men in the bar and no women. I was back in the American streets.

This guy Summerfield was on relief and hitting the wine bottle. He was
rather a dull sort, I tried to avoid him, but he was always hanging out the
window half-drunk. He'd see me leaving my place and he always said the same
thing, "Hey, Hank, how about taking me to the races?" and I always said,
"One of these times, Joe, not today." Well, he kept at it, hanging out the
window half-drunk, so one day I said, "All right, for Christ's sake, come on
. . ." and away we went.
It was January at Santa Anita and if you know that track, it can get
real cold out there when you're losing. The wind blows in from the snow on
the mountains and your pockets are empty and you shiver and think of death
and hard times and no rent and all the rest. It's hardly a pleasant place to
lose. At least at Hollywood Park you can come back with a sunburn.
So we went. He talked all the way out. He'd never been to a racetrack.
I had to tell him the difference between win, place and show betting. He
didn't even know what a starting gate was, or a Racing Form. When we
got out there he used my Form. I had to show him how to read it. I
paid his way in and bought him a program. All he had was two dollars. Enough
for one bet.
We stood around before the first race looking at the women. Joe told me
he hadn't had a woman in five years. He was a shabby-looking guy, a real
loser. We passed the Form back and forth and looked at the women and
then Joe said, "How come the 6 horse is 14 to one? He looks best to me." I
tried to explain to Joe why the horse was reading 14 to one in relation to
the other horses but he wouldn't listen. "He sure as hell looks best to me.
I don't understand. I just gotta bet him." "It's your two dollars, Joe," I
said, "and I'm not lending you any money when you lose this one."
The horse's name was Red Charley and he was a sad-looking beast indeed.
He came out for the post parade in four bandages. His price leaped to 18 to
one when they got a look at him. I put ten win on the logical horse. Bold
Latrine, a slight class drop with good earnings and with a live jock and the
2nd leading trainer. I thought that 7 to 2 was a good price on that one.
It was a mile and one sixteenth. Red Charley was reading 20 to one when
they came out of the gate and he came out first, you couldn't miss him in
all those bandages, and the boy opened up four lengths on the first turn, he
must have thought he was in a quarter horse race. The jock only had two wins
out of 40 mounts and you could see why. He had six lengths on the
backstretch. The lather was running down Red Charley's neck; it damn near
looked like shaving cream.
At the top of the turn six lengths had faded to three and the whole
pack was gaining on him. At the top of the stretch Red Charley only had a
length and a half and my horse Bold Latrine was moving up outside. It looked
like I was in. Half way down the stretch I was a neck off. Another lunge and
I was in. But they went all the way down to the wire that way. Red Charley
still had the neck at the finish. He paid $42.80.
"I thought he looked best," said Joe and he went off to collect his
When he came back he asked for the Form again. He looked them
over. "How come Big H is 6 to one?" he asked me. "He looks best."
"He may look best to you" I said, "but off the knowledge
of experienced horseplayers and handicappers, real pros, he rates about 6 to
"Don't get pissed. Hank. I know I don't know anything about this game.
I only mean that to me he looks like he should be the favorite. I gotta bet
him anyhow. I might as well go ten win."
"It's your money, Joe. You just lucked it in the first race, the game
isn't that easy."
Well Big H won and paid $14.40. Joe started to strut around. We read
the Form at the bar and he bought us each a drink and tipped the
barkeep a buck. As we left the bar he winked at the bar-keep and said,
"Bamey's Mole is all alone in this one." Barney's Mole was the 6/5 favorite
so I didn't think that was such a fancy announcement. By the time the race
went off Barney's Mole was even money. He paid $4.20 and Joe had $20 win on
"That time," he told me, "they made the proper horse the favorite."
Out of the nine races Joe had eight winners. On the ride back he kept
wondering how he had missed in the 7th race. "Blue Truck looked far the
best. I don't understand how he only got 3rd."
"Joe you had 8 for 9. That's beginner's luck. You don't know how hard
this game is."
"It looks easy to me. You just pick the winner and collect your money."
