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аВНИЫЖ чЪХЛЮЗХС. бФ ЧЕЖ зЕЮЕНВ (engl)
Charles Bukowski. South Of No North. Stories of the buried life
OCR: зИВЮВ гКХЛ
Edna was walking down the street with her bag of groceries when she
passed the automobile. There was a sign in the side window:
She stopped. There was a large piece of cardboard in the window with
some material pasted on it. Most of it was typewritten. Edna couldn't read
it from where she stood on the sidewalk. She could only see the large
It was an expensive new car. Edna stepped forward on the grass to read
the typewritten portion:
Man age 49. Divorced. Wants to meet woman for marriage. Should be 35 to
44. Like television and motion pictures. Good food. I am a cost accountant,
reliably employed. Money in bank. I like women to be on the fat side.
Edna was 37 and on the fat side. There was a phone number. There were
also three photos of the gentleman in search of a woman. He looked quite
staid in a suit and necktie. Also he looked dull and a little cruel. And
made of wood, thought Edna, made of wood.
Edna walked off, smiling a bit. She also had a feeling of repulsion. By
the time she reached her apartment she had forgotten about him. It was some
hours later, sitting in the bathtub, that she thought about him again and
this time she thought how truly lonely he must be to do such a thing:
She thought of him coming home, finding the gas and phone bills in the
mailbox, undressing, taking a bath, the T.V. on. Then the evening paper.
Then into the kitchen to cook. Standing there in his shorts, staring down at
the frying pan. Taking his food and walking to a table, eating it. Drinking
his coffee. Then more T.V. And maybe a lonely can of beer before bed. There
were millions of men like that all over America.
Edna got out of the tub, toweled, dressed and left her apartment. The
car was still there. She took down the man's name, Joe Light-hill, and the
phone number. She read the typewritten section again. "Motion pictures."
What an odd term to use. People said "movies" now. Woman Wanted. The
sign was very bold. He was original there.
When Edna got home she had three cups of coffee before dialing the
number. The phone rang tour times. "Hello?" he answered.
"I saw your ad. Your ad on the car."
"My name's Edna."
"How you doing, Edna?"
"Oh, I'm all right. It's been so hot. This weather's too much."
"Yes, it makes it difficult to live."
"Well, Mr. Lighthill . . ."
"Just call me Joe."
"Well, Joe, hahaha, I feel like a fool. You know what I'm calling
"You saw my sign?"
"I mean, hahaha, what's wrong with you? Can't you get a woman?"
"I guess not, Edna. Tell me, where are they?"
"Oh, everywhere, you know."
"Where? Tell me. Where?"
"Well, church, you know. There are women in church."
"I don't like church."
"Listen, why don't you come over, Edna?"
"You mean over there?"
"Yes. I have a nice place. We can have a drink, talk. No pressure."
"It's not that late. Listen you saw my sign. You must be interested."
"Well . . ."
"You're scared, that's all. You're just scared."
"No, I'm not scared."
"Then come on over, Edna."
"Well . . ."
"All right. I'll see you in fifteen minutes."
It was on the top floor of a modern apartment complex. Apt. 17. The
swimming pool below threw back the lights. Edna knocked. The door opened and
there was Mr. Lighthill. Balding in front;
hawknosed with the nostril hairs sticking out; the shirt open at the
"Come on in, Edna . . ."
She walked in and the door closed behind her. She had on her blue knit
dress. She was stockingless, in sandals, and smoking a cigarette.
"Sit down. I'll get you a drink."
It was a nice place. Everything in blue and green and very
clean. She heard Mr. Lighthill humming as he mixed the drinks, hmmmmmmm,
hmmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmmm . . . He seemed relaxed and it helped her.
Mr. Lighthill -- Joe -- came out with the drinks. He handed Edna hers
and then sat in a chair across the room from her.
"Yes," he said, "it's been hot, hot as hell. I've got air-conditioning,
"I noticed. It's very nice."
"Drink your drink."
Edna had a sip. It was a good drink, a bit strong but it tasted nice.
She watched Joe tilt his head as he drank. He appeared to have heavy
wrinkles around his neck. And his pants were much too loose. They appeared
sizes too large. It gave his legs a funny look.
