We're All Sick Suckers Marking Time / Or How To Win At The Racetrack
During the years that Chicago playwright Paul Peditto was working on his play, BUK: The Life and Times of Charles Bukowski, he kept in touch with his subject via the U.S. Mail. Paul Peditto was kind enough to lend these original letters to Letter eX for publication. Charles Bukowski died on March 9th, 1994. These previously unpublished letters by Charles Bukowski were published a few days later and the issue, #93 (April / May 1994) hit the streets April 1st. Paul Peditto's play by then had already enjoyed a hugely successful run. These letters written by Bukowski are reproduced here unedited; they contain harsh lanuage and adult situations.
The Bukowski Letters
I'm no spring chicken either. I'll be 70 in August.
Well, if you're in writing to make money, it's tough. But if you're in writing to keep from killing yourself or somebody else, or to help you face the next morning, then that's better.
I know, though, when you read the so-called accepted writers and see how thin and pretensive their stuff is, it makes you wonder pretty damned hard. And then when you have to face the same juiceless draining job each day , . . it rather wrenches the fucking guts, especially when you note your co-workers accepting their death-in-life without a struggle, without question.
I began to think about holding up banks but I didn't have the guts. I ended up in tiny rooms, drinking and fighting with insane women.
Your adaption, I think, is a damned good bit of work. It's even rather Eugene O'Neilish without the poetic bullshit. Thank you for sending it on to John Martin. I have an idea that he'll like it.
Don't jump off any cliffs yet, Paul, o.k.?
You're going to think me a prick. But I've seen far too many people lately. All sorts and for all reasons--except my own. I'm giving myself a break and not seeing anybody for some time. No reflect on you, babe. Various people want to see me at least a couple of times a week and some of them get pretty fucking persistent. Some I have to block at my very door. Lots of odd horror stories. What I don't want you to think is that YOU are being singled out. You're not.
Yes, Pinter does some strange work. You have to be in the mood for him.
On punching out critics, no don't do it, unless you do it in play-form. It's all viewpoint, you know. And most viewpoints are pretty damned standard-form. And how does one become a critic? You know somebody in power who gives you the job.
Sure, the fix is in. Always has been. But if you've got writing on the brain and mixed in with your shit, you're going to go on with it because that's all there is and the success of fools and jackoffs is just going to sharpen your line and your style.
I don't know about plays but I do know that you need actors and that's the bad part. Those vain prissies. I don't like the way they talk, the way they look, the way they walk. I don't like their eyes or their clothes or their shoes or the way they breathe. They dehumanize and devitalize the best of lines. I wish monkies talked. There would be a better chance.
Well, all we gotta do is die. And after living, that's a break.
7 comes eleven,
Thanks for sparing me a visitation at the track. Such things are awkward and somehow meaningless. I've always been a loner, it's a natural inclination, has nothing to do with writing or me being me or you being you, et al. You showed good class in letting me sit free. Congratulations.
The track gets to be a drag, even when you're a winner. I guess I'm stuck in the routine. It stops me from thinking. Too much thinking is a pain in the ass. Anyhow, I guess from all those lousy jobs all my life I've been trained to go somehwere. The system has taken its toll on me and also I have been drinking too much lately. I'm trying to dry out for 3 or 4 days. With drinking like with writing, pace is very important: when to and when not to.
I didn't have Rolling Donought (spell) but I had a few that day. Doughnut. Yeah. Not a very memorable day. Most aren't. I've always thought that some day I'd be on my deathbed and then I'd want back all those days. But really that's what the days are for. We're all sick suckers marking time. Like you didn't know.
Haven't typed for about a week and I get a little freaky and odd when that happens. Constipation always bothered me.
Well, yes, I hope your play opens. I think you found a lot of wild blood lines of mine and that you hung them together in a good fashion. Looks like you did plenty of work there but the end-product sure looks worth it.
On the title, I can't think of another one. Hell, yours is probably as good as any other. Let's not worry about it.
Sometimes I come up out of the muck and feel pretty good. It's just that a lot of life is repeat stuff. Like out at the track, too many furlong races. I enjoy the routers better. More of a graceful unfolding.
On other things, I'm still lucky. The stuff coming off the typer is still good, I think. As the years go by I have more toys to play with.
Lay off the roans and don't forget we're not the first ones who had to swim through crap.
Lost your last letter and it hasn't showed up, so found this old one . . .with probably your old address. Hope it gets to you.
