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By Charles Bukowski
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Charles Bukowski
All right reserved.
I arrived in New Orleans in the rain at 5 o'clock in the morning. I sat around in the bus station for a while but the people depressed me so I took my suitcase and went out in the rain and began walking. I didn't know where the rooming houses were, where the poor section was.
I had a cardboard suitcase that was falling apart. It had once been black but the black coating had peeled off and yellow cardboard was exposed. I had tried to solve that by putting black shoepolish over the exposed cardboard. As I walked along in the rain the shoepolish on the suitcase ran and unwittingly I rubbed black streaks on both legs of my pants as I switched the suitcase from hand to hand.
Well, it was a new town. Maybe I'd get lucky.
The rain stopped and the sun came out. I was in the black district. I walked along slowly.
"Hey, poor white trashl"
I put my suitcase down. A high yellow was sitting on the porch steps swinging her legs. She did, look good.
"Hello, poor white trashl"
I didn't say anything. I just stood there looking at her. "How'd you like a piece of ass, poor white trash?"
She laughed at me. She had her legs crossed high and she kicked her feet; she had nice legs, high heels, and she kicked her legs and laughed. I picked up mysuitcase and began to approach her up the walk. As I did I noticed a side curtain on a window to my left move just a bit. I saw a black man's face. He looked like Jersey Joe Wolcott. I backed down the pathway to the sidewalk. Her laughter followed me down the street.
I was in a room on the second floor across from a bar. The bar was called The Gangplank Cafe. From my room I could see through the open bar doors and into the bar. There were some rough faces in that bar, some interesting faces. I stayed in my room at night and drank wine and looked at the faces in the bar while my money ran out. In the daytime I took long slow walks. I sat for hours staring at pigeons. I only ate one meal a day so my money would last longer. I found a dirty cafe with a dirty proprietor, but you got a big breakfast -hotcakes, grits, sausage-for very little.
I went out on the street, as usual, one day and strolled along. I felt happy and relaxed. The sun was just right. Mellow. There was peace in the air. As I approached the center of the block there was a man standing outside the doorway of a shop. I walked past.
I stopped and turned.
"You want a job?"
I walked back to where he stood. Over his shoulder I could see a large dark room. There was a long table with men and women standing on both sides of it. They had hammers with which they pounded objects in front of them. In the gloom the objects appeared to be clams. They smelled like clams. I turned and continued walking down the street.
I remembered how my father used to come home each night and talk about his job to my mother. The job talk began when he entered the door, continued over the dinner table, and ended in the bedroom where my father would scream "Lights Out! "at 8 p.m., so he could get his rest and his full strength for the job the next day. There was no other subject except the job.
Down by the corner I was stopped by another man. "Listen, my friend . he began.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Listen, I'm a veteran of World War I. I put my life on the line for this country but nobody will hire me, nobody will give me a job. They don't appreciate what I did. I'm hungry, give me some help .
"I'm not working."
"You're not working?"
I walked away. I crossed the street to the other side.
"You're lyingl" he screamed. "You're working. You've got a jobl"
A few days later I was looking for one.
He was a man behind the desk with a hearing aid and the wire ran down along the side of his face and into his shirt where he hid the battery. The office was dark and comfortable. He was dressed in a worn brown suit with a wrinkled white shirt and a necktie frayed at the edges. His name was Heathercliff.
I had seen the ad in the local paper and the place was near my room.
Need ambitious young man with an eye to the future. Exper. not necessary. Begin in delivery room and work up.
I waited outside with five or six young men, all of them
trying to look ambitious. We had filled out our employment applications and now we waited. I was the last to be called.
"Mr. Chinaski, what made you leave the railroad yards?"
"Well, I don't see any future in the railroads."
"They have good unions, medical care, retirement."
"At my age, retirement might almost be considered superfluous."
"Why did you come to New Orleans?"
"I had too many friends in Los Angeles, friends I felt were hindering my career. I wanted to go where I could concentrate unmolested."
"How do we know that you'll remain with us any length of time?"
"I might not."
"Your ad stated that there was a future for an ambitious man. If there isn't any future here then I must leave."
"Why haven't you shaved your face? Did you lose a bet?"
"No; I bet my landlord that I could land a job in one day even with this beard."
"All right, we'll let you know."
"I don't have a phone."
"That's all right, Mr. Chinaski."
Excerpted from Factotum tie-in by Charles Bukowski Copyright © 2006 by Charles Bukowski. Excerpted by permission.
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