"That's a nice dress, Edna."
"You like it?"
"Oh yes. You're plump too. It fits you snug, real snug."
Edna didn't say anything. Neither did Joe. They just sat looking at
each other and sipping their drinks.
Why doesn't he talk? thought Edna. 'It's up to him to talk. There
is something wooden about him. She finished her drink.
"Let me get you another," said Joe.
"No, I really should be going."
"Oh, come on," he said, "let me get you another drink. We need
something to loosen us up."
"All right, but after this one, I'm going."
Joe went into the kitchen with the glasses. He wasn't humming anymore.
He came out, handed Edna her drink and sat back down in his chair across the
room from her. This drink was stronger.
"You know," he said, "I do well on the sex quizzes."
Edna sipped at her drink and didn't answer.
"How do you do on the sex quizzes?" Joe asked.
"I've never taken any."
"You should, you know, so you'll find out who you are and what you
"Do you think those things are valid? I've seen them in the newspaper.
I haven't taken them but I've seen them," said Edna.
"Of course they're valid."
"Maybe I'm no good at sex," said Edna, "maybe that's why I'm alone."
She took a long drink from her glass.
"Each of us is, finally, alone," said Joe.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, no matter how well it's going sexually or love-wise or both,
the day arrives when it's over."
"That's sad," said Edna.
"Of course. So the day arrives when it's over. Either there is a split
or the whole thing resolves into a truce: two people living together without
feeling anything. I believe that being alone is better."
"Did you divorce your wife, Joe?"
"No, she divorced me."
"What went wrong?"
"You know, a sexual orgy is the loneliest place in the world. Those
orgies -- I felt a sense of desperation -- those cocks sliding in and out --
excuse me ..."
"It's all right."
"Those cocks sliding in and out, legs locked, fingers working, mouths,
everybody clutching and sweating and determined to do it -- somehow."
"I don't know much about those things, Joe," Edna said.
"I believe that without love, sex is nothing. Things can only be
meaningful when some feeling exists between the participants."
"You mean people have to like each other?"
"Suppose they get tired of each other? Suppose they have to stay
together? Economics? Children? All that?"
"Orgies won't do it."
"What does it?"
"Well, I don't know. Maybe the swap."
"You know, when two couples know each other quite well and
switch partners. Feelings, at least, have a chance. For example, say I've
always liked Mike's wife. I've liked her for months. I've watched her walk
across the room. I like her movements. Her movements have made me curious. I
wonder, you know, what goes with those movements. I've seen her angry, I've
seen her drunk, I've seen her sober. And then, the swap. You're in the
bedroom with her, at last you're knowing her. There's a chance for something
real. Of course, Mike has your wife in the other room. Good luck, Mike, you
think, and I hope you're as good a lover as I am."
"And it works all right?"
"Well, I dunno . . . Swaps can cause difficulties . . . afterwards. It
all has to be talked out . . . very well talked out ahead of time. And then
maybe people don't know enough, no matter how much they talk . . ."
"Do you know enough, Joe?"
"Well, these swaps ... I think it might be good for some . . . maybe
good for many. I guess it wouldn't work for me. I'm toomuch of a prude."
Joe finished his drink. Edna set the remainder of hers down and stood
"Listen Joe, I have to be going ..."
Joe walked across the room toward her. He looked like an elephant in
those pants. She saw his big ears. Then he grabbed her and was kissing her.
His bad breath came through all the drinks. He had a very sour smell. Part
of his mouth was not making contact. He was strong but his strength was not
pure, it begged. She pulled her head away and still he held her.
"Joe, let me go! You're moving too fast, Joe! Let go!"
"Why did you come here, bitch?"
He tried to kiss her again and succeeded. It was horrible. Edna brought
her knee up. She got him good. He grabbed and fell to the rug.
."God, god ... why'd you have to do that? You tried to kill me . . ."
He rolled on the floor.
His behind, she thought, he had such an ugly behind.
She left him rolling on the rug and ran down the stairway. The air was
clean outside. She heard people talking, she heard their T.V. sets. It
wasn't a long walk to her apartment. She felt the need of another bath, got
out of her blue knit dress and scrubbed herself. Then she got out of the
tub, toweled herself dry and set her hair in pink curlers. She decided not
to see him again.
