Notes and Quotes – Charles Bukowski

 

– Notes and Quotes –

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

 

Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983)

“Would you suggest writing as a career?” . . . . “Writing chooses you, you don’t choose it.” (37).

 

“…to get busted for use and/or possession of grass . . . . would be like being charged with rape for smelling a pair of panties on somebody’s clothesline.” (229).

 

 

Post Office (1971)

“What’s the sin in being poor?” (111).

“I heard a voice:

‘Hey! I smell fire!’

‘YOU DON’T SMELL FIRE,’ I yelled, ‘YOU SMELL SMOKE!’”(182).

 

Bukowski’s sign:

“To whom it may concern: please phone me for appointments when you want to see me. I will not answer unsolicited knocks upon the door. I need time to do my work. I will not allow you to murder my work, please understand that what keeps me alive will make me a better person toward and for you when we finally meet under easy and unstrained conditions.”

 

 

Factotum (1975)

“I think you deserve some love,” she said. “I had a dream about you. I opened your chest like a cabinet, it had doors, and when I opened the doors I saw all kinds of soft things inside you—teddy bears, tiny fuzzy animals, all these soft, cuddly things. Then I had a dream about this other man. He walked up to me and handed me some pieces of paper. He was a writer. I took the pieces of paper and looked at them. And the pieces of paper had cancer. His writing had cancer. I go by my dreams You deserve some love.”

We kissed again.

“Listen,” she said, “after you stick that thing inside me, pull it out just before you come. O.K.?”

“I understand.”

I climbed on top of her. It was good. It was something happening, something real, and with a girl 20 years younger than I was and really, after all, beautiful. I did about 10 strokes—and came inside of her. (18)

 

2122 Longwood Avenue (28)

 

I’m sorry, sir, we can’t serve you: I mumbled something about O. Henry and left (41)

 

Helen had slipped out: Just like a bitch, I thought, afraid of the long hard ride… (51-52)

 

…spooned it into my illness. (54)

 

The Leaky Faucet of My Doom (55)

 

Love is for real people. (59)

 

Frontfire, Clay Gladmore, William Saroyan, Sherwood Anderson: “ we regret, alas, that this is a rejection slip but…” (61)

 

The myth of the starving artist was a hoax. (63)

 

My Beerdrunk Soul is Sadder Than All the Dead Christmas Trees of the World (64)

 

She was all flare and lightning. (65)

 

Beethoven’s Fifth, Brahm’s Second (65)

 

When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat. (67)

 

Charge it to Wilbur Oxnard. (68)

 

Debussy (69)

 

Every writer thinks he’s a good one. (71)

 

RAID! (73)

 

$50 a month, signed paper held up on court (74)

 

Long nylon legs (76)

 

Of Wilbur: I don’t give a damn if he never comes back. (79, 81)

 

I’m fucking you. (81)

 

I’d long ago given up reading anything. (83)

 

To be a lady’s man you have to make with the sweet talk. (87)

 

Alabam: He went by the name of George Fellows. (89)

 

Jan had fashioned a little paper hat and fitted it over the tip of my dick. (92)

The tip of it entered her mouth. I fell back, damned. (92)

 

As usual Carmen was wearing a very tight knitted dress that fit her like a balloon fits the trapped air, maybe tighter. (93)

 

. . . we kept the wine bottles lined up bravely, made love, fought, and waited. (100)

 

You married, Manny?

No way.

Women?

Sometimes. But it never lasts.

What’s the problem?

A woman is a full time job. You have to choose your profession.

I suppose it’s an emotional drain.

Physical too. They want to fuck night and day.

Get one you like to fuck.

Yes, but if you drink or gamble they think it’s a putdown of their love.

Get one who likes to drink, gamble and fuck.

Who wants a woman like that? (104-105)

 

Manny: My ambition is handicapped by laziness. (107)

 

Hank to Jan: I tried to make a woman out of you but you’ll never be anything but a goddamn whore! (110)

 

. . . because if the poor aren’t decent to one another nobody else is going to be. (115)

 

Hank: I never looked into mirrors (115)

 

. . . then the lips that would never be mine said, no. (117)

 

Henry Miller: He was good when he was good, and vice versa. (122)

 

If I was nay kind of man, I thought, I would rape her, set her panties on fire, force her to follow me all over the world, make tears come to her eyes with my love letters written on light red tissue paper. (125)

 

Hell, I can’t write. That’s just conversation. It makes the landlady feel better. What I need is a job. Any kind of job. (125)

 

You take that job and I’ll take yours. (128)

 

For each Joan of Arc there is a Hitler perched at the other end of the teeter-totter. The old story of good and evil. (129)

 

 

What the fuck, I told her, my land is your land. (139)

 

I kept telling myself that all the women in the world weren’t whores, just mine. (140)

 

Well, I had been a night janitor once before in San Francisco. You smuggled a bottle of wine in with you, worked like hell, and then when everybody else had gone, you sat looking out the windows, drinking wine and waiting for the dawn. (151)

 

Even the most horrible human being on earth deserves to wipe his ass. (152)

 

Hugh: “‘Are you one of them?’ he screamed across at me, ‘are you an asshole too?’”

Hank: “‘Yes, noble sir.’” (153)

 

“‘You never listen to me.’”

“‘That’s because you keep on saying the same thing over and over again.’” (155)

 

“‘No man makes stew like you can. It’s your greatest talent.’” (157)

 

Hank: “‘Blow out the earwax! I’m going to take you, Pops! I once shook hands with Max Baer! I was once a gardener for Tex Ritter! Kiss your ass goodbye!’” (165)

“‘Sing me a song, Pops! Sing me your little song! I’ve got forty letters from Mae West in my dufflebag!’” (165)

 

A man might lose control of his cab when he sneezed. (168)

 

Maurice: I wouldn’t piss on a fly for them. (174)

 

Crimson/vermilion, ultramarine/cobalt (176)

 

Japanese women aging: the skin of the drum drawn taut. (182)

slant-eyed squaw with a gimp in her left leg (184)

 

…if one of them was in bed with me tonight I could take all this shit a whole lot better. (188)

 

These, I thought, are men who dance beautifully at parties. (191)

 

Hotel Sans: …bloody bellboys with eleven inch dicks… (191)

 

Indifferent yellow (197)

 

Two years L.A. City College. Journalism and Fine Arts. (200)

 

Lost a woman.

You’ll have others and lose them too. (201)

 

Darlene: A body like a willow. (204)

 

 

Women (1978)

No rhyming poetry in Henry Chinaski’s house. (9)

 

“‘Listen,’ I said finally, ‘when are you going to leave?’” (12)

 

“‘No, I only write after it gets dark. I can never write in the day.’” (13)

 

“‘I hate parties,’ I said.” (16)

 

“‘. . . I like people.’”

“‘I don’t.’” . . . . “‘No, the less I see them the better I like them.’” (17)

 

“‘You don’t know anything about women, do you?’”

“‘What do you mean?’”

“‘I mean, I can tell by reading your poems and stories that you don’t know anything about women.’”

“‘Tell me more.’”

“‘Well, I mean for a man to interest me he’s got to eat my pussy. Have you ever eaten pussy?’’ (21)

 

“‘She’s a nice old girl but she still thinks poetry is about sunsets and doves in flight.’” (29)

 

“‘I know who you are. I was at your reading.’

‘Thanks. I’d like to eat your pussy. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’ll drive you crazy.’

‘What do you think of Allen Ginsberg?’

‘Look, don’t get me off track. I want your mouth, your legs, your ass.’” (30)

 

“‘You’re right. Cunts are indestructible.’” (31)

 

“Education is the new god, and educated men the new taskmasters.” (32)

 

Lydia: “I’ll put you in your grave, you fat fuck!”

Chinaski: “‘I’ll put you back in the madhouse,’ I told her.” (37)

 

When I was drunk and Lydia was insane were nearly an equal match. (41)

 

Chinaski: “You’re a whore.”

Lydia: “Yeah? Well, if there’s anything worse than a whore it’s a bore.”

Chinaski: “If there’s anything worse than a bore it’s a boring whore.”

 

“There is nothing worse than being broke and having your woman leave you. Nothing to drink, no job, just the walls, sitting there staring at the walls and thinking.” (54-53)

 

Pain: “There’s no cure for it unless you know somebody who understands how you feel, and knows how to help.” (53)

 

Script writers and little-theater people: I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.” (53)

 

“There we were: a German stallion and a Jewish mare. The Fatherland would adore me.” (54)

 

“Goodness could be found sometimes in the middle of hell.” (69)

 

“America is a shitty place to fuck.” (70)

 

“So our arguments often grew out of my wish for no-people-at-all versus her wish for as-many-people-as-often-as-possible.” (72)

 

“‘Don’t you realize I’m a loner? A recluse? I have to be that way to write.’” (73)

 

Lydia: “You’re not going to last. You’ll never make it. You’re doing it all wrong.”

