The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence. ( Also see Bertrand RUSSELL )
Ham on Rye
But back at home…
“LIGHTS OUT!” my father would scream.
“All right, that’s enough of those god-damned books! Lights out!”
To me, these men who had come into my life from nowhere were my only chance. They were the only voices that spoke to me.
“All right,” I would say.
Then I took the reading lamp, crawled under the blanket, pulled the pillow under there, and read each new book, propping it against the pillow, under the quilt. It got very hot, the lamp got hot, and I had trouble breathing. I would lift the quilt for air.
“What’s that? Do I see a light? Henry, are your lights out?”
I would quickly lower the quilt again and wait until I heard my father snoring.
Turgenev was a very serious fellow but he could make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else’s truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that’s great.
I read my books at night, like that, under the quilt with the overheated reading lamp. Reading all those good lines while suffocating. It was magic.
If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean 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. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.
It began as a mistake.
It was Christmas season and I learned from the drunk up on the hill, who did the trick every Christmas, that they would hire damned near anybody, and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back and was hiking around at my leisure. What a job, I thought. Soft! They only gave you a block or two and if you managed to finish, the regula carrier would give you another block to carry, or maybe you'd go back in and the soup would give you another, but you just took your time and shoved those Xmas cards in the slots.
I think it was my second day as a Christmas temp that this big woman came out and walked around with me as I delivered letters. What I mean by big was that her a** was big and her t*** were big and that she was big in all the right places. She seemed a bit crazy, but I kept looking at her body and I didn't care.
She talked and talked and talked. Then it came out. Her husband was an officer on an island far away and she got lonely, you know, and lived in this little house in back all by herself.
"What little house?" I asked.
She wrote the address on a piece of paper.
"I'm lonely too," I said, "I'll come by and we'll talk tonight."
I was shacked but the shackjob was gone half the time, off somewhere and I was lonely alright. I was lonely for that big a** standing beside me.
"All right," she said, "see you tonight."
SHe was a good one all right, she was a good lay but like all lays after the third or fourth night I began to lose interest and didn't go back.
But I couldn't help thinking, god, all these mailmen is drop in their letters and get laid. This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes.
So I took the exam, passed it, took the physical, passed it, and there I was—a substitute mail carrier. It began easy. I was sent to West Avon Station and it was just like Christmas except I didn't get laid. Every day I expected to get laid but I didn't. But the soup was easy and I strolled around doing a block here and there. I didn't even have a uniform, just a cap. I wore my regular clothes. The way my shackjob Betty and I drank there was hardly money for clothes.
Then I was transferred to Oakford Station.
The soup was a bullneck named Jonstone. Help was needed there and I understood why. Jonstone liked to wear dark red t-shirts—that meant danger and blood. There were seven subs—Tom Moto, Nick Pelligrini, Herman Stratford, Rosey Anderson, Bobbly Hansen, Harold Wiley and me, Henry Chinaski. Reporting time was 5am and I was the only drunk there. I always drank until past midnight, and there we'd sit, at 5am, waiting to get on the clock, waiting for some regular to call in sick. The regulars usually called in sick when it rained or during a heatwave or the day after a holiday when the mail load was doubled.
There were 40 or 50 routes, maybe more, each case was different, you were never able to learn any of them, you had to get your mail up and ready before 8am for the truck dispatches, and Jonstone would take no excuses. The subs routed their magazines on corners, went without lunch, and died in the streets. Jonstone would have us casing the routes 30 minutes late—spinning in his chair in his red shirt—"Chinaski take route 539!" We'd start a half hour short but were still expected to get the mail up and out and be back on time. And once or twice a week, always beaten, fagged and f**ked we had to make the night pickups, and the schedule on the board was impossible—the truck wouldn't go that fast. You had to skip four or five boxes on the first run and the next time around they were stacked with mail and you stank, you ran with sweat jamming it into the sacks. I got laid all right. Jonstone saw to that.
I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed.
Fuck it! The Weaties aren't going down right.
I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed.
I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.
I think someday...they'll say this psychotic guy knew something that...you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they're down low and give it up for three or four days.
Then they'll come back good for a while.
But we're so obsessed with, we have to get up and do it and go back to sleep.
In fact there's a woman I'm living with now, gets around 12:30, 1pm, I say: "I'm sleepy. I want to go to sleep." She says: "What? You want to go to sleep, it's only 1pm!" We're not even drinking, you know. Hell, there's nothing else to do but sleep.
People are nailed to the processes. Up. Down. Do something. Get up, do something, go to sleep. Get up. They can't get out of that circle.
You'll see, someday they'll say: "Bukowski knew."
Lay down for 3 or 4 days till you get your juices back, then get up, look around and do it.
But who the hell can do it cause you need a dollar.
That's all. That's a long speech, isn't it? But it means something.
“YOU’RE NOT GOING!” she screamed at me.
“Shit,” I said, “I’m getting out of here.”
She leaped at me. She usually attacked me while I was drunk. Now I was sober. I sidestepped and she fell to the floor, rolled over and was on her back. I stepped over her on my way to the front door. She was in a spitting rage, snarling snarling, her lips pulled back. She was like a leopardess. I looked down at her. I felt safe with her on the floor. She let out a snarl and as I started to leave she reached up and dug her nails into the sleeve of my coat, pulled and ripped the sleeve off my arm. It was ripped from the coat at the shoulder.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, “look what you’ve done to my new coat! I just bought it!”
I opened the door and jumped outside with one bare arm. I had just unlocked the door to my car when I heard her bare feet on the asphalt behind me. I leaped in and locked the door. I punched the starter.
“I’ll kill this car!” she screamed. “I’ll kill this car!”
Her fists beat on the hood, on the roof, against the windshield. I moved the car ahead very slowly so as not to injure her. My ‘62 Mercury Comet had fallen apart, and I’d recently purchased a ‘67 Volks. I kept it shined and waxed. I even had a whisk broom in the glove compartment. As I pulled away Lydia kept beating on the car with her fists. When I was clear of her I shoved it into second. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her standing all alone in the moonlight, motionless in her blue negligee and panties. My gut began to twitch and roll. I felt ill, useless, sad. I was in love with her.