If you saw this room you'd know why I lose things. If I descibed all the shit in here the lines would run off the page. I just lock myself in here and I'm back at the beginnings. Probably fear. Minor fame and a bit of money have killed many a good man. But I had to wait a long time and I'm really not accepted in the upper and fine circles of the literary world, for which I am ever grateful and if it ever comes to that then I know that I have totally slipped. Don't worry about me. Lots of days and nights here are a total horrow show. Humanity takes care of that.
Sorry you can't get your play on. I know you did a lot of work welding the edges of me together into a functional scream in the bullring. Like I said I think you did a good job of putting the pieces together. People need a smoother milk. They like the artsy fartsy, they think it is intelligent and that they are intelligent. Both wrong, of course.
But you shouldn't get angry. Anger is vindictive, demanding. Disgust is the holy water.
I still type, drinking. . . dozens of poems . . . I think they are more on than ever . . . caused, I think, because of seeing so much shit through the decades.
Long day at the track. Drank a bottle of wine, lucked onto some poems. I'm 70 now. What a fucking farce. Death is no matter. I am ready for that fucker. Just about swept the card on Labor Day. Won $497.80. Went out today and won $44. It's not the money. The money is the indicattor.
Now we've got this checkmate war. But I still listen to Mozart. 4 walls and a good night's sleep beats getting sucked-off by any starlet.
Keep fighting, man.
Dec. 7? 1990
You write a letter like a writer, maybe you ought to save your juices for the creative act? Hell, be selfish. Anyhow, sounds like your whorehouse trek filled in some holes. New York? All front and hard-ass. They like to play at humanity but that's a shield.
You're young, so nothing happening with the people is still a let=down, yeah, Let some decades pass over you and you won't be let=down, you'll know the scenario is fixed and the let=down will change to wear=down, like just putting your fucking shoes on each morning is like climbing an icey mountain. Icey? Icy. Icey shot, shit.
People have faces, hands, feet, voices etc. but it might as well not be there. Once in a while somebody rises up and lights a small flame but that somebody can't keep it going because he's sucked up by the traps--women, money, fame, parties, and worst of all, over self-belief.
Sure I laugh. When I'm alone.
3/20/91 10:23 PM
Beware when the Money Men ask for changes, what they really want to do is to dilute the product so that it can be consumed by a blander, wider audience. They are the vultures of a body of work. When they get through there will only be a meatless skeleton. Better not to do anything than bow to these.
I haven't been much good with correspondence anywhere because I've been shitting out the words. Broke the plumbing.
Working the bar at Arlington, eh? Good luck. What kills is hearing their sad luck stories--jock dropped the whiip, horse was blocked, bad ride, etc. They'll admit anything except the fact that they can't pick them. And then they'll lay their next selection on you, gratis. Who gives a damn about their manipulations anyhow? We're working our own way through the sordid and sorry affair. Horseplayers are on the bottom of the scale, right along wth the so-called poets. They all overevaluate their capabilities and fuck up the landscape with their presence, amen.
Nothing running today. I go nuts at night running various betting angles through my brain. There is an answer. Sometimes I have a long string of winning days. But I've got too many god damned angles and am often torn between methods. I've seen too many races, but before I kick it in I would like to get my betting method down good and tight. Of course, there are a couple of flukes a day, wake-up horses that come around for no reason. You just have to waste an hour or two when this happens, but meanwhile, stick with your play . . . then too, it gets to be a bore out there . . . You remember sitting at the bar, half-mad. That was a good music too . . .
Glad you moved DIE THE DEATH. Music? Well, my favorite piece is the Sibelius 5th, especially with Ormandy directing. Actually, I tired of Beethoven, Mozart . . . Racmaninoff, yes. I like these emotional boys. Also Handel. Eric Coates--he's a fucking dasher. And Wagner, he really tore the roof off--take the voices away from his music and you have some of the best stuff ever written. Bruckner was much underrated. Solid stuff. Mahler, sure. Poof fucker, his wife ran off with a second-rater. Women go for guys who run at the mouth, especially if it's drab stuff. They know they can stick these into their mold. Well, all the old boys were good, what the hell.
Poor Shoemaker. He should have hired a driver. I saw him ride when he had his bug. They used to call him Silent Shoe in the early days. Now he's silent again. Got to figure we've been lucky, Paul. All the nights we've driven blind drunk, maybe 16 nights a month for a couple of decades. Never remember driving. People laugh at me when I say that there are Professional Drunk Drivers. These are people who are habitually drunk and better adjust to that condition. Anyhow, bet win and win only and keep your bets even, stay wth the play. Later.