Chinaski: “That’s why I’m making it.” (73)

 

Lydia: “Are you famous? If you went to New York City, would anyone know you?”

Chinaski: “Listen I don’t care about that I just want it go on writing. I don’t need trumpets.” (73)

 

On younger girls: “Was I trying to screw my way past death?” (74)

 

Mindy on Chinaski’s eyes: “Oh, I don’t mean you’re handsome, not the way people think of handsome. Your face seems kind. But your eyes – they’re beautiful. They’re wild, crazy, like some animal peering out of a forest fire. God, something like that. I’m not very good with words.” (75)

 

If I had been born a woman I would certainly been a prostitute. Since I had been born a man, I craved women constantly, the lower the better.” (77)

 

On Mindy: “Her pussy seemed to get larger. I couldn’t feel anything. It was like trying to fuck a large, loose paper bag.” (78)

 

The Wild Woman of the Mountains: “Glendoline presumed that the reader was as fascinated by her life as she was – which was a deadly mistake.” (82)

“I figured that anybody who would read their novel aloud to others had to be suspect. If it wasn’t the old kiss of death, nothing was.” (82)

 

“I’d endure all that subnormal driveling shit with a smile.” (83)

 

“What the hell would Jack London do? What would Hemingway do? Jean Genet?” (86)

 

“I deserve defeat, I deserve to die alone in a madhouse.” (95)

 

Katherine: “I don’t want to interfere with your writing.”

Chinaski: “There’s no way I can stop writing, it’s a form of insanity.” (98)

 

“She gripped me.” (99)

 

On the racetrack: “Winners didn’t shoot off their mouths. They were afraid of getting murdered in the parking lot.” (104)

 

“We got into it, all that red hair on the pillow, as outside the sirens howled and the dogs barked.” (112)

 

“‘Mommy!’ Dancy said, ‘I want a Ding-Dong!’” (132)

 

“The old Chinaski bullshit was working. Tammie went down into the crowd and I started to read. I had many beers in an ice bucket. I had old poems and new poems. I couldn’t miss. I had St. Mark’s by the cross.” (140)

 

There is a problem with writers. If what a writer wrote was published and sold many, many copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold a medium number of copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold very few copies, the writer thought he was great. If what the writer wrote never was published and he didn’t have the money to publish it himself, then he thought he was truly great. The truth, however, was that there was very little greatness. It was almost nonexistent, invisible. But you could be sure that the worst writers had the most confidence, the least self-doubt. Anyway, writers were to be avoided, and I tried to avoid them, but it was almost impossible. They hoped for some sort of brotherhood, some kind of togetherness. None of it had anything to do with writing, none of it helped at the typewriter,

(140)

 

“I turned and walked off, back to the Chelsea.

I got some beer and took the elevator up. I undressed, took a shower, propped a couple of pillows against the headboard of the bed and sucked at the beer. Readings diminished me. They were soul-sucks. I finished one beer and opened another. Readings got you a piece of ass sometimes. Rock stars got ass; boxers on the way up got ass; great bullfighters got virgins. Somehow, only the bullfighters deserved any of it.” (143)

 

“Tammie took the beer and sat in the window, one leg out, one arm out, one leg in, one holding on to the raised window.

“I want to see the Statue of Liberty. I want to see Coney Island,” she said. I got myself a new beer. “Oh, it’s nice out here! It’s nice and cool.” Tammie leaned out the window, looking. Then she screamed.

 

The hand that had been holding on to the window slipped. I w most of her body go out the window. Then it came back. Somehow she had pulled herself back inside. She sat there, stunned.

“That was close,” I told her. “It would have made a good poem. I’ve lost a lot of women in a lot of ways, but that would have been a new way.” (143)

 

“I rubbed Vaseline on my cock. Then I turned out the light and got into bed.” “I stiffened and then slipped it into her ass.” (163)

 

“Well, I thought, there goes another one.” (164)

 

Mercedes: “I couldn’t walk for two days after that last one. Don’t rip my but again.” (164)

 

Chinaski: “I had on my dead father’s overcoat, which was too large. My pants were too long, the cuffs came down over the shoes and that was good because my stockings didn’t match, and my shoes were down at the heels. I hated barbers so I cut my own hair when I couldn’t get a woman to do it. I didn’t like to shave and I didn’t like long beards, so I scissored myself every two or three weeks. My eyesight was bad but I didn’t like glasses so I didn’t wear them except to read. I had my own teeth but not that many. My face and my nose were red from drinking and the light hurt my eyes so I squinted through tiny slits. I would have fit into any skid row anywhere. (167)

 

“‘Death to all whores who keep their legs closed against me!’ I screamed.” (179)

 

Chinaski: “‘. . . My name is Henry Chinaski, alcoholic writer.’”

Babette: “‘Never heard of you.’”

Chinaski: “‘Likewise.’” (181)

“. . . [Babette] had a body. It was willow slim. It swayed in the wind and was gone.” (182)

 

Chinaski: “Cecelia sat and watched us drink. I could see that I repulsed her. I ate meat. I had no god. I liked to fuck. Nature didn’t interest me. I never voted. I liked wars. Outer space bored me. Baseball bored me. History bored me. Zoos bored me.” (182)

 

William Burroughs (183)

 

“‘What do you think of women?’ she asked.” (188)

 

“. . . ‘You see,’ I called to her, ‘I didn’t rape you.’”

“Oh,’ she answered, ‘I wish you would.’” (189)

 

“‘I was afraid. My art is my fear. I rocket off from it.’” (189)

 

Chinaski’s license plate: TRV 469 (190)

 

Wannabe Writer: “The poor fucker didn’t have a cunt.” (191)

 

Pseudonym: Lance Lovejoy (192)

 

“I always enjoyed being at women’s places more than when they were at mine. When I was at their places I could always leave.” (193)

 

“‘Fiction is an improvement on life.’” (197)

 

“When you lived where I lived you begin to believe that every place else was like your crummy place.” (199)

 

Influences: John Fante (Ask the Dust, Wait Until Spring, Bandini), Celine, not Hemingway, Gable, Cagney, Bogart, and Errol Flynn (200-201)

 

Lydia’s saying: “If you want to drink, drink; If you want to fuck, throw the bottle away.” (203)

 

“I don’t know why, but with each new woman it seemed like the first time, almost as if I had never been with a woman before.” (204)

 

Cassie passed the joint, “Your life seems in order,” she said.

“Really?”

“I mean, you don’t come on or try to impress like some men. And you seem naturally funny.”

“I like your ass and your hair,” I said, “and your lips and your eyes and your wine and your place and your joints. But I’m not in order.” (205)

 

“Yet each woman was different, each kissed in her own way.” (224)

 

“It was almost disappointing because it seemed when stress and madness were eliminated from my daily life there wasn’t much left you could depend on.” (226)

 

“When you lived in poor neighborhoods you continually heard other people’s sounds, including their fucking, but the most dangerous thing was to be forced to listen to their music at full volume, the total vomit of it for hours. In addition they usually left their windows open, confident that you too would enjoy what they enjoyed.” (229)

 

“People were so inept.” (235)

 

“I was a bush-league de Sade, without his intellect. A murderer was more straightforward and honest than I was. Or a rapist. I didn’t want my soul played with, mocked, pissed on; I knew that much at any rate.” (236)

 

Thanksgiving: “Wednesday night found me at the airport waiting for Iris. I sat around and looked at the women. None of them—except for one or two—looked as good as Iris. There was something wrong with me: I did think of sex a great deal. Each woman I looked at I imagined being in bed with. It was an interesting way to pass airport waiting time. Women: I liked the colors of their clothing; the way they walked; the cruelty in some faces; now and then the almost pure beauty in another face, totally and enchantingly female. They had it over us: they planned much better and were better organized. While men were watching professional football or drinking beer or bowling, they, the women, were thinking about us, concentrating, studying, deciding—whether to accept us, discard us, exchange us, kill us or whether simply to leave us. In the end it hardly mattered; no matter what they did, we ended up lonely and insane.

I had bought Iris and myself a turkey, an 18-pounder. It was on my sink, thawing out. Thanksgiving. It proved you had survived another year with its wars, inflation, unemployment, smog, presidents. It was a grand neurotic gathering of clans: loud drunks, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, screaming children, would-be suicides. And don’t forget indigestion. I wasn’t different from anyone else: there sat the 18 pound bird on my sink, dead, plucked, totally disembowled. Iris would roast it for me.” (241-242)

 

Iris: “‘Hank, you and your god-damned women!” (243)

 

“I didn’t try to particularly please Iris. I just went ahead and gave her an old-fashioned horse fuck.” . . . “I’d always liked Canadian bacon.” (246)

 

“My problem was that I couldn’t rest my cock-godhead like I could my typer-godhead. That was because women were available only in streaks so you had to get as much in as possible before somebody else’s godhead came along.” (249-250)

 

“People with no morals often considered themselves more free, but mostly they lacked the ability to feel or love. So they became swingers. The dead fucking the dead.” (250)

 

Iris on drinking: “That’s escapism.”