I didn't talk to him the rest of the way in. That night he knocked on
my door and he had a fifth of Grandad and the Racing Form. I helped
him with the bottle while he read the Form and told me all nine
winners the next day, and why. We had ourselves a real expert here. I know
how it can go to a man's head. I had 17 straight winners once and I was
going to buy homes along the coast and start a white slavery business to
protect my winnings from the income tax man. That's how crazy you can get.
I could hardly wait to take Joe to the track the next day. I wanted to
see his face when all his predictions ran out. Horses were only animals made
out of flesh. They were fallible. It was like the old horse players said,
"There are a dozen ways you can lose a race and only one way to win one."
All right, it didn't happen that way. Joe had 7 for 9 -- favorites,
longshots, medium prices. And he hitched all the way in about his two
losers. He couldn't understand it. I didn't talk to him. The son of a bitch
could do no wrong. But the percentages would get him. He started telling me
how I was betting wrong, and the proper way to bet. Two days at the track
and he was an expert. I'd been playing them 20 years and he was telling me I
didn't know my ass.
We went all week and Joe kept winning. He got so unbearable I couldn't
stand him anymore. He bought a new suit and hat, new shirt and shoes, and
started smoking 50 cent cigars. He told the relief people that he was self-
employed and didn't need their money anymore. Joe had gone mad. He grew a
mustache and purchased a wrist watch and an expensive ring. The next Tuesday
I saw him drive to the track in his own car, a '69 black Caddy. He waved to
me from his car and flicked out his cigar ash. I didn't talk to him at the
track that day. He was in the clubhouse. When he knocked on my door that
night he had the usual fifth of Grandad and a tall blonde. A young blonde,
well-dressed, well-groomed, she had a shape and a face. They walked in
"Who's this old bum?" she asked Joe.
"That's my old buddy. Hank," he told her, "I used to know him when I
was poor. He took me to the racetrack one day."
"Don't he have an old lady?"
"Old Hank ain't had a woman since 1965. Listen, how about fixing him up
with Big Gertie?"
"Oh hell, Joe, Big Gertie wouldn't go him! Look, he's dressed
like a rag man."
"Have some mercy, baby, he's my buddy. I know he don't look like much
but we both started out together. I'm sentimental."
"Well, Big Gertie ain't sentimental, she likes class."
"Look, Joe," I said, "forget the women. Just sit down with the
Form and let's have a few drinks and give me some winners for
Joe did that. We drank and he worked them out. He wrote nine horses
down for me on a piece of paper. His woman. Big Thelma -- well. Big Thelma
just looked at me like I was dog shit on somebody's lawn.
Those nine horses were good for eight wins the next day. One horse paid
$62.60. I couldn't understand it. That night Joe came by with a new woman.
She looked even finer. He sat down with the bottle and the Form and
wrote me down nine more horses.
Then he told me, "Listen, Hank, I gotta be moving out of my place. I
found me a nice deluxe apartment right outside the track. The travel time to
and from the track is a nuisance. Let's go, baby. I'll see you around, kid."
I knew that was it. My buddy was giving me the brush-off. The next day
I laid it heavy on those nine horses. They were good for seven winners. I
went over the Form again when I got home trying to figure why he
selected the horses he did, but there seemed to be no understandable reason.
Some of his selections were truly puzzling to me.
I didn't see Joe again for the remainder of the meet, except once. I
saw him walk into the clubhouse with two women. Joe was fat and laughing. He
wore a two-hundred-dollar suit and he had a diamond ring on his finger. I
lost all nine races that day.
It was two years later. I was at Hollywood Park and it was a
particularly hot day, a Thursday, and in the 6th race I happened to land a
$26.80 winner. As I was walking away from the payoff window I heard his
voice behind me:
"Hey, Hank! Hank!"
It was Joe.
"Jesus Christ, man," he said, "it's sure great to see you!"
"Hello Joe ..."
He still had on his two-hundred-dollar suit in all that heat. The rest
of us were in shirt sleeves. He needed a shave and his shoes were scuffed
and the suit was wrinkled and dirty. His diamond was gone, his wrist watch
was gone.
"Lemme have a smoke. Hank."
I gave him a cigarette and when he lit it I noticed his hands were
"I need a drink, man," he told me.
I took him over to the bar and we had a couple of whiskeys. Joe studied
the Form.
