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Юбмхшф Взукчгуя. Взнемвмкд г демшики (engl)
Charles Bukowski. Ham On Rye (engl)
The first thing I remember is being under something. It was a table, I
saw a table leg, I saw the legs of the people, and a portion of the
tablecloth hanging down. It was dark under there, I liked being under there.
It must have been in Germany. I must have been between one and two years
old. It was 1922. I felt good under the table. Nobody seemed to know that I
was there. There was sunlight upon the rug and on the legs of the people. I
liked the sunlight. The legs of the people were not interesting, not like
the tablecloth which hung down, not like the table leg, not like the
Then there is nothing . . . then a Christmas tree. Candles. Bird
ornaments: birds with small berry branches in their beaks. A star. Two large
people fighting, screaming. People eating, always people eating. I ate too.
My spoon was bent so that if I wanted to eat I had to pick the spoon up with
my right hand. If I picked it up with my left hand, the spoon bent away from
my mouth. I wanted to pick the spoon up with my left hand.
Two people: one larger with curly hair, a big nose, a big mouth, much
eyebrow; the larger person always seeming to be angry, often screaming; the
smaller person quiet, round of face, paler, with large eyes. I was afraid of
both of them. Sometimes there was a third, a fat one who wore dresses with
lace at the throat. She wore a large brooch, and had many warts on her face
with little hairs growing out of them. "Emily," they called her. These
people didn't seem happy together. Emily was the grandmother, my father's
mother. My father's name was "Henry." My mother's name was "Katherine." I
never spoke to them by name. I was
"Henry, Jr." These people spoke German most of the time and in the
beginning I did too.
The first thing I remember my grandmother saying was, "I will bury
all of you!" She said this the first time just before we began eating
a meal, and she was to say it many times after that, just before we began to
eat. Eating seemed very important. We ate mashed potatoes and gravy,
especially on Sundays. We also ate roast beef, knockwurst and sauerkraut,
green peas, rhubarb, carrots, spinach, string beans, chicken, meatballs and
spaghetti, sometimes mixed with ravioli; there were boiled onions,
asparagus, and every Sunday there was strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice
cream. For breakfasts we had french toast and sausages, or there were
hotcakes or waffles with bacon and scrambled eggs on the side. And there was
always coffee. But what I remember best is all the mashed potatoes and gravy
and my grandmother, Emily, saying, "I will bury all of you!"
She visited us often after we came to America, taking the red trolley
in from Pasadena to Los Angeles. We only went to see her occasionally,
driving out in the Model-T Ford.
I liked my grandmother's house. It was a small house under an
overhanging mass of pepper trees. Emily had all her canaries in different
cages. I remember one visit best. That evening she went about covering the
cages with white hoods so that the birds could sleep. The people sat in
chairs and talked. There was a piano and I sat at the piano and hit the keys
and listened to the sounds as the people talked. I liked the sound of the
keys best up at one end of the piano where there was hardly any sound at all
-- the sound the keys made was like chips of ice striking against one
"Will you stop that?" my father said loudly.
"Let the boy play the piano," said my grandmother. My mother smiled.
"That boy," said my grandmother, "when I tried to pick him up out of
the cradle to kiss him, he reached up and hit me in the nose!"
They talked some more and I went on playing the piano.
"Why don't you get that thing tuned?" asked my father. Then I was told
that we were going to see my grandfather. My grandfather and grandmother
were not living together. I was told that my grandfather was a bad man, that
his breath stank.
"Why does his breath stink?"
They didn't answer.
"Why does his breath stink?"
We got into the Model-T and drove over to see my Grandfather Leonard.
As we drove up and stopped he was standing on the porch of his house. He was
old but he stood very straight. He had been an army officer in Germany and
had come to America when he heard that the streets were paved with gold.
They weren't, so he became the head of a construction firm.
The other people didn't get out of the car. Grandfather wiggled a
finger at me. Somebody opened a door and I climbed out and walked toward
him. His hair was pure white and long and his beard was pure white and long,
and as I got closer I saw that his eyes were brilliant, like blue lights
watching me. I stopped a little distance away from him.