Chinaski: “Everything is: playing golf, sleeping, eating, walking, arguing, jogging, breathing, fucking . . .” (251)

 

The Beast with Three Legs (256)

 

Valencia: “Where’s your typewriter?”

Chinaski: “On the kitchen table.”

Valencia: “You don’t have a desk? I thought writers had desks.”

Chinaski: “Some don’t even have kitchen tables.” (258)

 

“I just lost 3 or 4 readers from Bel Air. But it was worth it.” (268)

 

Tammy and Arlene: “Yeah, we’re going out to rape some junior high school boys!” (270)

 

Sara on the ruined Christmas turkey: “Oh, it’s sickening! It hurts my heart!” (270)

 

“I was, as I’ve explained, a kiss freak. I almost couldn’t handle it. Great kissing was seldom, rare.” (275)

 

“I put down the phone. I thought of Sara. But Sara and I weren’t married. A man had a right. I was a writer. I was a dirty old man. Human relationships didn’t work anyhow. Only the first two weeks had any zing, then the participants lost their interest. Masks dropped away and real people began to appear: cranks, imbeciles, the demented, the vengeful, sadists, killers. Modern society had created its own kind and they feasted on each other. It was a duel to the death—in a cesspool. The most one could hope for in a human relationship, I decided, was two and one-half years. King Mongut of Siam had 9,000 wives and concubines; King Solomon of the Old Testament had 700 wives; August the Strong of Saxony had 365 wives, one for each day of the year. Safety in numbers.” (276)

 

I stood there trying not to let my hard-on show.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Yeah, buy me a stinger.”

I came back with her stinger and sat down. She had taken her feet off the chair. I sat next to her in the booth. She lit a cigarette and pressed her flank to mine. I lit a cigarette. “My name’s Hank. I said. “I’m Elsie,” she said. I pressed my leg against hers, moved it up and down slowly. “I’m into plumbing supplies,” I said. Elsie didn’t answer.

“The son-of-a-bitch left me,” she finally said, “I hate him, my god. You don’t know how I hate him!”

“It happens to almost everybody 6 or 8 times.”

“Probably, but that doesn’t help me. I just want to kill him.”

“Take it easy now.”

I reached down and squeezed her knee. My hard-on was so strong it hurt. I was damn near ready to come. “Fifty dollars,” Elsie said. “For what?”

“Any way you want it.” “Do you work the airport?” “Yeah, I sell Girl Scout cookies.”

“I’m sorry. I thought you were in trouble. I have to meet my mother in 5 minutes.”

I got up and walked away. A hooker! When I looked back Elsie had her feet up on the chair again, showing more than ever. I almost went back. God damn you anyhow, Tanya.

 

Tanya’s plane made its approach, landed without crashing. I stood and waited, a little bit behind the crush of greeters. What would she be like? I didn’t want to think about what I was like. The first passengers came through and I waited.

Oh, look at that one! If that were only Tanya!

Or her. My god! All that haunch. Dressed in yellow, smiling.

Or that one … in my kitchen washing the dishes.

Or that one . . . screaming at me, one breast fallen loose.

(278)

 

“Keep it up and I’ll turn you from yellow to black and blue.” (279)

 

Tanya: “Listen, I think you’re a great writer. You’re one of the few writers I can read.”

Chinaski: “Yeah? Who are the other bastards?” (280)

 

“At times we kissed. It was gross: I was being raped by a child.” (281)

 

“Child rape, finalized. They taught children well nowadays. Rapist raped. A final justice. Was she a “liberated” woman? No, she was simply red hot.” (281)

 

“I hadn’t split that 90 pounds in half. She could handle me and much much more.” (282)

 

“I hung up. Sara was a good soul. To lose her for a Tanya was ridiculous. Yet, Tanya had brought me something. Sara deserved better treatment than I ever gave her. People owed each other certain loyalities even if they weren’t married. In a way, the trust should run deeper because it wasn’t sanctified by law.” (288)

 

“. . . a man gets paranoid when he has 300 hangovers a year.” (288)

 

“I think I need a drink.”

“Everybody does only they don’t know it.”

I know it.”

“We can go to my place.”

“O.K.”

I swung the Volks around, and headed back.

“I’ve got some money,” I told her.

“$20,” she said.”

“You give head?”

“The best.” (289)

 

 

Ham on Rye (1982)

“Who are the best fighters, the Chinks or the Japs?”

“The Japs. The trouble is there are too many Chinks. When you kill a Chink he splits in half and becomes two Chinks.” (20)

 

“Still water runs deep.”

“Not with this one. The only thing that runs deep with him are the holes in his ears.” (22)

 

“She blew a smoke ring, reached out and broke it with her finger.” (51)

 

“My mother had a hole and my father had a dong that shot juice.” . . . “I really felt like puking when I thought I had started off as my father’s juice.” (54)

 

Pete and Lily in a car: “I need a look-out. I need somebody to tell me the coast is clear.” (118)

 

Henry’s last beating: “Give me a couple more,” I told him, “if it makes you feel any better.”

He knew it. It was my last beating. From him. (121)

 

We didn’t talk much, we just inferred, and that’s what got everybody mad, the way we took things for granted.” (92)

 

After drinking wine for the first time: “The park grass looked greener, the park benches looked better and the flowers were trying harder.” (96)

 

“We all left our machines and walked over. We circled them, listening as Arnie told the next joke. When it was over Pop doubled up. “Holy shit, oh lord, holy shit!”

“Then there’s another one, Pop. This guy is driving his car in the desert. He notices this guy jumping along the road. He’s naked and his hands and feet are tied with rope. The guy stops the car and asks the guy, ‘Hey, buddy, what’s the matter?’ And the guy tells him, ‘Well, I was driving along and I saw this bastard hitch-hiking so I stopped and the son-of-a-bitch pulls a gun on me, takes my clothes away and then ties me up. Then the dirty son-of-a-bitch reams me in the ass!’ ‘Oh yeah?’ says the guy getting out of his car. ‘Yeah, that’s what that dirty son-of-a-bitch did!’ says the man. ‘Well,’ says the guy unzipping his fly, ‘I guess this just isn’t your lucky day!’” (101)

 

Grandmother: “I’ll bury all of you . . .” . . . . “She had gotten so old that it was almost senseless to die.” (139)

 

Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Josephine Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence, Huxley, Turgenev, Gorky (151-152)

 

Dan boxing: “. . . spread out like some cheap Christ.” (156)

 

Fight with Henry Gibson: “Now I had to fight the guy who had just whipped the guy who had whipped me.” (158)

 

“The sun tossed yellow everywhere and I cut through it, a crazy knife on wheels.” (165)

 

“There would never be a way for me to live comfortably with people. Maybe I’d become a monk. I’d pretend to believe in God and live in a crucible, play an organ and stay drunk on wine. Nobody would fuck with me. I could go into a cell for months of meditation and I wouldn’t have to look at anybody and they could just send in the wine.” (166)

 

“Why did I come here? I thought. Why is it only a matter of choosing between something bad and something worse?” (167)

 

“I closed my eyes and listened to the waves. Thousands of fish out there, eating each other. Endless mouths and assholes shitting. The whole earth was nothing but mouths and assholes swallowing and shitting, and fucking.” (167)

 

“Remember, you must hate the enemy! They want to rape your mothers and sisters! Do you want those monsters to rape your mothers and sisters?” (171)

 

At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves. (174)

 

Graduation day: Dishwasher, dog catcher, burglar, garbage collector, madhouse attendant, civil servant, priest, poultry farmer (196-198)

 

“Mortenson gave me the finger.” (197)

“. . . all the pretty girls screaming, thinking, my god, this Chinaski must be a bull on the springs.” (198)

 

The time clock: “Then you go home, or to your room or wherever, sleep, come back and hit it four more times each working day until you get fired, quit, die, or retire.” (204)

 

I could stay with Mears-Starbuck for forty-seven years, I thought. I could live with a crazy girlfriend, get my left ear sliced off and maybe inherit Ferris’ job when he retired. (206)

 

“What do you think of Ferris?”

“I think he’s a great guy.”

They probably lived together in the same room and too turns manning the hotplate.

“I can’t take you up.”

“Why not?”

“I gotta take a shit.”

He left the elevator and walked off.

There I stood in my smock. This was the way things usually worked. You were a governor or a garbageman, you were a tight-rope walker or a bank robber, you were a dentist or a fruit picker, you were this or you were that. You wanted to do a good job. You manned your station and then you stood and waited for some asshole. I stood there in my smock next to my green cart while the elevator man took a shit. (206-207)

 

“I’ve got a good mind to come back there and teach you what is what!”