"Listen, man, I've put you on plenty of winners, haven't I?"
"Sure, Joe."
We stood there looking at the Form. "Now check this race," said
Joe. "Look at Black Monkey. He's going to romp. Hank. He's a lock. And at 8
to one."
"You like his chances, Joe?"
"He's in, man. He'll win by daylight."
We placed our bets on Black Monkey and went out to watch the race. He
finished a deep 7th.
"I don't understand it," said Joe. "Look, let me have two more bucks,
Hank. Siren Call is in the next, she can't lose. There's no way."
Siren Call did get up for 5th but that's not much help when you're
betting on the nose. Joe got me for another $2 for the 9th race and his
horse ran out there too. Joe told me he didn't have a car and would I mind
driving him home?
"You're not going to believe this," he told me, "but I'm back on the
"I believe you, Joe."
"I'll bounce back, though. You know, Pittsburgh Phil went broke half a
dozen times. He always sprung back. His friends had faith in him. They lent
him money."
When I let him off I found he lived in an old rooming house about four
blocks from where I lived. I had never moved. When I let Joe out he said,
"There's a hell of a good card tomorrow. You going?"
"I'm not sure, Joe."
"Lemme know if you're going."
"Sure, Joe."
That night I heard the knock on my door. I knew Joe's knock. I didn't
answer. I had the T.V. playing but I didn't answer. I just laid real still
on the bed. He kept knocking.
"Hank! Hank! You in there? HEY, HANK!"
Then he really beat on the door, the son of a bitch. He seemed frantic.
He knocked and he knocked. At last he stopped. I heard him walking down the
hall. Then I heard the front door of the apartment house close. I got up,
turned off the T.V., went to the refrigerator, made a ham and cheese
sandwich, opened a beer. Then I sat down with that, split tomorrow's
Form open and began looking at the first race, a five-thousand-dollar
claimer for colts and geldings three years old and up. I liked the 8 horse.
The Form had him listed at 5 to one. I'd take that anytime.

    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?"
"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?"
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?"
"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
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
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
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."
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
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
"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.


It was a small office on the third floor of an old building not too far
from skid row. Joe Mason, president of Rollerworld, Inc., sat behind the
worn desk which he rented along with the office. Graffiti were carved on the
top and sides: "Born to die." "Some men buy what other men are hanged for."
"Shit soup." "I hate love more than I love hate."
The vice president, Clifford Underwood, sat in the only other chair.
There was one telephone. The office smelled of urine, but the restroom was
45 feet down the hall. There was a window facing the alley, a thick yellow
window that let in a dim light. Both men were smoking cigarettes and
"When'd you tell 'im?" asked Underwood.
"9:30," said Mason.
"It doesn't matter."
They waited. Eight more minutes. They each lit another cigarette. There
was a knock.
"Come in," said Mason. It was Monster Chonjacki, bearded, six foot six
and 392 pounds. Chonjacki smelled. It started to rain. You could hear a
freightcar going by under the window. It was really 24 freightcars going
north filled with commerce. Chonjacki still smelled. He was the star of the
Yellowjackets, one of the best roller skaters on either side of the
Mississippi, 25 yards to either side.
"Sit down," said Mason.
"No chair," said Chonjacki.
"Make him a chair. Cliff."
The vice president slowly got up, gave every indication of a man about
to fart, didn't and walked over and leaned against the rain which beat
against the thick yellow window. Chonjacki put both cheeks down, reached and
lit up a Pall Mall. No filter. Mason leaned across his desk:
"You are an ignorant son of a bitch."
"Wait a minute, man!"
"You wanna be a hero, don't you sonny? You get excited when little
girls without any hair on their pussies scream your name? You like the dear
old red, white and blue? Ya like vanilla ice cream? You still beat your tiny
little pud, asshole?"
"Listen here, Mason . . ."
"Shut up! Three hundred a week! Three hundred a week I been giving you!
When I found you in that bar you didn't have enough for your next drink . .
. you had the d.t.'s and were livin' on hogshead soup and cabbage! You
couldn't lace on a skate! I made you, asshole, from nothing, and I can make
you right back into nothing! As far as you're concerned, I'm God. And I'm a
God who doesn't forgive your mother-floppin' sins either!"