BOP BOP AGAINST THAT CURTAIN
We talked about women, peeked up their legs as they got out of cars,
and we looked into windows at night hoping to see somebody fucking but we
never saw anybody. One time we did watch a couple in bed and the guy was
mauling his woman and we thought now we're going to see it, but she said,
"No, I don't want to do it tonight!" Then she turned her back on him. He lit
a cigarette and we went in search of a new window.
"Son of a bitch, no woman of mine would turn away from me!"
"Me neither. What kind of a man was that?"
There were three of us, me, Baldy, and Jimmy. Our big day was Sunday.
On Sunday we met at Baldy's house and took the streetcar down to Main
Street. Carfare was seven cents.
There were two burlesque houses in those days, the Follies and the
Burbank. We were in love with the strippers at the Burbank and the jokes
were a little better so we went to the Burbank. We had tried the dirty movie
house but the pictures weren't really dirty and the plots were all the same.
A couple of guys would get some little innocent girl drunk and before she
got over her hangover she'd find herself in a house of prostitution with a
line of sailors and hunchbacks beating on her door. Besides in those places
the bums slept night and day, pissed on the floor, drank wine, and rolled
each other. The stink of piss and wine and murder was unbearable. We went to
"You boys going to a burlesque today?" Baldy's grampa would ask.
"Hell no, sir, we've got things to do."
We went. We went each Sunday. We went early in the morning, long before
the show and we walked up and down Main Street looking into the empty bars
where the B-girls sat in the doorways with their skirts up, kicking their
ankles in the sunlight that drifted into the dark bar. The girls looked
good. But we knew. We had heard. A guy went in for a drink and they charged
his ass off, both for his drink and the girl's. But the girl's drink would
be watered. You'd get a feel or two and that was it. If you showed any money
the barkeep would see it and along would come the mickey and you were out
over the bar and your money was gone. We knew.
After our walk along Main Street we'd go into the hotdog place and get
our eight cent hotdog and our big nickel mug of rootbeer. We were lifting
weights and our muscles bulged and we wore our sleeves rolled high and we
each had a pack of cigarettes in our breast pocket. We even had tried a
Charles Atlas course. Dynamic Tension, but lifting weights seemed the more
rugged and obvious
While we ate our hotdog and drank our huge mug of rootbeer we played
the pinball machine, a penny a game. We got to know that pinball machine
very well. When you made a perfect score you got a free game. We had to make
perfect scores, we didn't have that kind of money.
Franky Roosevelt was in, things were getting better but it was still
the depression and none of our fathers were working. Where we got our small
amount of pocket money was a mystery except that we did have a sharp eye for
anything that was not cemented to the ground. We didn't steal, we shared.
And we invented. Having little or no money we invented little games to pass
the time -- one of them being to walk to the beach and back.
This was usually done on a summer day and our parents never complained
when we arrived home too late for dinner. Nor did they care about the high
glistening blisters on the bottoms of our feet. It was when they saw how we
had worn out our heels and the soles of our shoes that we began to hear it.
We were sent to the five and dime store where heels and soles and glue were
at the ready and at a reasonable price.
The situation was the same when we played tackle football in the
streets. There weren't any public funds for playgrounds. We were so tough we
played tackle football in the streets all through football season, through
basketball and baseball seasons and on through the next football season.
When you get tackled on asphalt, things happen. Skin rips, bones bruise,
there's blood, but you get up like nothing was wrong.
Our parents never minded the scabs and the blood and the bruises; the
terrible and unforgivable sin was to rip a hole in one of the knees
of your pants. Because there were only two pairs of pants to each boy: his
everyday pants and his Sunday pants, and you could never rip a hole in the
knee of one of your two pairs of pants because that showed that you were
poor and an asshole and that your parents were poor and assholes too. So you
learned to tackle a guy without falling on either knee. And the guy
being tackled learned how to be tackled without falling on either knee.