Two authentic copies of the letters Bukowski wrote to Paul Peditto.
Page 2: The Charles Bukowski Letters
(no date available)
Well, so the play is on. I think that the way you have culled and splattered my crap in there, it should make a sound. You never know, I always write for myself and not for them. Still, sometimes they get it.
Mickey Rourke? Yeah, well, that's the way it works. He doesn't drink, he doesn't act. But there's no need for acting nowadays: the public can't tell the real from the rancid. People are dumber now than they have been for centuries. Mabye it's the pounding of Time against the genes.
Listen, on horse racing you need an edge. A method of play that beats the percentages. Most people lose. First because of the 18 percent take. But they lose more than 18 percent of their money, they lose it all. Who is picking it up? A very small group, say 2 percent of the crowd. You must have a method of detecting where the good money is going and the bad money is going. All public handicapper, Racing form, tout sheets, newspapers show a loss. To beat the horses you must do a lot of work, not on handicapping but on anti-handicapping. The real drag in going to the track is that you have to look at the people. And then there's that long wasteful 30 minutes between races. And sometimes after you wait that long, some longshot just wakes up and comes in at 30 or 40 to one. And maybe they'll follow that race with another one like that. That's when most people fall apart and just start betting anything. The other day I lost the first 5 races. But I remained with my play, got the last 4 at fair odds and walked out a nice winner. The racetrack tests a man in dozens of different ways. Few pass. But what I hate to see is all those people taking a beating. They have this dream of scoring but they just get picked off. Sure, it helps pay taxes, what the hell.
Don't let those 17 year old bodies worry you. There's nothing to these, they didn't earn it, they were born with those bodies and it's their ace card, for a while. But start living with these and all you get is an empty vessel, a look-machine, a fuck-machine and a crass spoiled empty mind. You want real hell? Try living with a so-called beautiful woman. It's a mirage that changes into a total nightmare. If you have to have a woman, look for kindness, a sense of overall reality. In 15 years they are all going to look alike. Play for the insides, the suckers will line up fo the outside facade.
And now that I've told you all this, reverse it and you'll probably do fine.
10/16/91 8:11 PM
Thanks for the poster, looks good to me. No, it doesn't glorify alcohol or alcoholics, it indicates subject matter. The lady who claims that you're "in denial" sounds like she's been playing ping poing with her shrink. As to the fellow who claims he doesn't understand what a man means when he says, "I feel like a can of sardines" well, he's just never felt like a can of sardines or even opened one and looked in there, or if he did, his only response was that there was something to eat. Sometimes I feel like a lampost with a dog pissing on it. Maybe he would understand that one. Maybe.
You are always going to get people chewing on you because they only understand what their mothers told them or what the books told them or what their bosses told them, etc. These people are flattened into a strict nothingess. They talk but they don't say. They project their dullness. People walk away from them but they soon find somebody else and they begin their lifeless chatter all over again. The world is full of boring, identical and mindless people. They vote for the mayors, the govenors, the congressmen, the president in their likeness--that's why there's no leadership, no hope, no juice, no life, no understanding.
Sorry you lost your job at the bar. Having a boss is like having your head in the guillotine. You just don't know exactly when but it's never a surprise when your head rolls. And the worst thing is when you get a look at the guy who replaces you: a subnormal boot-licking patsy. I had problems too. They told me, "It's your attitude." What was I supposed to do? Feel joyful because they were buying my life-blood for pennies? Well, I hope the LIve Bait catches some fish. I thought you put together a good script. It runs and bounces and screamns and says some things. And you pulled it together in a sensible fashion. It should go well. The fact that it's being put on the boards shows that somebody somewhere had some guts. Thanks for your work and struggle with this. I am honored. May the walls roar and pour it to them.
12/3/91 12:20 AM
You're right, it's the toughest of Ages, man drawn dry. The Atomic bomb and Aids arrive within 50 years of each other. Nobody can think of ten years ahead of time. It's just today, tonight and hope you make those.
Yeah, it was easier to be a bum when I was a bum. You more or less chose that and now it chooses you (or me). You just got to be lucky. Talent has little to do with it. Many fools are making it because they fell into the right place. That's all. They are interlaced into the sections of our society which haven't fallen apart--yet.