Mason closed both eyes and leaned back in the swivel. He inhaled his
cigarette; a bit of hot ash dropped on his lower lip but he was too mad to
give a damn. He just let the ash burn him. When the ash stopped burning he
kept his eyes closed and listened to the rain. Ordinarily he liked to listen
to the rain. Especially when he was inside somewhere and the rent was paid
and some woman wasn't driving him crazy. But today the rain didn't help. He
not only smelled Chonjacki but he felt him there. Chonjacki was worse than
diarrhea. Chonjacki was worse than the crabs. Mason opened his eyes, sat up
and looked at him. Christ, what a man had to go through just to stay alive.
"Baby," he said softly, "you broke two of Sonny Welborn's ribs last
night. You hear me?"
"Listen . . ." Chonjacki started to say.
"Not one rib. No, not just one rib. Two. Two ribs. Hear me?"
"But . . ."
"Listen, asshole! Two ribs! You hear me? Do you hear me?"
"I hear you."
Mason put out his cigarette, got up from the swivel and walked around
to Chonjacki's chair. You might say Chonjacki looked nice. You might say he
was a handsome kid. You'd never say that about Mason. Mason was old. Forty-
nine. Almost bald. Round shouldered. Divorced. Four boys. Two of them in
jail. It was still raining. It would rain for almost two days and three
nights. The Los Angeles River would get excited and pretend to be a river.
"Stand up!" said Mason.
Chonjacki stood up. When he did. Mason sunk his left into his gut and
when Chonjacki's head came down he put it right back up there with a right
chop. Then he felt a little better. It was like a cup of Ovaltine on a
coldass morning in January. He walked around and sat down again. This time
he didn't light a cigarette. He lit his 15 cent cigar. He lit his after-
lunch cigar before lunch. That's how much better he felt. Tension. You
couldn't let that shit build. His former brother-in-law had died of a
bleeding ulcer. Just because he hadn't known how to let it out.
Chonjacki sat back down. Mason looked at him.
"This, baby, is a business, not a sport. We don't believe in
hurting people, do I get my point across?"
Chonjacki just sat there listening to the rain. He wondered if his car
would start. He always had trouble getting his car started when it rained.
Otherwise it was a good car.
"I asked you, baby, did I get my point across?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah . . ."
"Two busted ribs. Two of Sonny Welborn's ribs busted. He's our best
"Wait! He plays for the Vultures. Welborn plays for the Vultures. How
can he be your best player?"
"Asshole! We own the Vultures!"
"You own the Vultures?"
"Yeah, asshole. And the Angels and the Coyotes and the Cannibals and
every other damn team in the league, they're all our property, all those
boys . . ."
"Jesus . . ."
"No, not Jesus. Jesus doesn't have anything to do with it! But, wait,
you give me an idea, asshole."
Mason swiveled toward Underwood who was still leaning against the rain.
"It's something to think about," he said.
"Uh," said Underwood.
"Take your head off your pud, Cliff. Think about it."
"About what?"
"Christ on rollerskates. Countless possibilities."
"Yeah. Yeah. We could work in the devil."
"That's good. Yes, the devil."
"We might even work in the cross."
"The cross? No, that's too corny."
Mason swiveled back toward Chonjacki. Chonjacki was still there. He
wasn't surprised. If a monkey had been sitting there he wouldn't have been
surprised either. Mason had been around too long. But it wasn't a monkey, it
was Chonjacki. He had to talk to Chonjacki. Duty, duty ... all for the rent,
an occasional piece of ass and a burial in the country. Dogs had fleas, men
had troubles.
"Chonjacki," he said, "please let me explain something to you. Are you
listening? Are you capable of listening?"
"I'm listening."
"We're a business. We work five night a week. We're on television. We
support families. We pay taxes. We vote. We get tickets from the fucking
cops like anybody else. We get toothaches, insomnia, v.d. We've got to live
through Christmas and New Year's just like anybody else, you understand?"
"We even, some of us, get depressed sometimes. We're human. I even get
depressed. I sometimes feel like crying at night. I sure as hell felt like
crying last night when you broke two of Welborn's ribs . . ."