When we had fights we'd fight for hours and our parents wouldn't save
us. I guess it was because we pretended to be so tough and never asked for
mercy, they were waiting for us to ask for mercy. But we hated our parents
so we couldn't and because we hated them they hated us, and they'd walk out
on their porches and glance casually over at us in the midst of a terrible
endless fight. They'd just yawn and pick up a throw-away advertisement and
walk back inside.
I fought a guy who later ended up very high in the United States Navy.
I fought him one day from 8:30 in the morning until after sundown. Nobody
stopped us although we were in plain sight of his front lawn, under two huge
pepper trees with the sparrows shit-ting on us all day.
It was a grim fight, it was to the finish. He was bigger, a little
older and heavier, but I was crazier. We quit by common consent -- I don't
know how this works, you have to experience it to understand it, but after
two people beat on each other eight or nine hours a strange kind of
The next day my body was entirely blue. I couldn't speak out of my lips
or move any part of myself without pain. I was on the bed getting ready to
die and my mother came in with the shirt I'd worn during the fight. She held
it in front of my face over the bed and she said, "Look, you got bloodspots
on this shirt! Bloodspots!"
"I'll never get them out! NEVER!!"
"They're his bloodspots."
"It doesn't matter! It's blood! It doesn't come out!"
Sundays were our day, our quiet, easy day. We went to the Bur-bank.
There was always a bad movie first. A very old movie, andyou looked and
waited. You were thinking of the girls. The three or four guys in the
orchestra pit, they played loud, maybe they didn't play too good but they
played loud, and those strippers finally came out and grabbed the curtain,
the edge of the curtain, and they grabbed that curtain like it was a man and
shook their bodies and went bop bop bop against that curtain. Then they
swung out and started to strip. If you had enough money there was even a bag
of popcorn; if you didn't to hell with it.
Before the next act there was an intermission. A little man got up and
said, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you will let me have your kind attention . .
." He was selling peep-rings. In the glass of each ring, if you held it to
the light there was a most wonderful picture. This was promised you! Each
ring was only 50 cents, a lifetime possession for just 50 cents, made
available only to the patrons of the Burbank and not sold anywhere else.
"Just hold it up to the light and you will see! And, thank you, ladies and
gentlemen, for your kind attention. Now the ushers will pass down the aisles
Two ragass bums would proceed down the aisles smelling of muscatel,
each carrying a bag of peep-rings. I never saw anybody purchase one of the
rings. I imagine, though, if you had held one up to the light the picture in
the glass would have been a naked woman.
The band began again and the curtains opened and there was the chorus
line, most of them former strippers gone old, heavy with mascara and rouge
and lipstick, false eyelashes. They did their damndest to stay with the
music but they were always a little behind. But they carried on; I thought
they were very brave.
Then came the male singer. It was very difficult to like the male
singer. He sang too loud about love gone wrong. He didn't know how to sing
and when he finished he spread his arms, and bowed his head to the tiniest
ripple of applause.
Then came the comedian. Oh, he was good! He came out in an old brown
overcoat, hat pulled down over his eyes, slouching and walking like a bum, a
bum with nothing to do and no place to go. A girl would walk by on the stage
and his eyes would follow her. Then he'd turn to the audience and say, out
of his toothless mouth, "Well, I'll be god damned!"
Another girl would walk out on the stage and he'd walk up to her, put
his face close to hers and say, "I'm an old man, I'm past 44 but when the
bed breaks down I finish on the floor." That did it. How we laughed! The
young guys and the old guys, how we laughed. And there was the suitcase
routine. He's trying to help some girl pack her suitcase. The clothes keep
"I can't get it in!"
"Here let me help you!"
"It popped out again!"
"Wait! I'll stand on it!"
"What? Oh no, you're not going to stand on it!"
They went on and on with the suitcase routine. Oh, he was funny!
Finally the first three or four strippers came out again. We each had
our favorite stripper and we each were in love. Baldy had chosen a thin
French girl with asthma and dark pouches under her eyes. Jimmy liked the
Tiger Woman (properly The Tigress). I pointed out to Jimmy the Tiger Woman
definitely had one breast larger than the other. Mine was Rosalie.
Rosalie had a large ass and she shook it and shook it and sang funny
little songs, and as she walked about stripping she talked to herself and
giggled. She was the only one who really enjoyed her work. I was in love
with Rosalie. I often thought of writing her and telling her how great she
was but somehow I never got around to it.