"Henry," he said, "you and I, we know each other. Come into the house."
He held out his hand. As I got closer I could smell the stink of his
breath. It was very strong but he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen
and I wasn't afraid. I went into his house with him. He led me to a chair.
"Sit down, please. I'm very happy to sec you."
He went into another room. Then he came out with a little tin box.
"It's for you. Open it."
I had trouble with the lid, I couldn't open the box.
"Here," he said, "let me have it."
He loosened the lid and handed the tin box back to me. I lifted the lid
and here was this cross, a German cross with a ribbon.
"Oh no," I said, "you keep it."
"It's yours," he said, "it's just a gummy badge."
"You better go now. They will be worried."
"All right. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Henry. No, wait . . ."
I stopped. He reached into a small front pocket of his pants with a
couple of fingers, and tugged at a long gold chain with his other hand. Then
he handed me his gold pocket watch, with the chain.
"Thank you. Grandfather . . ."
They were waiting outside and I got into the Model-T and we drove off.
They all talked about many things as we drove along. They were always
talking, and they talked all the way back to my grandmother's house. They
spoke of many things but never, once, of my grandfather.
I remember the Model-T. Sitting high, the running boards seemed
friendly, and on cold days, in the mornings, and often at other times, my
father had to fit the hand-crank into the front of the engine and crank it
many times in order to start the car.
"A man can get a broken arm doing this. It kicks back like a horse."
We went for Sunday rides in the Model-T when grandmother didn't visit.
My parents liked the orange groves, miles and miles of orange trees always
either in blossom or full of oranges. My parents had a picnic basket and a
metal chest. In the metal chest were frozen cans of fruit on dry ice, and in
the picnic basket were weenie and liverwurst and salami sandwiches, potato
chips, bananas and soda-pop. The soda-pop was shifted continually back and
forth between the metal box and the picnic basket. It froze quickly, and
then had to be thawed.
My father smoked Camel cigarettes and he knew many tricks and games
which he showed us with the packages of Camel cigarettes. How many pyramids
were there? Count them. We would count them and then he would show us more
There were also tricks about the humps on the camels and about the
written words on the package. Camel cigarettes were magic cigarettes.
There was a particular Sunday I can recall. The picnic basket was
empty. Yet we still drove along through the orange groves, further and
further away from where we lived.
"Daddy," my mother asked, "aren't we going to run out of gas?"
"No, there's plenty of god-damned gas."
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going to get me some god-damned oranges!"
My mother sat very still as we drove along. My father pulled up
alongside the road, parked near a wire fence and we sat there, listening.
Then my father kicked the door open and got out.
"Bring the basket."
We all climbed through the strands of the fence.
"Follow me," said my father.
Then we were between two rows of orange trees, shaded from the sun by
the branches and the leaves. My father stopped and reaching up began yanking
oranges from the lower branches of the nearest tree. He seemed angry,
yanking the oranges from the tree, and the branches seemed angry, leaping up
and down. He threw the oranges into the picnic basket which my mother held.
Sometimes he missed and I chased the oranges and put them into the basket.
My father went from tree to tree, yanking at the lower branches,
throwing the oranges into the picnic basket.
"Daddy, we have enough," said my mother.
He kept yanking.
Then a man stepped forward, a very tall man. He held a shotgun.
"All right, buddy, what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm picking oranges. There are plenty of oranges."
"These are my oranges. Now, listen to me, tell your woman to dump
"There are plenty of god-damned oranges. You're not going to miss a few
"I'm not going to miss any oranges. Tell your woman to dump
The man pointed his shotgun at my father.
"Dump them," my father told my mother. The oranges rolled to the
"Now," said the man, "get out of my orchard."
"You don't need all these oranges."
"I know what I need. Now get out of here."
"Guys like you ought to be hung!"
"I'm the law here. Now move!"