"He was ganging me, Mr. Mason!"
"Chonjacki, Welborn wouldn't pull a hair from your grandmother's left
armpit. He reads Socrates, Robert Duncan, and W. H. Auden. He's been in the
league five years and he hasn't done enough physical damage to bruise a
church-going moth . . ."
"He was coming at me, he was swinging, he was screaming . . ."
"Oh, Christ," said Mason softly. He put his cigar in the ashtray. "Son,
I told you. We're a family, a big family. We don't hurt each other. We've
got ourselves the finest subnormal audience in sports. We've drawn the
biggest breed of idiots alive and they put that money right into our
pockets, get it? We've drawn the top-brand idiot right away from
professional wrestling, / Love Lucy, and George Putnam. We're in, and
we don't believe in either malice or violence. Right, Cliff?"
"Right," said Underwood.
"Let's do him a spot," said Mason.
"O.k.," said Underwood.
Mason got up from his desk and moved toward Underwood. "You son of a
bitch," he said. "I'll kill you. Your mother swallows her own farts and has
a syphilitic urinary tract."
"Your mother eats marinated catshit," said Underwood.
He moved away from the window and toward Mason. Mason swung first.
Underwood rocked back against the desk.
Mason got a stranglehold around his neck with his left arm and beat
Underwood over the head with his right fist and forearm.
"Your sister's tits hang from the bottom of her butt and dangle in the
water when she shits," Mason told Underwood. Underwood reached back with one
arm and nipped Mason over his head. Mason rolled up against the wall with a
crash. Then he got up, walked over to his desk, sat down in the swivel,
picked up his cigar and inhaled. It continued to rain. Underwood went back
and leaned against the window.
"When a man works five nights a week he can't afford to get injured,
understand, Chonjacki?"
"Yes, sir."
"Now look, kid, we got a general rule here -- which is ... Are you
". . . which is -- when anybody in the league injures another player,
he's out of a job, he's out of the league, in fact, the word goes out --
he's blacklisted at every roller derby in America. Maybe Russia and China
and Poland, too. You got that in your head?"
"Now we're letting you get by with this one because we've spent a lot
of time and money giving you this buildup. You're the Mark Spitz of our
league, but we can bust you just like they can bust him, if you don't do
exactly what we tell you."
"Yes, sir."
"But that doesn't mean lay back. You gotta act violent without being
violent, get it? The mirror trick, the rabbit out of the hat, the full ton
of bologna. They love to be fooled. They don't know the truth, hell they
don't even want the truth, it makes them unhappy. We make them happy. We
drive new cars and send our kids to college, right?"
"O.k., get the hell out of here."
Chonjacki rose to leave.
"And kid . . ."
"Take a bath once in awhile."
"Well, maybe that isn't it. Do you use enough toilet paper when you
wipe your ass?"
"I don't know. How much is enough?"
"Didn't your mother tell you?"
"You keep wiping until you can't see it anymore."
Chonjacki just stood there looking at him.
"All right, you can go now. And please remember everything I've told
Chonjacki left. Underwood walked over and sat down in the vacant chair.
He took out his after-lunch 15 cent cigar and lit it. The two men sat there
for five minutes without saying anything. Then the phone rang. Mason picked
it up. He listened, then said, "Oh, Boy Scout Troop 763? How many? Sure,
sure, we'll let 'em in for half price. Sunday night. We'll rope off a
section. Sure, sure. Oh, it's all right . . ." He hung up.
"Assholes," he said.
Underwood didn't answer. They sat listening to the rain. The smoke from
their cigars made interesting designs in the air. They sat and smoked and
listened to the rain and watched the designs in the air. The phone rang
again and Mason made a face. Underwood got up from his chair, walked over
and answered it. It was his turn.


When I first met Randall Harris he was 42 and lived with a grey haired
woman, one Margie Thompson. Margie was 45 and not too handsome. I was
editing the little magazine Mad Fly at the time and I had come over
in an attempt to get some material from Randall.
Randall was known as an isolationist, a drunk, a crude and bitter man
but his poems were raw, raw and honest, simple and savage. He was writing
unlike anybody else at the time. He worked as a shipping clerk in an auto
parts warehouse.