When I was a bum I tried to stay in the warm weather parts of the country but I miscalculated once or twice and almost went under, notably in a place called Atlanta, Ga.
But you've got some hope going. Your day work may be sickening, but at night, lo, you become a Prince, watching the work you helped create unfold. That's some magic, Paul, and not many men get it. Concentrate on that part and the other will not close in so badly.
Thanks for enclosing the fine reviews. I think we got something over on them, they picked up. Our simple language to the gut of the matter. My notes, your arrangement. On technical facts of things, those people naturally screw up. Like I don't have TB. Did have. Other matter. But who cares? Some people are going to get what we are saying and they won't feel quite so alone in the world.
Well, I've got a bad hangover, turning in early. Old farts like me have to pace themselves, right up to the edge of the fucking grave. It's been a great fight, Paul, and I intend to fight some more. You will too. Oh--tell the cast and the set designers and all attached that I thank them plenty for their great work. Yes, yes, yes, oh yes!
4/9/92 9:38 PM
No, no vistors, please, and I say this not only to you. To many. Constantly. There is nothing to talk about.
Both Linda and I have been having health problems, but I think we're both coming around. By early May we should, could be o.k. Let me know the time and place of one of the performances and we'll try to make it. O.k.?
Christ. I haven't been to the track since last Saturday (tomorrow's Friday) so you know my ass has been down.
So, lemme hear when and where and we'll try to make it.
And, hold on, baby,
5/18/92 4:56 PM
Had an eye operation, they took out lens of right eye, gave me another one. Like a camera repair. It will probably be all right.
I thought the radio show went well. You've got to realize, Paul, that west coast people react in low key. It's part of the way it's done. And really, it's just as good as the other way, it's all just an outlook.
Any horse system is as good as the next two weeks. You're never sure. Within that sits the charm. But any good system is based on not being part of the public play. There can be no other way. And any system can lose on any given day. But you must stay with the same play until the payback kicks in. It's mathematics. If you're on, you're on; stay on, it will come to you. You can't allow that long 30 minute wait between races to shake your faith. The last race is only the last race, not the totality. I . . .have. . .spoken. Now the man is coming down the aisle with the contribution box.
Porno bookstores are rough but so is working a punch press. What always cut at me was the fatal passing of the days, just shit all over. And no payoff. they give you enough for a room, food and a glass of beer. Then they reel you in the next day. And toss you away when it suits them. Like you know, I was caught in the crush for my first 50 years and when I finally wiggled free it was fucking late in the game and there was good old Mr. Death staring me in the face. Which I don't mind too much. Leaving this place is damn near a pleasure. Yeah.
Well, Paul, thanks for putting my stuff on the boards. You picked some good areas. I am honored. by the way, The Blanket bit was real, not imaginary. Or, so I think . . .
All right, don't let them get to you. Stay with your work, finally it's the only thing there is. It keeps them from the last tightening of the vise.
Well, there has been a large anti-Columbus movement for several years now, or it seems I have noticed it for several years. I don't know anything about Columbus, for or against but I guess your piece came out at a bad time for you. I guess the movie will do all right but people on stage look too real. In fact, they are.
A writer is going to get resistance to his work always unless he feeds the mass mind the pap they want. The only thing you can do is to write the way you want to write and to hell with everything else. It's better to fail your way than to succeed their way. And so you know what that means: you've got to stay alive in another way, financially, than with your writing, and that's the killer, the gut-ripper, it can turn out all you lights. You just have to concentrate on the little time they let you have outside of the job and then there are traps within your own time: women, the weakening of your endurance, all that crap. But if you want to put the word down bad enough, you're going to do it anyhow. You can't expect a fast breakthrough, you should even be wary of one. You know what happens to those who get early success, the edge leaves and they fall away, they soften and vanish. You've got to outgut them, outwait them, slam the word down harder. I got lucky pretty damned late but I had decided even if nothing happened I was going to continue. I had to because when I saw what was said to be great writing of our time, I couldn't believe it, it sickened me, I knew there had to be more than that, even if it was only for an audience of one: me.
What the hell, kid, it's a great fight. Don't toss in.
(no date available, hand written letter)
Hello Paul --
Can't write you.
I have Leukemia.
(Charles Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9th, 1994.)
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Note: A collection of original, personal, uncensored letters, penned by none other than the beat poet Charles Bukowski, prior to his death in 1994.