The man raised his shotgun again. My father turned and began walking
out of the orange grove. We followed him and the man trailed us. Then we got
into the car but it was one of those times when it wouldn't start. My father
got out of the car to crank it. He cranked it twice and it wouldn't start.
My father was beginning to sweat. The man stood at the edge of the road.
"Get that god-damned cracker box started!" he said. My father got ready
to twist the crank again. "We're not on your property! We can stay here as
long as we damn well please!"
"Like hell! Get that thing out of here, and fast!"
My father cranked the engine again. It sputtered, then stopped. My
mother sat with the empty picnic box on her lap. I was afraid to look at the
man. My father whirled the crank again and the engine started. He leaped
into the car and began working the levers on the steering wheel.
"Don't come back," said the man, "or next time it might not go so easy
My father drove the Model-T off. The man was still standing near the
road. My father was driving very fast. Then he slowed the car and made a U-
turn. He drove back to where the man had stood. The man was gone. We speeded
back on the way out of the orange groves.
"I'm coming back some day and get that bastard," said my father.
"Daddy, we'll have a nice dinner tonight. What would you like?" my
"Pork chops," he answered.
I had never seen him drive the car that fast.
My father had two brothers. The younger was named Ben and the older was
named John. Both were alcoholics and ne'er-do-wells. My parents often spoke
"Neither of them amount to anything," said my father.
"You just come from a bad family, Daddy," said my mother.
"And your brother doesn't amount to a damn either!"
My mother's brother was in Germany. My father often spoke badly of him.
I had another uncle, Jack, who was married to my father's sister,
Elinore. I had never seen my Uncle Jack or my Aunt Elinore because there
were bad feelings between them and my father.
"See this scar on my hand?" asked my father. "Well, that's where
Elinore stuck me with a sharp pencil when I was very young. That scar has
never gone away."
My father didn't like people. He didn't like me. "Children should be
seen and not heard," he told me.
It was an early Sunday afternoon without Grandma Emily.
"We should go see Ben," said my mother. "He's dying."
"He borrowed all that money from Emily. He'd pissed it away on gambling
and women and booze."
"I know, Daddy."
"Emily won't have any money left when she dies."
"We should still go see Ben. They say he has only two weeks left."
"All right, all right! We'll go!"
So we went and got into the Model-T and started driving. It took some
time, and my mother had to stop for flowers. It was a long drive toward the
mountains. We reached the foothills and took the little winding mountain
road upwards. Uncle Ben was in a sanitarium up there, dying of TB.
"It must cost Emily a lot of money to keep Ben up here," said my
"Maybe Leonard is helping."
"Leonard doesn't have anything. He drank it up and he gave it away.
"I like grandpa Leonard," I said.
"Children should be seen and not heard," .said my father. Then he
continued, "Ah, that Leonard, the only time he was good to us children was
when he was drunk. He'd joke with us and give us money. But the next day
when he was sober he was the meanest man in the world."
The Model-T was climbing the mountain road nicely. The air was clear
"Here it is," said my father. He guided the car into the parking lot of
the sanitarium and we got out. I followed my mother and father into the
building. As we entered his room, my Uncle Ben was sitting upright in bed,
staring out the window. He turned and looked at us as we entered. He was a
very handsome man, thin, with black hair, and he had dark eyes which
glittered, were brilliant with glittering light.
"Hello, Ben," said my mother.
"Hello, Katy." Then he looked at me. "Is this Henry?"
My father and I sat down.
My mother stood there. "These flowers, Ben. I don't see a vase."
"They're nice flowers, thanks, Katy. No, there isn't a vase."
"I'll go get a vase," said my mother. She left the room, holding the
"Where are all your girlfriends now, Ben?" asked my father.
"They come around."
"They come around."
"We're here because Katherine wanted to see you."
"I wanted to see you too, Uncle Ben. I think you're a real pretty man."
"Pretty like my ass," said my father. My mother entered the room with
the flowers in a vase.
"Here, I'll put them on this table by the window."
"They're nice flowers, Katy."
My mother sat down.