I stopped. “I’ll be waiting, old man.” (208)

 

Now, I thought, pushing my cart along, I have this job. Is this to be it? No wonder men robbed banks. There were too many demeaning jobs. Why the hell wasn’t I a superior court judge or a concert pianist? Because it took training and training cost money. But I didn’t want to be anything anyhow. And I was certainly succeeding. (210)

 

What I wanted was a cave in Colorado with three years’ worth of foodstuffs and drink. I’d wipe my ass with sand. Anything, anything to stop drowning in this dull, trivial and cowardly existence. (210)

 

Ferris: “The punchlines around here belong to me.” (211)

 

“Don’t fraternize with the unskilled help,” I told him. (215)

 

“The word’s out,” he said. “I hear you’re the new heavyweight champion of the world.” (215)

News travels fast in places where nothing much ever happens. (215)

 

“. . . some companies put ads in the papers everyday when there were no jobs available. It gave the employment department in those companies something to do. It also wasted the time and screw up the hopes of many desperate people.” (219)

 

Thirty minutes late for English class: “Well, if the funeral was mine I’d have to be on time. If the wedding was mine it would be my funeral.” I was always quick with my mouth. I would never learn. (223)

 

Sholom Stodolski: “Chinaski,” he said, “you’re a piece of shit.”

Chinaski: “Don’t mess with me, man, I’ve got an edgy nature.” (226)

 

Robert Becker, writer (228)

 

My parents had gotten me a typewriter and I had tried some short stories but they had come out very bitter and ragged. Not that that was so bad but the stories seemed to beg, they didn’t have their own vitality. My stories were darker than Becker’s, stranger, but they didn’t work. Well, one or two of them had worked—for me—but it was more or less as if they had fallen into place instead of being guided there. Becker was clearly better. Maybe I’d try painting. (230)

 

Drinking contest: Becker, Harry, Lana, Gobbles, Stinky, Marshbird, Ellis, Dogface, The Ripper, and the guy who robbed a gas station (230)

 

The war: Hitler was just another dictator to me, only instead of lecturing me at the dinner table he’d probably blow my brains out or my balls off if I went to war to stop him.” (236)

 

“The survival of the human race depends upon selective accountability!”

Which meant, watch out who you go to bed with, but only I knew that. It really pissed everybody off. I don’t know where I got my stuff:

“One of the failures of Democracy is that the common vote guarantees a common leader who then leads us to a common apathetic predictability!”

I avoided any direct reference to Jews and Blacks, who had never given me any trouble. All my troubles had come from white gentiles. Thus, I wasn’t a nazi by temperament or choice; the teachers more or less forced it on me by being so much alike and thinking so much alike and with their anti-German prejudice. I had also read somewhere that if a man didn’t truly believe or understand what he was espousing, somehow he could do a more convincing job, which gave me a considerable advantage over the teachers.

“Breed a plow horse to a race horse and you get an offspring that is neither swift nor strong. A new Master Race will evolve from purposeful breeding!”

“There are no good wars or bad wars. The only thing bad about a war is to lose it. All wars have been fought for a so-called good Cause on both sides. But only the victor’s Cause becomes history’s Noble Cause. It’s not a matter of who is right or who is wrong, it’s a matter of who has the best generals and the better army!”

I loved it. I could make up anything I liked. (237)

 

Why did the Master Race movement draw nothing but mental and physical cripples? (238)

Boyd Taylor, Baldy Lacrosse

Americans for America Party, Nazis: Igor Stirnov, Bob Fenster, Larry Kearny

Two threats: the communist scourge and the black takeover (240)

 

Even the weather was insolent and bitchy. (244)

 

The girls looked good from a distance, the sun shining through their dresses, their hair. But get up close and listen to their minds running out of their mouths . . . (245)

 

Spiders: Cowardly killers, the whole bunch of them. (245)

 

Give a man a typewriter and he becomes a writer. I had hidden the stories under the paper lining of my shorts-and-stockings drawer. (246)

 

Filipino bar: When the bar closed and I got up to leave the bartender said, “Thank you.” That was never done in American bars, not to me anyhow. (249)

 

I decided to keep going to college. It would give me some place to be during the daytime. My friend Becker had dropped out. There wasn’t anybody that I much cared for there except maybe the instructor in Anthropology, a known Communist. He didn’t teach much Anthropology. He was a large man, casual and likeable.

 

“Now the way you fry a porterhouse steak,” he told the class, “you get the pan red hot, you drink a shot of whiskey and then you pour a thin layer of salt in the pan. You drop the steak in and sear it but not for too long. Then you flip it, sear the other side, drink another shot of whiskey, take the steak out and eat it immediately.”

Once when I was stretched out on the campus lawn he had come walking by and had stopped and stretched out beside me.

“Chinaski, you don’t believe all that Nazi hokum you’re spreading around, do you?”

“I’m not saying. Do you believe your crap?”

“Of course I do.”

“Good luck.”

“Chinaski, you’re nothing but a wienerschnitzel.”

He got up, brushed off the grass and leaves and walked away. . . (249)

 

Tracked down by a private detective: Jimmy Hatcher, Delmore, Fastshoes

 

Jimmy: How are you making it Hank?

Hank: I’m writing term papers for the other people. (250)

 

Cards: “Pay to see or weep forever,” I said sweeping my cards into the deck and mixing them together, shuffling them . . .” (251)

 

“All right, my friends,” I said to them, “no hard feelings. I’ll drink alone . . .” (255)

 

On the Marines: “I don’t like to get up early in the morning and I don’ like to take orders.” (257)

 

On Skid Row: “there are some real weirdos down there.”

“They’re everwhere.” (257)

 

On publishing: “You read the magazines? The ‘Best Short Stories of the Year’ books? There at least a dozen of them.” . . . . “You read The New Yorker? Harper’s? The Atlantic?” . . . . “This is 1940. They’re still publishing 19th Century stuff, heavy, labored, pretentious. You either get a headache reading the stuff or you fall asleep.” (258)

Rejected: “I knew I would be. Why waste the stamps? I need wine.” (258)

 

Becker: “I’ve read your stuff,” said Becker. “You’re too bitter nand you hate everything.” (258)

“Let’s not talk about writing.”

On Thomas Wolfe: “God damn Tomas Wolfe! He sounds like an old woman on the telephone!”

“O.K., who’se your boy?”

“James Thurber.”

“All that upper-middle-class folderol . . .”

“He knows everyone is crazy.” (258)

 

Wine: “I have the blood of my god!” (259)

 

“You’ll never be a writer if you hide from reality.”

“What are you talking about? That’s what writers do!” (249)

 

Fight with Becker: “Becker,” I told him, “I kick ass around here about twice a week. You just showed up on the wrong day.” (260)

 

Chinaski: “I’m a writer.”

Connors: “You don’t look like a writer.”

Chinaski: “What do they look like?” (263)

 

Maybe I could live by my wits. The eight-hour day was impossible, yet almost everybody submitted to it. And the war, everybody was talking about the war in Europe. I wasn’t interested in world history, only my own. What crap. Your parents controlled your growing-up period, they pissed all over you. Then when you got ready to go out on your own, the others wanted to stick you into a uniform so you could get your ass shot off.

The wine tasted great. I had another.

The war. Here I was a virgin. Could you imagine getting your ass blown off for the sake of history before you even knew what a woman was? Or owned an automobile? What would I be protecting? Somebody else. Somebody else who didn’t give a shit about me. Dying in a war never stopped wars from happening.

I could make it. I could win drinking contests, I could gamble. Maybe I could pull a few holdups. I didn’t ask much, just to be left alone. (265)

 

After English class one day Mrs. Curtis asked me to stay.

She had great legs and a lisp and there was something about the legs and the lisp together that heated me up. She was about 32, had culture and style, but like everybody else, she was a god-damned liberal and that didn’t take much originality or fight, it was just more Franky Roosevelt worship. I liked Franky because of his programs for the poor during the Depression. He had style too. I didn’t think he really gave a damn about the poor but he was a great actor, great voice, and he had a great speech writer. But he wanted us in the war. It would put him into the history books. War presidents got more power and, later, more pages. Mrs. Curtis was just a chip off old Franky only she had much better legs. Poor Franky didn’t have any legs but he had a wonderful brain. In some other country he would have made a powerful dictator.

When the last student left I walked up to Mrs. Curtis’ desk. She smiled up at me. I had watched her legs for many hours and she knew it. She knew what I wanted, that she had nothing to teach me. She had only said one thing which I remembered. It wasn’t her own idea, obviously, but I liked it:

“You can’t overestimate the stupidity of the general public.”

“Mr. Chinaski,” she looked up at me, “we have certain students in this class who think they are very smart.”

