet was fixed. The nurse was dusting in the office. She bent and straightened and bent halfway and then bent right and then bent left, and she turned her ass toward me and bent over. That white uniform twitched and hiked, climbed, lifted; here was dimpled knee, there was thigh, here was haunch, there was the whole body. I sat down and opened a copy of Life. She stopped dusting and stuck her head out at me, smiling.

“You got rid of your gloves, Mr. Chinaski.”

“Yes.” The doctor came in looking a bit closer to death and he nodded and I got up and followed him in. He sat down on his stool. “Chinaski: how goes it?”

“Well, doctor . . .”

“Trouble with women?”

“Well, of course, but . . .”

He wouldn’t let me finish. He had lost more hair. His fingers twitched. He seemed short of breath. Thinner. He was a desperate man. His wife was skinning him. They’d gone to court. She slapped him in court. He’d liked that. It helped the case. They saw through that bitch. Anyhow, it hadn’t come off too badly. She’d left him something. Of course, you know lawyer’s fees. Bastards. You ever noticed a lawyer? Almost always fat. Especially around the face.

“Anyhow, shit, she nailed me. But I got a little left. You wanna know what a scissors like this costs? Look at it. Tin with a screw. $18.50. My God, and they hated the Nazis. What is a Nazi compared to this?”

“I don’t know Doctor. I’ve told you that I’m a confused man.”

“You ever tried a shrink?”

“It’s no use. They’re dull, no imagination. I don’t need the shrinks. I hear they end up sexually molesting their female patients. I’d like to be a shrink if I could fuck all the women; outside of that, their trade is useless.”

My doctor hunched up on his stool. He yellowed and greyed a bit more. A giant twitch ran through his body. He was almost through. A nice fellow though. “Well, I got rid of my wife,” he said, “that’s over.”

“Fine,” I said, “tell me about when you were a Nazi.”

“Well, we didn’t have much choice. They just took us in. I was young. I mean, hell, what are you going to do? You can only live in one country at a time. You go to war, and if you don’t end up dead you end up in an open boxcar with people throwing shit at you . . .”

I asked him if he’d fucked his nice nurse. He smiled gently. The smile said yes. Then he told me that since the divorce, well, he’d dated one of his patients, and he knew it wasn’t ethical to get that way with patients . . . “No, I think it’s all right. Doctor.”

“She’s a very intelligent woman. I married her.”

“All right.”

“Now I’m happy … but .. .”

Then he spread his hands apart and opened his palms upward . . . I told him about my fear of lines. He gave me a standing prescription for Librium. Then I got a nest of boils on my ass. I was in agony. They tied me with leather straps, these fellows can do anything they want with you, they gave me a local and strapped my ass. I turned my head and looked at my Doctor and said,

“Is there any chance of me changing my mind?”

There were three faces looking down at me. His and two others. Him to cut. Her to supply cloths. The third to stick needles.”You can’t change your mind,” said the doctor, and he rubbed his hands and grinned and began . . .

The last time I saw him it had something to do with wax in my ears. I could see his lips moving, I tried to understand, but I couldn’t hear. I could tell by his eyes and his face that it was hard times for him all over again, and I nodded. It was warm. I was a bit dizzy and I thought, well, yes, he’s a fine fellow but why doesn’t he let me tell him about my problems, this isn’t fair, I have problems too, and I have to pay him. Eventually my doctor realized I was deaf. He got something that looked like a fire extinguisher and jammed it into my ears. Later he showed me huge pieces of wax … it was the wax, he said. And he pointed down into a bucket. It looked, really, like retried beans. I got up from the table and paid him and I left. I still couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t feel particularly bad or good and I wondered what ailment I would bring him next, what he would do about it, what he would do about his 17 year old daughter who was in love with another woman and who was going to marry the woman, and it occurred to me that everybody suffered continually, including those who pretended they didn’t. It seemed to me that this was quite a discovery. I looked at the newsboy and I thought, hmmmm, hmmmm, and I looked at the next person to pass and I thought hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmmmm, and at the traffic signal by the hospital a new black car turned the corner and knocked down a pretty young girl in a blue mini dress, and she was blond and had blue ribbons in her hair, and she sat up in the street in the sun and the scarlet ran from her nose.

10.  GUTS

Like anybody can tell you, I am not a very nice man. I don’t know the word. I have always admired the villain, the outlaw, the son of a bitch. I don’t like the clean-shaven boy with the necktie and the good job. I like desperate men, men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways. They interest me. They are full of surprises and explosions. I also like vile women, drunk cursing bitches with loose stockings and sloppy mascara faces. I’m more interested in perverts than saints. I can relax with bums because I am a bum. I don’t like laws, morals, religions, rules. I don’t like to be shaped by society. I was drinking with Marty, the ex-con, up in my room one night. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t want a job. I just wanted to sit around with my shoes off and drink wine and talk, and laugh if possible. Marty was a little dull, but he had workingman’s hands, a broken nose, mole’s eyes, nothing much to him but he’d been through it.

“I like you, Hank,” said Marty, “you’re a real man, you’re one of the few real men I’ve known.”

“Yeh,” I said.

“You got guts.”

“Yeh.”

“I was a hard-rock miner once . . .”

“Yeh?”