One afternoon we were waiting for the streetcar after the show and
there was the Tiger Woman waiting for the streetcar too. She was dressed in
a tight-fitting green dress and we stood there looking at her.
"It's your girl, Jimmy, it's the Tiger Woman."
"Boy, she's got it! Look at her!"
"I'm going to talk to her," said Baldy.
"It's Jimmy's girl."
"I don't want to talk to her," said Jimmy.
"I'm going to talk to her," said Baldy. He put a cigarette in his
mouth, lit it, and walked up to her.
"Hi ya, baby!" he grinned at her.
The Tiger Woman didn't answer. She just stared straight ahead waiting
for the streetcar.
"I know who you are. I saw you strip today. You've got it, baby, you've
really got it!"
The Tiger Woman didn't answer.
"You really shake it, my god, you really shake it!"
The Tiger Woman stared straight ahead. Baldy stood there grin-ning like
an idiot at her. "I'd like to put it to you. I'd like to fuck
We walked up and pulled Baldy away. We walked him down the street. "You
asshole, you have no right to talk to her that way!"
"Well, she gets up and shakes it, she gets up in front of men and
"She's just trying to make a living."
"She's hot, she's red hot, she wants it!"
We walked him down the street.
Not long after that I began to lose interest in those Sundays on Main
Street. I suppose the Follies and the Burbank are still there. Of course,
the Tiger Woman and the stripper with asthma, and Rosalie, my Rosalie are
long gone. Probably dead. Rosalie's big shaking ass is probably dead. And
when I'm in my neighborliood, I drive past the house I used to live in and
there are strangers living there. Those Sundays were good, though, most of
those Sundays were good, a tiny light in the dark depression days when our
fathers walked the front porches, jobless and impotent and glanced at us
beating the shit out of each other, then went inside and stared at the
walls, afraid to play the radio because of the electric bill.
YOU AND YOUR BEER AND HOW GREAT YOU ARE
Jack came through the door and found the pack of cigarettes on the
mantle. Ann was on the couch reading a copy of Cosmopolitan. Jack lit
up, sat down in a chair. It was ten minutes to midnight.
"Charley told you not to smoke," said Ann, looking up from the
"I deserve it. It was a rough one tonight."
"Did you win?"
"Split decision but I got it. Benson was a tough boy, lots of guts.
Charley says Parvinelli is next. We get over Parvinelli, we get the champ."
Jack got up, went to the kitchen, came back with a bottle of beer.
"Charley told me to keep you off the beer," Ann put the magazine down.
'" 'Charley told me, Charley told me' . . . I'm tired of that. I won my
fight. I won 16 straight, I got a right to a beer and a cigarette."
"You're supposed to stay in shape."
"It doesn't matter. I can whip any of them."
"You're so great, I keep hearing it when you get drunk, you're so
great. I get sick of it."
"I am great. 16 straight, 15 k.o.'s. Who's better?"
Ann didn't answer. Jack took his bottle of beer and his cigarette into
"You didn't even kiss me hello. The first thing you did was go to your
bottle of beer. You're so great, all right. You're a great beer-drinker."
Jack didn't answer. Five minutes later he stood in the bathroom door,
his pants and shorts down around his shoes.
"Jesus Christ, Ann, can't you even keep a roll of toilet paper in
She went to the closet and got him the roll. Jack finished his business
and walked out. Then he finished his beer and got another one. "Here you are
living with the best light-heavy in the world and all you do is complain.
Lots of girls would love to have me but all you do is sit around and bitch."
"I know you're good. Jack, maybe the best, but you don't know how
boring it is to sit around and listen to you say over and over again
how great you are."
"Oh, you're bored with it, are you?"
"Yes, god damn it, you and your beer and how great you are."
"Name a better light-heavy. You don't even come to my fights."
"There are other things besides fighting. Jack."
"What? Like laying around on your ass and reading Cosmopolitan?"
"I like to improve my mind."
"You ought to. There's a lot of work to be done there."
"I tell you there are other things besides fighting."
"What? Name them."