“Yeh?”

“Mr. Felton is our smartest student.”

“O.K.”

(266)

 

“What is it that troubles you?” “What?”

“There’s something . . . troubling you.” “Maybe.”

“This is your last semester, isn’t it?” “How did you know?”

I’d been giving those legs a goodbye look. I’d decided the campus was just a place to hide. There were some campus freaks who stayed on forever. The whole college scene was soft. They never told you what to expect out there in the real world. They just crammed you with theory and never told you how hard the pavements were. A college education could destroy an individual for life. Books could make you soft. When you put them down, and really went out there, then you needed to know what they never told you. I had decided to quit after that semester, hang around Stinky and the gang, maybe meet somebody who had guts enough, to hold up a liquor store or better yet, a bank.

“I knew you were going to quit,” she said softly.

“‘Begin’ is a better word.”

“There’s going to be a war. Did you read ‘Sailor Off The Bremen’?”

“That New Yorker stuff doesn’t work for me.”

“You’ve got to read things like that if you want to understand what is happening today.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You just rebel against everything. How are you going to survive?”

“I don’t know. I’m already tired.”

Mrs. Curtis looked down at her desk for a long time. Then she looked up at me.

“We’re going to get drawn into the war, one way or the other. Are you going to go?”

“That doesn’t matter. I might, I might not.”

“You’d make a good sailor.”

I smiled, thought about being a sailor, then discarded that idea.

“If you stay another term,” she said, “you can have anythlng you want.”

She looked up at me and I knew exactly she meant and she knew that I knew exactly what she meant.

(267)

“No,” I said, “I’m leaving.” (268)

 

On Kong: He looked like a shit-sniffer. He also looked like a fetus-eater. (270)

Chinaski: “Tell Bill Saroyan I said ‘hello’!” (272)

 

After Kong: “Well,” I said, “I gotta go. There’s a Cagney movie showing tonight and I’m taking my cunt.”

I began to walk across the field.

“You mean you’re taking your right hand to the movie?” one of the guys yelled after me.

“Both hands,” I said over my shoulder. (273)

 

I made practice runs down to skid row to get ready for my future. I didn’t like what I saw down there. Those men and women had no special daring or brilliance. They wanted what everybody else wanted. There were also some obvious mental cases down there who were allowed to walk the streets undisturbed. I had noticed that both in the very poor and very rich extremes of society the mad were often allowed to mingle freely. I knew that I wasn’t entirely sane. I still knew, as I had as a child, that there was something strange about myself. I felt as if I were destined to be a murderer, a bank robber, a saint, a rapist, a monk, a hermit. I needed an isolated place to hide. Skid row was disgusting. The life of the sane, average man was dull, worse than death. There seemed to be no possible alternative. Education also seemed to be a trap. The little education I had allowed myself had made me more suspicious. What were doctors, lawyers, scientists? They were just men who allowed themselves to be deprived of their freedom to think and act as individuals. I went back to my shack and drank . . . (274)

 

Breaking in on a couple sexing: “Oh, I’m sorry …”

I closed their door and went back to my place. I felt terrible The poor had a right to fuck their way through their bad dream: Sex and drink, and maybe love, was all they had. (275)

 

Sunday, the worst god-damned day of them all. (276)

Main Street, East 5th, Bunker Hill. Shitholes of America. (276)

 

Finds Becker in an arcade:

“Becker, I demand a god-damned rematch!” (276)

 

I let go of him and he turned.

“No, nothing doing,” he said.

“Two out of three.”

“Balls,” he said, “I’ll buy you a drink.”

We walked out of the Penny Arcade and down Main Street. A B-girl hollered out from one of the bars, “Hey, Marine, come on in!”

Becker stopped. “I’m going in,” he said.

“Don’t,” I said, “they are human roaches.”

“I just got paid.”

“The girls drink tea and they water your drinks. The prices are double and you never see the girl afterwards.”

“I’m going in.”

 

Becker walked in. One of the best unpublished writers in America, dressed to kill and to die. I followed him. He walked up to one of the girls and spoke to her. She pulled her skirt up, swung her high heels and laughed. They walked over to a booth in a corner. The bartender came around the bar to take their order. The other girl at the bar looked at me.

“Hey, honey, don’t you wanna play?”

“Yeah, but only when it’s my game.”

“You scared or queer?”

“Both,” I said, sitting at the far end of the bar.

 

There was a guy between us, his head on the bar. His wallet was gone. When he awakened and complained, he’d either be thrown out by the bartender or handed over to the police.

After serving Becker and the B-girl the bartender came back behind the bar and walked over to me.

“Yeh?”

“Nothing.”

“Yeh? What ya want in here?”

“I’m waiting for my friend,” I nodded at the corner booth. “You sit here, you gotta drink.” “O.K. Water.”

The bartender went off, came back, set down a glass of water. “Two bits.” I paid him.

 

The girl at the bar said to the bartender, “He’s queer or scared.” The bartender didn’t say anything. Then Becker waved to him (277)

 

and he went to take their order.

The girl looked at me. “How come you ain’t in uniform?”

“I don’t like to dress like everybody else.”

“Are there any other reasons?”

“The other reasons are my own business.”

“Fuck you,” she said.

The bartender came back. “You need another drink.”

“O.K.,” I said, slipping another quarter toward him.

 

Outside, Becker and I walked down Main Street.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“There was a table charge, plus the two drinks. It came to $32.”

“Christ, I could stay drunk for two weeks on that.”

“She grabbed my dick under the table, she rubbed it.”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing. She just kept rubbing my dick.”

“I’d rather rub my own dick and keep the thirty-two bucks.”

“But she was so beautiful.”

“God damn, man, I’m walking along in step with a perfect idiot.”

“Someday I’m going to write all this down. I’ll be on the library shelves: BECKER. The ‘B’s’ are very weak, they need help.”

“You talk too much about writing,” I said.

 

We found another bar near the bus depot. It wasn’t a hustle joint. There was just a barkeep and five or six travelers, all men. Becker and I sat down.

“It’s on me,” said Becker.

“Eastside in the bottle.”

Becker ordered two. He looked at me.

“Come on, be a man, join up. Be a Marine.”

“I don’t get any thrill trying to be a man.”

“Seems to me you’re always beating up on somebody.”

“That’s just for entertainment.”

“Join up. It’ll give you something to write about.”

“Becker, there’s always something to write about.”

“What are you gonna do, then?” (278)

 

I pointed at my bottle, picked it up.

“How are ya gonna make it?” Becker asked.

“Seems like I’ve heard that question all my life.”

“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m going to try everything! War, women, travel, marriage, children, the works. The first car I own I’m going to take it completely apart! Then I’m going to put it back together again! I want to know about things, what makes them work! I’d like to be a correspondent in Washington, D.C. I’d like to be where big things are happening.”

“Washington’s crap, Becker.”

“And women? Marriage? Children?”

“Crap.”

“Yeah? Well, what do you want?” “To hide.”

“You poor fuck. You need another beer.” “All right.” The beer arrived.

We sat quietly. I could sense that Becker was off on his own, thinking about being a Marine, about being a writer, about getting laid. He’d probably make a good writer. He was bursting with enthusiasms. He probably loved many things: the hawk in flight, the god-damned ocean, full moon, Balzac, bridges, stage plays, the Pulitzer Prize, the piano, the god-damned Bible.

There was a small radio in the bar. There was a popular song playing. Then in the middle of the song there was an interruption. The announcer said, “A bulletin has just come in. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. I repeat: The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. All military personnel are requested to return immediately to their bases!”

We looked at each other, hardly able to understand what we’d just heard.

“Well,” said Becker quietly, “that’s it.”

“Finish your beer,” I told him.

Becker took a hit.

“Jesus, suppose some stupid son-of-a-bitch points a machine gun at me and pulls the trigger?”

“That could well happen.”

“Hank …”

“What?” (279)

 

“Will you ride back to the base with me on the bus?”

“I can’t do that.”

The bartender, a man about 45 with a watermelon gut and fuzzy eyes walked over to us. He looked at Becker. “Well, Marine, it looks like you gotta go back to your base, huh?”

That pissed me. “Hey, fat boy, let him finish his drink, O. K. ?”

“Sure, sure . . . Want a drink on the house, Marine? How about a shot of good whiskey?”

“No,” said Becker, “it’s all right.”

“Go ahead,” I told Becker, “take the drink. He figures you’re going to die to save his bar.”

“All right,” said Becker, “I’ll take the drink.”

The barkeep looked at Becker. “You got a nasty friend …”

“Just give him his drink,” I said.

The other few customers were babbling wildly about Pearl Harbor. Before, they wouldn’t speak to each other. Now they were mobilized. The Tribe was in danger.

Becker got his drink. It was a double shot of whiskey. He drank it down.

