Charles Bukowski

ed skull murphy

Trollish behavior - quit the forum
Nov 7, 2017
The late Charles Bukowski is my favourite writer, I would recommend anyone to check out his books which are of the underground variety and not readily available unless you happen to live in a metropolis.

It would be an interesting experiment however, to order his books, one at a time, from your local library, to see if they go for it, it's gotta be worth a try and you would be doing your local community, and yourself, a huge service by doing so.

The following is one of my favourite short stories from the great Charles Bukowski.


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 money.
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 one.”

“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 barkeep and said, “Barney’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 him.

“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 bitched 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 together.

“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 tomorrow.”

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 trembling.

“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 dole.”

“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.

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