"We can't stay too long," said my father. Uncle Ben reached under the
mattress and his hand came out holding a pack of cigarettes. He took one
out, struck a match and lit it. He took a long drag and exhaled.
"You know you're not allowed cigarettes," said my father. "I know how
you get them. Those prostitutes bring them to you. Well, I'm going to tell
the doctors about it and I'm going to get them to stop letting those
prostitutes in here!"
"You're not going to do shit," said my uncle.
"I got a good mind to rip that cigarette out of your mouth!" said my
"You never had a good mind," said my uncle.
"Ben,"my mother said, "you shouldn't smoke, it will kill you."
"I've had a good life," said my uncle.
"You never had a good life," said my father. "Lying, boozing,
borrowing, whoring, drinking. You never worked a day in your life! And now
you're dying at the age of 24!"
"It's been all right," said my uncle. He took another heavy drag on the
Camel, then exhaled.
"Let's get out of here," said my father. "This man is insane!"
My father stood up. Then my mother stood up. Then I stood up.
"Goodbye, Katy," said my uncle, "and goodbye, Henry." He looked at me
to indicate which Henry.
We followed my father through the sanitarium halls and out into the
parking lot to the Model- T. We got in, it started, and we began down the
winding road out of the mountains.
"We should have stayed longer," said my mother.
"Don't you know that TB is catching?" asked my father.
"I think he was a very pretty man," I said.
"It's the disease," said my father. "It makes them look like that.
And besides the TB, he's caught many other things too."
"What kind of things?" I asked.
"I can't tell you," my father answered. He steered the Model-T down the
winding mountain road as I wondered about that.
It was another Sunday that we got into the Model-T in search of my
"He has no ambition," said my father. "I don't see how he can hold his
god-damned head up and look people in the eye."
"I wish he wouldn't chew tobacco," said my mother. "He spits the stuff
"If this country was full of men like him the Chinks would take
over and we'd he running the laundries . . ."
"John never had a chance," said my mother. "He ran away from
home early. At least you got a high school education."
"College," said my father.
"Where?" asked my mother.
"The University of Indiana."
"Jack said you only went to high school."
"Jack only went to high school. That's why he gardens for the
"Am I ever going to see my Uncle Jack?" I asked.
"First let's see if we can find your Uncle John," said my father.
"Do the Chinks really want to take over this country?" I asked.
"Those yellow devils have been waiting for centuries to do it.
What's stopped them is that they have been kept busy fighting the
"Who are the best fighters, the Chinks or the Japs?"
'The Japs. The trouble is that there are too many Chinks.
When you kill a Chink he splits in half and becomes two Chinks."
"How come their skin is yellow?"
"Because instead of drinking water they drink their own pee- pee."
"Daddy, don't tell the boy that!"
"Then tell him to stop asking questions."
We drove along through another warm Los Angeles day. My mother
had on one of her pretty dresses and fancy hats. When my mother was dressed
up she always sat straight and held her neck very stiff.
"I wish we had enough money so we could help John and his family," said
"It's not my fault if they don't have a pot to piss in," answered my
"Daddy, John was in the war just like you were. Don't you think he
"He never rose in the ranks. I became a master sergeant."
"Henry, all your brothers can't be like you."
"They don't have any god-damned drive! They think they can live
off the land!"
We drove along a bit further. Uncle John and his family lived in a
small court. We went up the cracked sidewalk to a sagging porch and my
father pushed the bell. The bell didn't ring. He knocked, loudly.
"Open up! It's the cops!" my father yelled.
"Daddy, stop it!" said my mother.
After what seemed a long time, the door opened a crack. Then it opened
further. And we could see my Aunt Anna. She was very thin, her cheeks were
hollow and her eyes had pouches, dark pouches. Her voice was thin, too.
"Oh, Henry . . . Katherine . . . come in, please . . ."
We followed her in. I here was very little furniture. I here was a
breakfast nook with a table and four chairs and there were two beds. My
mother and father sat in the chairs. Two girls, Katherine and Betsy (I
learned their names later) were at the sink taking turns trying to scrape
peanut butter out of a nearly empty peanut butter jar.