“I never told you this,” he said, “but I’m an orphan.”

“God damn,” I said.

“Will you at least come to the bus depot with me?” “Sure.”

We got up and walked toward the door.

The barkeep was rubbing his hands all over his apron. He had his apron all bunched up and was excitedly rubbing his hands on it.

“Good luck, Marine!” he hollered.

Becker walked out. I paused inside the door and looked back at the barkeep.

“World War I, eh?”

“Yeh, yeh . . .” he said happily.

I caught up with Becker. We half-ran to the bus depot together. Servicemen in uniform were already beginning to arrive. The whole place had an air of excitement. A sailor ran past.

“I’M GOING TO KILL ME A JAP!” he screamed.

Becker stood in the ticket line. One of the servicemen had his girlfriend with him. The girl was talking, crying, holding onto (280)

 

him, kissing him. Poor Becker only had me. I stood to one side, waiting. It was a long wait. The same sailor who had screamed earlier came up to me. “Hey, fellow, aren’t you going to help us. What’re you standing there for? Why don’t you go down and sign up?”

There was whiskey on his breath. He had freckles and a very large nose.

“You’re going to miss your bus,” I told him. He went off toward the bus departure point. “Fuck the god-damned fucking Japs!” he said.

 

Becker finally had his ticket. I walked him to his bus. He stood in another line.

“Any advice?” he asked.

“No.”

The line was filing slowly into the bus. The girl was weeping and talking rapidly and quietly to her soldier.

Becker was at the door. I punched him on the shoulder. “You’re the best I’ve known.”

“Thanks, Hank …”

“Goodbye …”

 

I walked out of there. Suddenly there was traffic on the street. People were driving badly, running stoplights, screaming at each other. I walked back over to Main Street. America was at war. I looked into my wallet: I had a dollar. I counted my change: 67¢.

I walked along Main Street. There wouldn’t be much for the B-girls today. I walked along. Then I came to the Penny Arcade. There wasn’t anybody in there. Just the owner standing in his high-perched booth. It was dark in that place and it stank of piss.

I walked along in the dark aisles among the broken machines. They called it a Penny Arcade but most of the games cost a nickel and some a dime. I stopped at the boxing machine, my favorite. Two little steel men stood in a glass cage with buttons on their chins. There were two hand grips, like pistol grips, with triggers, and when you squeezed the triggers the arms of your fighter would uppercut wildly. You could move your fighter back and (281)

 

forth and from side to side. When you hit the button on the chin of the other fighter he would go down hard on his back, K.O.’d. When I was a kid and Max Schmeling K.O.’d Joe Louis, I had run out into the street looking for my buddies, yelling “Hey, Max Schmeling K.O.’d Joe Louis!” And nobody answered me, nobody said anything, they had just walked away with their heads down.

It took two to play the boxing game and I wasn’t going to play with the pervert who owned the place. Then I saw a little Mexican boy, eight or nine years old. He came walking down the aisle. A nice-looking, intelligent Mexican boy.

“Hey, kid?”

“Yes, Mister?”

“Wanna play this boxing game with me?”

“Free?”

“Sure. I’m paying. Pick your fighter.”

He circled around, peering through the glass. He looked very serious. Then he said, “O.K., I’ll take the guy in the red trunks. He looks best.”

“All right.”

The kid got on his side of the game and stared through the glass. He looked at his fighter, then he looked up at me. “Mister, don’t you know that there’s a war on?”

“Yes.”

We stood there.

“You gotta put the coin in,” said the kid.

“What are you doing in this place?” I asked him. “How come you’re not in school?”

“It’s Sunday.”

I put the dime in. The kid started squeezing his triggers and I started squeezing mine. The kid had made a bad choice. The left arm of his fighter was broken and only reached up halfway. It could never hit the button on my fighter’s chin. All the kid had was a right hand. I decided to take my time. My guy had blue trunks. I moved him in and out, making sudden flurries. The Mexican kid was great, he kept trying. He gave up on the left arm and just squeezed the trigger for the right arm. I rushed blue trunks in for the kill, squeezing both triggers. The kid kept pumping the right arm of red trunks. Suddenly blue trunks dropped. He went down hard, making a clanking sound. (282)

 

“I got ya, Mister,” said the kid.

“You won,” I said.

The kid was excited. He kept looking at blue trunks flat on his ass.

“You wanna fight again, Mister?”

I paused, I don’t know why.

“You out of money, Mister?”

“Oh, no.”

“O.K., then, we’ll fight.”

I put in another dime and blue trunks sprang to his feet. The kid started squeezing his one trigger and the right arm of red trunks pumped and pumped. I let blue trunks stand back for a while and contemplate. Then I nodded at the kid. I moved blue trunks in, both arms flailing. I felt I had to win. It seemed very important. I didn’t know why it was important and I kept thinking, why do I think this is so important?

And another part of me answered, just because it is.

Then blue trunks dropped again, hard, making the same iron clanking sound. I looked at him laying on his back down there on his little green velvet mat.

Then I turned around and walked out. (283)

 

 

Hollywood (1989)

Barfly

The Dance of Jim Beam

 

Chapter 4

 

When we returned, Francois Racine was intent over his little spinning roulette wheel. He had evidently drunk a great deal of wine. His face was quite flushed and he had a large stack of chips in front of him. A huge ash was about to drop off the end of his cigar. It fell to the table.

“I have won one million, four hundred and fifty thousand dollars …”

The little ball stopped at a number. Francois raked in the chips: “That’s enough … I mustn’t be greedy.” We walked to the front room, sat down. Jon went for the wine and the glasses.

“What are you going to do with all the money you’ve won?” Sarah asked.

“I’m going to give it away. It’s nothing. Life is for nothing. Money is nothing.”

“Money is like sex,” I said. “It seems much more important when you don’t have any …”

“You talk like a writer,” said Francois.

Jon was back. He opened the first bottle, poured drinks all around.

“You ought to come to Paris,” he said to me, “you are well-regarded there. Your own country treats you like an outcast.”

“Do they have a racetrack there?”

“Oh, yes!” said Francois.

“He hates to travel,” said Sarah, “and they have racetracks here.”

(20)

 

“Nothing like in Paris,” said Francois. “You come to Paris. We’ll go to the track together.”

Hell, I gotta write a screenplay.”

“We’ll play the horses and then we’ll write.”

“Let me think it over.”

Jon lit a cigar. Then Francois found a new cigar and lit it. The cigars were long and round and made sizzling sounds at the lighted end.

May the Lord save me,” said Sarah.

Francois and I went to Vegas the other night.”

“How’d you make out?” asked Sarah.

Francois took a big swallow of his wine, inhaled on his cigar, blew out a vast, magic plume of smoke.

Listen. Listen to this. I am five thousand dollars ahead, I am in control of the world, I hold Destiny in my hand like a cigarette lighter. I know Everything. I am Everything. There is no stopping me. The continents tremble. Then, Jon taps me on the shoulder. He says, ‘Let’s go see Tab Jones.’ ‘Who is this Tab Jones?’ I ask. ‘Never mind,’ he says, ‘let’s go see him . . .’ “

Francois emptied his wine glass. Jon refilled it.

“So we go into this other room. Here is this Tab Jones. He sings. His shirt is open and the black hairs on his chest show. The hairs lire sweating. He wears a big silver cross in these sweating hairs. His mouth is a horrible hole cut into a pancake. He’s got on tight pants and he’s wearing a dildo. He grabs his balls and sings about all the good things he can do for women. He really sings badly, I mean, he is terrible. All about what he can do to women, but he’s a fake, he really wants his tongue up some man’s anus. I am to puke, listening to him. And we paid this good money too. And when you pay for a nightmare, you are really a fool! Who is this Tab Jones? They pay this fellow thousands for wearing a dildo and grabbing his balls and letting the lights shine on the cross. Good men starve in the streets and here is this ID-IOTE . . . being ADORED! The women are screaming They think he is real! This cardboard man who sucks on shit in his dreams. ‘Jon,’ I say, ‘please, let’s leave, my mind is sliding away, I am offended and about to get sick in my lap!’ ‘Wait,’ he says, ‘maybe he’ll get better.’ He doesn’t get better, he gets

(21)

 

worse, he is louder, his shirt opens more, we see his bellybutton. A woman sitting next to me moans and reaches down into her panties. ‘Madame,’ I ask her, ‘did you lose something?’ The bellybutton, it’s like a dead eye, it’s dirty. Even a bird would be offended to leave his droppings there Then this Tab Jones turns and shows us his behind. I can see behinds anytime, anywhere, and I don’t even want to, and here we have to pay MONEY to see this fat, soft, ugly ass! You know, I’ve had bad times, I’ve been beaten by the police, for instance, for nothing. Well, almost for nothing. But looking at those dumb buttocks I felt worse than when the police were beating me for nothing. ‘Jon,’ I said, ‘we must leave or my life is over!’ “

Jon smiled, “So we left. I just wanted to see Tab Jones.”