I sat across from both Randall and Margie. It was 7:15 p.m. and Harris
was already drunk on beer. He set a bottle in front of me. I'd heard of
Margie Thompson. She was an old-time communist, a world-saver, a do-gooder.
One wondered what she was doing with Randall who cared for nothing and
admitted it. "I like to photograph shit," he told me, "that's my art."
Randall had begun writing at the age of 38. At 42, after three small
chapbooks (Death Is a Dirtier Dog Than My Country, My Mother Fucked an
and The Piss-Wild Horses of Madness), he was getting what
might be called critical acclaim. But he made nothing on his writing and he
said, "I'm nothing but a shipping clerk with the deep blue blues." He lived
in an old front court in Hollywood with Margie, and he was weird, truly. "I
just don't like people," he said. "You know, Will Rogers once said, 'I never
met a man I didn't like.' Me, I never met a man I liked."
But Randall had humor, an ability to laugh at pain and at himself. You
liked him. He was an ugly man with a large head and a smashed-up face --
only the nose seemed to have escaped the general smashup. "I don't have
enough bone in my nose, it's like rub- her," he explained. His nose was long
and very red.
I had heard stories about Randall. He was given to smashing windows and
breaking bottles against the wall. He was one nasty drunk. He also had
periods where he wouldn't answer the door or the telephone. He didn't own a
T.V., only a small radio and he only listened to symphony music -- strange
for a guy as crude as he was.
Randall also had periods when he took the bottom off the telephone and
stuffed toilet paper around the bell so it wouldn't ring. It stayed that way
for months. One wondered why he had a phone. His education was sparse but
he'd evidently read most of the best writers.
"Well, fucker," he said to me, "I guess you wonder what I'm doing with
her?" he pointed to Margie. I didn't answer.
"She's a good lay," he said, "and she gives me some of the best sex
west of St. Louis."
This was the same guy who had written four or five great love poems to
a woman called Annie. You wondered how it worked.
Margie just sat there and grinned. She wrote poetry too but it wasn't
very good. She attended two workshops a week which hardly helped.
"So you want some poems?" he asked me. "Yes, I'd like to look some
Harris walked over to the closet, opened the door and picked some torn
and crushed papers off the floor. He handed them to me. "I wrote these last
night." Then he walked into the kitchen and came out with two more beers.
Margie didn't drink.
I began to read the poems. They were all powerful. He typed with a very
heavy hand and the words seemed chiseled in the paper. The force of his
writing always astounded me. He seemed to be saying all the things we should
have said but had never thought of saying.
"I'll take these poems," I said. "O.k.," he said. "Drink up."
When you came to see Harris, drinking was a must. He smoked one
cigarette after another. He dressed in loose brown chino pants two sizes too
large and old shirts that were always ripped. He was around six feet and 220
pounds, much of it beerfat. He was round-shouldered, and peered out at you
from behind slitted eyelids. We drank a good two hours and a half, the room
heavy with smoke.
Suddenly Harris stood up and said, "Get the hell out of here, fucker,
you disgust me!"
"Easy now, Harris . . ."
"I said NOW!, fucker!"
I got up and left with the poems.
I returned to that front court two months later to deliver a couple of
copies of Mad. Fly to Harris. I had run all ten of his poems. Margie
let me in. Randall wasn't there.
"He's in New Orleans," said Margie, "I think he's getting a break. Jack
Teller wants to publish his next book but he wants to meet Randall first.
Teller says he can't print anybody he doesn't like. He's paid the air fare
both ways."
"Randall isn't exactly endearing," I said.
"We'll see," said Margie. "Teller's a drunk and an ex-con. They might
make a lovely pair."
Teller put out the magazine Rifraff and had his own press. He
did very fine work. The last issue of Rifraff had had Harris' ugly
face on the cover sucking at a beer-bottle and had featured a number of his
Rifraff was generally recognized as the number one lit mag of
the time. Harris was beginning to get more and more notice. This would be a
good chance for him if he didn't botch it with his mean tongue and his
drunken manners. Before I left Margie told me she was pregnant -- by Harris.
As I said, she was 45.
"What'd he say when you told him?"