"We were just having lunch," said my Aunt Anna. The girls came over
with tiny smears of peanut butter which they spread on dry pieces of bread.
They kept looking into the jar and scraping with the knife.
"Where's John?" asked my father.
My aunt sat down wearily. She looked very weak, very pale. Her dress
was dirty, her hair uncombed, tired, sad.
"We've been waiting for him. We haven't seen him for quite some time."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know. He just left on his motorcycle."
"All he does," said my father, "is think about his motorcycle."
"Is this Henry, Jr.?"
"He just stares. He's so quiet."
"That's the way we want him."
"Still water runs deep."
"Not with this one. The only thing that runs deep with him are the
holes in his ears."
The two girls took their slices of bread and walked outside and sat on
the stoop to eat them. They hadn't spoken to us. I thought they were quite
nice. They were thin like their mother but they were still quite pretty.
"How are you, Anna?" asked my mother.
"I'm all right."
"Anna, you don't look well. I think you need food."
"Why doesn't your boy sit down? Sit down, Henry."
"He likes to stand," said my father. "It makes him strong. He's getting
ready to fight the Chinks."
"Don't you like the Chinese?" my aunt asked me.
"No," I answered.
"Well, Anna," my father asked, "how are things going?"
"Awful, really. . . The landlord keeps asking for the rent. He gets
very nasty. He frightens me. I don't know what to do."
"I hear the cops are after John," said my father.
"He didn't do very much."
"What did he do?"
"He made some counterfeit dimes."
"Dimes? Jesus Christ, what kind of ambition is that?"
"John really doesn't want to be bad."
"Seems to me he doesn't want to be anything."
"He would if he could."
"Yeah. And if a frog had wings he wouldn't wear his ass out a-hoppin'!"
There was silence then and they sat there. I turned and looked outside.
The girls were gone from the porch, they had gone off somewhere.
"Come, sit down, Henry," said my Aunt Anna. I stood there. "Thank you,
it's all right."
"Anna," my mother asked, "are you sure that John will come hack?"
"He'll come back when he gets tired of the hens," said my father.
"John loves his children . . ." said Anna.
"I hear the cops are after him for something else."
"Yes, Anna, I heard about it. He was riding his motorcycle one day.
This young girl was hitch-hiking. She got onto the back of his motorcycle
and as they rode along all of a sudden John saw an empty garage. He drove in
there, closed the door and raped the girl"
"How did you find out?"
"Find out? The cops came and told me, they asked me where he was."
"Did you tell them?"
"What for? To have him go to jail and evade his responsibilities?
That's just what he'd want."
"I never thought of it that way."
"Not that I'm for rape . . ."
"Sometimes a man can't help what he does."
"I mean, after having the children, and with this type of life, the
worry and all . . . I don't look so good anymore. He saw a young girl, she
looked good to him . . . she got on his bike, you know, she put her arms
around him . . ."
"What?" asked my father. "How would you like to be raped?"
"I guess I wouldn't like it."
"Well, I'm sure the young girl didn't like it either."
A fly appeared and whirled around and around the table. We watched it.
"There's nothing to eat here," said my father. "The fly has come to the
The fly became more and more bold. It circled closer and made buzzing
sounds. The closer it circled the louder the buzzing became.
"You're not going to tell the cops that John might come home?"
my aunt asked my father.
"I am not going to let him off the hook so easily," said my father. My
mother's hand leaped quickly. It closed and she brought her hand back down
to the table.
"I got him," she said.
"Clot what?" asked my father. 'The fly," she smiled.
"I don't believe you . . ."
"You see the fly anywhere? The fly is gone."
"It flew off."
"No, I have it in my hand."
"Nobody is that quick."
"I have it in my hand."
"You don't believe me?"
"Open your mouth."
My father opened his mouth and my mother cupped her hand over it. My
father leaped up, grabbing at his throat.
I he fly came out of his mouth and began circling the table again.