Francois was now actually in a fury. Little white flecks were forming at the corners of his mouth. Bits of spittle flew as he spoke. The end of his cigar was soaked darkly.

“Tab Jones! WHO IS THIS TAB JONES? What do I care for Tab Jones? Tab Jones is a fool! I am five thousand ahead and what do we do? We go see Tab Jones! Who is this Tab Jones? I know of no Tab Jones. My brother’s name is not Tab Jones! Not even my mother’s name! This Tab Jones is a fool!”

“So,” said Jon, “we went back to the wheel.”

“Yes,” said Francois, “I am five thousand ahead and we have seen the dead dildo sing. My concentration is broken. Who is this Tab Jones? I’ve seen better men picking up seagull dung! Where am I? The wheel spins and it is a stranger! I am like a baby dumped into a barrel of tarantulas! What are these numbers? What are these colors? The little white ball leaps and buries itself in my heart, eating from the inside out. I have no chance. My concentration is broken! Dildoes parade as the idiots scream for more! I am dizzied. I leap in with a rush of chips. I see my skull already in the stupid casket. Who is this Tab Jones? I lose. I don’t know where I am. Once the concentration is broken, once you begin to fall, there is no return. Knowing I had no chance, I played all the chips away. I made all the wrong moves as if an enemy had taken over my body and my mind. I was finished. And why? BECAUSE WE HAD TO GO SEE TAB JONES? I ask you, WHO IS THIS FUCKING TAB JONES?”

Francois was finished, exhausted. His cigar fell out of his mouth.

(22)

 

Sarah picked it up and put it in an ashtray. Francois immediately found a new cigar in his shirt pocket, slid it out of its silver tube, did the licking and the priming, rolled it, stuck it into his mouth, gathered himself and lit it with a fine flourish. He reached for the bottle, poured drinks all about, straightened up, smiled:

“Shit, I probably would have lost anyhow. A gambler without an excuse is a gambler who can’t continue.”

“You talk like a writer,” I said.

“If I could write like one, I’d write that screenplay for you.”

“Thank you.”

“What’s he paying you?”

I made a motion through the air with my hand: nebulous answer.

“I will write it for you and we will split it in half, all right?”

“All right.”

“No,” said Jon, “I will be able to tell the difference.”

“All right, then,” said Francois, “Tab Jones will write it with his dildo.”

We all agreed on that, lifted our glasses in a toast. It was the beginning of a good night. (23)

 

Producer: Harold Pheasant, The Heart’s Song, the life of Mack Derouac (25) (Jack Kerouac)

“Well, Pheasant came over and told me about this movie he produced. It’s about a writer who couldn’t write but who got famous because he looked like a rodeo rider.” (26) (The Furry Flotsam Flies) (Flies in the Furry Flotsam)

That’s it! I’ll write a screenplay about myself!” (27)

 

Now [the gods] were driving me to write a screenplay. I had no appetite for that. Of course, I knew if I wrote it it would be a good one. Not great one. But a good one. I was hot with words. (30)

 

It was all really excellent. Life was good. All you had to do in their little world was be a writer or an artist or a ballet dancer and you could just sit or stand around, inhaling and exhaling, drinking wine, pretending you knew what the hell. (31)

 

Jean Paul: “The best thing about your writing is that it excites the Institutionalized. Also those that should be excited. And that figure goes into the many millions. If you can only remain pure in your stupidity, someday you may get a phone call from hell.” . . . . “YOU DULL ME!” (32)

 

“. . . somehow, the telling of old stories, again and again, seems to bring them closer to what they were supposed to be.” (33)

 

But I had had Genius pushed at me all through school: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Ibsen, G.B. Shaw, Chekov, all those dullards. And worse, Mark Twain, Hawthorne, the Bronte sisters, Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, it all just laid on you like a slab of cement, and you wanted to get out and away, they were like heavy stupid parents insisting upon regulations and ways that would make even the dead cringe. (33)

 

“Trying to be kind to others I often get my soul shredded into a kind of spiritual pasta.” (34)

 

“It’s about a drunk. He just sits on this barstool night and day.”

“Do you think the people would care about such a man?”

“Listen, Jon, if I worried about what the people cared about I’d never write anything.” (36)

 

Then the phone rang. It was long distance. It was my agent and translator from Germany, Karl Vossner. Karl loved to talk the way he thought hip Americans talked.

“Hey, motherfucker, how ya doin’?” (37)

 

Don’t let anybody tell you different. Life begins at 65. (63)

 

“You wouldn’t bullshit an old drunk, would you?” (79)

 

Jon on Francois’ behavior: “Or he will say things like, ‘We must hasten the natural process of death.’ Or, .All men’s lives diminish me.’” (80)

 

My main problem during a fight was that I couldn’t truly get angry, even when it seemed my life was at stake. (82)

 

Venice: Poor blacks hated. Poor whites hated. (84)

 

Black boys stealing eggs: “I hit them with a long stick, I say, ‘You muthafuckas you stay away from my chickens which poop the HEGGS’ . . .” (85)

 

Basically, that’s why I wrote: to save my ass, to save my ass from the madhouse, from the streets, from myself. (88)

I had the bottle and the typer. I liked bird in each hand, to hell with the bush. (88)

 

Stolen tires: “Well, actually it came to $38. We had to pay them $5 to promise not to steal the wheels again.” (91)

 

“There’s a trash can by the fence there. Let’s try to sneak this stuff …”

We went over to the trash can. All along the top of the fence were these little eyes looking out of little black faces.

“Hey, let’s have some chicken!”

“Give me a wing, motherfucker …”

I walked over to the fence.

“This stuff is burned . . . nobody can eat it . . .”

A little hand shot out and the piece of chicken was gone. Another hand shot out and Sarah’s piece of burnt chicken was gone also.

The two little guys ran off screaming followed by a bunch of other little guys screaming.

“Sometimes I hate being white,” said Sarah.

“There are white ghettos too. And rich blacks.”

“It’s not comparable.”

“No, but I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Start somewhere …”

“I don’t have the guts. I’m too worried about my own white ass. Let’s join this jolly group here and have some more to drink.”

“That’s your answer to everything: drink.”

“No, that’s my answer to nothing.”

 

It was still splinter-group time. Even in that broken down backyard there were ghetto areas and Malibu areas and Beverly Hills areas. For example, the best-dressed ones with designer clothes hung together. Each type recognized its counterpart and showed no inclination to mix. I was surprised that some of them had been willing to come to a black ghetto in Venice. Chic, they thought, maybe. Of course, what made the whole thing smell was that many of the rich and the famous were actually dumb cunts and bastards. They had simply fallen into a big pay-off somewhere. Or they were enriched by the stupidity of the general public. They usually were talentless, eyeless, soulless, they were walking pieces of dung, but to the public they were god-like, beautiful, and revered. Bad taste creates many more millionaires than good taste. It finally boiled down to a matter of who got the most votes. In the land of the moles a mole was king. (92)

 

The racetrack was important because it allowed me to forget that I was supposed to be a writer. Writing was strange. I needed to write, it was like a disease, a drug, a heavy compulsion, yet I didn’t like to think of myself as a writer. Maybe I had met too many writers. They took more time disparaging each other than they did doing their own work. (94)

Maybe writing was a form of bitching. Some just bitched better than others. (94)

 

Shoptalk, you know. Technique. Background. Training. Insight, etc. (95)

 

Austin to Jon: “YOU CALL YOURSELF A DIRECTOR? YOU CAN’T DIRECT TRAFFIC!” (96)

All’s fair in hate and Hollywood. (96)

Jon of Austin: “He’s off drugs and booze. He’s like a flat tire, an empty stocking . . .” (96)

 

On Jack Bledsoe: “Maybe . . . Listen, he’s got to stop smiling all the time when he doesn’t know what else to do. And he’s got to stop beating refrigerators with his fists. And he’s got to stop that New York strut where they walk like they’ve got a banana up their ass.”

“He used to be a boxer, this Jack Bledsoe …”

“Shit, we all used to be boxers …”

“He can do the part, trust me . . .”

“Jon, he can’t be New York. This main character is a California boy. California boys are laid back, in the woodwork. They don’t come rushing out, they cool it and figure their next move. Less panic. And under all this, they have the ability to kill. But they don’t blow a lot of smoke first.” (100)

 

“Hey, man, what the fuck is that big sopping wet dripping-ass towel doing hanging out of your bathroom sink?” (104)

 

Meeting Victor Norman: “The barfly meets the champ.”

