A Charles Bukowski Christmas

Drunks with tankards

well here’s your Christmas story, little children – gather round.

“ah,” said my friend Lou, “I think I got it.”

“yeah?”

“yeah.”

I poured another wine.

“we work together,” he continued.

“sure.”

“now you’re a good talker, you tell a lot of interesting stories. it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not.”

“they’re true.”

“I mean, that doesn’t matter, now listen, here’s what we do. there’s a class bar down the street, all you need is money for the first drink. we’ll pool for that. now you sit down and nurse your drink and look around for a guy flashing a roll. they got some fat ones in there. you spot the guy and go over to him. use some pretext. you sit down next to him and turn it on. you turn on the bullshit. he’ll like it. you’ve even got a vocabulary when high. one night you even claimed to me that you were a surgeon. you explained the complete operation on the mesocolon to me. o.k. so he’ll buy you drinks all night, he’ll drink all night. keep him drinking.

“now when closing time comes, you lead him west near Alvarado Street, lead him west past the alley. tell him you’re going to get him some nice young pussy, tell him anything but lead him west. I’ll be waiting in the alley with this.”

Lou reached behind the door and came out with a baseball bat. it was a very large bat. I think at least forty-two ounces.

“jesus christ Lou, you’ll kill him!”

“naw, NAW, you can’t kill a drunk, you know that! maybe if he were sober I’d kill him but drunk it’ll only knock him out. we take the wallet and split it two ways.”

“and the last thing he’s gonna remember,” I said, “is walking with me.”

“that’s right.”

“I mean, he’s gonna REMEMBER me, maybe swinging the bat is the better end of the deal.”

“I gotta swing the bat, it’s the only way we can work it because I don’t have your line of bullshit.”

“it’s not bullshit.”

“then you WERE a surgeon, I mean – ”

“forget it, but let’s put it this way – I can’t do that sort of thing, set up a pigeon, because essentially I’m a nice guy, I’m not like that.”

“you’re no nice guy. you’re the meanest son of a bitch I ever met. that’s why I like you. you wanna fight now? I wanna fight you. you get first punch. when I was in the mines I once fought a guy with pick handles. he broke my arm with first swing, they thought he had me. I beat him with one arm. he was never the same after that fight. he went goofy, talked out the side of his mouth continually, about nothing. you get first punch.”

and he pushed that battered crocodile head out at me.

“no, you get first punch.” I told him, “SWING, MOTHER!”

he did. he knocked me over backwards in my chair. I got up and put one into his belly. the next one put me up against his sink. a dish fell to the floor and broke. I grabbed an empty wine bottle and threw it at this head. he ducked and it smashed against the door. then the door opened. it was our young blond landlady. figure, looks, youth. it was so confusing. we both stood there looking at her.

“that’ll be all of that.” she said.

then she turned to me, “I saw you last night.”

“you didn’t see me last night.”

“I saw you in the vacant lot next door.”

“I wasn’t there.”

“you were there, you just don’t remember. you were there drunk, I saw you in the moonlight.”

“all right, what!”

“you were pissing. I saw you pissing in the moonlight in the center of that vacant lot.”

“that doesn’t sound like me.”

“it was you. you do that once more and you’re out. we can’t have that here.”

“baby,” said Lou, “I love you, oh I love you so much just let me go to bed with you one time and I’ll cut off both of my arms, I swear it!”

“shut up, you silly wino.”

she closed the door and we sat down and had a wine.

I found one. a big fat one. I had been fired by fat stupidities like that all my life. from worthless underpaid, dull jobs. it was going to be nice. I got to talking. I didn’t quite know what I was talking about. I mean I only sensed that my mouth was moving but he was listening and laughing and nodding his head and buying drinks. he had a wristwatch, a handful of rings, a full stupid wallet. it was hard work yet the drinks made it easy. I told him some stories about prisons, about railroad track gangs, about the whorehouse. he liked the whorehouse stuff. I told him about the guy who got in the bathtub naked, waited around for an hour while the whore took ex-lax, and then the whore came in and drizzled shit all over him and he came on the ceiling.

“oh no, REALLY!”

“oh yeah, really.”

then I told him about the guy who came in every two weeks and he paid well. all he wanted was a whore in the room with him. they both took off their clothes and played cards and talked. just sat there. then after two hours he’d get dressed, say good-bye, and walk out. never touch the whore.

“god damn,” he said.

“yeah.”

I decided that I wouldn’t mind Lou’s slugger bat to hit a homer on that skull. what a fat whammy. what a useless hunk of shit who sucked the life out of his fellow man and out of himself. he sat there ponderously majestic with nothing but a way to make it easy in an insane society.

“you like young girls?” I asked him.

“oh yeah, yeah, yeah!”

“say around 15½?”

“oh jesus, yes.”

“there’s one coming in on the one thirty a.m. from Chicago. she’ll be at my place around 2:10 a.m. she’s clean, hot, intelligent. now I’m taking a big chance, so you got to trust me. I’m asking ten bucks in advance, and ten after you finish. that too high?”

“oh no, that’s all right.” he went into his pocket and came up with one of his dirty tens.

“o.k. when this place closes you come with me.”

“sure, sure.”

“now she’s got these silver spurs with indented rubies, she can put them on and spur your thighs just as you’re cracking your nuts. how’d you like that? but that’s five dollars extra.”

“no, I’d rather not have the spurs,” he said.

2 a.m. finally made it around and I walked him out there, down toward the alley. maybe Lou wouldn’t even be there. maybe the wine would get him or he’d just back out. a blow like that could kill a man, or make him addled for the rest of his life. we staggered along in the moonlight, there was nobody around, nobody on the streets.

it was going to be easy.

we crossed into the alley. Lou was there.

but fatso saw him. he threw up an arm and ducked as Lou swung. the bat got me right behind the ear.

I fell on down in that rat filled alley (thinking for just a flash: I’ve got the ten, I’ve got the ten.), I fell down in that alley full of used rubbers, shreds of old newspapers, lost washers, nails, matchsticks, matchbooks, dried worms, I fell down in that alley of clammy blow jobs and sadistic wet shadows, of starving cats, prowlers, fags – it came to me then – the luck and the way was mine:

the meek shall inherit the earth.

I could barely hear fatso running off, felt Lou reaching for my wallet. then I was out of it.

 Charles Bukowski
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)

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