Chicken Salad on Rye December 14, 2015Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
It’s 4 am and I’m hungry so I decide I’m not quite ready to go back to sleep. I make a sandwich. Chicken salad on rye, things that are good for turning around my pre-diabetes you have not through sloth and gluttony but because you sat too many hours through too many days in a job from hell, gaining weight while living in a constant state of molar-destroying stress. And you think chicken salad on rye not just because it’s on your safe list, and you are rapidly becoming one of those dietary obsessives, the vegan and gluten crowd, but because you know this drill. You father worked himself into a complete collapse, literally dropping at work followed by a week in the hospital and a month of doctor’s orders for no work. He had to piss on the tape back then but came back from it. I don’t know if he managed his stress by getting himself fired, or walking away (they always let you walk away, they let me walk away), owed $100,000 which was serious money back then. But he bailed, and he beat it. And I have walked away. And I’m going to beat it.
And if this is starting to sound like a Bukowski poem without line breaks I started reading Bukowski when I couldn’t sleep because Clarice Lispector is a madwoman of the first order, a twin separated at birth from Beckett but you’re just not ready for Lispector and her brilliant cockroach monologue, because that sort of concentration doesn’t come at 4 am. You are up because of an anxiety dream about your ex- who is freaking out because our daughter is bringing her dog home with her for Xmas, and you just know she doesn’t want to leave a nervous dog alone in her obsessively Southern Living-ready condo. And later this morning you have to call unemployment because they don’t want to give you unemployment. You have to call the insurance company because they’ve lost your crappy COBRA policy but at my age I need something. You have to call the life insurance company which canceled your life insurance policy because you spaced a bill with a rate hike. They’ve cashed the makeup check but you still don’t know. You have to get out and walk five miles to loose the weight gained sitting in the Herman Miller chair you splurged on to make sitting in that tiny corner of your apartment 12 hours a day slaving for people you hated a little more bearable, the job you kept only because they paired you with a single mom with two small kids who had never worked anywhere else who was also loosing her mind from all the work, and you just couldn’t leave it all to be dumped on her. (Asked once by an HR department if I had a friend at work, I declined to answer, finding it creepy and intrusive. But in the job from hell, I made a true friend at work. And I was not going to bail on her).
And you’re reading Bukowski because he’s not trying to be intellectual or clever in ways your brain can’t process at 4 a.m., and the other book on your bed is Grace Paley and while you love her stories she’s just so persistently cheerful through all of the mad lives of her characters you can’t stand it right now. Bukowski, he is just telling you brilliant little stories of life without Paley’s incessant optimism; stories of life’s moments of bullshit and beauty, and your own life right now is an endless freight train with moments of beauty glimpsed between the endless gondola and tanker cars of bullshit, the boxcars filled with sacks of bullshit, the boxcars half the politicians in this country would stuff you into if they were given the chance. Bukowski was first and foremost a journalist who looked deep into the cesspit of America and spoke what he saw. He afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted, unless he was drunk and the afflicted were making a scene of their affliction then he threw them out because they didn’t know how to suffer with class, because they couldn’t take a punch.
I should go back to sleep but in half an hour the lights will come on at the Fairgrounds across the street and maybe I’ll make some coffee instead, sneak in the back gate and stand at the rail and watch the horses warming up until someone tells me to scram. Maybe later I will go to the track instead of walking because the track is exercise for the mind and the body if it’s done right: first the form, to train the brain, a puzzle to keep the mind working; then off to the paddock to study each horse’s temperament, the way they manage themselves in a tight space surrounded by the competition; followed by a trot out to the rail for the post parade to see how they move, again a question of temperament but also how the muscles flow, if they prance with excitement do they do it with the grace of a dancer or a nervous wobble? Then watching the tote board, comparing what you’ve doodled on the form to the constantly changing numbers, probability and statistics meeting up on the mind. Then, at the last minute when the tote board seems to be settling in, the sprint to the window and back to the rail. Finally, the stationary cardiovascular circuit of the horses running, the blood pounding and your voice shouting encouragement.
Just maybe that is how Bukowski lived as long as he did with all the wine and beer, the cigarettes and cigars: he know how to exercise his mind and body in one place, how to celebrate the wins and how to suck up the losses; like the fighter he was, how to take the adoration of the winner and the humiliation of the loser, but most of all how to take the punches.
The sandwich is gone. I wonder if a glass of wine would help me get back to sleep, or if I should just call it a night and go watch the horses. The horses may disappoint, but they are always beautiful.