“I got in a fight with this guy. We used ax handles. He broke my left arm with his first swing. I went on to fight him. I beat his goddamned head in. When he came around from that beating, he was out of his head. I’d mashed his brains in. They put him in a madhouse.”

“That’s all right,” I said.

“Listen,” said Marty, “I want to fight you.”

“You get first punch. Go ahead, hit me.”

Marty was sitting in a straight-backed green chair. I was walking to the sink to pour another glass of wine from the bottle. I turned around and smashed him a right to the face. He flipped over backwards in the chair, got up and came toward me. I wasn’t looking for the left. It got me high on the forehead and knocked me down. I reached into a paper sack full of vomit and empties, came out with a bottle, rose to my knees and hurled it. Marty ducked and I came up with the chair behind me. I had it over my head when the door opened. It was our landlady, a good-looking young blonde in her twenties. What she was doing running a place like that I could never figure out. I put the chair down.

“Go to your room, Marty.” Marty looked ashamed, like a little boy. He walked down the hall to his room, walked in and closed the door.

“Mr. Chinaski,” she said, “I want you to know …”

“I want you to know,” I said, “that it’s no use.”

“What’s no use?”

“You’re not my type. I don’t want to fuck you.”

“Listen,” she said, “I want to tell you something. I saw you pissing in the lot next door last night and if you do that again I’m going to throw you out of here. Somebody’s been pissing in the elevator too. Has that been you?”

“I don’t piss in elevators.”

“Well, I saw you in the lot last night. I was watching. It was you.”

“The hell it was me.”

“You were too drunk to know. Don’t do it again.”

She closed the door and was gone.I was sitting there quietly drinking wine a few minutes later and trying to remember if I had pissed in the lot, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said.

It was Marty. “I gotta tell you something.”

“Sure. Sit down.” I poured Marty a glass of port and he sat down.

“I’m in love,” he said. I didn’t answer. I rolled a cigarette. “You believe in love?” he asked.

“I have to. It happened to me once.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s gone. Dead.”

“Dead? How?”

“Drink.”

“This one drinks too. It worries me. She’s always drunk. She can’t stop.”

“None of us can.”

“I go to A.A. meetings with her. She’s drunk when she goes. Half of them down there at the A.A. are drunk. You can smell the fumes.” I didn’t answer. “God, she’s young. And what a body! I love her, man, really love her!”

“Oh hell, Marty, that’s just sex.”

“No, I love her. Hank, I really feel it.”

“I guess it’s possible.”

“Christ, they’ve got her down in a cellar room. She can’t pay her rent.”

“The cellar?”

“Yeah, they got a room down there with all the boilers and shit.”

“Hard to believe.”

“Yeah, she’s down there. And I love her, man, and I don’t have any money to help her with.”

“That’s sad. I been in the same situation. It hurts.”

“If I can get straight, if I can get on the wagon for ten days and get my health back — I can get a job somewhere, I can help her.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re drinking now. If you love her, you’ll stop drinking. Right now.”

“By god,” he said, “I will! I’ll pour this drink into the sink!”

“Don’t be melodramatic. Just pass that glass over here.”

I took the elevator down to the first floor with the fifth of cheap whiskey I had stolen at Sam’s liquor store a week earlier. Then I took the stairway to the cellar. There was a small light burning down there. I walked along looking for a door. I finally found one. It must have been 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I knocked. The door opened a notch and here stood a really fine-looking woman in a negligee. I hadn’t expected that. Young, and a strawberry blonde. I stuck my foot in the door, then I pushed my way in, closed the door and looked around. Not a bad place at all.

“Who are you?” she asked. “Get out of here.”

“This is a nice place you got here. I like it better than my own.”

“Get out of here! Get out! Get out!” I pulled the fifth of whiskey out of the paper bag. She looked at it.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Jeanie.”

“Look, Jeanie, where do you keep your drinking glasses?”

She pointed to a wall shelf and I walked over and got two tall water glasses. There was a sink. I put a little water in each, then walked over, set them down, opened the whiskey and mixed it in. We sat on the edge of her bed and drank. She was young, attractive. I couldn’t believe it. I waited for a neurotic explosion, for something psychotic. Jeanie looked normal, even healthy. But she did like her whiskey. She drank right along with me. Having come down there in a rush of eagerness, I no longer felt that eagerness. I mean, if she had had a little pig in her or something indecent or foul (a harelip, anything), I would have felt more like moving in. I remembered a story I had read in the Racing Form once about a high-bred stallion they couldn’t get to mate with the mares. They got the most beautiful mares they could find, but the stallion only shied away. Then somebody, who knew something, got an idea. He smeared mud all over a beautiful mare and the stallion immediately mounted her. The theory was that the stallion felt inferior to all the beauty and when it was muddied-up, fouled, he at least felt equal or maybe even superior. Horses’ minds and men’s minds could be a great deal alike. Anyhow, Jeanie poured the next drink and asked me my name and where I roomed. I told her that I was upstairs somewhere and I just wanted to drink with somebody.

“I saw you at the Clamber-In one night about a week ago,” she said, “you were very funny, you had everybody laughing, you bought everybody drinks.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I remember. You like my negligee?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you take off your pants and get more comfortable?”