"He seemed indifferent."
I left.
The book did come out in an edition of 2,000, finely printed. The cover
was made of cork imported from Ireland. The pages were vari-colored, of
extremely good paper, set in rare type and interspersed with some of Harris'
India ink sketches. The book received acclaim, both for itself and its
contents. But Teller couldn't pay royalties. He and his wife lived on a very
narrow margin. In ten years the book would go for $75 on the rare book
market. Meanwhile Harris went back to his shipping clerk job at the auto
parts warehouse.
When I called again four or five months later Margie was gone. "She's
been gone a long time," said Harris. "Have a beer."
"What happened?"
"Well, after I got back from New Orleans, I wrote a few short stories.
While I was at work she got to poking around in my drawers. She read a
couple of my stories and took exception to them."
"What were they about?"
"Oh, she read something about my climbing in and out of bed with some
women in New Orleans."
"Were the stories true?" I asked.
"How's Mad Fly doing?" he asked.
The baby was born, a girl, Naomi Louise Harris. She and her mother
lived in Santa Monica and Harris drove out once a week to see them. He paid
child support and continued to drink his beer. Next I knew he had a weekly
column in the underground newspaper L.A. Lifeline. He called his
colums Sketches of a First Class Maniac. His prose was like his
poetry -- undisciplined, antisocial, and lazy.
Harris grew a goatee and grew his hair longer. The next time I saw him
he was living with a 35-year-old girl, a pretty redhead called Susan. Susan
worked in an art supply store, painted, and played fair guitar. She also
drank an occasional beer with Randall which was more than Margie had done.
The court seemed cleaner. When Harris finished a bottle he threw it into a
paper bag instead of throwing it on the floor. He was still a nasty drunk,
"I'm writing a novel," he told me, "and I'm getting a poetry reading
now and then at nearby universities. I also have one coming up in Michigan
and one in New Mexico. The offers are pretty good. I don't like to read, but
I'm a good reader. I give them a show and I give them some good poetry."
Harris was also beginning to paint. He didn't paint very well. He
painted like a five-year-old drunk on vodka but he managed to sell one or
two for $40 or $50. He told me that he was considering quitting his job.
Three weeks later he did quit in order to make the Michigan reading. He'd
already used his vacation for the New Orleans trip.
I remember once he had vowed to me, "I'll never read in front of those
bloodsuckers, Chinaski. I'll go to my grave without ever giving a poetry
reading. It's vanity, it's a sell-out." I didn't remind him of his
His novel Death in the Life of All the Eyes On Earth was brought
out by a small but prestige press which paid standard royalties. The reviews
were good, including one in The New York Review of Books. But he was
still a nasty drunk and had many fights with Susan over his drinking.
Finally, after one horrible drunk, when he had raved and cursed and
screamed all night, Susan left him. I saw Randall several days after her
departure. Harris was strangely quiet, hardly nasty at all.
"I loved her, Chinaski," he told me. "I'm not going to make it,
"You'll make it, Randall. You'll see. You'll make it. The human being
is much more durable than you think."
"Shit," he said. "I hope you're right. I've got this damned hole in my
gut. Women have put many a good man under the bridge. They don't feel it
like we do."
"They feel it. She just couldn't handle your drinking."
"Fuck, man, I write most of my stuff when I'm drunk."
"Is that the secret?"
"Shit, yes. Sober, I'm just a shipping clerk and not a very good one at
that . . ."
I left him there hanging over his beer.
I made the rounds again three months later. Harris was still in his
front court. He introduced me to Sandra, a nice-looking blonde of 27. Her
father was a superior court judge and she was a graduate of U.S.C. Besides
being well-shaped she had a cool sophistication that had been lacking in
Randall's other women. They were drinking a bottle of good Italian wine.
Randall's goatee had turned into a beard and his hair was much longer.
His clothes were new and in the latest style. He had on $40 shoes, a new
wristwatch and his face seemed thinner, his fingernails clean . . . but his
nose still reddened as he drank the wine.
"Randall and I are moving to West L.A. this weekend," she told me.
"This place is filthy."
"I've done a lot of good writing here," he said.
"Randall, dear," she said, "it isn't the place that does the