Victor Norman was perhaps the best known novelist in America. (107)

 

“Tough guys drive BMWs,” I said. (108) (350i BMW)

 

“‘A contract is something to be renegotiated!’” (113)

 

Lawyers, doctors, plumbers, they all made money. Writers? Writers starved. Writers suicided. Writers went mad. (114)

 

Jon and Francoise: “The other night they raped a girl on the hood of my car.” (117)

“They” under the floorboards: Four loud taps came up through the floorboards. (118)

 

Sign:

“HUNGER STRIKE!

FIREPOWER IS

LIAR POWER!” (123)

 

Three things a man needed: faith, practice, and luck. (143)

 

Barflies: Cowboy Cal, Big Monster, Little Monster, Buffo, Doghead, Lady Lila, Freestroke, Clara and others. (145)

 

Francoise’s voicemail message: “DO NOT SPEAK TO ME, SPEAK TO THIS MACHINE . . .” (152)

After the fire, the blacks putting out the fire: “I am in the fog. There has been a fire. A fire. I am an old man, my hair is white. I sit in the fog . . . I go now . . .” (153)

 

“. . . the writer was where he belonged: in some dark corner, watching.” (156)

 

“What do you consider to be the greatest movie that you have ever seen?”

Eraserhead.” . . . . “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (228)

 

A bird flies, a snake crawls, I change typewriter ribbons. (230)

 

“Oh, hell, I’ll write a novel about writing the screenplay and making the movie.” . . . . “Hollywood.” . . . . “And this is it.” (239)

 

 

Pulp (1994)

Nicky Belane (Micky Spillane)

Celine, Red Sparrow, Lady Death

Code name: Mr. Slow Death (28)

Racehorse: Bunt Butterfly (28)

 

McKelvey’s mother: “She’s handled more turkeyneck than the corner butcher.”

“I don’t like you getting on my mother.”

“Why not? Half the guys in this town have.” (27)

 

I looked awesome when I was pissed. (27)

 

Nice thing about being a drunk, though, you were never constipated. (39)

 

“Listen, fellows, when was the last time either of you pulled down a pair of women’s panties?” (44)

 

Loco Mike: “Speed like a leper’s tongue on a virgin tit . . .” (47)

 

Meeting “Celine”: Celine: “Look, do you have a cigarette?” . . . . “Please,” he said “take one and light it, smoke it. It will keep you busy.” (51)

 

Jack Bass’s place. Say that real fast. (52)

In school: . . . nobody said, “I want to be a detective.” (53)

 

Now everybody was after my ass: Celine, Brewster, Cindy, Jack Bass and Lady Death, Maybe even Barton. (65)

 

Red Sparrow/dead pigeon dream (66-69)

 

Knock: Shave-and-a-Haircut, Six-Bits (70)

I killed four flies waiting. Damn, death was everywhere. (70)

 

‘Nobody laughs like the police, Mr. Grovers.” (71)

 

Jeannie Nitro: “She glided into the room like a strip teaser on roller skates.” (74)

“Yeah, wench? Let’s see you get a 7 inch hardon.” (74)

 

You know what they say about Frenchman: “If you don’t know, Bass, I can’t tell you.” (78)

 

The mailman at the track: “Feel lucky,” he said (83)

 

Jeannie Nitro: “You talk big for a man whose talents hover near the zero mark.” (86)

Jeannie Nitro: “Feel lucky.” (86)

 

I decided to stay in bed until noon. Maybe by then half the world would be dead and it would only be half as hard to take. (89)

 

The waiting: Didn’t the shrinks know that waiting was one of the things that drove people crazy? (99)

 

Cat: Hamburger (103)

 

I checked my holster. It was there. Snug. The best hard-on a man could have. (106)

 

The Loomer to Nicky Belane: “Aren’t you Spike Jenkins?” (107)

Celine on Lady Death: “So, death is a lady, eh?” (108)

 

Then she walked in. Lady Death. She was dressed to kill. (109)

 

Celine run down by a fat woman in a red Oldsmobile: Celine was very still. I knew he was dead. (112)

 

I heard the siren then. It’s when you don’t hear it, it’s for you. (112)

 

There was always somebody about to ruin your day, if not your life. (114)

 

Bartender: “You lookin’ for trouble?” He asked.

Belane: “Yeah,” I said, “you gonna bring it?” (115)

 

I decided to go back to the office. I had work to do. My eyes were blue and nobody loved me but myself. I walked along humming my favorite bit from “Carmen.” (118)

 

Zaros/Zaronian Cause (122)

 

I heard the horns honking and somebody called me an asshole. People lacked originality. (132)

 

Honeydunes Motel:

“No offense, sir. I need a room. Do you have a vacancy?”

“You a pimp?”

“Oh, no, sir.”

“You sell drugs?”

“No, sir.”

“Wish you did. I need some coke.”

“I’m a bible salesman, sir.”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Just trying to spread the word.”

“Well don’t spread that shit around me.”

“As you wish.”

“Fucking-A!”

“Well, sir, I need a room.”

“We got two. #8 and #3.”

“Did you say #8?”

“I said, #8 and #3. Don’t you hear right?”

(133)

“I’ll take #8.”

“35 bucks. Cash.”

I peeled the money off. He grabbed it, slammed down a key.

“Don’t I get a receipt?”

“A what?”

“A receipt.”

“Spell it.”

“I can’t.”

“Then you don’t get it.”

(134)

 

Billy with Cindy: “All right, go shower! I’ll throw some icewater on this cobra!” (134)

 

Belane: “No, baby, no, you see, I’m the best dick in L.A”

“That’s not saying much.”

“It beats churning butter left-handed.” (146)

 

Jeannie Nitro meets Lady d’Heat (148)

. . . I was sitting between Space and Death. In the form of Woman. (148)

 

Jeannie on the awfulness of Earth: “The earth. Smog, murder, the poisoned air, the poisoned water, the poisoned food, the hatred, the hopelessness, everything. The only beautiful thing about the earth is the animals and now they are being killed off, soon they will be gone except for pet rats and race horses. It’s so sad, no wonder you drink so much.”

“Yeah, Jeannie. And don’t forget the atomic stockpiles.” (151)

 

Well, to hell with it. I pulled out the vodka and had a hit.

Often the best parts of life were when you weren’t doing anything at all, just mulling it over. Chewing on it. I mean, say that you figure that everything’s senseless, then it can’t be quite senseless because you are aware that it’s senseless and your awareness of senselessness almost gives it sense. You know what I mean? And optimistic pessimism. (153)

 

Definition of a nice neighborhood: a place you couldn’t afford to live in. (155)

 

Phone Sex: “That’s crap, Kitty, I’m sitting here alone sucking on a scotch and listening to the rain.” (172)

 

I needed a vacation. I needed 5 women. I needed to get the wax out of my ears. My car needed an oil change. I’d failed to file my damned income tax. One of the stems had broken off of my reading glasses. There were ants in my apartment. I needed to get my teeth cleaned. My shoes were run down at the heels. I had insomnia. My auto insurance had expired. I cut myself every time I shaved. I hadn’t laughed in 6 years. I tended to worry when there was nothing to worry about. And when there was something to worry about, I got drunk. (175)

 

Even with a hangover and a 3-day beard I looked better than she did. (184)

 

It was a quiet evening. A quiet evening in hell. As the earth burned like a rotten log full of termites. (198)

 

 

Bukowski on Horse Racing from The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (1983)

The track and the state will take 15% of each dollar bet, plus breakage (.85 on each dollar is returned on winning tickets). Breakage is the penny difference on the .10 cent breakdown on the payoff ($16.84 = $16.80; the .04 cents goes elsewhere). Racers will lose earlier races with lesser purses to lose weight in an attempt to race lighter, later for higher purses. Move opposite from the big crowd with the small, scared, tight money.

 

Watch the underlay (the underlay is a horse that closes in odds under the trackman’s morning line, listing the horse at 10 to 1 and is going off at 6 to 1). If the line is not a mistake, if the horse does not show any recent fast work or a switch to a “name” jockey, if the horse is not dropping weight and is running against the same class, good run for money.

 

Lay off the closers (a horse that stays closed from 5-16 lengths from beginning to last call and still doesn’t win, coming back again the same or similar. The crowd loves the closer, who is generally a lard ass, lazy, and only passes tired horses who run and fight for the front end). 90% won by front end.

 

Bet “closers” in short races, 6-7 furlongs, when the crowd believes there’s not enough time to “get up.” 7 furlongs is the best “closer” race in the business because of only one curve. A speed horse gets the advantage out in front, saving ground on turns. 7 furlongs and a long backstretch is the perfect closer’s race. This is shorter that 1 mile and ¼-½.

 

Watch the toteboard. A horse listed 6-1 goes off at 14-25 to 1, forget it. The trackman was hungover or the stable isn’t going to race.

 

Only bet what you can lose.

 

Hold bets at 7-2 and 9-1 (11-19 to 1, 6-5, and 5-1 is OK, but not great, sometimes 18-19 to 1 come in).