I did and sat back on the bed with her. It moved very slowly. I remember telling her that she had nice breasts and then I was sucking on one of them. Next I knew we were at it. I was on top. But something didn’t work. I rolled off.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s all right,” she said, “I still like you.”

We sat there talking vaguely and finishing the whiskey. Then she got up and turned off the lights. I felt very sad and climbed into bed and lay against her back. Jeanie was warm, full, and I could feel her breathing, and I could feel her hair against my face. My penis began to rise and I poked it against her. I felt her reach down and guide it in.

“Now,” she said, “now, that’s it. . .”

It was good that way, long and good, and then we were finished and then we slept. When I woke up she was still asleep and I got up to get dressed. I was fully clothed when she turned and looked at me:

“One more time before you go.”

“All right.”

I undressed again and got in with her. She turned her back to me and we did it again, the same way. After I climaxed she lay with her back to me.

“Will you come see me again?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“You live upstairs?”

“Yes. 309.1 can come see you or you can come see me.”

“I’d rather you came to see me,” she said.

“All right,” I said. I got dressed, opened the door, closed the door, walked up the stairway, got in the elevator, and hit the 3 button. It was about a week later, one night, I was drinking wine with Marty. We talked about various things of no importance and then he said,

“Christ, I feel awful.”

“What again?”

“Yeah. My girl, Jeanie. I told you about her.”

“Yes. The one who lives in the cellar. You’re in love with her.”

“Yeh. They kicked her out of the cellar. She couldn’t even make the cellar rent.”

“Where’d she go?”

“I don’t know. She’s gone. I heard they kicked her out. Nobody knows what she did, where she went. I went to the A.A. meeting. She wasn’t there. I’m sick. Hank, I’m really sick. I loved her. I’m about out of my head.” I didn’t answer. “What can I do, man? I’m really torn apart.. .”

“Let’s drink to her luck, Marty, to her good luck.” We had a good long one to her.

“She was all right. Hank, you gotta believe me, she was all right.”

“I believe you Marty.”

A week later Marty got kicked out for not paying his rent and I got a job in a meat packing plant and there were a couple of Mexican bars across the street. I liked those Mexican bars. After work, I smelled of blood, but nobody seemed to mind. It wasn’t until I got on the bus to go back to my room that those noses started raising and I got the dirty looks, and I began feeling mean again. That helped.

11.   ALL THE ASSHOLES IN THE WORLD AND MINE

“no man’s suffering is ever larger than nature intended.” — conversation overheard at a crapgame

1.

It was the ninth race and the horse’s name was Green Cheese. He won by 6 and I got back 52 for 5 and since I was far ahead anyhow, it called for another drink. “Gimme a shota green cheese,” I told the barkeep. It didn’t confuse him. He knew what I was drinking. I had been leaning there all afternoon. I had been drunk all the night before and when I got home, of course, I had to have some more. I was set. I had scotch, vodka, wine and beer. A mortician or somebody called about 8 p.m. and said he’d like to see me. “Fine,” I said, “bring drinks.”

“Do you mind if I bring friends?”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“I mean my friends.”

“I do not give a damn,” I told him. I went into the kitchen and poured a water glass %’s full of scotch. I drank it down straight just like the old days. I used to drink a fifth in an hour and a half, two hours. “Green cheese,” I said to the kitchen walls. I opened a tall can of frozen beer.

2.

The mortician arrived and got on the phone and pretty soon many strange people were walking in, all of them bringing drinks with them. There were a lot of women and I felt like raping all of them. I sat on the rug, feeling the electric light, feeling the drinks going through me like a parade, like an attack on the blues, like an attack on madness. “I will never have to work again!” I told them. “The horses will take care of me like no whore EVER did!”

“Oh, we know that Mr. Chinaski! We know that you are a GREAT man!” It was a little greyhaired fucker on the couch, rubbing his hands, leering at me with wet lips. He meant it. He made me sick. I finished the drink in my hand and found another somewhere and drank that too. I began talking to the women. I promised them all the endearments of my mighty cock. They laughed. I meant it. Right then. There. I moved toward the women. The men pulled me off. For a worldly man I was very much the highschool boy. If I hadn’t been the great Mr. Chinaski, somebody would have killed me. As it was, I ripped off my shirt and offered to go out on the lawn with anybody. I was lucky. Nobody felt like pushing me over my shoelaces. When my mind cleared it was 4 a.m. All the lights were on and everybody was gone. I was still sitting there. I found a warm beer and drank it. Then I went to bed with the feeling that all drunks know: that I had been a fool but to hell with it.

3.

I had been bothered with hemorrhoids for 15 or 20 years; also perforated ulcers, bad liver, boils, anxiety-neurosis, various types of insanity, but you go on with things and just hope that everything doesn’t fall apart at once. It seemed that drunk almost did it. I felt dizzy and weak, but that was ordinary. It was the hemorrhoids. They would not respond to anything — hot baths, salves, nothing helped. My intestines hung almost out of my ass like a dog’s tail. I went to a doctor. He simply glanced. “Operation,” he said.

“All right,” I said, “only thing is that I am a coward.”

“Vel, ya, dot vill make it more difficult.” You lousy Nazi bastard, I thought. “I vant you to take dis laxative der Tuesday night, den at 7 a.m. you get up, ya? and you gif yourself de enema, you keep gifiing dis enema until der wasser is clear, ya? den I take unudder look into you at 10 a.m. Vensday morning.”