"That's enough," said my father, "we're going home!"
He got up and walked out the door and down the walk and got into the
Model-T and just sat there very stiffly, looking dangerous.
"We brought you a few cans of food," my mother said to my aunt. "I'm
sorry it can't be money but Henry is afraid John will use it for gin, or for
gasoline for his motorcycle. It isn't much: soup, hash, peas . . ."
"Oh, Katherine, thank you! I hank you, both . . ."
My mother got up and I followed her. There were two boxes of canned
food in the car. I saw my father sitting there rigidly. He was still angry.
My mother handed me the smaller box of cans and she took the large box
and I followed her back into the court. We set the boxes down in the
breakfast nook. Aunt Anna came over and picked up a can. It was a can of
peas, the label on it covered with little round green peas.
"This is lovely," said my aunt.
"Anna, we have to go. Henry's dignity is upset."
My aunt threw her arms around my mother. "Everything has been so awful.
But this is like a dream. Wait until the girls come home. Wait until the
girls see all these cans of food!"
My mother hugged my aunt back. Then they separated.
"John is not a bad man," my aunt said.
"I know," my mother answered. "Goodbye, Anna."
"Goodbye, Katherine. Goodbye, Henry."
My mother turned and walked out the door. I followed her. We walked to
the car and got in. My father started the car.
As we were driving off I saw my aunt at the door waving. My mother
waved back. My father didn't wave back. I didn't either.
I had begun to dislike my father. He was always angry about something.
Wherever we went he got into arguments with people. But he didn't appear to
frighten most people; they often just stared at him, calmly, and he became
more furious. If we ate out, which was seldom, he always found something
wrong with the food and sometimes refused to pay. "There's flyshit in this
whipped cream! What the hell kind of a place is this?"
"I'm sorry, sir, you needn't pay. Just leave."
"I'll leave, all right! But I'll be back! I'll burn this god-damned
Once we were in a drug store and my mother and I were standing to one
side while my father yelled at a clerk. Another clerk asked my mother,
"Who is that horrible man? Everytime he comes in here there's an
"That's my husband," my mother told the clerk. Yet, I remember another
time. He was working as a milkman and made early morning deliveries. One
morning he awakened me. "Come on, I want to show you something." I walked
outside with him. I was wearing my pajamas and slippers. It was still dark,
the moon was still up. We walked to the milk wagon which was horsedrawn. The
horse stood very still. "Watch," said my father. He took a sugar cube, put
it in his hand and held it out to the horse. The horse ate it out of his
palm. "Now you try it . . ."
He put a sugar cube in my hand. It was a very large horse. "Get closer!
Hold out your hand!" I was afraid the horse would bite my hand off. The head
came down; I saw the nostrils; the lips pulled back, I saw the tongue and
the teeth, and then the sugar cube was gone. "Here. Try it again . . ." I
tried it again. The horse took the sugar cube and waggled his head. "Now,"
said my father, "I'll take you back inside before the horse shits on you."
I was not allowed to play with other children. "They are bad children,"
said my father, "their parents are poor." "Yes," agreed my mother. My
parents wanted to be rich so they imagined themselves rich.
The first children of my age that I knew were in kindergarten. They
seemed very strange, they laughed and talked and seemed happy. I didn't like
them. I always felt as if I was going to be sick, to vomit, and the air
seemed strangely still and white. We painted with watercolors. We planted
radish seeds in a garden and some weeks later we ate them with salt. I liked
the lady who taught kindergarten, I liked her better than my parents. One
problem I had was going to the bathroom. I always needed to go to the
bathroom, but I was ashamed to let the others know that I had to go, so I
held it. It was really terrible to hold it. And the air was white, I felt
like vomiting, I felt like shitting and pissing, but I didn't say anything.
And when some of the others came back from the bathroom I'd think, you're
dirty, you did something in there...
The little girls were nice in their short dresses, with their long hair
and their beautiful eyes, hut I thought, they do things in there too, even
though they pretend they don't. Kindergarten was mostly white air . . .
... ... ...
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