"Well, art, music, painting, things like that."
"Are you any good at them?"
"No, but I appreciate them."
"Shit, I'd rather be best at what I'm doing."
"Good, better, best . . . God, can't you appreciate people for what
"For what they are? What are most of them? Snails, blood-
suckers, dandies, finks, pimps, servants . . ."
"You're always looking down on everybody. None of your friends are good
enough. You're so damned great!"
"That's right, baby."
Jack walked into the kitchen and came out with another beer.
"You and your god damned beer!"
"It's my right. They sell it. I buy it."
"Charley said . . ."
"You're so god damned great!"
"That's right. At least Pattie knew it. She admitted it. She was proud
of it. She knew it took something. All you do is bitch."
"Well, why don't you go back to Pattie? What are you doing with me?"
"That's just what I'm thinking."
"Well, we're not married, I can leave any time."
"That's one break we've got. Shit, I come in here dead-ass tired after
a tough ten rounder and you're not even glad I took it. All you do is
complain about me."
"Listen. Jack, there are other things besides fighting. WTien I met
you, I admired you for what you were."
"I was a fighter. There aren't any other things besides
That's what 1 am -- a hghter. That's my tile, and 1m good at it. The
best. I notice you always go for those second raters . . . like Toby
"Toby's very funny. He's got a sense of humor, a real sense of humor. I
"His record is 9, 5, and one. I can take him when I'm dead drunk."
"And god knows you're dead drunk often enough. How do you think I feel
at parties when you're laying on the floor passed out, or lolling around the
room telling everybody, 'I'M GREAT, I'M GREAT, I'M GREAT!' Don't you think
that makes me feel like an ass?"
"Maybe you arc an ass. If you like Toby so much, why don't you go with
"Oh, 1 just said I liked him, I thought he was funny, that
doesn't mean I want to go to bed with him."
"Well, you go to bed with me and you say I'm boring. I don't know what
the hell you want."
Ann didn't answer. Jack got up, walked over to the couch, lifted Ann's
head and kissed her, walked back and sat down again.
"Listen, let me tell you about this fight with Benson. Even you would
have been proud of me. He decks me in the first round, a sneak right. I get
up and hold him off the rest of the round. He plants me again in the second.
I barely get up at 8. I hold him oft again. The next few rounds I spend
getting my legs back. I take the 6th, 7th, 8th, deck him once in the 9th and
twice in the 10th. I don't call that a split. They called it a split. Well,
it's 45 grand, you get that, kid? 45 grand. I'm great, you can't deny I'm
great, can you?"
Ann didn't answer.
"Come on, tell me I'm great."
"All right, you're great."
"Well, that's more like it." Jack walked over and kissed her again. "I
feel so good. Boxing is a work of art, it really is. It takes guts to be a
great artist and it takes guts to be a great fighter."
"All right. Jack."
"'All right, Jack,' is that all you can say? Pattie used to be happy
when I won. W^e were both happy all night. Can't you share it when I do
something good? Hell, are you in love with me or are you in love with the
losers, the half-asses? I think you'd be happier if I came in here a loser."
"I want you to win. Jack, it's only that you put so much empha-sis on
what you do . . ."
"Hell, it's my living, it's my life. I'm proud of being best. It's like
flying, it's like flying off into the sky and whipping the sun,"
"What are you going to do when you can't fight anymore?"
"Hell, we'll have enough money to do whatever we want."
"Except get along, maybe."
"Maybe I can learn to read Cosmopolitan, improve my mind."
"Well, there's room for improvement."
"Well, that's something you haven't done in a while."
"Some guys like to fuck hitching women, I don't."
"I suppose Pattie didn't bitch?"
"All women bitch, you're the champ."
"Well, why don't you go back to Pattie?"
"You're here now. I can only house one whore at a time."
Ann got up and went to the closet, got out her suitcase and began
putting her clothes in there. Jack went to the kitchen and got another
bottle of beer. Ann was crying and angry. Jack sat down with his beer and
took a good drain. He needed a whiskey, he needed a bottle of whiskey. And a
"I can come pick up the rest of my stuff when you're not around."
"Don't bother. I'll have it sent to you."
... ... ...
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