“Ya whol, mine herring,” I said.

4.

The enema tube kept slipping out and the whole bathroom got wet and it was cold and my belly hurt and I was drowning in slime and shit. This is the way the world ended, not with an atom bomb, but with shit shit shit. With the set I had bought there was nothing to pinch the flow of water and my fingers would not work so the water ran in full blast and out full blast. It took me an hour and a half and by then my hemorrhoids were in command of the world. Several times I thought of just quitting and dying. I found a can of pure spirits of gum turpentine in my closet. It was a beautiful red and green can. “DANGER!” it said, “harmful or fatal if swallowed.” I was a coward: I put the can back.

5.

The doctor put me up on a table. “Now, chust relox der bock, ya? relox, relox . . .” Suddenly he jammed a wedge-shaped box into my ass and began unwinding his snake which began to crawl up into my intestine looking for blockage, looking for cancer. “Ha! Now if it hurts a bit, nien? den pant like a dog, go, hahaha- hahaaaa!”

“You dirty motherfucker!”

“Vot?”

“Shit, shit, shit! You dog-burner! You swine, sadist . . . You burned Joan at the stake, you put nails in the hands of Christ, you voted for war, you voted for Goldwater, you voted for “Nixon … Mother-ass! What are you DOING to me?”

“It vill soon be over. You take it veil. You will be good patient.” He rolled the snake back in and then I saw him peering into something that looked like a periscope. He slammed some gauze up my bloody ass and I got up and put on my clothes.

“And the operation will be for what?” He knew what I meant.

“Chust der hemorrhoids.” I peeked up his nurse’s legs as I walked out. She smiled sweetly. 6. In the waiting room of the hospital a little girl looked at our grey faces, our white faces, our yellow faces . . .

“Everybody is dying!” she proclaimed. Nobody answered her. I turned the page of an old Time magazine. After routine filling out of papers . . . urine specimens . . . blood, I was taken to a four bed ward on the eighth floor. When the question of religion came up I said “Catholic,” largely to save myself from the stares and questions that usually followed a proclamation of no religion. I was tired of all the arguments and red tape. It was a Catholic hospital — maybe I’d get better service or blessings from the Pope. Well, I was locked in with three others. Me, the monk, the loner, gambler, playboy, idiot. It was all over. The beloved solitude, the refrigerator full of beer, the cigars on the dresser, the phone numbers of the big-legged, big-assed women. There was one with a yellow face. He looked somehow like a big fat bird dipped in urine and sun-dried. He kept hitting his button. He had a whining, crying, mewing voice.

“Nurse, nurse, where’s Dr. Thomas? Dr. Thomas gave me some codeine yesterday. Where’s Dr. Thomas?”

“I don’t know where Dr. Thomas is.”

“Can I have a coughdrop?”

“They are right on your table.”

“They ain’t stoppin’ my cough, and that cough medicine ain’t any good either.”

“Nurse!” a whitehaired guy yelled from the northeast bed, “can I have some more coffee? I’d like some more coffee.”

“I’ll see,” she said and left. My window showed hills, a slope of hills rising. I looked at the slopes of hills. It was getting dark. Nothing but houses on the hills. Old houses. I had the strange feeling that they were unoccupied that everybody had died, that everybody had given up. I listened to the three men complain about the food, about the price of the ward, about the doctors and nurses. When one spoke the other two did not seem to be listening, they did not answer. Then another would begin. They took turns. There was nothing else to do. They spoke vaguely, switching subjects. I was in with an Oakie, a movie cameraman, and the yellow piss-bird. Outside of my window a cross turned in the sky — first it was blue, then it was red. It was night and they pulled our curtains around our beds a bit and I felt better, but realized, oddly, that pain or possible death did not bring me closer to humanity. Visitors began arriving. I didn’t have any visitors. I felt like a saint. I looked out of my window and saw a sign near the turning red and blue cross in the sky. MOTEL, it said. Bodies in there in more gentle attunement. Fucking.

7.

A poor devil dressed in green came in and shaved my ass. Such terrible jobs in the world! There was one job I had missed. They slipped a showercap over my head and pushed me onto a roller. This was it. Surgery. The coward gliding down the halls past the dying. There was a man and a woman. They pushed me and smiled, they seemed very relaxed. They rolled me onto an elevator. There were four women on the elevator.

“I’m going to surgery. Any of you ladies care to change places with me?” They drew up against the wall and refused to answer. In the operating room we awaited for the arrival of God. God finally entered:

“Veil, veil, veil, dere isss mine friend!” I didn’t even bother to answer such a lie. “Turn on der stomach, please.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess it’s too late to change my mind now.”

“Ya,” said God, “you are now in our power!” I felt the strap go across my back. They spread my legs. The first spinal went in. It felt like he was spreading towels all around my asshole and across my back. Another spinal. A third. I kept giving them lip. The coward, the showman, whistling in the dark. “Put him to sleep, ya,” he said. I felt a shot in the elbow, a stinger. No good. Too many drunks behind me.

“Anybody got a cigar?” I asked. Somebody laughed. I was getting corny. Bad form. I decided to be quiet. I could feel the knife tugging at my ass. There wasn’t any pain.

“Now dis,” I heard him say, “dis iss the main obstruction, see? und here . . .”

8.

The recovery room was dull. There were some fine-looking women walking around but they ignored me. I got up on my elbow and looked around. Bodies everywhere. Very very white and still. Real operations. Lungers. Heart cases. Everything. I felt somewhat the amateur and somewhat ashamed. I was glad when they wheeled me out of there. My three roomies really stared when they rolled me in. Bad form. I rolled off the thing onto the bed. I found that my legs were still numb and that I had no control over them. I decided to go to sleep. The whole place was depressing. When I woke up my ass was really hurting. But legs still dull. I reached down for my cock and it felt as if it wasn’t there. I mean, there wasn’t any feeling. Except I wanted to piss and I couldn’t piss. It was horrible and I tried to forget it. One of my ex-loves came by and sat there looking at me. I had told her I was going in. Quite what for, I don’t know.

“Hi! How you doin’?”

“Fine, only I can’t piss.” She smiled. We talked a little about something and then she left.

9.

It was like in the movies: all the male nurses seemed to be homosexual. One seemed more manly than the others. “Hey, buddy!” He came over. “I can’t piss. I want to piss but I can’t.”

“I’ll be right back. I’ll fix you up.” I waited quite a while. Then he came back, pulled the curtain around my bed and sat down. Jesus, I thought, what’s he gonna do? Gimme a head-job? But I looked and he seemed to have some kind of machine with him. I watched as he took a hollow needle and ran it down the piss-hole of my cock. The feeling that I thought was gone from my cock was suddenly back.

“Shit o baby!” I hissed. “Not the most pleasant thing in the world, is it?”

“Indeed, indeed. I tend to agree. Weeowee! Shit and jesus!”

“Soon be over.” He pressed against my bladder. I could see the little square fish-bowl filling with piss. This was one of the parts they left out of the movie.

“God o mighty, pal, mercy! Let’s call it a good night’s work.”

“Just a moment. Now.” He drew the needle out. Out the window my blue and red cross turned, turned. Christ hung on the wall with a piece of dried palm stuck at his feet. No wonder men turned to gods. It was pretty hard to take it straight.

“Thanks,” I told the nurse. “Any time, any time.” He pulled the curtain back and left with his machine. My yellow piss-bird punched his button.

“Where’s that nurse? 0 why o why doesn’t that nurse come?” He pushed it again.

“Is my button working? Is something wrong with my button?” The nurse came in. “My back hurts! 0, my back hurts terrible! Nobody has come to visit me! I guess you fellows noticed that! Nobody has come to see me! Not even my wife! Where’s my wife? Nurse, raise my bed, my back hurts! THERE! Higher! No, no, my god, you’ve got it too high! Lower, lower! There. Stop! Where’s my dinner? I haven’t had dinner! Look . . .” The nurse walked out. I keep wondering about the little pissmachine. I’ll probably have to buy one, carry it around all my life. Duck into alleys, behind trees, in the back seat of my car. The Oakie in bed one hadn’t said much.

“It’s my foot,” he suddenly said to the walls, “I can’t understand it, my foot just got all swelled-up overnight and it won’t go down. It hurts, it hurts.” The whitehaired guy in the corner pushed his button.

“Nurse,” he said, “nurse, how about hustling me up a pot of coffee?” Really, I though, my main problem is to keep from going insane.

10.

The next day old whitehair (the movie cameraman) brought his coffee down and sat in a chair by my bed. “I can’t stand that son of a bitch.” He was speaking of the yellow piss-bird. Well, there was nothing to do with whitehair but talk to him. I told him that drink had brought me pretty much to my present station in life. For kicks I told him some of my wilder drunks and some of the crazy things that had happened. He had some good ones himself. “In the old days,” he told me, “they used to have the big red cars that ran between Glendale and Long Beach, I believe it was. They ran all day and most of the night except for an interval of an hour and a half, I think between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m.. Well, I went drinking one night and met a buddy at the bar and after the bar closed we went to his place and finished something he had left there. I left his place and kinda got lost. I turned up a deadend street but I didn’t know it was deadend. I kept driving and I was driving pretty fast. I kept going until I hit the railroad tracks. When I hit the tracks my steering wheel came up and hit me on the chin and knocked me out. There I was across those tracks in my car K.O.’d. Only I was lucky because it was in the hour and a half that no trains were running. I don’t know how long I sat there. But the train horn woke me up. I woke up and saw this train coming down the tracks at me. I just had time to start the car and back off. The train tore on by. I drove the car home, the front wheels all bent under and wobbling.”

“That’s tight.”

“Another time I am sitting in the bar. Right across the way is a place where the railroadmen ate. The train stopped and the men got out to eat. I am sitting next to some guy in this bar. He turns to me and he says, ‘I used to drive one of those things and I can drive one again. Come on and watch me start it.’ I walked out with him and we climbed into the engine. Sure enough, he started the thing. We got up good speed. Then I started thinking, what the hell am I doing? I told the guy,

‘I don’t know about you but I’m getting off!’ I knew enough about trains to know where the brake was. I yanked the brake and before the train even stopped I went out the side. He went out the other side and I never saw him again. Pretty soon there is a big crowd around the train, policemen, train investigators, yard dicks, reporters, onlookers. I am standing off to one side with the rest of the crowd, watching.

‘Come on, let’s go up and find out what’s going on!” somebody next to me said.

‘Nah, hell,’ I said, ‘it’s just a train.’ I was scared that maybe somebody had seen me. The next day there was a story in the papers. The headline said, TRAIN GOES TO PACOIMA BY ITSELF. I cut out the story and saved it. I saved that clipping for ten years. My wife used to see it.

‘What the hell you saving this story for? — TRAIN GOES TO PACOIMA BY ITSELF.’ I never told her. I was still scared. You’re the first one I ever told the story to.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “not a single soul will ever hear that story again.” Then my ass really began to kick up and whitehair suggested I ask for a shot. I did. The nurse gave me one in the hip. She left the curtain pulled when she left but whitehair continued to sit there. In fact, he had a visitor. A visitor with a voice that carried clear down through my fucked-up bowels. He really sent it out. “I’m going to move all the ships around the neck of the bay. We’ll shoot it right there. We’re paying a captain of one of those boats $890 a month and he has two boys under him. We’ve got this fleet right there. Let’s put it to use, I think. The public’s ready for a good sea story. They haven’t had a good sea story since Errol Flynn.”

“Yeah,” said whitehair, “those things run in cycles. The public’s ready now. They need a good sea story.”

“Sure, there are lots of kids who have never seen a sea story. And speaking of kids, that’s all I’m gonna use. I’ll run ‘em all over the boats. The only old people we’ll use will be for the leads. We just move these ships around the bay and shoot right there. Two of the ships need masts, that’s all that’s wrong with them. We hand them masts and then we begin.”

“The public is sure ready for a sea story. It’s a cycle and the cycle is due.”

“They are worried about the budget. Hell, it won’t cost a thing. Why — ” I pulled the curtain back and spoke to whitehair. “Look, you might think me a bastard, but you guys are right against my bed. Can’t you take your friend over to your bed?”

“Sure, sure!” The producer stood up. “Hell, I’m sorry. I didn’t know . . .” He was fat and sordid; content, happy, sickening.

“O.k.,” I said. They moved up to whitehair’s bed and continued to talk about the sea story. All the dying on the eighth floor of the Queen of Angels Hospital could hear the sea story. The producer finally left. Whitehair looked over at me.

“That’s the world’s greatest producer. He’s produced more great pictures than any man alive. That was John F.”

“John F.,” said the piss-bird, “yeah, he’s made some great pictures, great pictures!” I tried to go to sleep. It was hard to sleep at night because they all snored. At once. Whitehair was the loudest. In the morning he always woke me up to complain that he hadn’t slept. That night the yellow piss-bird hollered all night. First because he couldn’t shit. Unplug me, my god, I gotta crap! Or he hurt. Or where was his doctor? He kept having different doctors. One couldn’t stand him and another would take over. They couldn’t find anything wrong with him. There wasn’t: he wanted his mother but his mother was dead. 11. I finally got them to move me to a semi-private ward. But it was a worse move. His name was Herb and like the male nurse told me,

“He’s not sick. There isn’t anything wrong with him at all.” He had on a silk robe, shaved twice a day, had a T.V. set which he never turned off, and visitors all the time. He was head of a fairly large business and had gone the formula of having his grey hair short-cropped to indicate youth, efficiency, intelligence, and brutality. The T.V. turned out to be far worse than I could have imagined. I had never owned a T.V. and so was unaccustomed to its fare. The auto races were all right, I could stand the auto races, although they were very dull. But there was some type of Marathon on for some Cause or another and they were collecting money. They started early in the morning and went right on through. Little numbers were posted indicating how much money had been collected. There was somebody in a cook’s hat. I don’t know what the hell he meant. And there was a terrible old woman with a face like a frog. She was terribly ugly. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe these people didn’t know how ugly and naked and meaty and disgusting their faces looked — like rapes of everything decent. And yet they just walked up and calmly put their faces on the screen and spoke to each other and laughed about something. The jokes were very hard to laugh at but they didn’t seem to have any trouble. Those faces, those faces! Herb didn’t say anything about it. He just kept looking as if he were interested. I didn’t know the names of the people but they were all stars of some sort. They’d announce a name and then everybody would get excited — except me. I couldn’t understand it. I got a little sick. I wished I were back in the other room. Meanwhile, I was trying to have my first bowel movement. Nothing happened. A swath of blood. It was Saturday night. The priest came by. “Would you care for Communion tomorrow?” he asked.

“No, thank you, Father, I’m not a very good Catholic. I haven’t been to church in 20 years.”

“Were you baptized a Catholic?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’re still a Catholic. You’re just a bum Catholic.” Just like in the movies — he talks turkey, just like Cagney, or was it Pat O’Brien who sported the white collar? All my movies were dated: the last movie I had seen was The Lost Weekend. He gave me a little booklet. “Read this.” He left. PRAYER BOOK, it said. Compiled for use in hospitals and institutions. I read. O Eternal and ever-blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with all the angels and saints, I adore you. My Queen and my Mother, I give myself entirely to you; and to show my devotion to you, I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my whole being without reserve. Agonizing Heart of Jesus, have mercy on the dying. O my Cod, prostrate on my knees, I adore you… Join me, you blessed Spirits, in thanking the God of Mercies, who is so bountiful to so unworthy a creature. It was my sins, dear Jesus, that caused your bitter anguish . . . my sins that scourged you, and crowned you with thorns, and nailed you to the cross. I confess that I deserve only punishment. I got up and tried to shit. It had been three days. Nothing. Only a swath of blood again and the cuts in my rectum ripping open. Herb had on a comedy show.

“The Batman is coming onto the program tonight. I wanna see the Batman!”

“Yeah?” I crawled back into bed. I am especially sorry for my sins of impatience and anger, my sins of discouragement and rebellion. The Batman showed up. Everybody on the program seemed excited.

“It’s the Batman!” said Herb.

“Good,” I said, “the Batman.” Sweet Heart of Mary, be my savior.

“He can sing! Look, he can sing!” The Batman had removed his Batsuit and was dressed in a street-suit. He was a very ordinary looking young man with a somewhat blank face. He sang. The song lasted and lasted and the Batman seemed very proud of his singing, for some reason. “He can sing!” said Herb. My good Cod, what am I and who are you, that I should dare approach you? I am only a poor, wretched, sinful creature, totally unworthy to appear before you. I turned my back on the T.V. set and tried to sleep. Herb had it on very loud. I had some cotton which I stuck into my ears but it helped very little. I’ll never shit, I thought, I’ll never shit again, not with that thing on. It’s got my guts tightened, tightened . . . I’m gonna go nuts for sure this time! O Lord, my Cod, from this day I accept from your hand willingly and with submission, the kind of death that it may please you to send me, with all its sorrows, pains, and anguish. (Plenary indulgence once daily, under the usual conditions.) Finally, at 1:30 a.m. I could submit no longer. I had been listening since 7 a.m. My shit was blocked for Eternity. I felt that I had paid for the Cross in those eighteen and one-half hours. I managed to turn around.

“Herb! For Christ’s sake, man! I’m about to have it! I’m about to go off my screw! Herb! MERCY! I CAN’T STAND T.V.! I CAN’T STAND THE HUMAN RACE! Herb! Herb!” He was asleep, sitting up. “You dirty cunt-lapper,” I said.

“Whatza? whatz??”

“WHY DON’T YOU TURN THAT THING OFF?”

“Turn .. . off? ah, sure, sure … whyn’t ya say so, kid?” 12. Herb snored too. He also talked in his sleep. I went to sleep about 3:30 a.m. At 4:15 a.m. I was awakened by something that sounded like a table being dragged down the hall. Suddenly the lights went on and a big colored woman was standing over me with a clipboard. Christ, she was an ugly and stupid looking wench, Martin Luther King and racial equality be damned! She could have easily beat the shit out of me. Maybe that would be a good idea? Maybe it was Last Rites? Maybe I was finished?

“Look baby,” I said, “ya mind telling me what’s going on? Is this the fucking end?”

“Are you Henry Chinaski?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“You’re down for Communion.”

“No, wait! He got his signals crossed. I told him. No Communion.”

“Oh,” she said. She pulled the curtains back and turned off the lights. I could hear the table or whatever it was going further down the hall. The Pope was going to be very unhappy with me. The table made a hell of a racket. I could hear the sick and the dying waking up, coughing, asking questions to the air, ringing for the nurses.

“What was that, kid?” Herb asked. “What was what?”

“All that noise and lights?” “That was the Dark Tough Angel of the Batman making ready The Body of Christ.”

“What?”

“Go to sleep.”

13.

My doctor came the next morning and peered up my ass and told me I could go home. “But, my boy, you do not go horseback riding, ya?”

“Ya. But how about some hot pussy?”

“Vot?”

“Sexual intercourse.”

“Oh, nein, nein! It vill be six to eight weeks before you vill be able to resume anything normal.” He moved on out and I began to dress. The T.V. didn’t bother me. Somebody on the screen said, “I wonder if my spaghetti is done?” He stuck his face into the pot and when he looked up, all the spaghetti was stuck to his face. Herb laughed. I shook hands with him.

“So long baby,” I said.

“It’s been nice,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I was ready to leave when it happened. I ran to the can. Blood and shit. Shit and blood. It was painful enough to make me talk to the walls. “Ooo, mama, you dirty fuck bastards, oh shit shit, o you come-crazy freaks, o you shit-mauling cocksucker heavens, lay off! Shit, shit shit, YOW!” Finally it stopped. I cleaned myself, put on a gauze bandage, pulled up my pants and walked over to my bed, picked up my traveling bag. “So long. Herb, baby.”

“So long, kid.” You guessed it. I ran in there again.

“You dirty mother-humpin’ cat-fuckers’ Oooooo, shitshitshit-SHIT!” I came out and sat awhile. There was a smaller movement and then I felt that I was ready. I went downstairs and signed a fortune in bills. I couldn’t read anything. They called me a taxi and I stood outside the ambulance entrance waiting. I had my little sitz bath with me. A dishpan you shit in after you filled it with hot water. There were three Oakies standing outside, two men and a woman. Their voices were loud and Southern and they had the look and feel that nothing had ever happened to them — not even a toothache. My ass began to leap and twinge. I tried to sit down but that was a mistake. They had a little boy with them. He ran up and tried to grab my dishpan. He tugged. “No, you bastard, no,” I hissed at him. He almost got it. He was stronger than I was but I kept hold- ing on. O Jesus, I commend to you my parents, relatives, benefactors, teachers, and friends. Reward them in a very special way for all the care and sorrow I have caused them.

“You little jerkoff! Unhand my shitpot!” I told him.

“Donny! You leave that man alone!” the woman hollered at him. Donny ran on. One of the men looked at me.

“Hi!” he said.

“Hi,” I answered. That cab looked good.

“Chinaski?”

“Yeah. Let’s go.” I got in front with my shitpot. I kind of sat on one cheek. I gave him directions. Then, “Listen, if I holler pull behind a signboard, a gas station, anywhere. But stop driving. I might have to shit.”

“O.k.” We drove along. The streets looked good. It was noontime. I was still alive.

“Listen,” I asked him, “where’s a good whorehouse? Where can I pick up a good clean cheap piece of ass?”

“I don’t know anything about that stuff.”

“COME ON! COME ON!” I hollered at him. “Do I look like the fuzz? Do I look like a fink? You can level with me. Ace!”

“No, I’m not kidding. I don’t know about that stuff. I drive daylight. Maybe a night cabbie might line you up.”

“O.k., I believe you. Turn here.” The old shack looked good sitting down there between all the highrise apartments. My ’57 Plymouth was covered with birdshit and the tires were half-flat. All I wanted was a hot bath. A hot bath. Hot water against my poor asshole. Quiet. The old Racing Forms. The gas and light bills. The letters from lonely women too far away to fuck. Water. Hot water. Quiet. And myself spreading through the walls, returning to the manhole of my goddamned soul. I gave him a good tip and walked slowly up the driveway. The door was open. Wide. Somebody was hammering on something. The sheets were off the bed. My god, I had been raided! I had been evicted! I walked in.

“HEY!” I hollered. The landlord walked into the front room.

“Geez, we didn’t expect you back so soon! The hot water tank was leaking and we had to rip it out. We’re gonna put in a new one.”

“You mean, no hot water?”

“No, no hot water.” O good Jesus, I accept willingly this trial which it has pleased you to lay upon me. His wife walked in.

“Oh, I was just gonna make your bed.”

“All right. Fine.”

“He should get the watertank hooked up today. We might be short of parts. It’s hard to get parts on Sunday.”

“O.k., I’ll make the bed,” I said. “I’ll get it for you.”

“No, please, I’ll get it.” I went into the bedroom and began making the bed. Then it came. I ran to the can. I could hear him hammering on the water-tank as I sat down. I was glad he was hammering. I gave a quiet speech. Then I went to bed. I heard the couple in the next court. He was drunk. They were arguing. “The trouble with you is that you have no conceptions at all! You don’t know nothing! You’re stupid! And on top of that, you’re a whore!”

I was home again. It was great. I rolled over on my belly. In Vietnam the armies were at it. In the alleys the bums sucked on wine bottles. The sun was still up. The sun came through the curtains. I saw a spider crawling along the windowledge. I saw an old newspaper on the floor. There was a photo of three young girls jumping a fence showing plenty of leg. The whole place looked like me and smelled like me. The wallpaper knew me. It was perfect. I “was conscious of my feet and my elbows and my hair. I did not feel 45 years old. I felt like a goddamned monk who had just had a revelation. I felt as if I were in love with something that was very good but I was not sure what it was except that it was there. I listened to all the sounds, the sounds of motorcycles and cars. I heard dogs barking. People and laughing. Then I slept. I slept and I slept and I slept. While a plant looked through my window, while a plant looked at me. The sun went on working and the spider crawled around.


women

• More short stories . . . →http://www.lib.ru/INPROZ/BUKOWSKI/miscstor.txt

•→Ham On Rye   (a longer story)

• Women→

◊  Documentary on Charles Bukowski  ↓ ‘Born Into This’  (clip_2003)

Director John Dullaghan‘s biographical documentary about infamous poet Charles Bukowski, Bukowski: Born Into This, is as much a touching portrait of the author as it is an exposé of his sordid lifestyle. Interspersed between ample vintage footage of Bukowski’s poetry readings are interviews with the poet’s fans including such legendary figures such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joyce Fante (wife of John), Bono, and Harry Dean Stanton. Filmed in grainy black and white by Bukowski’s friend, Taylor Hackford, due to lack of funding, the old films edited into this movie paint Bukowski’s life of boozing and brawling romantically, securing Bukowski’s legendary status.

Born Into This relies on interviews with Bukowski for biographical information instead of cheesy voiceovers, bringing the viewer even closer to the author. For example, in one amazing sequence, Bukowski rides the viewer around in the backseat of his car, telling us through his rear-view mirror of his stint as a post office worker which inspired the novel, Post Office. Scenes splicing interviews with Bukowski’s ex-wife, Linda Lee, and R. Crumb’s comic strip panels portraying Bukowski as a sex-crazed maniac, set the tone for bawdier parts of the film. Occasionally the film displays lines of Bukowski’s poetry on the screen, as reminders that he was not only a raging alcoholic with a fierce sense of humor but also a talented and beloved writer.

5 comments to Charles Bukowski

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